The long-term rewards for decluttering are awesome. Who doesn’t want to live in a beautiful organized space, where they can always find everything, and feel comfortable having people over at the drop of a hat?
But decluttering is hard work. To be successful long-term, you’ll need to take a slow and steady approach. Which means it’s going to be easy to lose sight of your end goal and get discouraged, which means you’ll stop decluttering.
Make sure you get the results you want by giving yourself a reward at the end of every 20 minute decluttering session.
Why 20 minutes?
If you’re looking for a decluttering mantra, ‘slow and steady wins the race’ is a good one.
Twenty minutes is long enough to get something done, and short enough to keep doing it regularly. Keep chugging along with no more than 20 minutes a day and you’ll be amazed how much gets done over time.
The key to keeping the habit is to reward yourself each and every time you complete 20 minutes of decluttering.
This can be surprisingly difficult, especially if you’ve been berating yourself for your clutter and trying to motivate yourself with harsh words and judgments.
Do you deserve a reward?
“Reward yourself? This is what you should be doing anyway!” The accusatory voice in your head doesn’t think rewards are necessary, it thinks you should just do this anyway.
That you’re sort of a loser because you have clutter, and that even if you do somehow manage to clean this place up, no one will ever want to come visit because you’re such a slob.
With that voice running in the background, it’s no wonder decluttering is hard. That voice would give us grudging praise if the entire house was spotless. And there would always be a caveat. “Looks good, and God knows it’s taken you long enough. Let’s see if you can keep it up.”
That voice is a compilation of your past
Your mean third-grade teacher who thought eight-year-olds were way too old to be “babied”.
Any parent or grandparent who thought you motivate people by relentlessly pushing them to do better. They constantly moved the goal posts so anything you did was never good enough.
It’s your ballet teacher, soccer coach and high school chemistry teacher wrapped up into one critical, nit-picking voice.
I have to believe they thought if we told us we did a good job, we’d slack off and never do anything again. That they didn’t realize we’d be still dealing with their inability to give positive feedback all these years later.
Let’s try something different
You have a lifetime’s experience that listening to that mean voice doesn’t work, so how about trying something different? Try giving yourself a reward when you declutter for 20 minutes.
Thank those voices for trying, misguidedly, to motivate you, and send them off to count jam jars in the basement, way over there.
The best rewards are the ones that mean something to you
You don’t need me to tell you to take a relaxing bath or light a candle and meditate. You’ve seen those suggestions approximately six million times since the Internet began.
Meditation has become so virtuous, it’s yet another thing you feel you ought to do.
The bath tub’s kinda dirty and the candles have seen better days. That reward just gives you more work to do, scrubbing out the bathtub so you can relax properly, ordering expensive candles so you can do this relaxing thing right.
And yes, a deep breath or two would do all of us a power of good, but it’s not exactly a reward, is it?
1. Reward yourself by reading
Read for twenty minutes, but not something you associate the words ‘should’ or ‘ought to’ or ‘catch up’ with. Yes, it would be useful to start working your way through that pile of magazines from the last ten years, but that’s just another chore.
Pick something that delights, entertains, or amuses you and designate it as your decluttering reward. That means things like the latest copy of People or a beach novel you’ve been wanting to read as soon as you finish the books that feel more worthy of your time and energy.
2. Reward yourself by watching
Watch for twenty minutes. If you’re keeping a lid on celebrity gossip or social media, or the Real Housewives call, set the timer for 20 minutes and pause it when the timer goes off. Save the next bit for your next reward.
3. Reward yourself by moving
Move for twenty minutes. But only in a way that feels good. This isn’t the time to kill two birds with one stone by crossing off decluttering for twenty minutes and daily brisk walk for twenty minutes from your list of improving activities for the day.
It’s time to dance or shuffle, to bounce on your rebounder if that’s fun. To do silly walks around the yard or see if you can still do cartwheels. To chase your kids or dogs around the kitchen, and remember moving can be fun.
4. Reward yourself by laughing
Laugh for twenty minutes. Find a comic you like and listen on YouTube. Jim Gaffigan and Michael McIntyre are family-friendly comedians to start your search off with but that’s just because this is a G-rated blog. You know who makes you howl with laughter – find them and listen after you finish your twenty minutes decluttering.
5. Reward your extrovert self
Connect for twenty minutes. Schedule a call or a walk with someone you enjoy spending time with. This isn’t the time to meet with anyone who tells you all about how they are and always forgets to ask how you are. Pick someone it’s easy to be with and enjoy some time together after you’re done decluttering for 20 minutes.
6. Reward your inner introvert
Twenty minutes to yourself. If you’re surrounded by people, and you’re an introvert, a great reward is twenty minutes to yourself. Take time to decompress in a way that works best for you, whether it’s checking on your houseplants, scrolling through your phone or taking a brief nap. Whatever gives you a break from other people’s energy will be a fine reward.
7. Reward your tactile side
Physical touch is one of the five love languages. Haul out that chair massager. Roll your back with a foam roller. Anything that gives you the comfort and pressure of a hug. If you have a hot tub, jump in it. If you don’t, your local rec center almost certainly does. Immersing yourself in bubbling water is a great reward for 20 minutes well-spent decluttering.
8. Reward yourself with unconditional love
Hook into some unconditional love. Tell anyone you decluttered for twenty minutes today, and the response is likely going to be less enthusiastic than you want. You’ll get feedback, but it may not be positive: “Finally!” or “That’s great, how much did you get done?”.
Instead, find a kitty or a dog and lavish them with love as you tell them how hard you worked. They’ll tell you just how amazing you are.
9. Reward yourself tastefully
Eat something delightful. We all know that food isn’t love, so this isn’t an invitation to reward yourself with mindless eating. But taking a few minutes to savor something delicious is a kind way to treat yourself after decluttering. It’s not what you eat so much as how you eat it. Pay attention and allow yourself to really enjoy what you’re tasting.
Herbal tea or chocolate are obvious choices. But I’m thinking more of something you love to eat but don’t often prepare or buy. A little something that reminds you, hey, I did good work today.
10. Mindfulness, the ultimate reward
Go for a walk. This is one of those suggestions we already know, and often dismiss. The rewarding way to take a short afternoon walk is to pay attention to your surroundings as you stroll.
What’s going on with the trees today – are they covered in snow or spreading out to give you shade on a hot day? Is that the school bus dropping off? Notice the kids piling out, the smell of the bus exhaust, the sound of the bus as it rolls away. How many dogs have you seen and how many squirrels did they catch?
Connect with where you are and be part of it. You can call it mindfulness if you like.
What would be rewarding for you?
You know yourself better than anyone does. What would be a lovely reward to yourself for finishing today’s twenty minutes of decluttering?
READ MORE >>> Decluttering motivation
by Lucy Kelly
DON’T MISS OUT >>> Send It Away Saturday is my email list reserved strictly for people who want to get organized without getting overwhelmed.
I love all of these different approaches. I have one client who, when she gets through a difficult task, I send her out to the porch, or over to the window in a sunbeam, to do a sun salutation. For her, movement is a great reward. For me, clients sometimes ask if I’d like something to drink, and more often than not, I’ll say “maybe later” and then “reward” myself after we finish a tricky section with an icy cold class of water. Water doesn’t seem like much of a reward, but it not only refreshes, but it seems to give my brain and and body a re-boot to get more accomplished. And the BEST client organizing sessions are the ones where we are making one another laugh all the way through; it’s a reward that keeps on giving.
Totally agree, Julie – finding joy in moving, refreshing with water, and laughter all help your brain feel safe and cared for. That frees us up to declutter 🙂
This is a wonderful reminder, Lucy, of the power of doing something positive. The thing I love to do is sit quietly and make progress on my needlepoint. I love to see the mesh in the canvas become filled with the colors of the design. For me, the peace and quiet this provides allows my mind to wander. I also love to walk – my 2 dogs and I take different kinds of walks. Some, as you say, are more of a stroll which is really fun!
The way you describe needlepoint makes me want go out and get all the supplies right now, Diane!
Well for me, I think the organized space is the best reward. That’s because order is really important to me. However, I acknowledge that this isn’t the case for everyone, so I love this list of rewards. If I want to incent myself for “good behavior” of any kind, I go for time to read, sleep, or a big diet soda!
Three awesome rewards right there, Seana!
Slow and steading wins the race is a great mantra! Thanks for the reminder. =)
I’m thinking of getting t-shirts printed, Sabrina. I must say it a dozen times a week.
Your list of rewards are awesome! I love them all. I also like your approach to steady, daily, short decluttering sessions. Those are totally doable and will make a huge difference in the short and long-term.
The only part I’m not 100% sure about is the rewarding daily. If we reward ourselves daily, overtime it might feel less rewarding. I might instead consider a reward once a week or two for “x” number of decluttering sessions.
The other way to view it is your list of rewards are actually wonderful things to incorporate into your day, NOT as a reward, but as a way of being. So if the goal is to add more positive experiences, then doing one of these each day is a great plan.
I hear you about the daily rewards, Linda – perhaps random rewards are more motivating overall. But when you’re just getting started, I think immediate rewards are the way to go 🙂
Love the meta-rewards of rewards!