Here we are. It’s March, and we’re about to hit the one year mark of living in a different world.
For a lot, this has been a year of being at home more than ever before. For some, this has been a year of working harder than you ever imagined possible. For too many, this has been a year of unimaginable loss.
For all of us, “essential activities” have been redefined.
Is your home perfect? Would you have assumed it would be if someone had told you a worldwide pandemic would remove the vast majority of your outside commitments and distractions?
There’s a reason decluttering wasn’t easy for some of us in this unique world situation, and there’s a solution.
Being stuck at home (even if only on a rare day off of work) didn’t make decluttering easy because the biggest resource we subconsciously believe we need to be able to declutter is emotional energy. Specifically, decision-making energy.
A pile of stuff feels like a pile of decisions to be made, and since I don’t know what is at the bottom of the pile, I imagine that they will be hard decisions. Hard, emotional decisions.
Most of us are emotionally exhausted.
Living through a worldwide pandemic means everyday decisions become life and death decisions. From sending your kid to school (or not) or finding a safe way to celebrate a birthday or getting your washing machine repaired, everything is harder and comes with considerations and repercussions that didn’t exist in 2019.
Even if you don’t realize it, even if you keep reminding yourself of the truly life-altering loss others have endured and the perspective that brings to your own situation, you’re emotionally exhausted.
You’re tired of making decisions. You haven’t tackled certain piles because you can’t stand the thought of making one more decision you don’t absolutely have to make, so it feels easier to leave the pile sitting there.
I’m here to acknowledge that the past year has been emotionally draining, and to give you the good news that it is possible to declutter without draining yourself more.
I used to put off decluttering because I felt overwhelmed and wanted to avoid feeling feelings I wasn’t in the mood to feel. Meanwhile, my clutter piles grew, and I felt more overwhelmed. When I finally hit rock bottom and had to (literally) dig my way out of my clutter, I learned ways to get rid of my clutter without depending on having emotional energy.
I ask myself fact-based, instinctual decluttering questions that don’t require endless analysis or lists of pros and cons. Following my decluttering steps lets me get stuff out of my house using minimal emotional energy.
I do not use emotions to declutter because I am emotional. I’ve written (and talked) in depth about my decluttering process, and I’ll share links at the end if you want to really grasp my strategies. But for now, I’ll give you my three best tips for making decluttering progress when you don’t have emotional energy to spare.
Start small. Start visible. Set yourself up to be able to stop at any point.
When you’re emotionally exhausted and already suffering from decision fatigue, getting started is legitimately the hardest part.
Throw away trash. Obvious trash. Put trash in your trashcan or recycling bin and call it decluttering success.
If you think, “But trash isn’t clutter, it’s just trash!” while you leave trash sitting on your desk or kitchen counter or coffee table, stop thinking so much and go ahead throw the trash away.
I define decluttering success as stuff I don’t need leaving my house. Starting with trash helps me get moving and improving my home. The only emotion I feel toward trash is irritation that it exists, so getting rid of it is decision-free and has an immediate positive impact on my home.
I prioritize decluttering projects according to visibility. I need a definite prioritization strategy. Otherwise, I spin around looking at all the things I could and should be doing in my home, and I waste valuable time.
I start decluttering in visible areas because when I do that, I make visible progress. I have something to show for my efforts to myself and to anyone who happens to be in my house. If I start by decluttering a random shelf in my garage, I don’t experience the impact of my work, functionally nor visually.
If I improve a space I can see, seeing it makes me feel good. I like feeling good. Feeling good about a space inspires me to do more decluttering. It gives me decluttering energy. For all the reasons I shared in the beginning of this post about exhaustion, a surefire way to perpetuate my decluttering energy is gold.
Set yourself up to be able to stop at any point.
I believe we’ve all had a year-long lesson in how thinking we can control our situation is a delusion. This struggle is at the core of each panicky thought that has awakened me in the middle of the night over the past year.
While you may need to unpack this frustration with God and your therapist, I’m here with the decluttering answer.
My decluttering steps let me make progress and only progress. If I get through the first one, the space I’m working on is better. If I stop in the middle of my third decluttering step, the space is better. I never put myself in a position where the space is worse off than it was before I started decluttering.
The beauty of this is that I can declutter without knowing when I’ll have to stop, or when I’ll want to stop.
I can work on a space, knowing that if at any point I get distracted or exhausted, I can stop and the space will be improved. I won’t have anything hanging over my head, waiting to be done.
Here is the short answer for how I do that: I make a single decision about each item as it comes out of the space, and I act on that single decision so I never have to make that decision again.
If my emotion-free decluttering questions tell me where something goes, I take it there right then. If it needs to leave my house, I stick it in my donatable Donate Box that I’ll never go through again.
The hardest thing about the daily life-and-death decisions we’re making these days is that as soon as you make one, another comes along. Let decluttering be different from this. Make final decisions and act on those decisions so you never have to make them again. Ever.
It is possible to declutter even when you’re emotionally exhausted.
These are the basics that will let you declutter even when you don’t have the emotional bandwidth to make one more decision. But People Like Me need more words, more explanation, more help. I have all that available, and I’m linking to helpful things below.
If you want the whole plan and all the answers to your decluttering hangups, my book, Decluttering at the Speed of Life will talk you through the whole process and all the mindset shifts that will help. It’s available everywhere in all formats. Lots of people like to listen to the audio version while they declutter.
If you sign up for my free newsletter here, you’ll get exclusive access to a video in which I teach the process.
I recently talked through my five step never-make-a-bigger-mess decluttering process in a podcast.
Other blog posts that may be helpful to you:
Why (and How) I Don’t Use Emotions to Declutter
How to Declutter Without Making a Bigger Mess
The Worst Decluttering Strategy Ever
Want to Declutter But Can’t Donate Right Now?