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. If you’re stuck for ideas, try one of these on for size:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Working from a place of positivity feels good.
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.
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.
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?