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Get rid of the junk so you can experience more joy!

For 15 days, we’re exploring the topic of making our health and well-being a priority as part of the 15 Days to a Healthier You series. You can read Day 1 hereDay 2 here, Day 3 here, Day 4 hereDay 5 here, Day 6 here, and Day 7 here.

I was blessed to grow up in a very clutter-free home. My mom taught us the beauty and practicality of keeping our kitchen countertops cleaned off, she was the one who first inspired me to have annual Clear Out the Clutter Challenges, and she encouraged me to keep life simple so I could focus on the most important things.

Inspired by her example, our family has chosen to live a semi-minimalist lifestyle. We don’t have a lot of stuff, we don’t have a lot of toys, and some people would probably come to our house and think it’s entirely too empty!

Clear Out the Clutter

But we love our {mostly} uncluttered house. Here’s why:

1. It simplifies things because I have less to clean up. The less stuff you have, the less stuff you have to take care of.

2. It makes things easier to find. When you don’t have as much stuff, it’s easier to put things away.

3. It provides breathing room. I love wide open spaces — they allow my soul to breathe and make life feel calmer.

4. It saves money. The less you buy, the more you usually save. Plus, the less you have, the less you have to pay to maintain.

Last year, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and this book really challenged me. Yes, there was some weird stuff in it that I didn’t agree with, but there was also so much in it that changed my perspective.

I love what she said in one chapter, “We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.”

That kind of turns things on its head, doesn’t it? So much of the time, we think in terms of what we shouldn’t have, what we need to get rid of, or what kinds of boundaries we should set on clutter.

I love her take on focusing less on what we should get rid of and spending our energy on defining what we want to keep.

How to get rid of the junk and experience more joy!

5 Questions I Ask Myself About Clutter

For a long time, my approach to decluttering has been to ask myself the following 5 questions:

1. Do I Need This Item?

Need is the keyword here. If you could live without the item, then you likely don’t.

I’m not saying you can only have two outfits and one pair of shoes, but the exercise of objectively considering how much of the stuff you have is something you need for survival can help change your perspective on your stuff.

2. Do I Regularly Use This Item?

If you only use something once every six months, get rid of it. Christmas decorations are exempt, but if you have a food dehydrator lurking in a basement corner that you’ve only used once in the last ten years, you either need to pull it out and start using it or find a better home for it — preferably someone else’s home.

3. Do I Like This Item?

Sometimes, it is easy to keep clutter just because we always have. It becomes a part of our home without us ever examining whether it is a useful part or something we like and use. If it’s doing nothing for you and you don’t even like it in the first place, pitch it!

4. Is This Item Taking Up Space I Don’t Have?

Many people feel like they need a bigger home or apartment for all their stuff, but most people just need less stuff. When my husband and I first got married, we spent the first six months living in a one-bedroom apartment with one closet.

Where would we put the vacuum, or the suitcase? We made use of all our available room, from under the bed to under the bathroom sink, and learned an invaluable lesson: the less space you have, the less stuff you realize that you need.

5. Could I Bless Someone Else With This Item?

One of my favorite ways to “dispose” of items I no longer love, need or use is to share them with someone who will! Not only do I get the item off my hands, but I bless someone else in the process — and likely save them money, too!

Now, I am not advocating that you go dump of ten bags of junk on your friend’s doorstep, but if you know your friend could use some diapers and you have half a box that your son outgrew, stop letting them take up space in the nursery and ask your friend if she’d like them!

Get rid of the junk so you can experience the joy!

“Keep things because you love them, not just because.”

I think these questions above are still great questions to ask. However, after reading Marie Kondo’s book, I’ve shifted how I think about everything in my life. I started focusing primarily on asking myself, “Does this spark joy? Or am I just keeping this item because I haven’t come up with a good enough reason to get rid of it?”

I’ve been noticing how much stuff I hang onto because I think I should.

I should read that book. We should review that manners chart. I should teach my kids that. I should make that craft kit. And on and on it goes.

But none of these shoulds are bringing me joy. Instead, they are making me feel like I’m not doing enough.

You all know well how much I love to read. Reading and books have changed my life. So I always felt like having lots of books was a good thing. Books are good, right?

Then I read this quote from Marie Kondo’s book: “You are going to read very few of your books again. Keep only those books that will make you happy just to see them on your shelves. Having fewer books actually increases the impact of the information I read.”

It struck me right in between the eyes. I’ve been hanging onto these books because I felt like it was the “right” thing to do. They were good books, after all. Books I hoped to read someday. Books that could potentially impact my life.

But they weren’t bringing me joy.

Having a massive stack of books I hoped to read didn’t make me feel energized and happy. It taunted me and made me feel like I was behind and not reading enough.

Get rid of the junk so you can experience the joy!

So guess what I did? I immediately pared down my massive stack of I-want-to-read-right-now books next to my bed and soon after, I went through every single book on our bookshelves and asked myself, “Does this spark joy?”

I discovered all sorts of books I’d been hanging onto merely because I had felt like I really should read it because a number of other people had raved about it and told me I should, not because I personally really wanted to read it.

It was SO freeing for me to get rid of stacks of books and pare down to only those few shelves of books that really sparked joy for me. Since then, I’ve stuck with only reading 3-4 books at a time and haven’t allowed myself to make piles of books I want to read next.

I’ve also been a LOT more particular about what books I will order or keep from those that are sent to me (because I’m a blogger and often mention or review books, I’ve gotten on the lists of many publishing houses… which means that I end up getting a lot of unsolicited boxes of new releases in my mailbox every month!).

This has eliminated a lot of stress and guilt from my life — and it’s allowed me to enjoy the books I do read quite a bit more. I can just savor them without feeling like I need to speed-read through them to get to the next book.

Practical Ideas to Cut Down on Clutter

1. Have Ongoing Garage Sale/Goodwill Boxes

We have a designated spot in our home for Goodwill boxes. In our current home, this is in the garage. As I find things we no longer need or use (or unsolicited items we aren’t interested in arrive in the mail from companies hoping for a review), I put them in the Goodwill box. When one box is full, I fill up another. Once we have 2-3 boxes filled, we make a trip to Goodwill to drop them off.

Instead of moving an item around from one room to the next when we aren’t using it anymore, I pitch it in the Goodwill boxes and it’s out of our way and ready to be dropped off once enough stuff is collected.

(You could also set up a system to sell your clutter — something I did for a long time when money was tight.)

2. Annual Clutter Elimination

Once or twice a year, I go through my home from top to bottom and am ruthless about eliminating clutter. Every nook and cranny is cleaned out and every item is evaluated.

By doing this on a regular basis, no area of our home ever becomes unmanageable. Rooms or closets might be messy or unkempt at times, but they never get so overwhelming that I can’t deal with them.

3. The No-Pile Rule

Except for my husband’s dresser and our laundry basket, we try to strictly adhere to a no-pile rule. I’ve found that a small pile quickly grows–without any effort. So if you don’t start a pile in the first place, you can avoid a lot of disorganization.

Clear Out the Clutter

4. In the Door, In Its Place

Instead of piles of paper around from place to place until you have time to deal with them, take care of them immediately. When the mail or other papers come into our home, I go through it right then and there and throw out everything that we don’t have to keep.

Bills go on my husband’s desk, magazines go in my suitcase to take on my next trip, and junk mail goes in the trash. Within just a few minutes, the mail is completely dealt with!

5. Avoid Clutter-Collecting Furniture

I’ve found my utilitarian nature helps avoid heaps of clutter. How? Because we don’t have a lot of furniture that tends to be clutter hot-spots for others. I’ve found that when there’s no place to collect piles, you are much less apt to make them.

6. Develop More Contentment

When you learn that stuff doesn’t buy happiness, your life suddenly becomes much richer. As I wrote about in this piece on contentment (stop right now and go read this post, if you haven’t already!), when we were first married and our budget was so tight, I quickly learned that contentment is a choice.

You can choose to be contentment — whether you are in the middle of a feast or a famine. Why? Because contentment isn’t about what model of car you drive, how big your house is, what brands of clothes you wear, what kinds of foods you eat, or how much money you make.

Contentment is first and foremost about your heart. It’s an attitude you can get up and choose to have (or not have) every single day.


Day 8 Project

  1. Get a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and read it as soon as possible. It’s a pretty quick read and well worth it. {I disagreed with a lot of this book, but also found it very valuable. Read my 4-part review: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Don’t have time to read? Listen to the audiobook!}
  2. What areas in your home need to be decluttered? Make a plan for tackling these in the next week.
  3. Are you hanging onto things because you think you should? Start considering whether what you own really sparks joy for you. If it doesn’t, guiltlessly get rid of it so you can keep only what brings you joy!

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  • Abby H. says:

    Thank you for sharing this story previously last year, I bought the book. I encourage everyone to read it, it will make your life easier…I am a believer 🙂

  • Amy says:

    Great tips!
    And that was a great book for me, too. Definitely some Shinto-inspired stuff I didn’t agree with either but like you, I also found a lot of value in it! I KonMari’ed about half my house and need to find time to do the rest (especially my boys’ rooms!!).

  • Elizabeth says:

    This book truly was life-changing for me. I applied my faith through the process and thanked God for the items he had provided for my family and I over the years. I also asked for His forgiveness for the many times I was less than stewardly with the money and time he had given to me. Seeing my “categories” truly put into perspective the excess that I had, and I’ve since donated close to 60-70% of my belongings. My life truly has a fresh perspective, and I’m surrounded with the best family and only those few material possessions that “spark joy.”

  • Monica says:

    I bought the book at your suggestion and really loved it ! I did not apply all of it because some of it was a little strange to me. 🙂 However, the overall principles and the effects of reading and applying them were very helpful. I tend to do this for a while and then fall off. It’s time to get back on the wagon. When my home is cluttered, my heart and mind often follow! Thanks for your tips!

  • JoDi says:

    I enjoyed Marie Kondo’s book too although I didn’t agree with everything in it either. I did like her advice on book clutter. I find that the best information in books like hers reflects counsel already found in the Bible, like Ecc. 12:12, where the writer said “To the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.” I love to read so this is counsel I’ve always taken to heart to help me be more selective about what I choose to read. I prevent book clutter in my home by always borrowing books from the library to read first. Only after I’ve read a book will I consider buying it if I know I’ll use it for reference. That’s virtually eliminated book clutter in the house. I think I’ve bought 3 books out of the hundreds I’ve read over the years!

  • I love how much value you’ve packed into this post, Crystal! It’s got great tips on organizing but also insight on how to create a happier life with less stuff to organize. Just posted a link to this post my own blog!

  • Victoria says:

    I listened to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up earlier this year through Hoopla. The question you mention is the one that stuck with me too.

    As a fellow book lover what I have found that really helps me to keep my book collection small is dropping books off in Little Library boxes or book sharing shelves in hotels. It gives me a bookworm thrill to think of someone enjoying the pages of the book as much as I have.

    Last year I left a book in Jamaica. I love wondering from time to time where that book is now and who has read it since I left it.

    Generally I post the book I am currently reading on social media and often if a local friend tells me “that looks like a great read” I will try and seek them out when I am done and pass the book on (but alas I am too forgetful to do this as often as I could).

  • Shannon says:

    A few days ago, I had just started clearing out the clutter and was becoming overwhelmed, when I saw you posted this. Thank you for sharing! I really love the part about keeping what brings you joy, and it has given me a new perspective. I think a hurdle I have to overcome also is how these things cost money, and I feel like I’m throwing money away getting rid of them. But I know someone else will enjoy these things and hopefully use them, which most of it I was not using or forgot I even had. So thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts!

  • Jodi says:

    I love that book! I found it at library and her second one, “spark joy” so I didn’t even have to buy them!! Very very helpful tips as we are starting to declutter. It’s very challenging to not throw out my husband’s stuff (he tends to be more of the “collector”) but we are slowly making progress. ?what helped me most is the idea of keeping things that truly “spark joy!” Also, I love her advice to not declutter by room but by category. I didn’t realize how may clothing items I had hidden in various places all throughout our house!!

  • Marie says:

    I wish you would address what to do when your spouse is not on board with getting rid of unused items/clutter. I am more of a minimalist and my husband is not. He likes to keep things in case he has a need for it in the future or for sentimental reasons. This has caused many disagreements between us. He feels that if things are out of sight, that should be good enough. He is a wonderful husband and father and after 20 plus years, this is just one area that I am still very frustrated with, and tired of having disagreements about.

  • Kasey Aurentz says:

    I loved this article. I have the book “the life-changing magic of tidying up” sitting on my bookshelf. Your article inspired me to get it off the shelf and read it!! I’m so glad you included the book part because that is an area I have a hard time decluttering! I love love books! Hoping this book will inspire me to find new homes for books I “think” I’ll read again or will never read!

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