In pop-culture, minimalism is most commonly used to refer to a simplistic approach to interior design. In reality, the choice to become a minimalist is a total lifestyle overhaul.
It’s the conscious choice to live with less—which, admittedly, takes a considerable amount of dedication! The world around us is a materialistic place, making minimalism a challenge for some and an aesthetic for others. Regardless of your definition of it, it’s an enriching experience that opens the mind up to new ideas and possibilities.
Transitioning to a minimalist lifestyle is nothing less than a journey. It affects the other aspects of your life including your finances, your mental health, and your spiritual well-being. Whichever reason you’re taking this step, a great way to start is by learning how to declutter home.
Minimalist decluttering checklist: Where to start with excess stuff
Clearing out your personal space is essential to clearing out your mental space. Your environment is a representation of what’s going on in your head. Therefore if you’re experiencing indecisiveness, a block in creative flow, or just generally feel like you’re going crazy, it might have to do with what’s going on around you.
A lot of us have become desensitized to feeling suffocated. This is the result of several factors including the immense value society places on our accumulation of “things”, and laziness. It’s liberating to not only have more room for energy to flow, but to also simply have less to think about!
You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to stay focused on tasks and work without potential distractions everywhere. Studying students, freelancers, online business owners and work-from-home employees can all benefit from a thorough cleaning and organizing session. Let’s go room by room and make some space for new ideas!
Step 1: The Set Up
Before we dive in it’ll come in handy to have a few things on you. Gloves will be useful for discarding trash and clearing out your bathroom. Grab some nice baskets or storage containers for things that you plan to keep. You’ll also want to allot containers or bags for things you’re going to donate, sell, and throw away. It can be hard to decide what to keep and what to part with.
A lot of the things we find in our homes are connected to memories. Memories of their usefulness—like that hands-free toothpaste dispenser you grew up with in your home.
According to our past experience, we need these things. But you’ll be shocked at how many of these things are just extra conveniences. Memories give items sentimental value too. These sentimental items are the hardest things to get rid of. When considering objects of affection and gifts, here’s a few things to think about:
- Do you like/use it? Consider its functionality and how often you use it. You’re undergoing this process for yourself so focus on prioritizing your goals and feelings over the person’s who might be offended that you don’t have their gift anymore. The goal is to not have things just “laying around”. If you find that it’s not serving a purpose, consider donating it to someone who might enjoy it more!
- Who gave it to you? If it was given to you by someone you no longer associate with, you can probably part with it. Gifts from ex-partners or -friends are usually not the healthiest things to hold on to. Momentos of passed loved ones are keepable as long as they help you find peace and joy. For these things you can designate a small, private box.
- Is it connected to a positive memory? This is vital to maintaining a peaceful and conducive atmosphere. Your private space should only be filled with things that make you feel good. Was your smile in that photo ingenuine? Is that souvenir from a trip you didn’t actually enjoy? If, upon reflection, you feel negatively or indifferent about the item, you should let it go.
Other things to consider when deciding whether to keep or discard something:
- Do you have more than one?
- Can/should it be replaced with a new one?
- Is it mendable? Do you intend on fixing it within the next 3 months?
- How much more space would it create if you got rid of it?
It’s not only important to use logic and good judgement during this process, but to listen to your heart as well. We’re too often hesitant to do what we know we should do because we hang on to the past. The easiest way to go about this decluttering session is to focus on what would elevate and liberate you.
Step 2: The Living Room
Start with the biggest space in your home. For most, that’s the living room. This is going to be as monumental as it gets and as tempted as you might be to hurricane through it, you’ll get by quicker and easier if you approach it methodically.
- Remove everything from the living room that doesn’t belong in the living room. If it belongs in another room, just move it to that room. You don’t have to put these things away yet. If you focus on putting them away right away, you can get sidetracked and end up straightening up another room because it’s a smaller task. Stay focused on clearing out the living room first. Throw away any trash.
- Clear off flat surfaces. Ideally, you should aim to have no more than 1 item on any one surface in your living room.
- Clear out excess furniture. If it’s practical for you, dwindle your living room furniture down to:
- a place to sit (a small couch and/or no more than two chairs)
- a place to set things (a coffee table)
- a small stand to set your T.V. (however, consider getting it mounted on the wall to free up more space)
- a small cabinet is good for storage and placing photos or a plant
- a couple wall shelves (provides more storage space)
Large furniture or anything that lacks function, like large bookshelves, Grandfather clocks, dead plants, or huge buffets and hutches, should be removed.
- Clean out any existing drawers or cabinets. Take the time to take everything out, sort through it, wipe out the drawer/shelf, then put what you want back in.
- Everything belongs somewhere. Now is the time to find a place for any stray items that belong in the living room. Use bins, storage containers, and cabinets for organized storing.
- Put away items that are not consistently used. This includes cords, electronics, toys, small appliances, game consoles, tools/supplies, and other items that aren’t in use throughout the day.
- Clear out the floor. The last thing you want to do is make sure the floor and underneath all remaining furniture and rugs are swept and completely clear.
Step 3: The Kitchen/Dining Room
For some people, their kitchen and their dining room are the same place! Your kitchen is full of cabinets and drawers. Be sure to go through the contents of each one of them, carefully sorting out what you do and don’t want. The kitchen is also where you’re most likely to encounter things that are expired. If it is expired, throw it away without exception. Please do not donate or give away expired items.
- Take out everything that doesn’t belong in the kitchen and dining room. Throw away trash as well. Stop using plastic bags (pick up reusable grocery bags), take any excess food to the local food bank & start using plastic containers to keep your cereal and other foods in.
- Clear off flat surfaces. Counter space is used most in the kitchen. Minimize the appliances on your counters to only what you use daily. All spices (unless it’s on a spice rack), condiments, oils, and the like should be put up in cabinets. Limit what’s around your kitchen sink to a bottle of dish soap and a rag/sponge/brush. If you have a microwave on your counter, clear any items from it. Proceed to clear the dining room table of everything but decor (ideally, 1 piece).
- One-by-one, go through all the cabinets and drawers. Take everything out of your cabinets. Any appliances that you haven’t used in years or that don’t even cross your mind to use, toss it away. Old condiments and sauces, old receipts, damaged and disassembled kitchenware, anything you know won’t get eaten or that’s missing parts, and, again, anything expired. Consider donating any nonperishables that you don’t want!
A lot of people use the cabinet under their kitchen sink to store cleaning solutions and supplies. Use gloves for this part and dispose of unwanted solutions appropriately! Also dispose of any old and worn cleaning supplies. Because of the nature of what’s in this cabinet, it’s best cleaned out last; thoroughly wash your hands afterwards.
- Organize – Designate drawers and cabinets to place your:
- eating utensils (spoons, forks, etc.)
- plates, cups and bowls
- cooking utensils (spatula, ladle, etc.)
- knives (use a knife block if available)
- pots and pans
- cutting boards
- small appliances
- large appliances
Once you’ve assigned a space for everything, put everything you’re keeping in its appropriate place.
- Go through the refrigerator.
Throw away anything you know won’t be eaten and any leftovers that have been in there longer than three days. Wipe down all surfaces.
- On to the dining room. Limit this area to a table and enough chairs for you, the members of your household, and possibly a guest.
- Check that all surfaces are clean and that everything’s in place. Throw away any remaining trash.
Step 4: The Bedroom
This is where we keep our most personal items so you’re going to have to stay headstrong! The bedroom is also most prone to clutter. Take your time, really lay everything in front of you, and honestly rate what’s unnecessary and what’s essential. Decluttering the bedroom will be a similar process to the living room.
- Take out everything that doesn’t belong in the bedroom and put it away.
- Let’s tackle the closet. The closet is a great storage space, but that often means that there’s a lot of stuff in there already!
- Clothes: if you haven’t worn it in over a year, it doesn’t fit right, or if it has permanent stains, rips, or holes (that you’re not capable of/don’t intend on mending) then it’s safe to say you can toss it. Undamaged clothes can be donated, or sold to a consignment shop or online marketplace!
- Shoes: if they’re damaged, you can’t fit them, or you don’t even give them a second glance anymore, discard them.
- Belts, handbags, ties, accessories: these are easy to accumulate. Really consider what you use most often versus what you don’t use at all. Designate a small box for accessories and jewelry, and a bin or hanger for your belts, ties, scarves, and handbags.
- Boxes and bags: remove everything from any boxes, bags, drawers or shelves that might be in there. Sort through them carefully and put everything you’re keeping back in its place.
- Miscellaneous: if you’re generally storing stuff in your closet, now is the time to look at everything and consider whether you need to keep it orif there’s a better place in the house to keep it.
Make good use of storage containers or bins to neatly store your things and keep your closet organized.
- Flat surfaces, drawers, cabinets. Clear all surfaces of things you don’t use daily. Bring your room decor down to 1-2 pieces per surface. Completely clear out drawers and cabinets and discard/donate what you don’t need.
- Take away excess furniture. Minimal furniture for your bedroom includes:
- a bed
- a T.V. stand (if applicable)
- a small dresser
- a small desk (if applicable)
- Put everything away in its appropriate place, including items that are not regularly used.
- Make sure the floor and underneath all furniture and rugs is clean and clear. Remember to make your bed!
Step 5: The Bathroom
The bathroom is where you might also want to use gloves when cleaning. As I mentioned in the Kitchen section, the bathroom is also where people tend to keep cleaning supplies and solutions. Dispose of all unwanted cleaning solutions appropriately. It wouldn’t be a good idea to donate or sell much from this room, so let’s just focus on minimizing and discarding.
- Take everything that doesn’t belong in the bathroom and put/throw it away.
- Take out any furniture. Your bathroom is the most “germy” room in your home so it’s not necessary to have furniture in here unless it’s:
- a step stool for small children
- a chair for a built-in vanity
- a small stand (if your sink has no cabinet)
- Flat surfaces. A lot of items find their home on or near the bathroom sink. Try to narrow that down to just a toothbrush(es), toothpaste, and hand soap. Throw away anything empty, old, expired, or leaking. Make-up can be put in a caddy or organizer and put away. The same can be said for moisturizers, perfumes, acne treatments, razors, medicines, face washes, and the like. Repeat this for the things around your bathtub, in your shower, or on your toilet. The only things that belong near your shower/tub are soap and a sponge/washcloth. Dedicate 2-4 small, plastic storage containers to categorizing your bathroom, all of which should be able to fit in your stand or sink cabinet.
- Speaking of the cabinets. Before you place your newly organized stuff in there, make sure you sort through anything that’s already in there and clean the insides! Throw away any expired medications, anything useless or broken, and any small objects (stray bobby pins, cotton swabs, etc.)
- Make sure to sort through appliances too! Put away what you use and throw away what you don’t. No appliances should be out or plugged in while not in use.
- Clean all surfaces and make sure the floor is clear of debris. Make sure there’s no nail polish, hair products or other bathroom accessories lying around the room too.
Though it can feel like an overwhelming task, the decluttering process is actually quite therapeutic.
If you have a garage, office, gym, sunroom, or any other room that wasn’t listed here, you can use the same general guidelines to tackle each one:
- Take anything that doesn’t belong in that room out and put it in its rightful place.
- Make sure flat surfaces are clear and tidy (only leave out things that you use on a daily basis and aim for a maximum of two of objects on any one surface).
- Empty out cabinets and drawers, carefully sort through the contents, and put whatever you’re keeping back or in the appropriate place.
- Take out any furniture that takes up a lot of space or that you could do without.
- Utilize storage spaces and containers to make sure everything is put away. Leave the room clear of trash and the floor swept.
Keep in mind that the goal of this venture is to see how much you can live without. Challenge your perception of what you do and don’t need. Is it essential or are you just used to having it? Can you live without it? Do you need it for work or to live a healthy life?
There’s no need to throw out all of your sentimental items as part of your decluttering efforts – the minimalist journey is a long one, and there’s no need to throw everything out at once (although it can feel like a relief!).
Decluttering your living space is hard work. But you’ll love how much better you’re going to feel, focus and create afterwards – the increase in mental clarity is almost immediate, and having less clutter gives you that extra space to make decisions. If nothing else, you’ll love your bank account after you sell your goods!
If you’re really looking to cut down on space, consider putting that money towards purchasing multipurpose furniture! A storage bed is an inconspicuous way to give yourself more storage space. Consider using the compartments as a dresser. A futon or couch bed is convenient and affords you a lot more room. A storage bench or ottoman is a great investment too.
Your journey doesn’t stop here! Continue to get rid of things you realize you don’t need or use. Be conscious of the things you buy and how much stuff you’re accumulating. Remember, there are no strict guidelines to minimalism, and you’re free to interpret things as you see fit.
Minimalist life makes you more aware of and grateful for the things you do have. It’ll only get easier as time goes along, and you’ll be all the better for it too! Plus, you can refer back to this ultimate decluttering checklist whenever you need some free motivation.