5 Ways to Declutter Your Life — From a Professional

By Cristina Cleveland

Have you ever done an epic closet clean-out, donating and giving away much of your belongings, only to be met with an overflowing closet all over again 6 months later? “It’s like gardening,” explains Jennifer Slaski Halligan, a life decluttering coach and  the founder of Prune & Bloom, “you can plant and mulch your garden, but weeds will still come up – and that’s fine! If you just start somewhere, then tend to it gradually, 15 minutes at a time, that’ll be a lot better than if you put it off until the end of the season.” Not only does stuff take up space in our homes, it also occupies our thoughts and our energy, and is typically tied very closely to our values and emotions. That’s why Halligan’s approach to organizing your home involves a unique blend of decluttering and life coaching. Sound like something you could use? Me too. I recently got to witness the magic of her process firsthand when she worked with a beauty editor to declutter her product stash (there were products in the kitchen cabinets, y’all), and she generously shared some small, easy ways we can all unburden ourselves and our homes this year.

Check your baggage… and your calendar

“Everybody wants to jump in to the ‘stuff,’ but I like to start by taking inventory of the key areas in your life, for example relationships, finances, or exercise. Rate the key areas in your life with a high or low score, and through this process you will start to understand what matters most to you, the projects that haunt you, the dreams that you’ve always wanted to pursue, but haven’t. Typically these are things that don’t have set deadlines, and so they don’t feel urgent, even though they are important to you. Instead of trying to figure out how to solve your ‘stuff’ issues, first think about the one next step you could take to tend to the areas that clutter your thoughts. For example, if you’ve been wanting to get your family photos digitized, there’s never going to be a free day for that, you have to prioritize it and put it on your calendar. Invite a friend to do it with you on a certain day, because any time you schedule it there’s accountability involved, whether that means hiring a personal trainer or a friend who’s waiting on you. That makes it much more likely to happen.”

Start small

“Try not to delude yourself into thinking you’ll get it all done. People will say ‘I need to declutter my house,’ but that’s paralyzing! Start on a small, simple area and you can build your confidence and momentum from there. The smallest place to start? Your wallet. Then move up to your purse, then your junk drawer. Any confined area where there’s less space means there will be fewer categories to sort, these are generally easiest to work on. From there you can move up to your car, or your sock and underwear drawer. Then make a list of the areas that bug you the most and make those a priority.”

Find a charity you believe in

“In my experience, the easiest things for people to let go of are beauty products and clothes, which is surprising, but it’s because it’s easier to let go of something when you’re giving it to someone who needs it more than you do. I work to identify my clients’ values and find a charity that will make them feel good about letting go of things. If they’re an animal lover, then the Austin Pets Alive! Thrift Shop is a great resource. Dress for Success is great for professional clothes, shoes and handbags, and Safe Place, and homeless shelters typically accept bathroom and beauty products, just to name a few.”

Reduce visual variety

“A crowded shelf can create a visual distraction, especially when you’re dealing with abnormally shaped items. In my experience, the easiest fix for this is to use simple storage, like baskets, to alleviate the anxiety created by seeing things like toiletries under a sink or shoes in an entryway. They don’t have to be expensive or elaborate storage systems, just go for identical looking containers, as this reduces the visual variety that create a sense of cacophony and chaos.”

Watch out for H.A.L.T. spending

“The whole culprit of clutter is that we accumulate too much stuff. With Amazon these days you can have anything you want, and you can have it the next day. The Wall Street Journal reported that Americans spend $1.2 trillion on non-essential items a year. One in 10 Americans rents a storage unit for their stuff, it’s one of the fastest growing sectors in real estate. So it’s important to be aware of that and cut off the source of that, whatever it may be for you. Keep an eye out for the traps of “urgency” or “fear of missing out” kind of spending for you, whether it’s free shipping or Black Friday sales.And be aware and really wary of emotional shopping and needless accumulation when you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, a handy acronym for that is H.A.L.T.”

Inspiration photo of Ludovica & Roberto Palomba’s home by Francesco Bolis for Yatzer, baskets H&M home, lamp Spartan Shop, artwork Jennifer Ament, sofa egg collective, wooden mirror West Elm, bag Joinery, incense Anthropologie