Inside: 3 steps to help you declutter even when you’re feeling overwhelmed
She walks into the room and stops. It’s too much, it’s all too much. A sense of overwhelm fills her small body and she thinks, “I just can’t.”
That’s the story of one of my readers – she’d like to declutter her home, but when she looks around, it all just feels too overwhelming. So, let’s talk about how you can begin the decluttering process when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
What is overwhelm?
Overwhelm is that feeling of too much. When you look around and it feels like too much work, too much going on, too many things to consider.
In this situation, most people do nothing. Inertia prevails, and people take the easy way out.
Except what looks like the easy way out actually isn’t. It keeps you in the same boat, only every day you feel a little worse about not taking any action.
How do you stop feeling overwhelmed?
The best way I know to stop feeling overwhelmed is the following super easy three-step process.
Step 1 – Smile at yourself
Stand in front of the mirror and smile at yourself. A beautiful wide smile, the kind that shows in your eyes. You don’t have to say anything, just smile. Really, give it a try.
It may feel a little weird at first, but it works, trust me, so keep smiling. Science tells us smiling is contagious – and all you need to do is grin at yourself in the mirror so you can see your smile back works. And it’s such a mood lifter. In no time, you’ll be beaming joy and happiness.
It may sound funny, but this is something you can do every morning as you wash your face. I do, and I bet over time, you’ll actually start looking forward to it as you wake up each day. It’s hard to be in a bad mood when there’s a smiling face looking at you from the mirror.
Step 2 – Say your affirmations
This may be a little woo-woo for some, but it works like a charm, so bear with me here. Affirmations are the words you need to tell yourself in order to shush the committee in your brain. (Most of us have one.)
Affirmations are words of gratitude, hope, and joy that affirm your power. So if the committee in your head is chattering about how you let things pile up, you affirmation statement goes something like this:
I am grateful I have the energy to tackle decluttering today. I am a woman of action. I enjoy making my home calm and beautiful.
Try saying it out loud. And again. And now say it with conviction. You can do this. As you say these words, feel them. Really feel them fill you with power.
Keep repeating your affirmations, with more and more conviction each time, until you smile and feel ready to take on the world. Or, you know, declutter something, hehe. Then proceed to the next step.
Step 3 – Do something easy
What tasks are on your list that you’ve been putting off for a while? Pick something quick and easy, like emailing an old friend or making that dental appointment. And do it right away.
Not only will you be smiling and feeling like a woman of action, but you will also have shown yourself as one. There’s a sense of accomplishment and a “Ha! I can do anything if I set my mind to it.” Because you really can.
How do you declutter when you’re feeling overwhelmed?
You already know the answer to this one, don’t you? First, you follow the three-step process above to get the overwhelm under control, and then you start decluttering.
And you do it in a way that minimizes the chance of you feeling overwhelmed again. Here’s how:
Step 1. Commit to a goal
Listen, you do not have to deal with all the stuff right now. Of course, you can make serious headway in a weekend, but if you don’t have a weekend to spend on decluttering, no biggie.
Understand that simplifying your life is a process. So for now, commit to decluttering a reasonable amount of stuff each day. Some days you’ll do more, other days less, depending on how your day is going.
That’s okay, just make a commitment to yourself that you’ll do a little every day. It’s that simple.
If the clutter is mainly not yours but belongs to other family members, sit down with them for a heart-to-heart. Have a chat about why a clutter-free space is necessary for you and how it will actually be delightful for everyone else too.
Step 2. Set a timer
You can get quite a bit done in 15 minutes, and it all adds up when you do your 15 minutes every single day. Decide on one small task to tackle each day, set the timer, and see how far you can get with it.
On days when you’re feeling ambitious, set the timer for 20 or 30 minutes and see how it goes.
Step 3. Pick a spot
You want to declutter one room at a time. Do you have a room that drives you crazy when you walk in there? Or a closet?
If you have a spot you’ve been meaning to declutter but keep putting it off, I suggest you start there.
It’s too much of an energy suck to continually put off something because it feels so overwhelming.
But if that room is too much to even contemplate, no worries. Start with another room – a relatively neat one – and declutter it first.
And if no room stands out as totally crazy-making and you want to start with the one room that will give you the highest return on investment, definitely start with the bedroom. Here’s why and here’s how.
Step 4: Do a clean sweep
Grab a trash bag or two and walk through your home. Look for anything that needs to go in the trash, like old newspapers and receipts so faded you can’t even tell which store they’re from.
Place all trash in the bag, tie the ties in a knot, and take it all out of the house. This is a good time to empty all the trash cans in your home, too.
Into the large trash bin outside or the garbage chute if you have one. With the trash gone, it’s time to declutter the rest of the stuff.
Step 5: Designate a donation box
This can be an actual box, like from your most recent Amazon order, or a trash bag. I like to keep mine near the door to the garage. That way, it’s easy to toss in the car on the way out.
Also, identify a nearby thrift shop that will take your donation. I suggest calling them first to see if they have any exclusions and to confirm that they do indeed take some of the more unusual things you may want to donate.
This way, as soon as your box or bag is full, or every week, you can take it to the donation center. The point is that stuff actually leaves your house regularly as the amount of clutter around you dwindles. (Yay!)
Step 6: Start small
You don’t want to start with sentimental things. Instead, start with things that are easy wins.
Anything broken, beyond repair, and anything that you’ve been meaning to repair but haven’t gotten to it (in years!) – those are all excellent candidates for the trash bin.
The juicer you never used and Christmas ornaments you haven’t even pulled out in over a decade – donate. Don’t even look back.
Step 7: Don’t accept guilt
Look, clutter happens to the best of us. Usually when we’re too busy taking care of others or trying to make ends meet.
This is your home and it should serve you, not the other way around. So no need to feel guilty about getting rid of stuff you no longer need.
Your home should serve you, not the other way around. No need to feel guilty about decluttering stuff you no longer need.
As you sort through your things and assess each one, ask yourself these questions:
- Have I used (or worn) this in the last year?
- Do I love it?
- Do I have space for it?
- Am I willing to throw away something else to make room for it?
- Am I keeping it because someone special gave it to me?
- Are there memories attached to it?
- Do I need anything else to make use of this item?
- Can I see myself using it in the future? Under what conditions?
These questions should help you ensure only things that are really earning their keep will stay in your home.
Step 8: Adopt the one-in-one-out rule
This one powerful rule will go a long way toward helping you keep your home clutter-free. When you bring in something new, something old must go.
For example, when you buy a new pair of shoes, either toss the old pair they’re replacing or donate another older pair that’s still serviceable.
If you’re a book fiend like me, this will get really difficult when you run across a new must-have book. You could try looking for it at the library (my first choice) or designate a certain number of shelves to hold all your books.
That way, it’s not quite one-in-one-out because some books are thin while others are thick, but the volume of space your books occupy shouldn’t expand beyond the designated shelves.
The same goes for craft supplies – designate a space (shelves, drawers, or boxes) to hold your supplies and stick with that. This will give you the flexibility to try different hobbies or media, without bringing in clutter.
This rule cuts down on impulse buys as you realize you’re not willing to part with anything you currently have to make room for the new tempting things. And it helps you maintain your clutter-free, more minimalist home.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed these days. Most of us have too much stuff and too much going on to see our way out of it clearly. But if you start by smiling at yourself, saying your affirmations, and doing something easy, you’ll be able to conquer overwhelm and start decluttering. You got this.