You've probably already heard that decluttering can increase the chi (life energy) of your home and invite change into your life. And it's true: I have witnessed the biggest life changes occur once people get rid of clutter.
However, the process of throwing things away can induce stress, so we often put it off. Many people also struggle because they don't know how to get started and don't have an organizing system in place.
I used to deal with this myself. A few years ago, I have moved at least seven times over a decade, either temporarily or more "permanently," and each move was met with debilitating anxiety. Given the fact that I did not have a moving system and had had bad experiences with moving in the past, the stress increased each time. By the time the last move came around, I was a mess, and I knew something had to change.
But with my first child on the way, I really had to hurry to get myself together because things were only going to get more complicated. And they did. Soon after the birth, my husband got a job in New Orleans, and all of a sudden, I was packing all of our belongings into an SUV to move cross-country with our firstborn. I had one week. I had no choice—I had to break through.
I forced myself to endure a crash course in decluttering. I googled, I read, and I tried everything from labeling to buying plastic containers, to renting a storage space. However, the solution that kept intuitively coming to me was: "You have to own much less stuff in the first place!" Though I'd resisted this inner knowing before, having been conditioned my whole life to buy, store, reshuffle, and pack, I finally gave into it.
I then realized that reducing the amount of stuff I owned was the secret to an easier life. Here is the practice that helped me achieve this minimalism. Speaking as a feng shui practitioner who was actually disorganized once upon a time, I can say that it really works.
1. Look around and see what you can throw out right now.
Start strong by filling up a trash bag with items to donate. If you keep thinking about an item you packed the next day, go get it. The rest should go to a donation bank the day after. You can also ask your friends if they want to go through your donated clothes bag, but they shouldn't delay more than two to three days, otherwise you will not experience the immediate benefits of decluttering, and you might get cold feet.
2. Question every room.
The next time you sit at the dining table to eat breakfast, just look around. If you see something that is either out of place, that you bought "because it was on sale," or that you own because someone gave it to you but you don't really like it, it's time to question whether you still want it. If the answer to this question is no, the item should go in a donation bag. Repeat in every room.
3. Do not keep art, photos, gifts, or furniture that have less-than-excellent memories attached to them.
All of us unintentionally hold on to bad memories. For example, you have a photo on the wall of your graduation day with your grandmother whom you adore. But every time you look at it, you remember that your mom couldn't make it that day because of poor planning on her part. Do not keep that photo! Even if your grandmother is a positive person in your life, you do not have to relive that painful day each time you spend time in your living room. We become our thoughts, so let's pay attention to bad ones associated with the objects that surround us.
4. Make every corner of your home feel welcoming and positive.
Nagging objects, photos, and furniture should be removed. Think about that exercise bike in your living room that you rarely use, that huge toolbox in your kitchen cabinet that your dad got you so you could become handy, that pressure cooker that takes up all your counter space but never gets turned on. Ask yourself what these objects say to you. If you're not using them, they might subtly convey that you are in less-than-excellent shape, that you will never please your dad or be handy like him, that you will never be able to make holiday meals like your mom—you get the picture. We don't need more nagging in our lives.
5. Make decluttering fun!
Make it a communal family activity. Are your kids' art and toys taking up a ton of space? Help them determine what they truly love and what they don't by placing everything in the middle of their room and helping them land on their favorite possessions. I recently did this that with my 3-year-old son, assuming at first that it would just make him upset. I was surprised to find out that he was happy to have thrown away half of his toys! They were gifts for the most part that he wasn't taking to or toys he had outgrown. He said that "the mess" was always keeping him from finding the ones he truly liked. Wow!
6. Only keep objects you use.
Objects should be used, or their energy becomes unnecessary weight on your energy. For example, if you have a bag of old pregnancy clothes and you know of a pregnant woman who needs them, lend them to her. If you know you want to be pregnant again, ask the person to give the clothes back. Belongings should be in use, or they should not be in your home. Same goes for sports gear, kids' toys, instruments, etc.
7. Avoid the "just in case" mentality.
For example, your kitchen always feels cluttered because you have three or four identical bulky pantry items. While we might think buying in bulk saves time and that we will avoid the discomfort of "missing," we really take up way more space than is necessary to achieve those goals with these just-in-case items. We just end up spending our "saved" time and effort shuffling articles around to find what we are looking for. And the visual clutter is an aggression that is hard to quantify, but it is real.
Take the next three days to try out some of these techniques, and I'll bet you won't want to stop.