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Do you ever feel like you’re constantly trying to figure out what you can get rid of from your life to make more room for something else? Whether you’re looking to free up physical space in your home, or something else like your time, money, or mental energy, there always seems to be something else hogging it up.
In any area of life you look, there never seems to be enough of these resources when we need them. We default to being cluttered and overwhelmed.
Well, consider this the official declutter-your-life-checklist.
Throughout human history, there have been cultures, religions, philosophies, and big thinkers of all sorts who have understood that 90% of everything is waste. We’re at all times surrounded by the unnecessary. This waste sucks up our limited resources, stresses us out, and leaves us overwhelmed and under-fulfilled. Therefore, to reduce the unnecessary and make more room for the few things that really do matter to us is the gateway to lasting happiness.
I have compiled here six of the most powerful and effective ways to get rid of your unnecessary stuff and declutter your life. Together, they can show you how to declutter your life and mind.
Through these methods you can finally give yourself the space you need in your life to live simply, establish inner peace, achieve lasting success, and fill yourself up with explosive joy.
1. Minimalism – Make More Room for Your Stuff
How better to kick our list of simple living techniques than with the biggest juggernaut of them all – minimalism.
While some of the later items in this list approach “decluttering your life” from a more metaphorical angle, minimalism is where we take it very literally. That is, dealing with the actual physical clutter in your home, car, office, and so on.
Minimalism has been a hot topic lately (to put it lightly), with big personalities like Joshua Becker, Marie Kondo, and others spreading the message of creating a more peaceful and joyful life with your things.
If you’re not very familiar with minimalism yet, you may be afraid that I’m about to tell you to pick out one shirt, one bowl, and one spoon, and throw out everything else you own. Well, you can relax, because it doesn’t really work that way. You will also need one pair of pants. Okay, kidding.
At its core, minimalism is the belief that everything you own should meet at least one of two criteria. It should either
- Make your life significantly easier, OR
- Fill you with joy
In other words, if it’s not very useful and doesn’t make you feel happy, then why do you want it? The thrilling thing about minimalism (which is also the scary thing at first) is coming to the realization that most of our things don’t make this cut.
This is not about sacrificing, or giving up all your cherished things. It’s about realizing that most of them aren’t that cherished to begin with, letting go of them, and making more room for the things you cherish most.
Try it out!
- Choose a room in your house and pick up each item in that room, one by one. Set aside the items that you don’t absolutely love (or frequently use), then sell or donate them!
- Choose a category, like clothing. Put every item you own from this category in one place, and repeat the process above. It’s a great way to spot unnecessary duplicates and multiples!
- Practice digital minimalism: Open your phone or laptop, and clear out unused apps, shortcuts, files, etc. Your devices will perform better, last longer, and be much easier to use!
2. Essentialism – Declutter Your Day
Popularized by Greg McKeown in one of my favorite productivity/minimalism/happy life books ever written, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Essentialism is a rather new addition to the conversation on reduction-based living.
It goes like this: Just like our homes become cluttered with stuff we don’t need that takes up too much space, so too do our days become cluttered with unimportant activities and commitments that slow us down. This type of stuff clutters up the day, and doesn’t leave nearly enough time to work on our passions, move our lives forward, or spend quality time with those we love.
In other words, essentialism is to your time as minimalism is to your space.
The world is a busy place, and getting busier all the time. At any given moment, there are probably about 2,476 different things competing for your time, energy, and attention. I have encountered precious few people in my life who suffered from a chronic abundance of free time. Quite the opposite is far more common.
With an essentialist mindset, you can bust through the distractions and make more room in your day for the activities that lift you up and move you forward. Hack away at the distracting many to isolate the essential few. By focusing on a limited number of critical things in your day, it will feel like unlocking a superpower you didn’t even know you had. It all starts with learning to love the word “No.”
Try it out!
- The next time you are asked to take on a certain task that would distract you from more important work, firmly but respectfully decline.
- Struggling to find the right words? Try this: “Thanks for asking – unfortunately I’m not available to [come to that event / take on that project / help with that task].
- Pick something that you really need to focus on, and block out a time for it on your calendar. Don’t let anything else interfere with that appointment.
- Put your phone and other notifications on “do not disturb” for a fixed period while you are working on a project.
3. Lean – Simplify Your Workflow
Okay, so you can use essentialism to make more room in your agenda for your most important work. But when it comes to optimizing that work itself, that’s where lean comes in.
Lean began as a methodology for streamlining manufacturing workflow, and is now used all over the place as a framework for working efficiently and reducing waste. Here’s how it works:
Start by selecting a routine process or task that you do often. Next, look for a small change you can make that helps you finish that task quicker. You might:
- Store things that are used together in the same place
- Add labels to your working area so it’s easier to put things away correctly
- Standardize the way you name the folders or files on your computer so it’s easier to find that document you need
Implement the change, and repeat.
The lean philosophy believes that there are always more tiny improvements that can be made. Enough small changes can turn a 10-minute task into a 4-minute one. And then, if you do that task 10 times a day, those tiny improvements – just a few seconds at a time – can add up to a full hour each day. And that’s just by streamlining one task!
Try it out!
- Pick an activity in your routine and observe yourself doing it – which actions or movements are essential, and which ones are unnecessary?
- Make a “spaghetti map” of you completing a task at home or at work – sketch out all of the paths you walk during it. How many times did you need to walk across the room to get something? How can you reduce that?
- Try “batching” an activity: Do more of it at once to reduce the cost of setting up and tearing down each time, like a meal prep Sunday!
4. Mindfulness – Declutter Your Thoughts
Now it’s time to start decluttering your inner world to make more room for peace in your mind.
Your stream of thought is likely one of the most congested and overcrowded areas in your life. Meditating for even a brief few minutes a day can have numerous short-term and long-term benefits. If you’re like many others and feeling that your head is the most crowded area in your life, this could be the key to slowing things down and growing your ability to sort out your thoughts and make more room for you.
If meditation isn’t your thing, there are many other mindfulness techniques and practices you can use to help your mind to feel a little less crowded.
For instance. you can work small pauses into your day to practice awareness. During each pause, notice your surroundings, what you’re thinking about, how you’re feeling. Another option is to try breathing exercises, like the 4-7-8: breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7, and then breathe out for 8 seconds. Repeat a few times. This sends a signal to the emotional parts of your brain to cool off, and is a terrific way to declutter your consciousness and make room for whatever it is you intend to focus on.
Try it out!
- Add a 5-10 minute meditation habit to your daily routine.
- Stop for a minute at different points during the day to take stock of how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. No need for judgment. Simply practice noticing.
- Slow down your thinking and break out of an emotional loop with a few rounds of 4-7-8 breathing.
5. Frugal Living – Make More Room for Your Money
If there is one single way to massively improve your money situation and achieve financial freedom, it’s increasing how much money you save. And if there’s one way to increase how well you save, it’s thinking like a saver.
Savers do everything they can to maximize the value they get out of every dollar they spend. In other words, they minimize the number of dollars they need to spend. Keeping expenses as lean as possible is the key to making room to save more. And when it comes to an abundant life with money, there is no better defense against problems or fuel for goals than a strong saving muscle.
Minimalists and essentialists build up their strength to say “no” to items and activities that aren’t fulfilling them. Minimalists save the resource of physical space for items they love and use. Essentialists save the resource of time for activities they love and that support their goals. The exact same is true for good savers and the resource of capital. They build up their strength to say “no” to certain expenses, in order to save their funds and accomplish goals that move them forward.
Practice walking away from expenses that are not useful and that will not bring you lasting joy. Make room in your budget to build the future you want.
Try it out!
- Sign up for a free money-tracking app like Mint and look at a breakdown of your monthly spending. Where is it all going? What can you slim down?
- Try a “challenge month”: Pick a category of your budget, like groceries, bars, or clothing, and for one month, spend as little as humanly possible in that category. What insights did you gain? What can you take with you back to your regular budget?
- Next time you choose NOT to spend on something, celebrate yourself! Don’t worry about the “sacrifice” of not getting a new thing, focus instead on the joy that you’ve just paid yourself instead of someone else!
6. Energize Yourself – Make More Room for Joy
Are the pieces of your day giving you energy, jazzing you up? Or are they wearing you out, knocking you down, and leaving you with nothing? Spending time with people we love, getting good exercise, and doing challenging work that excites us are all things that can fill up our tanks. This keeps us moving to take on more of life. Jobs we hate, people who bring us down, and boring routines tend to leave us more drained.
Take an active role in adding sources of energy to your life. Letting life sap all of the drive out of you creates a downward spiral of complacency and fatigue. That fatigue takes up space in your day. And it holds you back from getting out there and getting after it!
What’s slowing you down right now? Get rid of it! What’s lifting you up? Feed it! Building a life that gets you juiced up gives you the energy to keep growing and keep exploring. As a result, you’ll be able to spend fewer hours collapsed on the couch, and more hours propelling yourself further into a cycle of positivity.
Try it out!
- Spend a day asking yourself for each activity, “Is this building me up, or is this draining me?” – look for ways you can reduce or remove the negative ones and fuel the positive ones.
- Make sure you’re moving around enough! Exercise is huge for all areas of happiness, and has a counterintuitive tendency to give people more energy, not less.
- If you’re introverted, make sure you’re getting some time during your day to be alone in your own space. Instead, if you’re extroverted, make sure you’re getting some time during your day to be around others you enjoy.
In each of these areas, as well as many others, there are opportunities for you to do less, in order to do more. Try some of these tips to see if you can cut back waste in these areas to make room in your life. Relish the newfound space you’ve made for what you love, what fulfills you, and what propels you toward your goals.