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How to Simplify and Declutter Your Life

Updated on February 27, 2020
Susan Caplan McCarthy profile image

As a professional organizer, Susan also helps clients develop the habits and mindsets that allow them to be purposeful and productive.

Be Intentional about the Life You Want

Before you can declutter your stuff or your schedule, you want to think about why you want change. Remember, you can’t change the past, so this isn’t about ruminating over what you don’t like about the way you’ve lived your life.

Instead, focus on what you want from your life. Do you want more time with your family? Do you want to write a novel or start a business? Would you like to get healthy?

These tips are inspired by Brooke McAlary’s book Destination Simple.

What Do You Want?


Write It Down

While many people count it a point of pride that they don’t write to-do lists or shopping lists, all they (and perhaps, you) are doing is forcing your brain to work overtime. I can’t remember who said that we should treat our brains like factories instead of warehouses.

There’s no reason you need to devote time, energy, and attention to remembering the things you want to get done when instead you could devote that same energy and attention to creating solutions to the situations that bother you.

Try this: Do a mind sweep (also called a brain dump) where you list every task big and small on a list. Then, go though the list and sort tasks onto project-oriented lists. For example, chores to do around the house, phone calls to make, plan vacation, run errands, do taxes, etc. On these shorter project-oriented lists, add every task related to this area of your life.

Know you’ll be adding to these lists every day.

While lengthy lists may seem intimidating, you benefit by not keeping all these unfinished tasks stored in your mind where you may forget them or not remember them until too late.

Are you becoming the type of person you want to become?

— James Clear

Do Three Things

Try this: Each night (or first thing in the morning), review those lists you made and select the three things you will do during the day. (You could have one list for work and one for home.)

These three things aren’t a part of your normal routines; so, doing laundry and cooking dinner must get done but they don’t count as one of your three priorities.

If you struggle to get these three things done, consider is the tasks are too big with too many steps. When you look at your master lists and identify something that you will work on during the day, ask, “What’s my next action step?” Maybe you need to make a phone call before you can proceed with another part of the project. That phone call is one of your three things.

The goal here isn’t to fill every moment of your day. Remember, you are trying to declutter and simplify your life. Simplifying doesn’t look like running at top speed every day.

Decide on What's Important

Simplifying your life is about identifying what's important to you - and what isn't.
Simplifying your life is about identifying what's important to you - and what isn't. | Source

Single Task

Single tasking involves more than just doing one thing at a time. It involves making that action your mental focus as well. When I’m at the sink washing my coffee mug, I’m usually thinking about what I must do next or what I should accomplish by the end of the day. How about you?

Try this: Pick a simple activity that you do every day, like brushing your teeth, washing the dishes, wiping the kitchen counter. When you do the task, focus your attention on this task alone. If you notice your thoughts wandering, bring them back to the task.

Since you’re simplifying your life, keep this task simple as well. Start by single tasking just while brushing your upper teeth or while washing the plates but not the flatware.

The best way to make single-tasking worthwhile is to focus on the right things at the right time – to discern the difference between distractions and purpose.

— Joshua Becker


Try this: Take a break from emails, social media, television, the Internet, text messaging, phone calls, etc. This break doesn’t have to last all day, or even for an hour. Try just ten or fifteen minutes away from the demands on your attention.

Instead, sit and look out a window (or sit outside), meditate, read, talk to your partner, play with your kids, pray, do yoga, take a short walk. At the end of your break, notice how you feel.

The first few times you try this, you may feel uptight that you are missing out on something important. Remember, this isn’t a lengthy break. Repeat daily to create a calm oasis within your day.

Don't Rush to Simplify


Express Gratitude

Try this: End your day by listing 3-to-5-things for which you are grateful about the day or your life in general. Expressing gratitude can make you a more positive person; but it also helps you identify what is important about your life.

You don’t have to write pages filled with details. Keep it simple and you can complete the task in a minute.

Look Around

You can't hurry through your days if you want a simpler life. Take the time to notice the special things around you.
You can't hurry through your days if you want a simpler life. Take the time to notice the special things around you. | Source

Build Routines

Chances are that you do many of the same tasks every morning and every evening. You can choose to add and subtract tasks to these routines so to start your day on a positive note and end the day in a calm way.

Another benefit is that you use less mental energy thinking about what you have to do. Instead you move from task to task.

Try this: During an average morning, list everything you do. Is there anything that needs to get done that isn’t? Are there things you want to do that you don’t?

Review your list. Are there tasks that you could shift to another time of day? (Say, choose what you want to wear the night before or make lunches.)

Write tasks on small Post-It notes and place them in order. During the morning, review this list to prompt your actions. If things don’t work the way you thought they would, tweak the order or plan to devote more (or less) time to one task over another. Keep tweaking over the week(s) until you flow from one task to the next.

Repeat these actions to create your evening routine. (You might want to focus your energy and attention on your evening routine and then work on your morning routine.)

Say Yes; Say No


Pay Attention to Your Life

It would be wonderful if we could decide to do something new and magically transform ourselves. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. So, pay attention to how you feel as you do the actions described above and notice what’s working and what isn’t.

Decluttering your life is like decluttering your home. You examine everything and decide – do you keep it, let it go, store it for certain times of the year? As you practice single tasking, unplugging from media, expressing gratitude, and creating routines, you’ll start to notice other ways you want to simplify your life.


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