5 Critical Steps to Find Motivation for Decluttering

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cardboard box full of discarded clothes needing motivation for decluttering

When I first started decluttering, I recall moments when I felt so defeated by the clutter I was paralyzed. I couldn’t figure out how to start decluttering when I was so overwhelmed. Plus, my goal of getting rid of close to 90% of my stuff seemed miles away from the current reality.

You probably found this post because you feel similar and are struggling to get motivated to get rid of things.

I learned a lot about decluttering when I downsized my entire home to travel. I continued to hone my decluttering skills over three years of living in tiny spaces.

Below are five critical steps to find motivation for decluttering and build habits to downsize your stuff.


1. Find Your Why

The most crucial key to finding decluttering motivation is knowing your ‘why’ and feeling strongly about it.

If you aren’t passionate about your ‘why,’ then chances are you won’t have enough motivation to declutter much of your home.

find your why - finding your freedom through decluttering

Ask yourself: What change am I trying to make in my life?

  • Do you want to travel full-time?
  • Do you want to spend time doing things with your family?
  • Do you want more freedom?

Then ask yourself: How does decluttering help me reach my goal?

  • Does it allow you to spend more time doing the things you love and less time taking care of your house and your stuff?
  • Does it allow you to downsize to save money for travel, early retirement, or allow your family to live on one income to spend more time with your kids?
  • Does it allow you to travel full-time with a spouse that works on the road?

Ultimately decluttering is going to offer everyone the same thing in one way or another – freedom.

Whether it’s freedom of location, time, or finances, you are most likely seeking one or more of these when you ask yourself why you want to declutter.

Remind Yourself of Your ‘Why’

Now that you’ve found your ‘why’ and motivation to purge clutter, put it front and center in your life. Here are a few ideas.

  • Your favorite family photo from your travels as a screensaver on your phone
  • A ‘dream board’ in your living room of the things you’ll be able to do or places you will go with more time and money
  • A dry eraser board in your bedroom where you keep a tally of your savings for retirement or travel plans

Create one or more daily reminders for why you are working on creating a clutter-free home.


2. Set a Deadline

One of the most important decluttering tips you can follow is having a deadline. Especially for a massive decluttering project, a deadline will help you stay organized and motivated. 

Working backward from your deadline date, you’ll be able to set decluttering goals to complete smaller tasks (which we will talk more about in step four).

calendar planner and other organizing items on a table

If you are decluttering to downsize to live in a small space, you probably have a deadline in mind. You might have a deadline to sell your home based on the market or a deadline for when your lease is up. Moving situations make sticking to a deadline easier, but you can still set or find a deadline even if you aren’t moving.

Creative Ideas for Setting a Deadline

  • Are you expecting a new baby? Set your decluttering deadline for before the baby arrivals.
  • Set a seasonal date so you can enjoy a fully decluttered garage for the summer months or a basement remodel for the winter months. 
  • Declutter your spare room with a set deadline so you can turn it into office space for a new side hustle or an at-home gym to get in shape for a vacation.

The most important takeaway from this step is to set the deadline. Even if you have to move it out a few months later, there will never be any urgency to start the project if you don’t set a deadline.


3. Make Decluttering Appealing

Let’s face it, getting rid of stuff doesn’t sound like an exciting use of our precious free time.

woman organizing clothes in bedroom

To make the decluttering process more appealing, try the steps below.

  1. Plan a time to work on a project or task. Ensure the task can be completed in the allotted time or split the project into multiple time blocks.
  2. Treat yourself. Get your favorite takeout, a bottle of wine or beer, or another treat of your choice to enjoy as you declutter.
  3. Set the scene. Put on your favorite movie or playlist while you work through the clutter. (For a movie choice, put on something you’ve seen a few times. This way, you won’t be completely distracted by the movie.)
  4. Bonus Tip: Use weekend days for bigger decluttering projects that require you to organize a larger amount of stuff.

I find that a welcoming, cozy environment with a few special treats can get me started on a decluttering project. One thing of note regarding decluttering, once you get going, it isn’t as hard to KEEP going.


4. Tackle Small Projects

A problem that often occurs with decluttering is attempting to tackle a large project and getting overwhelmed. Or sometimes, you might even set a goal that is just too big. What usually happens is we never even start decluttering because the desired result is so far away it seems unobtainable.

hangers on floor with decluttering tag

The above issues are examples of why breaking down large projects is critical to getting rid of stuff. By tackling smaller tasks, you’ll stay on target for your big decluttering goal.

Get Started

Start by creating a list of smaller projects or goals. Then assign them to specific days and times when it is realistic for you to complete them.

See below for an example of a larger project broken down into small tasks.

LARGE GOAL: Clean Out and Declutter Garage

List of Small Tasks:

  • declutter box A and organize items by sell, donate, keep
  • declutter box B and organize items by sell, donate, keep
  • declutter sporting goods and organize in a new, smaller bin
  • list sporting good items for sale on eBay or Facebook
  • clean/fix spare furniture for consignment drop-off
  • schedule pick-up of furniture for consignment

Clean out a drawer, a shelf, or list a few items for sale. Try not to make it too overwhelming. Remember to aim for smaller tasks, and you’ll be much more likely to start them!


5. Reward Yourself

It’s no secret. Getting motivated to declutter is a little easier when there’s a reward involved!

sweaters hanging in closet

Toward the peak of your decluttering journey, you’ll start to find the reward in the outcome of the projects. However, when you’re first getting started, you might need to create some rewards for motivation.

Rewards for Declutter Motivation

Here are a few ideas for rewarding yourself during the decluttering process.

If This, Than That

  • Got a big decluttering project planned for Saturday? Make sure Sunday’s focus is a fun outing or relaxation time – but only if you complete Saturday’s project.
  • Need some motivation to declutter clothes on Wednesday and Thursday evenings? Plan a special dinner out for Friday night to celebrate your clothing purge!

Checklists

Checking off items on a checklist gives us that dopamine rush we all crave. If you are someone who is motivated by checklists, you know what to do! Add your small decluttering tasks to your weekly list.

Consider organizing your entire decluttering project this way. Keep a master list of ongoing decluttering projects and enjoy ticking away at your goals. It’s a simple way to keep yourself on track and motivated in a way that resonates.

The Reward is in the Result

The more decluttering you do, the more the reward will become part of the result. As you get rid of more stuff, your hard work will start to pay off, and you’ll begin to reap the benefits of decluttering your home. Until you hit your stride with the project, be sure to incorporate some additional rewards above.


BONUS: Find Your People

Decluttering your stuff means changing your mindset and habits when it comes to your things. If your goal is to have fewer things, it helps to surround yourself with people who have similar goals.

Of course, you don’t need to start ghosting your family and friends, but find a group of like-minded people to keep you motivated. Having somewhere you can share your experiences and struggles and hear others’ expertise is very helpful to this process.

Social media, Facebook groups specifically, can be great places to connect with like-minded people on decluttering. There are many groups you can join for free. Some groups are a benefit from a paid decluttering class or membership, such as Courtney Carver’s, The Simplicity Space.


Tips for Motivation to Declutter Clothes

Clothes are often one of the hardest things to let go of because we usually have a personal connection with what we wear. Many of your clothing items may also hold sentimental value.

An overcrowded closet can be a significant source of stress, and it can be challenging to find the motivation to declutter. I struggled with an overflowing closet for years. It took many attempts to declutter my clothes before I finally found a system that worked.

woman frustrated as she is going through decluttering clothes

You can apply all the steps above to decluttering your closet. However, one strategy works wonders when you need motivation for decluttering clothes – set a goal each week to get rid of a set number of items in your closet. For example, get rid of twenty items by Friday each week.

Set a strict deadline to get rid of your clothes! I would stop by the consignment shop and donation center every Friday at lunch and drop off my items for the week. It’s an achievable goal that isn’t overwhelming and can be accomplished without a considerable time commitment. This goal also worked because I could easily fit it into my routine. 

Here are a few reasons why short-term goal-setting works.

  • The goal is realistic and pretty easy, so you’ll be motivated to complete the weekly task and see a little more progress in my closet. 
  • Since it’s a weekly goal, you’ll be evaluating your closet each week. It will be easy to spot the items you haven’t worn (even when you just told yourself the week before you would wear that particular item).
  • Each week you can focus on the positive effects of decluttering, such as easily finding clothes you want to wear and having more space in your closet. 

Whether you want to drastically declutter your entire closet or just get rid of items that you no longer wear, setting a goal and deadline will go a long way to help you focus your efforts.


Final Thoughts on How to Start Decluttering

I hope these decluttering steps have provided you with a road map on how to get motivated to clean when you are overwhelmed by a mess!

Remember these five steps for decluttering motivation, and you’ll be able to stay on task during your journey.

  1. Find your ‘why’
  2. Set a deadline
  3. Make decluttering appealing
  4. Tackle small projects
  5. Reward yourself

And as a bonus – find your people!

Although decluttering can be a big undertaking, I promise it is 100% worth the effort. The freedom decluttering provides is something you can’t buy and benefits your schedule, finances, and health. Think about it, have you ever heard anyone say they regretted decluttering?

Comment below if you are struggling to declutter anything specific or just have thoughts about motivation to minimize your stuff.

You might also like 50 Things to Declutter to Start Downsizing if you need some ideas for items you can start getting rid of.


Other Decluttering Motivation Tips & Resources

Lastly, here are some of my favorite resources that are helpful to find motivation for decluttering and adjusting your mindset for living with less.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, James Clear

If you found the above steps helpful, you should check out Atomic Habits. This book lays out the steps to help you create and stick to good habits, whether related to decluttering or anything else. When I read this book, I was looking for direction on developing good working and personal habits. Once I got into it, I quickly realized how much it applied to decluttering. You can see more about the book here.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo

When talking about decluttering, I always recommend this popular book. When I first read Marie Kondo’s book over five years ago, it helped me immensely to get started on my downsizing journey. Even if you read it a few years back, I recommend rereading it for motivation. You can view the book here.

The Minimalists: Less is Now

This documentary will inspire you to live with less. You’ll learn about the minimalism movement and how simplifying will change your life. You can watch the documentary on Netflix.

For a full list of motivational minimalism and simplicity books, check out our post 13 Best Books on Minimalism to Live More Simply.


Want more tips on decluttering?

Check out our guide with ten specific steps to get you started decluttering to downsize.


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10 Comments

  1. Great reminder to keep decluttering on a regular basis even after hitting the road in an RV. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Really great tips, and I love that it’s incremental and leads to the a larger project being completed without feeling so overwhelmed. Great blog!

    1. Thanks Jen! I feel like breaking it up is so key or nothing will ever get done 🙂 The hardest part is definitely getting started!

  3. I love the reward ideas of EXPERIENCES, NOT THINGS! Going shopping for clothes after decluttering a closet and/or dressers is defeating and perpetuates that "buying mentality". I remember that when I did the big closet purge (which took a few entire weekends!) I got rid of a lot, but most importantly I found a lot- so many t-shirts, pjs, dresses, shoes, bags, etc that often STILL had tags or had never been worn or worn 1 or 2 times and forgotten about/buried under more clothes & accessories. So, it was exactly like shopping, I made so many "new" discoveries and wouldn’t allow myself anything else until I wore the stuff I did decide to keep. I ended up letting more of it go, only after wearing something for awhile can you really tell how you feel about how it fits, how it feels (scratchy, hot, color, etc) and if it makes you feel good when you wear it!

    1. I had so much of the same experiences, Tricia. And you definitely do have to wear something multiple times before you really realize if it works or not. This is one of the reasons I have a lot of multiples of the same item now. Once I find something that works, I usually stick with it in a few different colors!

  4. Love this post!! We downsized quite a bit before moving into the RV, but even now I find we need to declutter and get rid of things we don’t need or use. I know I always start to feel anxious when there’s too much stuff sitting around so going through things definitely helps!

    1. I feel the same, Megan! I try to get rid of stuff often and I always feel better when I part with things we don’t need or aren’t using. Sometimes I still get frustrated with how much we have, but then I remember what we had before RV life or even a year ago and realize we’ve come a long way!

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