How to declutter and rightsize without stress

Our housing requirements change throughout our lives. Decluttering gives everyone a chance to cultivate a deeper connection with their living environment. Carolyn Tate finds the bonus of rightsizing our belongings to our living space isn't just a tidier home but also a sense of wellbeing and improved mental health.

The power of less gives you more

Over the course of our lives, we can gather a lot of ‘stuff’. Some of our stuff has meaning, some has function, and some just seems to gather in our closets and dark corners and, before long, we don’t even notice it’s there.

If you’re planning on downsizing your home, it can be an ideal time to declutter. In fact, decluttering may become a necessity if you want to be able to fit into your new home, or just simplify the home you’re in.

Going room to room and getting rid of a lifetime of memories can seem like a daunting task at first. There’s no getting around the fact that decluttering requires a fair bit of work – both the physical labour and the emotional toll that letting your old belongings go can entail.

But if you apply a framework and approach the job methodically, decluttering can be a cleansing and liberating experience. Here’s one way you can approach it.

Step 1: Reframe your thinking

Yes, we did just acknowledge that decluttering can be a lot of work, but changing the way you frame the task in your head can be the first step to making this process easier on yourself. Decluttering isn’t just work; it’s also an opportunity to free yourself of excess items that are weighing you down.

Many studies, including one by Princeton University have found that our environment can have a significant positive or negative impact on our overall mental health and our ability to complete tasks.

If you’re moving, try to remember why you’re making the move in the first place and keep that front of mind. Is it so you spend less time maintaining an unnecessarily large home, so you can be closer to family and friends, so you can save money, or so you can enjoy a sea or tree change?

And if you’re not moving, think about why you want to downsize and declutter – is it so you have more room to move? To reduce mental clutter? To sell your unneeded items for extra cash?

Thinking about your ‘why’ can be an excellent motivator.

Step 2: Ask for help

If getting started still seems hard, ask for help. Sometimes that extra support can be what you need to make the project more fun and break it down into chunks, and with some music playing and some good snacks, you can make it a decluttering party.

UK decluttering website Less Stuff suggests that, when asking for help decluttering, it can help to set a time limit, define an area to declutter, clarify exactly what you need help with, and decide how you want to leave it in the end. This way, you can minimise any awkwardness and everyone knows what is expected of them.

If you don’t have family or friends available to help you, there are professional decluttering services available. Google ‘professional decluttering’ in your area, or advertise on a platform like Airtasker.

Step 3: Measure up

Take a look at the size and layout of your new space, if you have one, in order to figure out how much space you’ll have for your belongings.

Try to choose furniture that is functional and necessary, and that doesn’t overcrowd your living space.

“Choose furniture that doesn't block your view from one area to another, suggests Better Homes and Gardens. “Try open-sided bookcases, glass or acrylic tables, and chairs with slender profiles, which will fill your room with comfort and utility without making it seem congested.

This will give you the best chance of making the space homely and appealing, and you still have the option of adding some sentimental pieces as well.

Step 4: Decide what is important, and what’s not

What are your most treasured items? Whatever they are, that’s what you design your new space around. That will mean your new space is full of items you love, instead of things that have just ended up there.

Channelling your inner Marie Kondo can help here, choosing to only keep things that spark joy (pick up her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up if you want some inspiration). And while it can be nice to take a walk down memory lane while you’re going through your old boxes, try not to get caught up in nostalgia that could prolong the process.

Display trinkets, ornaments, pictures, or even furniture that bring a smile to your face, and ditch the chipped crockery, and ugly glassware you could never throw away because it was a wedding present. Nobody remembers any more – it’s okay to let it go.

Now is also an excellent time to get rid of duplicates or items that no longer work. If you haven’t fixed it by now, you’re probably not going to.

Step 5: Get creative with storage

If you’re a gun declutterer, you might be able to skip this step. But, even after a thorough decluttering, most of us are likely to still have more belongings than can fit in our rooms, so clever storage is important. Get strategic and do your research to maximise your use of cupboard space, adding items like hanging shoe racks, drawer inserts, and stacking boxes. In the kitchen, buy containers that sit snugly next to each other, rather than round containers that take up unnecessary room. If you need help, stores like IKEA offer planning help to design a space that will suit your needs.

Step 6: Sit back and breathe in your new, streamlined space

“Decluttering increases self-worth, creates healthy habits, and boosts productivity,” reports Psychology Today. “A clean and tidy home can also improve sleep, boost mood, and promote relaxation.”

You’ve worked hard, and now it’s time to enjoy the benefits – and, if you’ve done a good job, you won’t have to do this job again any time soon.

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