minimalism and decluttering

Learning to Let Go: 5 Tips for Clearing Out the Clutter

Collect memories. Not things.

This is my mantra going into 2018. I’m not normally one to make New Year’s Resolutions, but I have found since becoming a mom I do a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do. Call it my new normal.

And this isn’t so much a resolution as it is a new way of thinking all together. I grew up in a house full of stuff. Cabinets and shelves packed with knickknacks, clutter piled up everywhere, not an empty corner or crevice in sight. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the house was dirty, but it never felt clean.

There was always a sense of attachment to ‘things’. So much meaning placed on all of these inanimate objects. “We can’t throw that away because we got it on our first family trip to Cedar Point.” [said about a coffee cup] or “You have to save this, don’t you remember when you picked it out all by yourself when you were 7?” [said about one of the hundreds of trinkets adorning a dusty shelf]. Naturally I developed a need to save everything, because without it how would I hold onto the memories?

My tiny bedroom growing up was made much smaller thanks to all of the things I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. But at least I only had one room to clean back then. Now I have home of my own…with a lot of rooms. My husband and I lived in a 1,000 square foot apartment for 5 years before we built (what will hopefully be) our forever home. It took 3 trips with a very large U-Haul truck to move all of our stuff. I don’t even know how I fit that much in an apartment, and we didn’t even bring everything with us to the new house. We left a lot of the big furniture behind.

That was when it really hit me.

I have too much stuff.

Stuff that holds absolutely no meaning whatsoever. There are still boxes of things that we moved that I don’t think I’ve even looked at in the 4 years we’ve lived in our new home. Can what’s in those boxes really be that important? Do I need the favor from my high school prom? Why do I still have a caboodle [yes, you read that right, a caboodle] full of beads and string from when I used to make my own jewelry? And don’t tell my husband, but what am I going to do with the bracelet from my high school boyfriend?

I realize now that the only thing this stuff provides me with is anxiety. Holding onto it all doesn’t make my life better. It makes it worse. Everything piles up and then it becomes a day-long project to sort through and organize the ‘junk drawer’ or a week-long affair to sift through everything in the ‘junk room’.

Less is more.

Less stuff means more free time. Not that I had all the time in the world before, but now that I’m a mom, a full-time working mom, my time is limited. And it’s precious. My daycare provider spends more time with my daughter than I do during the week. [That breaks my heart, but you do what you have to do to provide for your family.] So the very last thing I want to be doing in the evening or on a weekend is organizing a bunch of stuff I don’t really want anyway. I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a house full of clutter. I don’t want her to think that more stuff means more happiness. I don’t want her to collect things, I want her to collect memories. So here’s what I’m going to do.

The Mins Game

A friend posted this challenge by The Minimalists and I knew this was what I needed to do to kick-start my new minimalist lifestyle.

We call it the 30-Day Minimalism Game.

Here’s how it works…

Find a friend or family member: someone who’s willing to get rid of their excess stuff. This month, each of you must get rid of one thing on the first day. On the second, two things. Three items on the third. So forth, and so on. Anything can go! Clothes, furniture, electronics, tools, decorations, etc. Donate, sell, or trash. Whatever you do, each material possession must be out of your house—and out of your life—by midnight each day.

It’s an easy game at first. However, it starts getting challenging by week two when you’re both jettisoning more than a dozen items each day. Whoever can keep it going the longest wins; you both win if you can make it all month. Bonus points if you play with more than two people.

496 things in one month? I’m going to crush this game. If you want to play along, it’s not too late. This chart from Aimee at Mommy Baby Life will help you stay on track. If this sounds too intense, you can try setting a more reasonable goal of getting rid of just one thing everyday. I plan to continue this after the challenge is over.

After I decided to participate in this challenge, I figured I might as well go all in and pull out all of my ‘decluttering’ tricks. It was time to actually read all those pins I had saved to my ‘Organization’ board on Pinterest over the years, because I have been meaning to start this minimalism thing for a while now. It just wasn’t a priority until I became a mom and I started to feel like I was drowning in ‘stuff’. Because babies…they come with a lot of stuff. And I’m tired of taking time away from my family – they’re what make me happy, not the stuff. So to complement the Mins Game and help myself achieve the minimalist lifestyle I aspire to have, here are a few additional things I plan to do:

The 2-Minute Rule

If a task will take less than 2 minutes (carrying a box out to the recycling bin, putting away that sweater you tried on but decided not to wear, tossing the junk mail rather than leaving it on the counter), DO IT NOW. This is an easy one to follow, and a trick that really helps prevent simple tasks from turning into bigger projects. Just make sure you complete the task and don’t get sidetracked, otherwise you’ll sabotage your productivity. Is there an e-mail you’ve been meaning to send? Send it. Are you looking across the room at the dinner dishes you left on the counter rather than taking the 45 seconds to wash them? Go wash them! Yes, right now.

The Hanger Trick

I actually did this…3 years ago…and still have backwards hangers in my closet! Let me explain. You’ve probably heard that the best way to clean our your closet is to get rid of anything you haven’t worn in 6-12 months. I use the 12 month rule because we have a wide range of temperatures here in New York. There are clothes that I wear in September that I can’t possibly wear again until the following May (not because I don’t want to, but because shorts and tank tops just aren’t practical in February when you live in Buffalo). The easiest way to figure out what you actually wear is to start by turning all of your hangers backwards. Then when you wear something, flip the hanger around. (Note, this only works if you put the article of clothing back on the same hanger, not a problem for me, my closet is completely color-coordinated, ROY-G-BIV style). After the allotted time, whatever has a backwards hanger has to go! I’m going to start over and actually follow through this time!

The 10-Minute Tidy

Something that a friend told me she does every night before going to bed is she sets aside 10 minutes just to tidy up. I thought to myself, ‘What can you really accomplish in 10 minutes?’ The answer to that is A LOT. It’s not cleaning or scrubbing but just a quick 10-minute sweep of the main rooms in your home. Putting away the scattered toys. Returning coats to the closet. Straightening up the shoes by the door. Removing clutter from the counters. The amount of stuff you can accomplish in 10 minutes will amaze you. Seriously, take before and after pictures of the rooms you tackle. I even started incorporating a little prep for the next day (like filling the coffee maker reservoir with water and laying out my daughter’s clothes) and it has made my mornings so much less hectic. Taking a little bit of time each night to put everything in its place means you’re a lot less likely to toss everything in a junk drawer or closet when you find out your in-laws are coming by for a quick visit.

No More Junk Drawer

You know what I’m talking about. That random drawer (or room) in the house filled with stuff that doesn’t belong anywhere else. It’s a trap. A scapegoat. If it doesn’t belong anywhere other than the junk drawer, does it really belong in the house at all? And if it does, don’t you want to put it somewhere so it will be easy to find when you need it? It’s so easy to toss something in there thinking you’ll put it where it belongs at a later time, but guess what? Later doesn’t happen. And the drawer gets full. And then you spend half a day cleaning it out when you do actually need something that got tossed in there but you can’t find it.

Getting rid of our junk drawer was one of the best things I’ve done in this step toward minimalism. Without a place to throw things randomly, it has forced me to evaluate what would have just been tossed in a drawer to be dealt with at a later time. A lot of what was in there ended up in the trash and now the more important things are easy to find when I need them, because they’re where they belong.

Clearing out the clutter isn’t just about having a cleaner home. It’s about peace. There’s something about walking into a clutter-free space that is so peaceful to me. I didn’t realize how much additional stress and anxiety all the clutter could cause. In the past when I’ve tackled a closet or a room, I’ll admit, I’ve stood in the doorway just admiring it. I want that to be the norm, the everyday, not the rare occasion. I want my weekends to be filled with quality time spent with my daughter and my husband, not cleaning projects. I want my thoughts to be about planning our next family adventure, not worrying about when I’m going to get around to organizing the kitchen pantry. I want to raise my daughter to appreciate moments and not get too attached to tangible things. Because things get lost, or broken, or forgotten about. But moments and memories, you can’t lose those.

Do you have any good tips for decluttering? Have you found life to be easier since adopting a minimalist lifestyle? Please share!




  1. miriam

    i love a good new year clean out! i def. need to do the hanger trick! thanks for sharing!

  2. This is a great lineup of ideas! Heading into the new year, I am craving order and space. As a master procrastinator, I especially love the 2-minute rule!

  3. Angie

    I started trying to do this more and more last year. I always do a spring cleaning and get rid of clothes and shoes. For the past two years I been doing it with everything in my house. I really liked the hanger trick. It can make my spring cleaning a lot easier by knowing what exactly I haven’t worn in a while and not second guessing myself if I should get rid of it or not.

  4. These are great tips. This is the time of year I really get rid of stuff. It does take a lot of time to get rid of stuff, surprisingly – like getting to goodwill or other ways of donating versus throwing things out. I think your methods are helpful when it comes to getting things gone!

  5. No more Junk drawer. That sounds too good to be true. I will definitely attempt to get rid of them. Very difficult but must try.

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