How to Declutter and Downsize Your Life - Hoarding Week


By Dane Feldman

Meg Wolfe’s studio. Photo courtesy of Steve Johnson.

Approximately 1.2 million Americans are compulsive hoarders,  and while this disorder may not apply to you directly, many of us without the disorder could still stand to declutter our lives. Decluttering, although daunting to contemplate, can actually reduce stress and lead us to feel more in control of our lives.

Author, blogger, and minimalist, Meg Wolfe, tells BTR that the first step should be to, “declutter your most personal areas, starting with your clothing, then your bathroom and grooming and medical items, and then the kitchen. [Go through] your food and food prep items and surfaces.”

By going through these spaces and things that we use every day can really help us to feel more in control.

In order to stay in control, Wolfe suggests that we stop shopping all together for an extended period of at least one month. She says that by going cold turkey, we can break the habit of shopping recreationally. In this time that you have stopped shopping, focus on understanding the influence from marketing.

Wolfe says that it is also important to, “Separate your own true preferences from what you’ve been manipulated into thinking you want” in order to avoid buying things just to have them.

While minimalism isn’t for everybody, taking some of these steps and measures to declutter can still be extremely helpful whether or not you fall on either extreme ends of the spectrum. Even if you have no desire to become a minimalist, Wolfe tells us to “Do a cost/benefit analysis of the various aspects of your life and home.” By doing this and focusing only on what you actually need and want, you can truly free up your time for the things that really matter to you.

Wolfe also suggests taking the decluttering to our electronics and work-related items. While completely stripping your phone of all its apps and whistles, like Jake Knapp did, is fairly extreme, it could be helpful to weed through your apps and rid your phone of the ones you don’t use. Delete duplicates of photos and photos you no longer want or need. Actually read all of your emails and if you don’t plan on reading them, at least mark them read. Try reorganizing your phone’s set up by categorizing your applications and ridding your home screen of so much clutter.

If you aren’t interested in taking the more extreme route when it comes to minimalizing your wardrobe, at least rid yourself of the stuff that no longer fits and the items you don’t wear. Try to eliminate the novelty items you don’t wear often enough to justify owning them. Perhaps having a lot of clothes (though not in excess) is okay as long as you wear it all and your items are multifunctional. Having many staples in a wardrobe is a good thing. Stick to the simple items you can wear for almost any occasion.

If all of this seems rather overwhelming, that’s okay. It’s likely that you feel overwhelmed because there’s a lot to be done in order to achieve a clutter-less lifestyle.

No one says you should tackle all of this stuff in an afternoon. Graham Hill, founder of, mentioned in his New York Times article that it took him 15 years to rid himself of the “inessential things.” Hill now lives in a 420-square-foot studio where everything inside is multifunctional. Wolfe says she and her husband had downsized prior to becoming minimalists, but she claims that decluttering is an “ongoing achievement.”

If you are interested in downsizing and decluttering, start by spending a half hour a week weeding through things. You can follow Wolfe’s suggestions, or you can pave your own route.

Once you start to feel like you have the hang of it and you are feeling more in control, try working fifteen minutes per day to declutter. Perhaps you’ll find that just a couple of weeks or months at it is good enough for you. Perhaps you, like Meg Wolfe and Graham Hill, will become a minimalist.

Either way, it is important to be aware of alternatives out there. Decluttering will give you more time, less stress, more control, a smaller carbon footprint, more money, and maybe even more happiness.