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6 Essential Rules for Decluttering a Small Space (for Good)

Once upon a time, I was a slave to my stuff.

It’s not that I was a hoarder, bent at the will of my belongings. In fact, far from it. From what I can gather, I’ve never even owned more than the average person, but stuff did control me.

I remember spending so much time worrying about it. Organizing it. Getting rid of it. I remember looking at “sentimental” items that made me feel guilty or upset, but not being able to gather up the courage to throw them away. So. Much. Wasted. Time.

If you’re reading this, you’re most likely being controlled by your stuff as well. Trust me, I’ve been there myself, so here are a few tips I’ve learned that have allowed me to become the inner minimalist I’ve always wanted to be:


1. Dedicate a specific day to declutter and stick to it

Stop wasting time organizing your clutter. By that point, you’ve got too much of it and your stuff owns you.

Make a decluttering schedule and pick one day to go around your house and get rid of everything you don’t need.

We all live pretty busy lives. So, decluttering every day may not be the best option. I say once a month because that’s pretty manageable and something that almost everyone can do. You can even do it more if you’re capable.

I use this method when cleaning my house because it’s pretty efficient.

Personally, I like to dedicate a set day where the only thing I do is declutter my house. I’ll pick a room or a category of things that I want to get rid of. For example, one day I might clean my bedroom and get rid of all the trash and junk that I’ve been accumulating. Or another day, I might decide to get rid of
pots and pans that have collecting dust.

A lot of times I’ve actually found out that living in a small space is not the problem. I just have way too much stuff. Sometimes I’ll set out to declutter and just wonder “what if I need that one day?”. It’s understandable and natural.

I know that a lot of people go through this. We’re naturally sentimental beings, and the fact that we could need something in the future, makes us feel like we should keep it, even if we haven’t used it in years.

But my general rule is if I haven’t touched it in over a year: GOODBYE!

I’ll either sell it, donate it, or get rid of it. Personally, it doesn’t make sense to keep items that I haven’t used. They make me feel guilty. And why would I want to keep something that makes me feel bad every time I look at it?

My home is a happy place. There’s no room for negative thoughts. Besides, it would be selfish to keep it. Someone else could use it and love it far more than I ever will.

I’ve gotten rid of all the things that I never used and I. HAVE. NO. IDEA. WHAT. I. THREW. OUT.

I don’t miss it and it just goes to show that clutter takes up valuable mind space. Less stuff = less physical clutter = less mental clutter = more organized. It’s a win-win!


2. Ask yourself these questions before you make a purchase

Of course, you could declutter all you want. But if every time you go out, you bring something new into you’re house, you’re going to end up right in the same position you started in.

Your nicely organized house? It isn’t going to last very long.

I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of shopping addicts. those people that are super addicted to buying new things. All. The. God. Damn. Time. From the fashionistas who obsess about the latest fur coat to the multi-millionaires who just NEED to have the newest Lamborghini.

But the truth is – when we hear these stories, we have a set image of what these people are supposed to look like. Think rich and superficial. But, we fail to realize that these problems plague the average person just as much.

According to this article, the average middle-class American is drowning in stuff. Basically, Americans make money to spend money. Pair that with the fact that many of them are financially illiterate and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

But, how can you curb your own purchasing habits in a world where everyone else is spending?

The single most effective thing that I’ve done in order to keep my space organized has been asking myself a series of questions before making a purchase:

  • Do I really need this or do I just want it?
  • What will I get rid of if I purchase this?
  • This costs ____ price. That’s ____ hours of work. Would I work ____ hours for this?
  • Do I already have something at home that does what this item promises to do?

When you’re at the store, tempted to buy something out of impulse, ask yourself these questions. More often than not, you’ll be able to convince yourself out of buying something you don’t need. It takes some practice, but eventually, these questions will become second nature.

The more you do this, the less you’ll be inclined to make small, random purchases whenever you go out. Not buying something – unless you really need it – will be your default way of going through life.


3. Be aware of how companies manipulate you into buying

The psychology of how we shop is fascinating. There’s a bunch of tricks that companies use to subconsciously get us to buy. Here are some of the common ones:

  • buy 1, get 1 free
  • pricing at .99, instead of $1
  • never-ending sales or “discounts”

I’m sure you know most of these. However, did you know that many companies offer a really expensive option just to make all of their other products look like a good deal? I experienced this yesterday. Let’s say you’ve got a DVD player, one priced at $25, another at $50, and another at $150.

The last, more expensive one is going to make the first two options look way better in comparison. So, subconsciously, you’re going to be more likely to buy one of the first two options, because it looks like a better “deal”. If they were all the same price, there would be more of a chance that you wouldn’t think twice about getting one.

Trust me, as a marketing major, there’s a whole lot more where that came from. From the second you walk into a store, there are hundreds of ways that companies are trying to control you – from the smells that they use to where they position their items.

Society’s biggest scam has been convincing us that we need things we really don’t.


4. Be aware of why shopping makes you “happy”

Whenever we purchase something, we get a rush of dopamine, the chemical in our bodies that makes us feel good. It’s the chemical that motivates us to do things and makes us “happy”. It usually gets released in small quantities when we do something that’s necessary for our survival.

Let me explain in caveman terms:

We eat. We happy.

We poop. We happy.

We go to the mall and buy a new pair of shoes. We happy.

This is because when we do all of these things, dopamine is released to make us happy. It should be important to note that this chemical is addicting. Whenever we make a purchase, we get a rush of dopamine that makes us feel good. However, the rush that we feel is only temporary and, by the time you get home, it wears off and you already feel sh*tty.

But by then, the damage is already done. You may not even want the item anymore and for as long as you keep it, it’s going to take up valuable real estate in your mind. You’re going to have to keep that item clean. You’re going to worry about whether not it’ll break. If you don’t end up using it, you’ll feel guilty for spending money on it and you’re going to feel bad about buying it in the first place.

So yeah, shopping might make you “happy” temporarily, but that item has the potential to take a toll on your mental wellbeing and overall mood. The best way to have a clutter-free environment? Avoiding having these types of items in the first place.


5. Ask yourself these things as you declutter

Decluttering is only hard because it’s a mental process. It uses up all of our emotional and decision-making muscles. When we look at an item, we think:

  • I could use this for _______ in the future.
  • This is sentimental because it reminds me of _______.
  • I feel _______ because I haven’t used it.

But this way of thinking only makes decluttering harder. These are questions designed to make you WANT to keep these items. They don’t expose you to how great it would be to get RID of them. When getting rid of clutter, ask yourself these questions instead:

  • Have I used this item in the past year? CHUCK IT OUT!
  • Does this item make me upset or guilty when I think about it? GET RID OF IT!
  • Could someone else get more use out of this item? DONATE IT!
  • Could I sell this item? MAKE SOME MONEY!

It’s much easier to declutter when you go into it with the proper mindset.


6. Don’t get held back by what you’re “supposed” to own

I’ve heard a lot of stories of people who have a dining table that they never use. They keep it just because they feel like they’re supposed to. To hell with THAT. 

Your home is yours, so don’t go around purchasing things because you think someone will look at you funny if you don’t own them. Do you REALLY need a dresser? Or a nightstand? Or a coffee table? Or that random side table that’s next to your couch? Or that gross vase that collects bugs inside?

Any genuine, good person won’t care that you don’t have a coffee table. If someone treats you like sub-human scum for it? Simply put – THEY SUCK. If someone asks you about it, just explain why owning less makes you happy. Or laugh and make a joke about how you want to be a monk.


Final thoughts

With the help of these tips, you’ll get your home decluttered in no time. Remember, a large portion of decluttering is how you approach it. If you walk into it with the right mindset, you’ll have a MUCH more pleasant experience. It might be hard at first, but trust me, it’s TOTALLY worth it!

If you found this article helpful, feel free to check out my other content on decluttering or small space living. Thanks for reading!