The 6-Step Decluttering Process That Simplifies Your Entire Life

A psychologist's six steps to a neater environment — or to make a lifestyle change.

Last updated on Jun 14, 2024

Decluttering your home, declutter your life Foxy Dolphin, Simol | Canva

Despite recent evidence suggesting that a cluttered desk leads to a creative (not cluttered) mind, I'm determined to declutter. It's difficult to be creative when you can't find your ideas buried in piles of articles, legal pads, and journals, or elsewhere on tiny scraps of paper and sticky notes. Not that you could tell by looking, but I prefer the aesthetic of a neat, organized workspace. 

Here's the 6-step decluttering process that simplifies your entire life

1. Identify the change

Name it so you make the change you want clear — having spent a marathon weekend clearing out the detritus of a project I recently completed, my goal is to remain clutter-free. You might decide you no longer want to act like a shy person, or you want to stop eating junk food, or you want to start exercising daily. Many changes are possible by following the steps.


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2. Problem solve

Once you've identified the change you want, it will not come to you magically, à la the so-called law of attraction. You must consider possible actions you can take to achieve your goal. There are a number of ways I can stop cluttering up my study. I can resolve to put every paper, article or idea where it needs to be when it comes across my desk.


 Whoever said you should only touch each piece of paper once was right, and the same applies to email and internet articles. I might make it a daily or weekly task. If you want to act non-shy you might come up with several strategies to start acting more outgoing and you could do the same to cut out junk food or increase exercise.

She decluttered her work space to simplify life fizkes via Shutterstock

3. Choose a solution

It doesn't matter what you choose, as long as you believe you can get behind it. I'll try a weekly strategy, taking Saturday afternoon, when I'm usually semi-brain-dead from a long run anyway, to declutter the prior week's accumulation


You might start your non-shyness regimen by talking to people in bookstores, coffee shops, and other places that won't mark you as a weirdo. You could ban junk food from your shopping cart. Walk for 10 minutes, five evenings a week, to begin your exercise plan.

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4. Evaluate your progress

You'll need a way to track what you're doing. There's an app for that, but a diary or hash marks on a calendar, noting daily whether you've talked to someone or walked that day, will do. After two weeks, I'll be able to tell if my weekly strategy is working since the absence of piles will be concrete and measurable, literally. You can consult your daily record to see how often you've been talking to people, your kitchen to see if you've been keeping the junk out or your calendar to see how frequently you've walked.

@fortheloveoftidy Replying to @five12studioBreaking down exactly how to fearlessly declutter important papers in the name of radical self care. #radicalselfcare #paperclutter#declutteringtips #professionalorganizer ♬ original sound - Kristyn 🏡 Pro Home Organizer

5. Revise your plan

If your evaluation tells you you're not cutting it, or if you are, and you're ready to bump it up a notch, consider your next move. If my study is without piles, I'll probably stick to my plan and add to it by working on some other areas of my world that need decluttering. If my plan's not working, I might go from a weekly to a twice-a-week attack. If you're talking to people three times a week, you might decide to go for six or come up with other venues to work on, like accepting invitations to social events you usually avoid. 


The junk food plan might benefit from skipping the convenience store on your way home from work. You increase your walking to 15 minutes or expand your exercise plan by adding a day of another type of workout.

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6. Reward progress

Often, progress is its own reward. I expect my clutter-free environment will be both aesthetically and practically gratifying. Sometimes a concrete reward is in order. Small gifts to yourself for a job well done can help keep you motivated.

Eating cake to reward progress in the decluttering process Dragana Gordic via Shutterstock


One of the biggest problems I encounter among my clients is a feeling they have to make changes that other people think they should make using strategies that others tell them will work. You must decide on the change you want in a way that feels right for you. The beauty of these steps is that they provide a structure while still allowing for flexibility. You can experiment until you find a plan that works for you.

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Judith Tutin, Ph.D., ACC, is a licensed psychologist and certified life coach. She shares more work on her website, where she brings more fun and wellness to your life.