Before I had kids, I never got into decluttering. The stuff didn’t bother me. In fact I had so much stuff. I had 2 DVD racks filled to brim of alphabetised movies. I had 4 bookshelves full of novels, biographies and uni textbooks. I had a wardrobe stuffed full of clothes, including over 60 dresses. I loved collecting things and felt happy looking at our full shelves.
Fast forward a few years and we were blessed with a little baby. It was wonderful. We were blissfully happy. I loved staying home to take care of him.
That’s when it hit me. I was suffocating in stuff. Drowning under the sheer weight of it all. What I hadn’t realised pre-kids was just how little time you have once they are born. The saying goes, sleep when the baby sleeps. What if they never want to sleep without you, too alert in the daytime and wake with every sound?
That was my experience. I clearly remember feeling trapped under my sleeping baby. It was wonderful and lovely yet it was also really hard. It was hard to see the house unravel. Toys lying on the floor. Board books scattered everywhere.
Gifts from well wishes needing to have tags cut off and wrapping away. Bathroom needing a wipe over. Piles of washing to deal with. Breakfast dishes still in the sink. Dinner not prepared and no idea what to cook.
Stuff was stressful. I couldn’t see past it. My eyes were drswn to it and my heart seemed to beat faster in my chest. It bothered my husband a bit but he could quite easily ignore it and focus on the task at hand. Me? Not so much. I think most women feel the same way.
There were the piles of things to do and the stuff to find homes for. I thought that maybe if I bought some new cute baskets it would help to organise it all. After spending too much money on storage that I didn’t really need, I realised that organising wasn’t the problem.
The excess needed to go. I started going through everything. Nothing was safe. I read books, listened to podcasts and watched YouTube videos while I decluttered so I could be motivated and inspired. It felt like I had company. Someone to cheer me on along my decluttering journey.
There are many articles and books out there that are super helpful when it comes to minimising your home. Some people love the KonMari method of going in order of categories and getting everything out. For others you might devote an entire weekend or holiday week to it.
You might work like crazy to get it done. For some you might only have tiny snippets of time due to your young family, work or travel commitments, health issues or energy levels. For others, parting with things can be really hard. It takes a while to build up the decluttering muscle and get strong with letting go.
I like the onion analogy. You might look through your wardrobe and find a few things to get rid of. You see a jacket that you haven’t worn in years. Your logical brain tells you that if you haven’t worn it in ages, you probably won’t start now. Yet your heart still loves it. You remember when you bought it and the plans you had to wear it. You remember how much it cost you and it feels a waste to donate it.
A few months later, you look back in your wardrobe on a decluttering mission. You feel good after going through so much stuff. You get the sense more quickly whether the item in front of you should stay or if it should go. The further you get into decluttering, the more layers you start to peel off.
You become more ruthless. You can make decisions faster. You have accepted that the day you bought the item was the day you spent money. Keeping it unused in your wardrobe doesn’t get you your money back.
There is no one size fits all. There is no right way to declutter. You have to find the right way for you. In the end, the only thing that matters is that you declutter your home. It’s the end result that counts.
If you’re after my advice? Start with what bothers you. Pick one area of your house and go for it. Here are some pointers.
Is your wardrobe so tightly packed with clothing that it’s hard to move the coat hangers across? Are there items in there that you haven’t worn in years? Does it bother you having so many choices for outfits in the morning when you get dressed? Is the washing out of control? Clothing might be the area to start decluttering first.
Start going through your clothes. Pick a section at a time to focus on so the pile on your bed doesn’t get so high and so it’s not too overwhelming. Plus, when it comes time for sleep, you will actually be able to sleep on it. Hold up each item individually.
If you’re not sure if you still love it or if you will wear it again, try it on. Yes it will take you longer, but this way you can really see if it’s an item that fits you, looks good or you can see yourself wearing. Take a few seconds or minute to decide, then either put it back in your wardrobe or in your drawer, or throw it into your donation box. Consider having a box of items to sell if you have time to do so.
Does the sight of toys make you feel stressed out? Do you step on them and worry you’ll fall over? Does it make you panic when your kids pulls out a toy box and dumps it on the floor? Do you children pull out every item and then go to the next toy, without playing properly?
Does the toy collection cause fights? Do the toys with a million loose parts cause you anxiety? Do you dread birthday and Christmas time because it means that there will be more toys for you to manage? Perhaps this is an indicator that you need to start decluttering toys.
If you’re children are very young, you can most likely do a lot of the decluttering without them. You know what they love and use, and what they could probably do without. I love what Dawn suggests from The Minimal Mom. She recommends putting some toys in quarantine. Put the ones you think your kids won’t miss into a box, label it and hide it away in the shed, garage or attic. Put a reminder in your phone for 3 months time (or whatever time frame you’re happy with).
For slightly older kids, try to get them involved in the process. Ask them what toys they no longer play with, and could go to another child who doesn’t have much. For children who find it hard to part with stuff, consider letting them sell some of their toys.
I’ve heard of people paying their kids for items that don’t have a resell value but you’d really like out of the house. I have done this before and let me tell you, it works. It’s a good way to help with decluttering toys and keeps both parent and chid happy. I love lots of ideas here if you’re looking for more detail.
Another idea is a toy rotation. Put at least half of the toys away so there is less out on display. Children often do better when they have fewer options to choose from. They experience less overwhelm, tend to play more imaginatively and the fighting over toys decreases. To avoid having crazy amounts of toys entering your house after a birthday or Christmas, consider writing a list of ideas for relatives that might help them choose from.
Do you feel stressed out in the kitchen? Are your cupboards packed to the brim with appliances? Do you have too many Tupperware containers without lids or takeaway containers taking up valuable space? Is your pantry difficult to navigate? Do you find yourself spending too much on groceries because you don’t really know what you already have? Maybe the kitchen is the place for you to start decluttering.
We spend a lot of time in our kitchens preparing meals and tidying up. If we feel overwhelmed in this room, it will affect a big part of our day. The first thing to do is reduce the inventory. Go through cupboards and drawers one at a time. Be realistic about how much you use each item. Be harsh with appliances and consider donating those that have a singular use (eg. waffle machines and pie makers).
If it is something that other people use but you don’t ever seem to (like a rice cooker or electric frying pan), you don’t have to keep it. If you bought an item on a craze (think air fryer) but it’s big and bulky and you hate storing it, it’s time to go. If your ideal self would use this (bread machine or icecream maker) but you hadn’t got around to it yet, you can always declutter it and repurchase it later, in a season where you might have more capacity to use it.
Once you’ve gone through the drawers and cupboards, take time to look through the pantry, fridge and freezer. This will take some time. Ditch anything past its use by date, that looks questionable or you don’t remember how long it’s been there for. This is a time where buying some storage containers to display food can be a smart idea. It will looks neater and more appealing, keeps food more fresh, keeps creepy crawlies out and is easier to see at a glance what you need to top up.
Set up routines for doing the dishes, putting on the dishwasher and unpacking the dishwasher. Make sure other members of your household pull their weight, including children. Have set times when you meal plan, check the inventory of your food, order groceries or do a shop and meal prep
Another thing to think about is how much stuff is on the kitchen bench? It can easily be a dumping group for paperwork and a storing spot for appliances. Look at what is there right now. Consider what actually needs to stay there. Coffee machine? Of course. Kettle? Yep. Toaster? Probably not. Tea and sugar canisters? Probably not. Soda stream? Probably not. Be ruthless.
Try removing everything from the bench top. Find a spot in the cupboards or somewhere else for now (however keep in mind if you need to keep all of these things). Take note of what you use multiple times a day. A thermomix might be used 3-4 times whereas a blender or food processor might only be used a few times a week. A kettle might be used multiple times a day but a toaster only used once or twice.
Is it worth having the visual clutter and the reduced bench space just so you have convenient access to something? Think about what is more important to you. I used to have so much on our bench. For a small kitchen, it was actually ridiculous. Now we keep our kettle and coffee machine on our bench, and a drying rack for dishes. That’s it. Everything goes away until it’s time to use it, except for a loaf of bread and my to-do lists (I admit, I have a problem!).
Is your clutter problem in the bathroom? Do you have too many products? Are there items that have run out or you don’t use anymore? What is on the bench that doesn’t have to be? Perhaps decluttering the bathroom would be a useful place to start for you.
Take a minute to examine what you have in there right now. Are there some items you can throw away right now because they are empty or you don’t use? Do you have lots of sample products from hotel stays? Do some products react with your skin? Do you have make up that is old or you haven’t used in years? Go through and throw away any of the above.
Use up the containers that you can’t bear to part with, but give yourself a time limit. Take everything off the bathroom bench and put into the cupboards. If they can’t fit, you either have too many products or you need to store them somewhere else.
Be realistic about how often you use items, how often you do your make up to go out and how often you wear different types of perfume or nail polish. Know yourself and how many hair elastics and bobby pin clips you need. Go through the hair sprays and leave in serums. Hair and beauty products can be replaced relatively easily and cheaply so keep this in mind as you declutter.
Paper work, books, garage, shed and photos
These categories are big ones. For many parents feeling overwhelmed with their stuff, it’s mainly about the excess that they see everyday. They are the areas worth tackling first. If you are motivated to go through some of these items though, by all means, go for it! File paperwork at night in front of the TV and enjoy shredding documents that you don’t need to keep anymore.
Go through your books, section by section, and figure out which ones you want to read, read again or declutter. Ask your children to help look through their collection. Items in the garage or shed that you are decluttering can be high in value, so it is worth listing on Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree. Save photos to do last as it is such a big and often emotional task.
Starting is the hardest
Know that starting is the hardest. Deciding to start and actually starting is the hardest part. Depending on your financial situation and how much a rush you are in will determine where you send the items. If you need the cash or know that it will help you part with things, sell as many items as you can. People will buy just about anything.
Do your best to avoid landfill. Join your local Buy Nothing group and enjoy the benefits from sharing and taking what you need. Donate to a women’s refuge or homeless shelter. Find an op shop that donates it’s proceeds to a charity that aligns with your values. For clothing that needs repairs, find a seamstress who can fix it. For worn down shoes, find a cobbler.
Volunteers at repair cafes can teach you how to fix up broken items. Old electronics can be recycled at Officeworks and Bunnings. Old phones can be sent to Mazuma mobile and they’ll send you money in return.
If you’re looking for some additional resources to help you on your way to decluttering your home, here are some books that I’ve found helpful on my journey.
In closing, when you become a parent, it can really feel like you’re suffocating in stuff. For the stay at home parent, often mums, it can be so overwhelming. In the end, it doesn’t really matter where you start, as long as you start. Figure out what is causing you the most stress and begin decluttering there. Fill up bags and boxes and get them out of your house. This will bring you a lot of satisfaction as you take a step back and admire your clutter free home.
It won’t be a one-off job. Clutter has a way of infiltrating our lives. We are given presents, our children come home with party bags, we go to shows and seminars and get take home bags. We need to make a conscious effort not to bring more excess into our house. Stop it at the front door.
If it is something we love, need or will use, find an items to take out of your house to even it out. If you want to keep on decluttering and seeing progress, make it two or three items (or even more) that you remove before bringing in something new.
Going forward, be intentional with how you do gift giving. Put limits on how much you get. Write a list of ideas. Opt for more experiences rather than things, especially for children. You get to decide what comes into your house and what stays. By decluttering the excess, you will help to reduce the overwhelm. You will make space for what really matters, and you’ll be so glad you did.