How to let go of your stuff for a better spring clean

The under-appreciated psychological benefits of de-cluttering your space.

Posted Sep 30, 2015

Like most people, I have more stuff than I actually use on any kind of a regular basis, even though I regularly engage in “spring cleaning” and other efforts to de-clutter. I decided to try Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. As I scientist, I would not call it magic, but I did find it very beneficial.

Kondo’s key recommendation is to pick up each and every item you own and ask yourself whether it “sparks joy.” At first I thought this was kind of hokey, but I (mostly) followed her instructions and instead of just flipping through the clothes in my closet, as I might usually do to clean it out, I actually took them all out of the closet and made a giant heap in the living room. I also followed her other instructions and got all the other hidden stashes of clothes too—out of the coat closet, out of storage, out of the laundry, the sweater hanging on the back of my office chair—and really looked at it all at once, which I’m not sure I’ve ever done before. The process really changed how I viewed my clothes.
Then, mostly following her guide, I went through the rest of the house. She emphasizes doing it all at once, but I don’t see how that would be possible for most people in the U.S. My family and I don’t live in a particularly large home—it’s about 2000 square feet (smaller than the U.S. average), with no attic and no garage—and it took me the better part of 6 consecutive weekends to go through everything and I still haven’t done the category that she says to save for last, sentimental items such as photos and other keepsakes. I suppose if you can take a 2-week vacation and do nothing else.
In addition to taking more time, I broke a couple of her other rules too. I gave a few clothes to my sister, expensive work clothes I knew she would like. She has a new job and she was thrilled. I took far more stuff to Goodwill than I threw in the garbage. I’m too much of an environmentalist to throw away perfectly good items and there are too many people in my Appalachian community who might use them.

However, I did clear out mountains of stuff. I was amazed at how much I could clear out. We have long since given away or passed down the clothes and toys our children have outgrown and I have always thought we were pretty good at staying on top of that. We still encourage and help them sort through their closets and shelves every year. They are an age now—12 and 15 years—that I didn’t even attempt to go into their rooms to purge.

Still, I was surprised how many remnants of their childhoods I found in other parts of the house. Crafts that might delight an 8 or 9 year old girl but are not likely to interest a 15-year-old one. A little pup tent designed for indoor use that they to create their own little hideaway in our old house, but now even the legs of my 12-year-old son would extend far outside the door if he tried to lay down in it. I found myself getting choked up more than once when coming across these items and remembering those days. Still, we’ve absolutely no use for them anymore. Cleaning up the camping supplies was so exhilarating and made the stuff we still use so easy to access that we were inspired to take our first family camping trip in a few years on the Blue Ridge Parkway. That was a great family experience that was much better than a bunch of unused craft supplies, however sentimental I might feel about them. Getting rid of the clutter made room, both physical and psychological “space,” for having new experiences.

I also let go of a lot of CDs I haven’t listened to in years and books I will never read again. Her advice on approaching those is really excellent. For example, I have been carrying around probably some 15 or 20 books on Zen and other Buddhist philosophy. A few of them I still pick up, but most I probably haven’t opened since before my children were born. Still, I kept them as some emblem of being on top of mindfulness and Zen Buddhism. Sadly, though, I think that is mostly just an indicator that I did not really understand the message of “no attachment” and staying in the here-and-now that is at the center of most of those books!

Research on the connection between the physical environment and well-being is surprisingly thin and research on the home environment and well-being is even thinner. Most of the professional writing on the topic seems to come from the fields of architecture and interior design and is more theory than data. There is a small literature on compulsive hoarders, who hang on to things, such as years of old newspapers, to such an extreme degree it becomes a mental health problem.

The science that exists supports the idea that a less cluttered environment (although not a sterile and empty one) promotes well-being for most people. Other aspects of good housing quality are beneficial too. You do not have to be a hoarder to benefit from a more spacious and functional living space.

I found the process very liberating and it makes me realize that this is another area that psychology has neglected. Everyone’s situation is different and many people need to acquire essentials more than they need to get rid of excess. Still, for many people de-cluttering might boost other interventions to alleviate depression, anxiety, and bolster coping with a variety of stressful life events.

The Data Doctor

Notes: Have a question for the Data Doctor? Send an email to [email protected] or [email protected] or put it in the comments.

The Data Doctor appears on Tuesdays (usually! I’m just back from my silent meditation retreat, which was very rejuvenating.)

Coach, and trainee counsellor specializing in mental health and addiction. Read full profile

How to let go of your stuff for a better spring clean

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As the first days of spring creep up upon us, many of us emerge from our winter hiding places, take a good look around us, and decide that it’s time we knuckled down to the obligatory Big Spring Clean. We find shelves of unread books, wardrobes crammed with unworn clothes and lives generally swarming with clutter, and we decide things just have to go.

Yet, when it comes down to actually getting rid of stuff, some of us have the hardest time throwing away things we haven’t even looked at in ages.

Why we can’t let go

The reasons why we treasure and hoard all this stuff aren’t too hard to figure out: as we go through life, working hard, progressing from one thing to the next, the things we acquire en route serve as our trophies and token reminders; the things that tell us we’ve made it, that we’re doing okay, that we can afford to buy stuff and keep it in our nice house.

That said, the very fact that you’re reading this article suggests you know something else about the actualities of owning lots of things, which is this:

It can be a really big pain.

“The things you own end up owning you” – Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in Fight Club

The more things you own, the harder it is to keep them all organised and tidy; the less organised and tidy you are, the more you’re likely to to feel as though your life is less organised and tidy; and the less organised you feel in life, the more stress you’re likely to endure.

But what if, despite knowing this, we still struggle to get rid of the things that are bogging us down? Thankfully, there are three simple steps to letting go of our old possessions for a better spring clean.

1. Be honest

More often than not, the one thing stopping us from getting rid of something is that we lie to ourselves about how much we really need it.

We convince ourselves that 10 pairs of shoes is an entirely necessary amount, and that our lives would somehow be incomplete without that box full of old books stored in the closet. To better let go of our possessions, it therefore pays to be entirely honest with ourselves and ask:

  • Do we really need it?
  • Will we ever actually wear/use/read/watch it?
  • Will our life be worse in any way without it?

Answer these questions honestly and you should have an easier time of eliminating the excess from your life.

2 Detach

Another key problem for chronic hoarders is the emotional attachments we form with the most random of objects.

Of course, nobody would suggest you sever all emotional ties to your family heirlooms or photo albums, but there are certain things which, in the grand scheme of things, probably mean much less to us but to which we can’t help but become attached to anyway.

Using our first step and getting really honest with ourselves, ask what it is about a particular object that makes us so compelled to keep it. Is there another way we can get the same feeling or memory that this thing gives us without cluttering our house?

3 Help others

One of the easiest and most satisfying ways to spring clean involves giving things away to people who need them more than we do.
We could donate our books to the library, or our old clothes to the Salvation Army store. By doing so, we’ll be doing something good for others, which in turn will make us feel really good.

Surely we’re all prepared to sacrifice a few things for the sake of feeling better about ourselves and the space around us, which is, of course, the real reason we started this Big Spring Clean in the first place.

Busy lifestyles can lead to cutting corners and getting into bad routines. Here’s how to make cleaning easy…

How to let go of your stuff for a better spring clean

While housework is a chore, we all want to get it out of the way as quickly and efficiently as possible.

However, if you’re spending more time at home, what better time than any to pop on those gloves and give your home a good clean! After all, the time for a big spring clean is upon us, don’t jump in at the deep end – there are some essential things to know which can make the task a breeze.

We’ve rounded up our top tips for easy spring cleaning.

How to let go of your stuff for a better spring clean

1. First things first, be realistic

The idea of cleaning the whole house is a daunting task for anyone. So don’t try to tackle the entire thing in a day, or you’ll end up feeling defeated.

Choose a room and stick to it. Complete this room before moving onto another; this’ll give you a greater sense of achievement compared to flitting from one room to the next. As an example, over a weekend, you could clean the living room and a bedroom. Don’t worry about telling yourself you need to have the room cleaned by a certain time, take as long as you need.

Most importantly, make it fun! Pop the radio on or even your favourite podcast, and lean into it. If you work like this, over the month you’ll have rid the whole house of clutter and stains!

How to let go of your stuff for a better spring clean

2. Be prepared

Just like a chef will gather all their ingredients, tools, and gadgets before they start cooking, you should do the same before you start cleaning. This will save time, as you won’t be running back and forth to the cupboard under the kitchen sink looking for cleaning products or other useful things.

If you have the space, separate your cleaning products by room, e.g. bathroom cleaning products, kitchen cleaning products, and living room/bedroom/hallway products. Gather your cleaning army for the task or room ahead.

The GHI’s essentials include:

  • Rubber gloves – we love the Spontex Soft Hands gloves.
  • A cleaning cloth.
  • Multi-surface polish.
  • Multi-surface cleaning spray – OceanSaver requires only one bottle making it an eco-friendly option.
  • Glass spray.
  • Bleach.
  • Old toothbrush.
  • Floor cleaner.
  • Mop and bucket. We rate the Addis Superdry Plus Mop . For a deeper clean, opt for the Karcher SC5 EasyFix Premium.

How to let go of your stuff for a better spring clean

3. Keep it green

Want a cheaper or greener alternative? Save time weighing up which surface cleaner is best by using store cupboard items.

  • Vinegar is ideal for removing limescale build-up on taps (though not gold plated ones) and shower screens too. It’s also great when it comes to cleaning windows.
  • Mix half bicarbonate of soda and half water to make a scouring paste. It’s brilliant at removing stains from worktops, sinks, cookers, oven doors, and saucepans.
  • Lemon juice is a natural bleaching agent. Use it to remove stains from chopping boards by rubbing with fresh lemon (or the bottled stuff) and leave overnight. It’s also effective at removing rust stains. Also, add half a capful into your wash-load to brighten whites.

Erin Rooney Doland, a reformed hoarder, offers her best cures for clutter.

1. Tear down the museum. In my youth, I was fearless. I forged strong friendships and created a history for myself that seemed worth remembering. So I held on to every trinket from my past. But I kept so many of these historical artifacts (see Hair, Matt’s) that I didn’t have any room for the present. I wanted to throw parties and have friends to visit in a home where they could actually sit down. So I photographed those hold things, then cleared them out to make space for the next chapters of my life.

2. Assess true value. A hefty chuck of what I moved into our home was obsolete computer equipment. When I looked at it, I saw dollar signs. Then my economist friend, Stephen, reminded me of the fallacy of sunk costs. I was sizing up those old computers based on what I had spent rather than their present value: close to zero. I sold the lot to a used-electronics store for $60 (not bad, considering) and got a much needed haircut with the cash.

3. Know thyself. I liked to think of myself as someone who exercised every day by running on a giant motorized treadmill, read all the literary classics, and baked cookies for every special occasion. The reality? I am not a runner, I like to read pop fiction, and cookies aren’t really my thing. The treadmill, the boxes of books, and some kitchen gadgets all found new homes.

4. Trust me: You won’t fix it. Most of the broken things I had brought with me were shoes. Heels or straps had come off, and I was convinced I would someday have them repaired. My husband held the shoes up in front of me, pair by pair, and asked two questions: “If you saw these shoes in a store today, would you buy them?” and “If you say yes, how much would you pay for them?” In all but one case, I admitted that I wouldn’t buy the shoes again. And those red kitten heels with the broken sole? The amount I was wiling to pay was less than the cost of having them fixed.

5. Do look a gift horse in the mouth. My decorating tastes may change over time, but I am fairly certain I will never enjoy a home filled with a series of rhinestone-accented paintings of scary clowns. Yet I had hoarded these and other unattractive presents because I thought that was the decent thing to do. I also wasn’t sure what I would say if someone noticed his gift missing and asked why. Well, you know what? No one has. Not even the bestower of scary clowns.

6. Adapt to your surroundings. I had a used Volvo 740 GLE that was the first car I had purchased after college. Before I moved Washington, I lived in the Midwest, where it was tough to get around without a car. In D.C., however, we lived next to a metro station, and there was a grocery store two blocks away. The price of parking―$150 a month―sealed it: The GLE was G-O-N-E.

7. Just admit that you don’t like it. As I sorted through my stuff, I became aware of the fact that I didn’t even want some of it. There were things I didn’t exactly like but didn’t exactly hate―and so lived with them out of pure apathy. This was the easiest clutter to set free. All it took was a little motivation to pack up a few boxes and drop them off at a local charity.

8. Know what you really need. Often what we need is only related to the thing we have. For instance, I had a huge popcorn maker but could easily pop the modest amount of corn we consumed in a small pot on the stove. Out it went. I also had thousands of documents in bulky filing cabinets. But I needed the information on the pages, not the paper itself. I kept just the documents I had to have in their original form, scanned and saved others as digital files, and tossed the rest-eliminating 300 pounds of paper.

9. Let go of the guilt. When my grandparents passed away, I inherited a collection of 27 rusty knives, a warped cookie sheet, and a copper bracelet my grandmother had loved to wear. I kept all these items for more than a decade. Eventually I realized that if my grandparents were alive, they would have replaced the cookie sheet and knife set (and been mortified that my aunts had passed on such dangerous accoutrements). I recycled the kitchen implements, but I kept the bracelet, which I wear and enjoy as much as my grandmother did.

10. Face it: “One day” almost never comes. I justified keeping half my wardrobe on the basis that I would use it one day. The hot pink bridesmaid dress from my cousin’s first wedding took up space in my closet for four times the length of her marriage. I hate throwing out potentially useful things. But we couldn’t afford a larger apartment; storing all those “one day” items would cost more than they were worth; and, an even simpler truth, I have yet to be invited to an event at which a fuchsia dress with taffeta bows might seem appropriate.

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How to let go of your stuff for a better spring clean

Spring cleaning is an annual deep cleaning which classically takes place in the spring. Spring cleaning is especially common in regions with harsh winters which make it hard to clean during the winter months. During a spring cleaning, a home will be scoured from top to bottom, and gear which is used in the winter will be cleaned and prepared for storage. Many people set aside several days in the spring for spring cleaning, and people may also refer to “spring cleaning” generically to talk about any deep clean, even if it is not spring.

The origins of the tradition of cleaning in the spring are unclear, although there are some interesting theories. Most probably, spring cleaning evolved as a natural response to the need to store things like heavy blankets and other winter equipment, and to the fact that cleaning can be challenging in the winter because the cold weather makes it hard to air a house out, while wet and freezing conditions contribute to buildups of mud, salt, and other materials on floors and around the house.

In a typical spring cleaning, a house is cleaned room by room, with each room being emptied so that it and all of its components can be cleaned. In a bedroom, for example, the bedroom furniture would be removed to allow access to the floor under beds, dressers, and so forth, and the furniture might be broken apart and wiped down to remove dust before being replaced. The mattress would be rotated, while winter garments and bedclothes would be removed and cleaned for storage. The windows would also be opened wide to allow lots of fresh air into the room.

Some people also use spring cleaning as an excuse to sort their possessions, discarding things which are no longer used and bringing them to charities or throwing them away, depending on their condition. The habit of setting aside a specific time in the spring to sort through possessions can be useful for people who tend to accrue things. Spring cleaning may also be a time for things like rotating dishes to ensure that a particular set of dishes is not overused, along with rearranging rooms, replacing worn and tattered pillows and other accent pieces, or for changing artwork, floral displays, and so forth.

Spring cleaning may also include the outside of a house, as well as the inside. Windows may be washed, missing or broken roofing will be repaired or replaced, and the garden may be uncovered for spring. Members of the household may also take this time to inspect the condition of the house and garden, keeping an eye out for projects which will need attention, like outbuildings which require painting, or flower beds which should be re-worked for a new planting.

Like spring itself, spring cleaning renews a house. For people who have felt trapped indoors over the winter, spring cleaning can whisk away the stuffy air and sense of oppression which often develops in enclosed houses, and it also provides an excuse to work on cleaning projects which are infrequently performed, such as cleaning under the fridge or behind the couch.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

How to let go of your stuff for a better spring cleanMary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Make spring cleaning less painful with these simple strategies.

How to let go of your stuff for a better spring clean

Spring cleaning will be a little different this year, since we’ve all been stuck inside for weeks. On one hand, we’ve had more time to tidy up around the house. On the other, we’ve had a never-ending opportunity to make a huge mess. Either way, these spring cleaning tips will help get your home in order as the weather warms up.

1. Let there be light

After a long, dark winter, there are few things better for your outlook than catching a few rays. Studies show that sunlight can reduce anxiety, alleviate pain, and improve your mood; that’s why Maeve Richmond, founder and head coach of home organizing company Maeve’s Method, recommends washing your windows first, before moving on to other tidying tasks.

“If there’s only one thing you do during spring cleaning season, it’s windows — inside and outside,” she says. Take 20 minutes to wipe panes down. And if it’s too much of a chore, consider hiring a pro next year. “There are services that people can schedule for this, twice a year, autumn and spring,” and the attitude shift could be worth the investment.

2. Skim off the top layer of junk

“Most of the year, we spend time bringing things into our home — groceries, mail, etc. — and most of the time, we’re not so good at taking stuff out,” says Richmond. Use the new season to toss recently collected junk. “Life collects in layers. Remove things that aren’t relevant anymore.”

To do this effortlessly, Richmond suggests using the Top 5 strategy: “Go from room to room looking for five easy things you can let go, like expired foods and medicines, old magazines and catalogs. We encourage people to say ‘1-2-3-4-5’ out loud [as they work], because it helps the brain to know you’re doing a manageable project.” Carry a garbage bag with you expedite the process.

3. Do a surface cleaning

When it comes to invigorating the feel of your home, there’s something to be said about good, ol’ fashioned vacuuming, dusting, and polishing. There’s no deep clean necessary; even a short neatening session can refresh your rooms, making them feel less stale and more open to visitors.

“When our homes look clean and bright, we feel more excited about bringing people in,” says Richmond. “Think of it less as work, and more about preparing the home for family and guests.”

As for products, Richmond likes any of the small wipes that have a cleaning agent inside and Swiffer’s line of cleaning tools, which she calls, “super-safe, easy to manage, and designed to collect dust and dirt rather than spread it around.”

4. Stow your winter gear

You’ve removed the top layer junk and done a surface cleaning; now it’s time to throw all your snow-appropriate possessions back into storage.

Working room by room, collect heavy blankets, thick sweaters, and even your slow cooker, and place them in designated bags and boxes, to be left untouched until October rolls around again.

Don’t worry about completing this step right away, especially if the cool air lingers into May. Spring cleaning takes up to three weeks to complete, says Richmond, “because it’s a seasonal thing, a process. Allow yourself the season to take care of things, and not get it done all at once.”

5. Break out your spring stuff

Once those sweaters and wool socks are packed away, you can trot out your warm-weather possessions. Rotate your wardrobe, moving brightly colored dresses and light cardigans to the front of the closet.

Bust out those flowery decorations and pastel-hued front-door wreaths, but don’t forget your real plants, either.

“Indoor plants need a lot of TLC this time of year, because they’ve spent the winter months in dry heat,” says Richmond. “In addition to extra water, try to keep your shades open or move [plants] closer to your clean windows.”

6. Tackle that paperwork

After your taxes have been turned in, you can safely sit down and sort through paper stacks, with the intention of either A) getting rid of them for good, or B) organizing them into easily accessible files.

Richmond suggests you begin sorting only after you’ve undertaken other spring cleaning projects (since paperwork is a more difficult task to get into), and start with the smallest piles first, so you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as you go along.

If you find that a large portion of your paperwork is junk mail or paper bills, take the time to cancel subscriptions and automate payments. “This tiny task will make your home feel lighter and less cluttered for the spring,” says Richmond.

7. Take it easy

Congratulations! You’ve earned some time to kick back and relax in your neat, newly revitalized home. It’s too all too easy to jump from one project to the next.

So, instead of rushing into yard work or speeding off to the car wash, give yourself a few hours to unwind. Open those gleaming windows to let some air in, grab an ice-cold lemonade, and read a magazine. You earned it.

How to let go of your stuff for a better spring clean

A couple weekends ago my husband and I had what I would call an “outside of the box” date night. With subzero Kansas City temperatures and ongoing Covid restrictions we decided to spend it… decluttering.

Okay, so it was my idea, but he remarkably agreed. We hired a sitter and spent two solid hours going through our stuff. I was having So. Much. Fun.

Until my hands landed on a pink and black, polk-a-dot Minnie Mouse swimsuit, size 12 months. I was sideswiped by an intensely sentimental feeling.

“Remember when Eva wore this her first time in the pool?” I asked nostalgically.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’d get rid of it.”

“What, why?” I replied, clearly caught off guard. Now remember, spending our date night decluttering was my idea, and here he was wanting to part with more than I did. I was stunned.

“Because someone else could use it. It’s not doing anyone any good sitting here in storage.”

But for a moment I was stuck. To let go or not to let go?

While we weren’t getting rid of every kid-related item just yet (doesn’t seem prudent if you’re hoping for more), we certainly didn’t need to keep it all. Including the swimsuit.

I finally moved through my indecision by asking myself two questions. These questions help me keep the big picture in mind by reminding me: 1) My unused and unloved things could meet someone else’s need. 2) My memories are not held in my stuff.

These questions are my go-to’s when I feel stuck during decluttering, and I bet they could help you too.

Here are two questions to ask yourself to become “unstuck” while decluttering:

1. How can this item be used for a greater good?

The real freedom in minimalism doesn’t just come from unburdening yourself from stuff. Sure you gain more free time and free space when you de-own possessions, but there’s more. The real freedom in minimalism comes from interior detachment—when you realize we are just stewards of stuff.

Stewards are overseers or supervisors. People with the power to decide how best to use the items entrusted to them. Stewards have a responsibility, a duty to act. And so do we.

When we realize we are simply stewards of our stuff, we then have the interior freedom to act in a way that blesses others. We are able to see our possessions through the lens of detachment and, because we’re not bound by our possessions, we’re able act in a way that benefits society as a whole.

Try looking at an item that’s hard to part with through an “I’m-just-a-steward” lens. You’ve been entrusted this specific possession during your journey through life. You won’t have it forever and, when your time here is done, you certainly can’t take it with you. So how can you bring the greatest good out of it?

  • Give it away and bless someone else with it?
  • Chuck it because the good in it has already been used?
  • Keep it and use it for a greater good?

2. Is this item grabbing onto my heart and why does it have a hold?

Checking in with our hearts can give us answers as to why something is difficult to part with. Put your hand on your heart, take a deep breath and listen. Feel whatever feelings are stirring and ask yourself why this item has a hold on you.

For so many of us, the reason we hold onto something isn’t because we need it, or even because we want it, but because it gives us some sense of security. We struggle to loosen our grip on an object just in case we need it again.

We tell ourselves we will have peace when we have enough stuff. We hold onto this illusion of security, and begin believing our well-being is dependent on how much we own. Soon we are no longer free, living so attached to our possessions that they begin to own us. Real security and real happiness aren’t found in our stuff.

When faced with a hard-to-part-with possession, ask:

  • Why does this have a hold on me?
  • Am I merely keeping this because I want the security of knowing that I have it?

If you’re feeling stuck while decluttering, asking the right questions can help you uproot deep-seated beliefs, move past indecision, and ultimately let go .

Author Francine Jay said, “Minimalism isn’t emptiness for the sake of emptiness; but rather making room to move more freely, think clearly, and open ourselves to the beauty and wonder of life.”

Living minimally can fulfill a greater need than just creating space in our lives. When we move freely and think clearly, we manage our possessions in a way that benefits everyone around us.

Let’s examine our “why’s” for owning what we do and ask the questions that truly free us to use our possessions for the greatest good.

How to let go of your stuff for a better spring clean

Julia Ubbenga is a freelance journalist whose teachings on minimalism, simplicity, and intentional living have reached thousands of people worldwide through her blog . Julia practices what she preaches in her Kansas City apartment home with her husband, two extremely lively young daughters, and 6-month-old son. You can also find her on Instagram .

I want to help you design a simple, intentional life! I’ve created a 30-day course that will guide and inspire you to declutter your home, heart, and schedule, and live focused on what matters. Learn more HERE .

Make spring cleaning less painful with these simple strategies.

How to let go of your stuff for a better spring clean

Spring cleaning will be a little different this year, since we’ve all been stuck inside for weeks. On one hand, we’ve had more time to tidy up around the house. On the other, we’ve had a never-ending opportunity to make a huge mess. Either way, these spring cleaning tips will help get your home in order as the weather warms up.

1. Let there be light

After a long, dark winter, there are few things better for your outlook than catching a few rays. Studies show that sunlight can reduce anxiety, alleviate pain, and improve your mood; that’s why Maeve Richmond, founder and head coach of home organizing company Maeve’s Method, recommends washing your windows first, before moving on to other tidying tasks.

“If there’s only one thing you do during spring cleaning season, it’s windows — inside and outside,” she says. Take 20 minutes to wipe panes down. And if it’s too much of a chore, consider hiring a pro next year. “There are services that people can schedule for this, twice a year, autumn and spring,” and the attitude shift could be worth the investment.

2. Skim off the top layer of junk

“Most of the year, we spend time bringing things into our home — groceries, mail, etc. — and most of the time, we’re not so good at taking stuff out,” says Richmond. Use the new season to toss recently collected junk. “Life collects in layers. Remove things that aren’t relevant anymore.”

To do this effortlessly, Richmond suggests using the Top 5 strategy: “Go from room to room looking for five easy things you can let go, like expired foods and medicines, old magazines and catalogs. We encourage people to say ‘1-2-3-4-5’ out loud [as they work], because it helps the brain to know you’re doing a manageable project.” Carry a garbage bag with you expedite the process.

3. Do a surface cleaning

When it comes to invigorating the feel of your home, there’s something to be said about good, ol’ fashioned vacuuming, dusting, and polishing. There’s no deep clean necessary; even a short neatening session can refresh your rooms, making them feel less stale and more open to visitors.

“When our homes look clean and bright, we feel more excited about bringing people in,” says Richmond. “Think of it less as work, and more about preparing the home for family and guests.”

As for products, Richmond likes any of the small wipes that have a cleaning agent inside and Swiffer’s line of cleaning tools, which she calls, “super-safe, easy to manage, and designed to collect dust and dirt rather than spread it around.”

4. Stow your winter gear

You’ve removed the top layer junk and done a surface cleaning; now it’s time to throw all your snow-appropriate possessions back into storage.

Working room by room, collect heavy blankets, thick sweaters, and even your slow cooker, and place them in designated bags and boxes, to be left untouched until October rolls around again.

Don’t worry about completing this step right away, especially if the cool air lingers into May. Spring cleaning takes up to three weeks to complete, says Richmond, “because it’s a seasonal thing, a process. Allow yourself the season to take care of things, and not get it done all at once.”

5. Break out your spring stuff

Once those sweaters and wool socks are packed away, you can trot out your warm-weather possessions. Rotate your wardrobe, moving brightly colored dresses and light cardigans to the front of the closet.

Bust out those flowery decorations and pastel-hued front-door wreaths, but don’t forget your real plants, either.

“Indoor plants need a lot of TLC this time of year, because they’ve spent the winter months in dry heat,” says Richmond. “In addition to extra water, try to keep your shades open or move [plants] closer to your clean windows.”

6. Tackle that paperwork

After your taxes have been turned in, you can safely sit down and sort through paper stacks, with the intention of either A) getting rid of them for good, or B) organizing them into easily accessible files.

Richmond suggests you begin sorting only after you’ve undertaken other spring cleaning projects (since paperwork is a more difficult task to get into), and start with the smallest piles first, so you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as you go along.

If you find that a large portion of your paperwork is junk mail or paper bills, take the time to cancel subscriptions and automate payments. “This tiny task will make your home feel lighter and less cluttered for the spring,” says Richmond.

7. Take it easy

Congratulations! You’ve earned some time to kick back and relax in your neat, newly revitalized home. It’s too all too easy to jump from one project to the next.

So, instead of rushing into yard work or speeding off to the car wash, give yourself a few hours to unwind. Open those gleaming windows to let some air in, grab an ice-cold lemonade, and read a magazine. You earned it.

Maybe you’ve got a few boxes lying around, or maybe the camera crew from Hoarders is knocking at your door as you read this. Either way, clutter is bad for the mind and bad for your wallet . But there’s good news: you can get rid of it without driving yourself crazy. Here’s how.

Why You Hold On to Clutter

Erin Doland is a minimalism guru and editor of the home and office organization blog Unclutterer;…

We’re not angling for everything-I-own-fits-in-a-backpack minimalism here: our goal is that, by the end of this post, you’ll have the tools required to donate, gift, or toss out things that do nothing but take up space in your lives. Whether you’ve been forced to downsize or you’re just looking to trim down the physical crap in your life, this post will help you make the tough calls-so you can get back to enjoying the things you love.

Work in Reverse: What Would You Replace If You Lost Everything?

Ask yourself: “If my home burned down and I lost everything, what would I replace as soon as my renter’s insurance check came in?” (You do have renter’s or homeowner’s insurance, right ?) During my last move, I went from a large apartment in the suburbs to a smaller apartment in the city. I knew I was in for some tough choices, so I needed a way to think about my possessions that went beyond the traditional “keep/toss/donate” method, and this mindset worked wonders. We’ve discussed how making a home inventory can help you declutter , so consider this a blind inventory. Photo by Sam Greenhalgh .

Why You Need Renters Insurance

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The key is to do this from another location-a coffee shop, a library, somewhere quiet with a laptop where you can really think and make your list. Don’t do this at home though, you need to be somewhere you can’t just look around and make a list. Don’t get caught up in model numbers or specific products-just jot down everything you can remember that you would actually go out and spend money on a second time. If you need help getting started, we’ve covered some apps like Know Your Stuff and StuffSafe ( among others ) that can help you build your inventory. That’s your base list of things that are both valuable and important to you.

How and Why to Create a Home Inventory

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Declutter in Small, Focused Bursts: Make Each Session a Sprint, Not a Marathon

You’re not going to clean up your entire home in a day, or pack your entire apartment in a weekend, so don’t try. It took time to get all that stuff, it’ll take some time to let it all go. Set yourself up for success by making a plan and targeting specific areas you’re going to declutter, clean up, and organize over a prolonged period of time. Then stick to it so you don’t tire yourself out.

For example, consider decluttering one room at a time, in 30 minute bursts. Set aside a few hours on a Saturday afternoon to tackle your home office, then work for 30 minutes, take a half-hour break, then work for another 30. The goal here is to avoid the frustration and high-running emotions that come with deciding to keep, donate, or throw away the things that you own. Set a timer and stick to it, rewarding yourself when you get to natural break points. If you’re a fan of the Pomodoro productivity technique , now’s the time to use it.

The Pomodoro Technique Trains Your Brain Away From Distractions

The Pomodoro technique is a productivity method that utilizes timers and breaks, emphasizing…

Think Of Your Things In Terms of Utility First, and Sentimental Value Second

It’s easy to get attached to things, either because you’ve had them for a long time, they have some special meaning to you, or because they represent the hard work and sweat you put into making the money you used to buy them. That’s completely normal, but when you’re looking to downsize and declutter, you have to try and separate yourself from those feelings a bit. Here’s how:

  • Ask yourself “What does this item do for me that nothing else does?” Start thinking about the utility of the item you’re looking at. What makes it unique among your possessions? What does it do? Does it do multiple things or is it a unitasker?
  • Next, ask “Do I have anything else that does this better, or at least does something else as well? This is where you choose between your can opener and the other can opener with a bottle opener on the top. Pick the items that add more value to your life.
  • Finally, ask “Does this have sentimental meaning to me?” When it comes to appliances, tools, and electronics, it’s easy to ask the first two questions, but if you’re looking at a box of photos, utility doesn’t come to mind. Sentimental value is important in a lot of things, so don’t overlook it, just try not to get bogged down in how an item makes you feel versus what it does for you and how much space it takes.

Apply these three questions to virtually everything you own. If you’re moving, like I was, you have a natural reason to evaluate everything you possess, but if you’re decluttering to clean and organize, make sure to give yourself time to review everything, instead of just deciding that specific drawer or box is fine the way it is. Don’t leave those stones unturned-open up that box and look inside. Even if it seems okay, it’s a box full of old papers to be shredded, you’ll be happier with them gone than taking up space next to your desk. Photo by di_ana .