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Get Specific: The Easiest Way to Ease Into Decluttering

One of two things often happens shortly after we make resolutions to declutter in the beginning of a new year. Many people plunge in head first, go a little overboard, and end up burning out before they are finished. Others get overwhelmed before they really even start or try to follow the method outlined in a book or article and quickly find out they've bitten off more than they can chew.

The solution? Worry less about the end game and remember that well begun is half done. Just start. With one project you can complete in minutes. One very specific project.

Decluttering is hard work, not only physically but mentally. Often our homes have become unorganized because we have a hard time following through with projects and finishing tasks, and the same sources of stress and distraction that have been getting in the way all along will make decluttering a real challenge.

Indecisiveness leads us to put things down in strange places, save that pile of mail for another day, store clothing we don't wear, and so on. The mental fatigue that makes us avoid everyday homecare can limit our ability to declutter efficiently, too.

Conserve your energy by identifying small, specific projects that will make a real difference in your everyday life. Instead of clearing your whole desk, just tackle the folders that need to be returned to the filing cabinet.

Instead of dealing with your messy pantry, which might take hours to organize and probably requires purchasing a few organizing tools like bins, labels, and baskets, tackle just the snacks or just the items you use for baking -- toss anything no longer fresh and corral like items together. Take a minute to think about how these things can look more neat and be more accessible; for example, removing snack bars from their box sometimes means they take up less room and it is easier to see when you need to purchase more.

You might be dying to get your wardrobe in order, but you don't want to pile the whole thing on the bed and make a complete mess. Address one category at a time to get started. Choose something you won't feel particularly emotional about, and preferably items of clothing that aren't particularly expensive -- your goal is start with quick and easy decisions.



Coffee mugs

Spices & Oils

Household cleaning products


Writing utensils

Notebooks, notepads, and sticky notes

Business cards






Medications & First Aid items


Lotions, creams, etc.

Hand towels

Hair accessories

Eye makeup



  • Tackle an entire category at a time. If you have writing utensils on your desk and in a drawer in the kitchen and in your nightstand, gather them all together and see what you have before you begin to toss anything or decide how to store them.

  • Use a Guiding Question to inform all of your decisions within a category. Marie Kondo's Does this spark joy? might work for you. It can certainly help you avoid keeping unwanted or unused things you might feel obligated to keep because they were gifts or were expensive. When sorting through more practical items like kitchen gadgets you might ask, Has this been useful in the last year? If you are organizing clothes, you might decide you are only keep items of clothing that make you look your best. (Notice that you want to keep your question broad. Do I look my best in this? requires you to discard or set aside anything that doesn't fit or isn't in good condition.)

  • Set specific goals. Do you want all of your coffee mugs to fit on one shelf or all of your cleaning products to fit neatly in one caddy? Do you really only need to keep six hand towels? This kind of mindset can help you reach into an overgrown collection of items and choose only the pieces you like best and will find most satisfying and reliable. Consider setting time-based goals also. Give yourself ten minutes to choose your favorite tees or ties and another five or ten to put them away neatly.

  • Be honest with yourself. Don't tell yourself you're keeping that Jo Malone lotion because it smells great if the real reason is that you spent more money on it than you think you should have. If you haven't been using it because you don't like the way it feels, that matters, too. Offer it to someone who can appreciate it and move on. Which leads us to...

  • Remember, it's just stuff. At this point you're primarily decluttering items that can easily be replaced if you make a mistake. And hanging onto an unwise purchase doesn't make it more wise. Put on some good music before you start and take a good long look at what you've accomplished when you're done. These organizing projects are supposed relieve stress, not create it. If you find you're worrying too much or overthinking your decisions, try working on a different category first. Or ask for help from a friend with a good sense of humor or a professional organizer!


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