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Decluttering motivation

You want to declutter, but it can be so hard to find the motivation. Here are seven highly effective strategies to get you off the couch and happily decluttering.

Strategy #1: Use music to energize you

Some days you’re just not feeling it.

You’re still sick of not being able to find anything. You still want to have people over.You still want to get your car in the garage.

But damn, it’s just too much. Too much stuff, it’ll take way too long, what’s the point?

Time for a pity party.

You will need:

A notebook and something to write with.

Two timers. You can use a kitchen timer and your phone or two kitchen timers. Set the first timer for 12 minutes and the second timer for 20 minutes. Don’t start them yet.

A piece of music. It can be absolutely anything you like as long as it’s upbeat and energizing. No ballads, nothing with any sad memories.

You want that song cued up and ready, so open up the link on YouTube and add it to your playlist or get the needle ready to hit the LP. You want to be able produce that music as soon as it’s time.

Grab the first timer and start it going for 12 minutes. No more, no less.

Open the notebook and start writing down every single thought that’s stopping you from decluttering.

  • I don’t know where to take things
  • Nobody’s gonna want any of this stuff
  • I want to keep everything
  • I want to set fire to the whole thing
  • It’s too boring
  • It’s too hard
  • I don’t want to do this

Keep going until the timer rings.

Now, start the second timer, the one you preset for 20 minutes, and press play.

Let whatever piece of music you chose ring out while you make yourself pick one thing you can see that’s clutter. Use the sound of the music to propel you forward and pick something to work on. Something, anything, doesn’t matter as long as you keep moving. As soon as you hear the music, pick something up.

If you sit and listen to the music, you haven’t picked an energetic enough song. It has to be something that’ll literally get you on your feet dancing.  A piece so infectiously upbeat that it pulls you to your feet.

Once you’re on your feet, make a decision about that one thing.

It doesn’t matter if it takes you 20 seconds to decide or the full 20 minutes. Keep making decisions until the music stops and then you can too.

If you’re on a roll, keep going until the timer rings and then stop.

Now comes the magic

Every time you start a decluttering session from now on, play that same piece of music.

Whether you’re excited to work or whether you’re hosting another pity party, start with the same piece of music. Before you know it, like Pavlov’s dogs in the famous experiment, your brain will be conditioned to start decluttering at the sound of that music.

Choose your music carefully!

Pros

It’s tough to stay still when infectious, boppy music is playing. Even if all you do is dance, you’ll feel better and more energetic when you’re done. Decluttering for 20 minutes will seem less daunting.

The power of this strategy comes from repetition. You’ll be amazed how quickly your brain connects the music you choose with getting up and decluttering.

This strategy has the potential to motivate you for years, although you may swap out your musical choices over time.

Cons

The only downside is the potential for earworms.

Strategy #2: Grit your teeth and power through anyway

Sometimes all the strategies in the world don’t help and you have to resort to willpower.

Decluttering is like walking the dog no matter what the weather’s like or how you feel.

Last winter, I checked the weather to see if I should wear the big coat or if it was already warming up.

Minus seven, feels like minus 19.

The dog leash went back on the hook and Daisy got ushered out the back door to do her business while I shivered inside.

Daisy a red colored dog on brown couch

It was a long day for all of us.

Decluttering can feel like it’s minus seven, feels like minus 19 too. The clutter seems as demanding as dealing with a puppy who’s stuck indoors all day. It’s all over the place. Way too much effort, we’re just going to have to skip it for today. Maybe we’ll feel more like it tomorrow.

I didn’t want to walk Daisy, but it had to be done. You don’t want to deal with the clutter but who else is going to take care of it? Pull out the timer and set it for twenty minutes. What can you do before the timer rings? If you’re stuck, pick ONE of the following ideas:

  • Take out the trash.
  • Pick up all the newspapers and put them in the recycling.
  • Collect all the dirty dishes and put them in the sink.

When the timer rings, you’re done.

Pros

Relying on willpower is something we’ve all had to do at some point. The feeling is familiar and since it’s 20 minutes, it’s not a big ask of yourself. If you gave birth or ever had surgery, you’ve done worse for much longer.

Cons

Willpower does run out, so it won’t get you through marathon decluttering sessions. Luckily, that’s not what we’re after. Keep the decluttering to 20 minutes a day and you’ll have enough willpower left over for other tasks you need to take care of too.

Strategy #3: Scare yourself

Wait as long as you possibly can. Preferably until you’re at least in your mid-seventies.

Put off any surgery which will make the process less physically demanding. That knee replacement can wait until you’re done.

Try to make sure any helpful family members have long since established themselves elsewhere. Overseas is ideal, but the other side of the country works too.

Set a firm non-negotiable legally binding deadline within the next month.

If you’re downsizing, contracting for the buyers to take possession of your house is always a good one. If you rent, tell your landlord you won’t be renewing your lease.

Wait another month to six weeks. You want that adrenaline to be top quality fuel. For added stress, keep buying things you don’t really need.

At the point when the bailiffs are headed for your house, haul out every last box from the attic, basement and under the bed and let the sorting begin. Move so fast you don’t have time to think about what you’re doing. Reflexively toss items into the trash, boxes labeled miscellaneous, or the donate bin.

Pros

No personal regrets for imperfect decisions. You’ll be able to blame lack of time for why you threw out things you valued and kept things that don’t seem to have any logical reason to have been kept.

Cons

Since you’ve decluttered under the influence of high octane adrenaline, your brain won’t have developed any decluttering skills so you’ll begin to reacquire clutter as soon as the crisis is over.

Adrenaline is a powerful drug and the withdrawal will be painful. Make sure you have another drama lined up to take its place. You know you work best under pressure!

Strategy #4: Don’t scare yourself

Start now. But start small. Maybe even with Send It Away Saturday, the habit that has you letting go of one thing per week. Just one and then we’re done.

READ MORE >>> Sign up for the newsletter, get access to the Send It Away Saturday decluttering challenge

If you know that a move is in your future within the next few years, add in 20 minutes of decluttering a week. Set a timer for 20 minutes, pick an area and begin to clear it. Make sure you stop when the timer rings.

READ MORE >>> How to declutter and organize

If you’re up against a firm deadline, 20 minutes decluttering a day will go a long way towards breaking the process down. As you declutter, think about what you can pack now. That’ll give you time to label your boxes clearly  and put like with like. When the move is over, unpacking will be so much easier.

Pros

The feeling of control you get from starting the process at this pace is phenomenal. If things speed up a little towards the end, you won’t be in such a bind because you’ll already have done so much. Moving will still be hard but it won’t be traumatic.

Cons

Without the pressure of an imminent deadline, you’ll be tempted to wait for the perfect time to start this strategy. Putting regular decluttering sessions on your calendar will help.

Strategy #5: Show someone they’re wrong

Don’t underestimate the value of spite. We’ll call it competitive spirit. They say you can’t do it? Show ’em.

Perhaps you want to invite your kids’ friends over without seeing that dubious look in their moms’ eyes. It’s hurtful to feel judged like that but you haven’t been able to deny their safety concerns. Changing that will give you the chance to quietly show them they were wrong about you.

Nice? Maybe not, but if it’ll fuel your determination, it’s a completely valid way to get going.

Pros

Two birds with one stone. You get your house decluttered and your kids get to have their friends over. Adrenaline will kick in to keep you going, so you’ll move faster.

Cons

If you rely on someone else’s opinion to get moving and then get all enlightened and realize it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you or your space, your motivation will drop. Stay this side of nirvana and all will be well.

Strategy #6: Show someone they’re right

When you have someone who cheers you on, telling you they know you can tackle the clutter, it feels wonderful to show them their confidence is well placed.

Who do you know who’s in your corner? Keep them in mind as you work steadily and enjoy the big reveal when they see what you’ve been able to get done. Send them before and after pictures so they can cheer you on really specifically.

Pros

Working from a place of positivity feels good.

Cons

You’re still basing your motivation on someone else’s opinion of you. Beware enlightenment.

Strategy #7: Show yourself what you’re made of

When you struggle to get organized and keep up with the clutter, it’s all too easy to get down on yourself. No wonder this place is such a mess, you think, I can never do anything right.

Challenge that thinking and start proving to yourself that you can do this. Take it slow and steady, setting your timer for 20 minutes. Stop when it rings. Notice that when you do a little every day, you get so much done over time.

Pros

When you want to get organized for yourself, your motivation to declutter is strong because you get that it’s a necessary step for you. You’ll be establishing a habit that will serve you your whole life.

Cons

There are no cons to this strategy.

READ MORE >>> How to declutter and organize

Bonus strategy: Get help

It’d be easy to let another year or another decade go by without making a dent in the clutter. Is that what you want for yourself? If you’re ready to change and you find you just can’t, stop trying to reinvent the wheel. You get help for all sorts of other things in your life, why is organizing any different?

by Lucy Kelly


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23 comments

  1. I decluttered my car today and cleaned the inside of the windows whilst I was waiting for my daughter to come out of her orthodontist appointment. Little pockets of time are great for these jobs particularly when you are on a decluttering mission like me

  2. Anything with or about a dog has my attention! And your point is so spot on – any organizing or decluttering is better than none…helps to get that “feels like” down to a more comfortable place. Great post!

  3. What a fun post and a fun metaphor for the inertia one can feel and the way to break through. This is a fun post, and I’m sending you waves of warmth from down south. I hope you and Daisy can enjoy uncluttered spaces and wide open, sunny walks soon enough!

    1. Thanks, Julie! High 50s are coming our way tomorrow and we couldn’t be more excited. As soon as the huge piles of snow (from ploughing) at the side of the streets melt, we’ll be out there enjoying sunny walks for sure!

  4. I LOVE Daisy, What a love and those eyes are incredible. She is definitely worth all those walks!
    The kitchen timer is the best. I’ve used it for so many years because it works and it’s easy.
    I really like how you offered small doable tasks that don’t take long to get you going. I don’t like clutter! So today I tossed all the papers from the weekend!

  5. First of all, Daisy is adorable. How lucky that she gives you a reason to get up and out on most days, even if you have to be Michelin-Man ready. I love how you explained “just enough” when it comes to walking Daisy and decluttering. The point is that we don’t have to go over the top in either arena. We can do enough to keep the dog from healthy or the clutter from taking over- both of which can happen in small time increments.

  6. Don’t have the dog and don’t have the cold but I do have those days when I feel that I don’t have the time to declutter. A recent trick has been to set the timer for 10 minutes and declutter an area. Even this tired puppy can manage that! Today was the collection of items that had gathered in the linen closet waiting to go to Goodwill.

  7. I’m thinking about you today as I saw on the news that you got a lot of snow. It is true, your temps change quickly from day to day. We tend to “stick” in a temperature zone for months here in New England. I’m ready for some warmer weather. When it comes to decluttering, I really do think it helps when someone else comes alongside and helps. Otherwise, if you don’t enjoy it, as you say, you are likely to put it off.

  8. Decluttering is a never-ending thankless task – except that you do indeed get to thank yourself when you look around and take that big deep breath and think wow! this place looks better! Always aim for better than before. Lucy, I have an Australian cattle dog! Josie and Daisy would have a high time together!

  9. Hi Lucy,
    Anything under 20 is too cold for me – below zero is serious hibernation weather. But I do agree that organizing is very similar. Sometimes you just have to buckle down and do it – no matter how unpleasant. And once you get started, the rest is a bit easier.

    1. I never thought I’d live somewhere so cold, Neena! The upside of Colorado weather is how quickly the temperature changes – we had a massive snowstorm this weekend, next weekend will be sunny and in the 50s.

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