The secret to getting to a clutter free home is the process of decluttering in small steps, 15 minutes at a time. Let me tell you why, and how you can start today.
Have you ever looked at a room of your home, or perhaps even your whole house, and seen so much clutter, so many things to do, that it seemed so overwhelming you just quit, before you even started?
Perhaps you looked at the mess, the overflowing stacks of stuff, and concluded that it would never get done, so you might as well just not start at all, because there was no point? Or maybe you sat down on the coach, exhausted, from just the thought of imagining doing all that work to make things better?
If so, you are certainly not alone. This is a pretty common reaction and response.
Of course, along with being common, it is also self-defeating, and perpetuates the vicious cycle of things continuing to be messy, overly cluttered, and contributes to making your day to day life harder than it otherwise has to be, since you spend so much time searching for items, moving things around that have no home, and losing that sense of peace when you are living in the midst of chaos and too much stuff.
So, what can you do about it?
The answer is to stop looking at the big picture of the whole house, or the whole room, or the whole mess, and instead break it down into much smaller, more manageable pieces.
It’s rather a cliche, but the answer to the question of "how do you eat an elephant?," provides us with some pretty profound wisdom. The answer — "one bite at a time."
How does this impact your plans for decluttering your home? The answer is that instead of getting caught up in thoughts of completing the entire project, meaning clearing the clutter from every single square inch of your home, you need to instead focus on very small steps instead.
Don't keep looking at the top of the mountain, your final destination or goal of a clutter free home, if you keep tripping over the roots and branches directly in front of your path, such as decluttering just that one small drawer. Instead, focus on putting one foot in front of the other, and eventually you'll get where you're headed.
So now that you know you need to break down your decluttering into small steps, the question is how to do it.
Tasks vary widely in how long it takes to complete them. For example, it make take one person an hour to declutter their closet, while another it would take ten or more hours. That's because how long a decluttering task takes depends on your unique circumstances. However, everyone has the same amount of time in their day, 24 hours, and therefore time is a great way to break the concept of decluttering into smaller steps that applies equally to everyone.
So that's the most fundamental concept behind the Declutter 365 missions — you keep doing various decluttering tasks 15 minutes at a time (sometimes over multiple 15 minute sessions) until you've completed them all, and then voila, you've got a decluttered home as a result of focusing not on the big picture, but instead taking slow, deliberate and small steps forward, one at a time.
(If you haven't yet signed up to get your FREE Declutter 365 calendar, make sure to do that. You can click the link here, or scroll down below for more details at the end of the article!)
The choice of 15 minutes was something I thought about a lot before suggesting it, and creating the entire set of Declutter 365 missions around that concept.
Fifteen minutes is a quarter of an hour, and while 15 minutes can fly by pretty quickly, it also is a time period in which you can, surprisingly, get a fair amount of decluttering done.
While I decided upon 15 minutes as the "secret decluttering weapon" we'd employ throughout these missions, it's also somewhat arbitrary. While I think 30 minutes is often too long for a small step, smaller increments of time than 15 do also have incredible power as well. You'll see below, for example, that if even 15 minutes feels daunting you can still get some incredible things done in even shorter increments.
I did conclude, from decluttering my own home and coaching thousands of others on their own decluttering journeys though, that 15 minutes was the sweet spot of time periods — short enough to be mostly doable, long enough to pack a lot of meaningful progress into each session.
You may not be able to find a whole hour to devote to decluttering each day, but somewhere in your day I feel confident you can find a smaller increment of time, like two minutes here, ten minutes there, etc., and most likely with commitment, even 15 full minutes.
So much can be accomplished in 15 minutes, or other short increments of time. Often, much more than we believe. We are prone to underestimate the power of these short time periods, especially when you keep repeating them, over and over, either in a row, or one time per day, but repeat doing it day after day.
It can feel daunting to think you'll have to carry on a difficult task, like decluttering, for a long period of time. However, we remove a lot of excuses by shortening the time period we expect ourself to carry out a task, and starting is often the hardest part. (I've discussed ways to overcome excuses regarding starting a bit more below, as well, since this is often a big issue when it comes to decluttering.)
An axiom of life is that work expands to fit the time alloted to it (this is often referred to as Parkinson's law). What this means, in practice, is that if you give yourself an hour to get a task done it will often take that long to do it. When you work in small increments of time you don't allow the task to expand, but instead you race against a deadline. While you won't always hit the deadline, you often actually will meet the deadline, or you can feel sure that you got a lot closer to finishing, in a shorter period, than if you hadn't set such an ambitious deadline.
Further, the longer the period of time you have alloted for a task, the more likely you are to lose focus at some point, which can make it even more difficult to get the task completed. Short periods of time give you less time to lose your focus, and the more focused you stay the less total time the task will take.
This is an especially big advantage to using small increments of time for the process of decluttering, that shouldn't be underestimated.
I want you to use 15 minute increments of time for decluttering, but I get a bit more nuanced than that. As explained in more detail in the article about how to declutter, I suggest you sort and decide on what is and is not clutter, for ten minutes of the full 15 minute period, and then give yourself five minutes to “clean up” as the way to use those last five minutes of this time period.
This clean up period is key to my decluttering method. The clean up allows you to leave the space better than you found it, even if just minutely better, instead of pulling out a huge mess and then running out of steam and making it worse than when you started. This is especially important because you're working in small steps, so it will most likely take you several days to complete certain tasks, and you don't want days or weeks of mess in an area in your home, while in the decluttering process, when you're actually trying to make it better.
Often, when I say "just do it for 15 minutes" I hear excuses. Since I want to be completely honest here, not only do I hear those excuses from others when I say it, when I tell myself the same advice I can make excuses too. None of us are immune!
If 15 minutes feels like too much shorten the time period further. Ten minutes, five minutes, even two minutes also has great power when decluttering, so do what you can.
Starting is often the hardest part of each individual 15 minute decluttering session, so if you can stop resistance by promising yourself an even shorter period of time that you have to do it, then go ahead, say you'll declutter just for five or two minutes. What happens is that often you’ll find once you’ve started it's not so bad, and it's much easier to keep going for the full 15 minutes. And if you do quit after the shorter period of time — no worries! You still took a small decluttering step, and that's something to be proud of.
The simplest way to get started is by using a timer. Check out this article with 5 reasons why a timer is your best friend when decluttering.
Now that you know how powerful small steps can be when decluttering, and how they turn a task that may seem too hard and monumental into something much smaller, and doable, I want you to get started right away!
If you haven't already, make sure to get your copy of this year's Declutter 365 annual calendar here (it's FREE!), find today's date, and do 15 minutes of decluttering on the day's mission. Then, repeat again tomorrow, and again and again. Over the course of the next year, if you do this 15 minutes per day, you'll declutter your whole house!
In addition, check out this article all about 5 characteristics of organized people, to see how the concept of small steps applies not only to decluttering, but to organizing as well!
I would love to hear from you, sharing your thoughts, questions, or ideas about this topic, so leave me a comment below. I try to always respond back!