What’s the irony of de-cluttering for stress management?

It’s so stressful!

As I’ve delved into the reality of de-cluttering and minimal living, I’ve realised that for many of us, the very prospect of reducing our possessions is overwhelming.

For some of us, it fills us with stress, panic, and even dread.

Very few of us are immune to overwhelm.

It affects most of us, and it can occur across any area of our lives – like cleaning the fridge, sorting our tax receipts, or committing to healthy eating.

When I first decided to de-clutter, it actually took me over a year to begin.

It all started shortly after my son was born. Our home was buried under an avalanche of nappies, clothes, gifts, toys, bottles – and those were just my son’s things that added to the existing chaos of my, my husband’s, and the bunny’s possessions.

It wasn’t mess or dirt.

It was just STUFF. Sitting in neatly organized piles.

Too much stuff, to be exact.

It wasn’t just the dining table and kitchen counters. It was the closets, pantry, bookshelves, garage – even the boot of the car.

Every square inch of storage was filled with something.

De-cluttering was on the agenda. I knew it, and I repeatedly vowed to do it.

But how? And where to begin?

I ended up waiting an entire year before actually taking action.

Hindsight is 20/20, and now that I’ve eliminated around 70% of my belongings (with more to come), I can see why it took so long to begin.

I was waiting for the overwhelm to go away.

I was waiting for de-cluttering to seem less daunting.
I was waiting for it to seem easier.

None of that happened as long as I kept thinking of everything that I had to do. I was focused on the big picture, to the extent that my mind was filled with ALL OF THE THINGS that had to be de-cluttered.

The reality is, whenever we look at the “big picture” – we’re prone to becoming overwhelmed.

Think about all the groceries you will buy this year.

Think about all the meals you will cook (or eat) this year.

Think about all the people you will talk to, this year.

Pretty overwhelming, right?

The good news is that no one’s asking us to eat a years’ worth of meals in one go.

And we don’t have to de-clutter our entire home in one go, either.

For me, de-cluttering started small.

I started with one book.

That was it.

The book progressed to one section of one shelf on one bookcase.

And then the rest of the shelf. And the rest of the bookcase. And then the other bookcase, and the DVD collection, and the kitchen cupboards, and so on.

When I removed that book, I wasn’t even thinking about de-cluttering. And yet, this one simple act started a chain reaction. Like dominoes tumbling, each action inspired another action, until an entire room was de-cluttered.

(You can check out this quick video here, where I talk about taking that first step and how it created that domino effect)

The overwhelm never really went away.

I can still access overwhelm, if I think about other areas of the house I have yet to de-clutter.

But overwhelm isn’t a comfortable place to be, because it leads to inertia and inaction, rather than inspiration.

So, I don’t think about my “to-do” list. I don’t even have a list. I don’t think about all the rooms and closets that still need de-cluttering.

I think about one area that I can de-clutter right now. One cupboard. One shelf. One drawer. Or I think about spending just 15 minutes sorting through a closet (and if not 15 minutes, then 5 or perhaps even 2 minutes).

Here are three nifty and pain-free ways of starting the de-cluttering process:

1. Start with the things that you’ve been meaning to eliminate anyway. The stuff that you don’t like, don’t want, and don’t care for. It’s easy to get rid of it, because there’s very little attachment there anyway.

2. Try a 30 day challenge. On day 1, remove one item from your home. On day 2, remove 2 items. On day 3, remove 3 items. And so on. By the end of 30 days, you will have removed 600 items from your home. The best part is that you create momentum as each day passes, and it becomes easier and easier to eliminate clutter as the challenge progresses.

3. If you don’t have a lot of time to de-clutter, try this: Pack up all your clothes, utensils, books, DVDs, etc into boxes for 90 days. Only remove items when you need them. By the end of the 90 days, take a good look at anything that’s still in a box, and ask yourself whether you really need it. If you haven’t used it in three months, is there any need to hold onto it?

(For seasonal clothing, you may want to do this once in summer and again in winter).

Please note – I’m not suggesting that we become completely ruthless and unsentimental with our possessions. We all own things that hold great value even if they’re not functionally useful.

My advice is to hold off on any decision-making about these sentimental items until everything else has been de-cluttered first.

As I mentioned in the video above, sometimes it can take time to adjust to the idea of eliminating certain items. There are some things that I’ve kept – like my year 12 formal dress – simply because I don’t want to let it go. Perhaps one day, I will. But I don’t need to make that decision today, especially since there are other, easier decisions to be made about the items I haven’t de-cluttered yet.

So, how do we start de-cluttering?

Start small. Make it easy. Make it fun.

The first step will inspire more steps, which creates momentum to continue. It’s that first step that requires the most effort – but once we begin, the inspiration and motivation flow easily.