Nearly every time I mention to someone that I write about simplicity, I’m greeted with a long sigh, a sheepish look or a desperate story about wanting to get rid of clutter but not knowing how to get started. My own search for simplicity began more than forty years ago with a massive declutter of my messy dorm room during finals week. As soon as my physical space was cleared, so was my mind, and I was able to focus on my studies.
Since then, whether living alone in an efficiency apartment or with a busy family in a three-bedroom house, I’ve kept my home clutter-free. Hands-down, the easiest way to get started, especially if you don’t have much time, is this three-box method. You’ll need three boxes (or bags) and as little as half an hour. Here’s the simple process:
- Take the first box and walk through your entire house quickly picking up all the trash. This includes garbage, paper, magazines and anything that is broken or otherwise unsuitable for donating. Don’t forget those half-used bottles of products you aren’t going to use up. Immediately take the box and dump it in the trash or recycling. This step declutters the most obvious layer of junk from your home and gives you a little momentum.
- Take the second box and walk through your entire house picking up everything that belongs someplace else. Immediately put each item where it belongs. If an item doesn’t have a home, leave it in the box until you can decide where it should go. In this step you are likely to find you have more stuff than space. If, for example, you don’t have enough space for all your coffee mugs, you’ll know you need to get rid of some.
- Take the third box and walk through your entire house picking up anything that isn’t being used and is suitable for donating. This might include toys, clothing, books, lamps, knick-knacks, kitchenware, art and office supplies and furniture. I recommend being ruthless and immediately taking the box to the donation center. This step often reveals some big-ticket items you might be able to sell. If you can’t make a plan to sell it within the week, cut your losses and donate it. It might hurt a little, but I promise the space you free up will be worth it.
Depending on the amount of clutter you have, you may need to repeat this process several times over several days. The trick is to stay laser-focused on each step. When you’re searching for trash, don’t get distracted by a pile of laundry. When you’re looking for things to donate, don’t get overwhelmed by unorganized office files. Start the process by going through the whole house addressing only what is out in the open. Then, room-by-room, apply the same method to every cabinet, drawer, shelf and closet in your house.
The three-box method isn’t the only way to declutter your home, but it is a good way to spring into action and put a spring in your step. Going through this declutter process quickly will immediately energize your home and your life. As home organizer Peter Walsh wrote, “Clutter is not just the stuff on your floor – it’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living.”