For Decluttering Success, Less Is More

Decluttering seems like it should be so easy. It all sounds so simple, right? Just pick your stuff up, and make decisions. Shouldn’t that be easy enough?

For some people, it is. But for others, it never seems to happen. They keep reading books and articles in search of the secret that will make the advice all “click”, but the more they read, the more guilt they feel for not being able to get it done.

Does that sound like you? I know that’s exactly where I was a decade ago - until I realized that my decluttering strategies would never workfor me.

And once I realized why it would never work for me, the solution was obvious.

Coming To Grips With Time

One of the biggest problems I had with trying to implement the decluttering advice in books is that they seemed to assume that I was going to just buckle down and do it all at once. They expected me to block off a weekend, and have a major purge.

And while it’s great if you can book multi-hour (or multi-day!) decluttering sessions into your schedule and just knock large amounts of decluttering out all at once, that didn’t fit with my reality.

In fact, a majority of the people I’ve talked to who have clutter issues keep saying the same thing - “I just can’t find the time.”

And that was my exact problem - I just couldn’t find the time.

“All At Once” Is A Recipe For Failure

“I’m going to come up with a few hours, and just declutter my whole bedroom” is a noble sentiment, but it fails for three reasons.

  1. It’s hard to come up with a few hours in one contiguous block of time. If you’re like most people, your time commitments were made before decluttering was a priority - so there’s just no room. 
  2. Our commitment is only as good as our ability to maintain attention. It’s unlikely that we’re going to focus on things that don’t hold our interest for hours on end.
  3. Large time blocks involve “putting all your eggs in one basket”, so to speak. If you plan to do your decluttering “all day Saturday”, and that gets disrupted, you might not be able to reschedule for a month or more.

Because of this, blocking off large amounts of time to declutter isn’t either realistic or productive for most people - even if it’s technically possible.

Once we realize that the “all at once” method is untenable for most people, the solution is deceptively simple.

Leveraging Our Attention Span

If the problem is not having large blocks of time, and the mental trap is that “I’ll wait to declutter until I can knock it all out at once”, the way to defeat both of those is to do the exact opposite - find small blocks of time to declutter.

Most of us do, whether we realize it or not, have some “down time” scattered throughout our day.

So while you might not be able to do three-hour bursts once a week (or ever!), 15 minutes of decluttering per day is a very achievable goal for most people.

When you create a daily habit of spending small blocks of time doing decluttering, tidying, cleaning, etc., every day, that’s the equivalent of almost twelve eight-hour days worth of decluttering each year! And if you have to miss a day(vacation, illness, etc.) you’re only out 15 minutes. It’s no big deal.

And when you do it this way, by spending small amounts of time each day, you’ll probably discover that you get more done. Enthusiasm for less-pleasant tasks tends to decline with time, so short bursts give you the most productive time while cutting some of the drudgery.

But I Don’t Have The Time!

If you’re like me, now you’re thinking “that all sounds good, but where do I come up with 15 minutes every day to declutter?”

The single easiest options involve going to sleep a bit late or getting up a bit early. If that’s an option for you, give it a try.

But if you can’t make that work, then you need to find a way to do the 15 minutes in the middle of your day.

To find time, I would highly suggest keeping a time log for a few days. Write down all the stuff you’re doing, no matter how trivial. Once you have it on paper, and look for opportunities - both small and large.

Some examples:

  • Rather than watching the evening news, try listening to it instead. Turn up the TV a bit and do some decluttering in an adjoining room.
  • Go through a drawer in the kitchen while you’re waiting for dinner to cook.
  • If family interruptions are the problem, start a family routine where everybody declutters for 15 minutes after dinner.

This works when you’re on the go as well.

  • If you’re spending 15 minutes waiting for your doctor, go through your purse or wallet. Or grab your cell phone and purge some old email.
  • If you’re spending time waiting for your kid to get done with football practice, bring a folder full of old papers and go through them while you’re waiting.
  • If you’re stuck waiting in your car, go through the stuff in the glove box and/or trunk.

Obviously some situations are more versatile than others. You’re not going to be able to declutter your bedroom while you’re stuck in your car, for example. And you can’t declutter your car’s glove box every day. But you might be able to find a way to do something while you’re stuck in your car that will free up some time to declutter your bedroom later!

The objective isn’t to turn every piece of down time into productive decluttering time, but rather to find ways to reclaim a small amount of time - 15 minutes or so - each day.

Remember, developing that daily habit will net you almost twelve days worth of decluttering over the course of a year!

What about you? Where can you find 15 minutes to declutter?

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Robert Wall is a reformed packrat who helps busy people find solutions that minimize their clutter and enrich their lives. He also writes thought-provoking articles about decluttering and intentional living at his site Cluttered To Clean. You can connect with him on Twitter or via his Facebook group.

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