Will Decluttering Make You Happier?



Last week a friend sent me an email with a message about days gone by when, instead of throwing something away when it broke down, our parents generation fixed the item. That’s how I grew up. We repaired shoes, lawn mowers, televisions and washers. My friend’s email also reminded me how every spring we took part in the ritual of spring cleaning, opening windows after a long winter and clearing away the season’s accumulation of dust and grime. Today, in our material driven economies, we tend to hang onto all kinds of things, broken or not, which may not add anything purposeful to our lives, but take up plenty of space in both our homes and our minds.

It must be all the years I spent as a real estate broker, looking at garages crammed so full the family cars wouldn’t begin to fit in them. While I no longer take part in a spring cleaning ritual, each January I have my own ritual of decluttering. Since retirement, that is one habit I have not changed. Why? There are lots of reasons to declutter.

1. Decluttering helps me start the year off fresh, clear and focused. Without excess stuff in my desk, closets, art work space and garage, I can focus on what matters most to me. Activities like writing, drawing and gardening can take precedence without having to sort through clutter to find what I need. Everything has a place and is in the place it should be. Whew! I can relax and not only enjoy these activities but have time for my spouse, family and friends.

2. Since I donate what I no longer need or want, it also helps those less fortunate in my community. Clothing, sports equipment, home furnishings, eyeglasses, cell phones and other electronics can be put to good use. Some people hold a garage or yard sale and make a few extra bucks. I’d rather give it away and use my time for activities that hold more meaning to me.

3. Clearing unnecessary items also clears out places for the dust and dust mites to accumulate. That’s right. Dust mites _ ick. As someone suffering from allergies, including an allergy to dust mites, I’m all for reducing places for the little darlings to accumulate. So, allergic or not, decluttering may also help you breathe easier.

4. While you’re decluttering, take a clue from our parents’ generation.  Take the time to fix the fixable. I learned years ago how decluttering removed a lot of life’s little annoyances. Fixing things has the same effect. Even a broken shoe lace can nip at the edges of your subconscious mind clouding your thoughts. Replacing burnt out light bulbs, smoke alarm batteries, weed whacker string, filters or anything else you have waiting for attention clears your mind for more important thoughts, like what are you going to do today to change the world?

5. Once you declutter and make a habit of decluttering yearly, you’ll find that you actually accumulate less clutter during the year. Why? Because you start looking at the accumulation of stuff differently. You start asking yourself, “Is this an item I really need or will I end up donating it next year?” I find myself living a more minimalist lifestyle. I am decidedly knick-knack adverse. Every time I look at something pretty or cute in a store, I think to myself, “Who’s going to dust that?” My answer is always, “Not me.” Then, I put it back down and walk away. Decluttering changes your mindset.

While I can honestly say decluttering probably hasn’t made me happier, it has made me saner. Every time you buy more stuff, you bring home a thing, which needs cleaning, maintenance, storage and, potentially, fixing. The more things you have, the more things you have to suck up your time with busy work. Is that what you want in retirement? Busy work? Or do you want your remaining years filled with work that really matters to you?

A decluttered life is a less harried life. Instead of feeling like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down one hole after another, I feel relaxed when I know exactly where to go to lay my hands on the scissors or the battery charger or my drawing pencils or whatever. I feel good knowing my time is spent on more productive activities that enrich my life. And, I love it, absolutely LOVE it, when the smoke alarm batteries are changed before the darn things start beeping at me, always, ALWAYS some time around midnight. Now that I think of it, avoiding that annoyance is cause for happiness!

10 comments on “Will Decluttering Make You Happier?

  1. Kathy, I totally agree with everything you said. I started decluttering 13 years ago when I had to move from a 4 bedroom house with attached garage and two sheds crammed full of stuff, to a 3 bedroom house with an even larger detached garage. I had all the boxes from when I had to clean out my parents’ home and sell it, and had not gotten rid of much. So I took the opportunity of moving to sort everything and get rid of most of it. Then six years ago, when I decided to move again, my realtor recommended that I take everything off every surface – desk, dressing table, bureau, coffee table, side table, kitchen counters. OMG, that was hard! But I did it, packed away 2,000 books from my office, and lo and behold: my house looked serene and uncrowded. I have grown to love that look more than the previously “interesting” look of having a lot of mementos and keepsakes all over the place. You are truly right, “A decluttered life is a less harried life.”



  2. I also declutter. I find that when I take my Christmas tree and decorations down and have to put my house back in order is the best time to declutter. My house is a mess anyway so why not declutter as I go. I also take that time to declutter my receipts and important papers basket that has been accumulating for the year. Shredding what I don’t need, putting aside what I will need for taxes and checking what clutter I spent my money on. Since I start at the beginning of the new year, it gives me a sense of starting out on a clean slate.


  3. I like the idea of an annual decluttering week, especially one that involves fixing things that need attention! I think late winter would be the right time for me to do this, a kind of reminder that spring is coming. Thanks for the suggestion.


  4. That is my thought when shopping, if i have to dust it, I don’t need it, as well as the thought, will I really like this in a year or two? Most of the time I never buy the item. Saves a lot of money as well.


  5. I have been slowly decluttering all year. A challenge with my horder husband! But it is getting better. For Christmas he gave me a “clean up the office” gift. Two recycle bins and counting! I use every season change to do a bit more, another room or type of clutter. Someday it will be a simpler life. Thanks for the inspiration.


  6. Man oh man, you hit one of my favorite topics with this one. I love to declutter! It takes time to do it well, though, and now that I’m retired I finally have the hours to totally indulge in it. I give away as much of the resulting stuff as I can, sell off the more valuable items cheaply, recycle as much as possible, and toss the rest. You are so right, Kathy, that once you get into living a decluttered life you stop accumulating so many things. I can now look at brand new shiny items not even sold yet and hear them screaming “Future Clutter.” I say, live simply or die! Or, I guess, both, come to think of it. HA


  7. I just retired on Decemer 28th. I enjoyed the holidays and on January 4th began decluttering. I began with my linen closets because each took just one hour and looks spectacular. I then went on to my cookbooks and recipes and my junk drawer . It felt so good. It’s mid month and I have redocorated my entire living room. It is now a beautifully decorated reading room with two beautiful leather recliners. I also go for a minimalistic approach and wish to declutter my entire home. Thanks for your words of encouragement . Maria


  8. Great post! I find that decluttering also clears the mind – less stuff to think about! I am far from minimalism, so I admire your steadfastness. Hard to declutter when I am a collector at heart… This may take me more than a week, but the goal of a ‘less harried life’ seems dreamy.


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