Tricks For Decluttering

I had a conversation with a friend a few days ago that really resonated with me. We were traveling for work and he noticed my luggage. Ryan is a reader of this blog (hey dude!) and he asked if I really could fit all of my possessions into the single carry-on bag I was holding. I said yes and he said something that surprised me.

“You know Danny, there is one really big take away I have got from getting to know you.”

I looked at him worried. Dudes don’t usually just flat out compliment other dudes.

“When other people get more money, they upgrade their lifestyle. When you got more money, you simplified your lifestyle.”

I nodded politely but was slightly bewildered.

“Before I saw you do it, I really didn’t realize there was another way.”

I laughed. I hadn’t realized there was another way until he pointed out that I had done it. Instead of buying a bigger apartment every time I got a raise, I had got into the habit of buying a smaller one. I didn’t plan it that way but my way really did work out better.

I will be moving to Europe soon and the entire packing process won’t take me more than ten minutes. Think about that.

I started my decluttering process about a year and a half ago. I was living in Seattle and had an apartment full of stuff. I was reading blogs like Mnmlist and started to get more interested in minimalism. At the time, I didn’t have a goal, I just wanted to feel more free.

It took me a long time but I eventually got my stuff count to exactly 100.

Below are the tricks I have found most helpful for getting rid of my stuff:

The Box Method

By far the hardest part of this process was getting rid of the stuff that I had an emotional attachment to. I had collected a fair amount of clothes and keepsakes from my travels and I didn’t want to just throw them out.

Instead of throwing them away, I put them in cardboard boxes, sealed the boxes with tape and stuck them on the top of my closet. If I really needed anything from a box, I would have to reach up and unseal it. This worked great and I only ended up opening a box once to grab a shirt I needed.

After about three months of not opening the boxes, it was much easier to donate the possessions they contained.

The Friend Method

But what about the stuff I still didn’t want to give away? In college I was in Chi Psi fraternity (the photo at the beginning of this post offers a glimpse into that awesome world) and since that time I had accumulated a lot of fraternity stuff that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I didn’t want to throw them out or donate them so I did the next best thing, I gave them to my friend for safe keeping. He had the same emotional attachment to them that I did, so I knew if I ever really wanted them back, he would still likely have them.

The One a Day Method

The methods listed above helped clear a lot of space but it didn’t really help me get rid of clutter. To solve this, I started throwing away or donating one thing every day. I literally added a daily todo list item to accomplish this. Slowly but surely this helped me chip away at my stuff.

The Buy Up Method

But if you get rid of all of your stuff, won’t you be left with no stuff? Well yes actually but this is a great opportunity. Since I wasn’t relying on so much stuff, it freed me up to buy higher quality items to replace the items I really did need. For example, instead of buying the same shirts I had been buying for years, I went out and bought a few higher quality shirts. I did the same with my jeans, shoes, underwear and coats. This has worked great as now I dress better everyday and my clothes last way longer.

Stay Away Method

See Rohan Ayyar’s extremely helpful comment below.

What About Furniture?

At first I messed this up. I started out by renting furnished apartments from traditional agencies. This was a huge mistake and cost me way more than it should have. Since then, I have started only renting from Airbnb. AirBnB is a service that offers furnished rentals by the month and if you do your negotiations well, can cost you half of what it would cost otherwise.

UPDATE: Check out The Freecycle Network for another cool way to get furniture and things for cheap. Thanks Maria for the tip!

I’ll be the first to admit that my minimalism is extreme. I don’t recommend it for everyone and it certainly won’t work for families living together. Instead, I hope this post gives you some ideas and hopefully some inspiration for decluttering at least a little bit. If your experience is anything like mine, a small change will make you feel a lot better.

By the way, a lot of people asked me about the startup I mentioned in my last post. I am starting a video training company called Making it Click. Feel free to check out the site and if you want, sign up for the free interview series I will be releasing soon.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Way too cool ideas, Danny! Fortunately, I do not like to aggregate or collect things by nature, but of course we all pile up possessions eventually.

    I’ve got one to add that may apply to people living with their families – the “Stay Away” method. About five years back, I moved to London from my hometown Ahmedabad (India); I lived in London for a couple of years (except for a month-long trip home). When I came back, I found hardly any of my things. My mother had given them all away! DVDs, books, clothes… you name it! Happily, I realized that the sky wasn’t going to fall and I could do without all that “important” stuff. You tend to not even remember what you had two years ago. So what you could do is simply ask a family member to chuck your things out, and they would do it for you because (1) they’re less attached to them and (2) they don’t know/realize the “value” of your things.

    Is Making It Click something on the lines of

    • :-) I love it! I’ll update the post and add your method. Thanks Rohan.

      I am a big fan of mixergy. Andrew Warner was one of my inspiration for moving to Buenos Aires. Making it Click is similar in that is has video interviews but it takes it one step further and tells you how to implement the strategies mentioned in the expert interviews. More info to come!

  • Dan

    I had all my possessions down to a small space at one point, I was able to fit everything I owned into my car. That was my “rule” at the time. After getting into a serious(ly good) relationship, my possessions started growing pretty quick. Partly because it was stuff *we needed* but after being with someone who does enjoy having books, CDs, DVDs, etc, the whole idea of getting rid of my own seemed less important, since the house would still be populated with her stuff either way.

    I will say, part of my Senior project in College focused on “Wants vs Needs” and how to decide if you truly need something or just want it really bad. I think that’s the best “de-cluttering advice” I have come up with. Most people, especially Americans have a really hard time with this and end up buying all kinds of stuff that gets used once (maybe) and forgotten about.

    • It sounds like you have your priorities straight. Your stuff should revolve around your relationship, not the other way around :-)

  • Craig addyman

    Tried to sign up but getting invalid email? Could you add me on this email?


    • Hey Craig,

      I am sorry about that! I added your e-mail to the list. You should get an intro e-mail soon.

  • Maria Eggers

    Hey Danny!

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog posts! Keep it up :)

    I also wanted to let others know of a great resource that I’ve utilized to help keep my life simple. If you already haven’t stumbled upon it the “Freecycle” network is absolutely fantastic. It’s basically a grassroots movement of people within a certain city giving and receiving their unwanted items. When I moved across country to start some work with Americorps all I had was my car, a single box of belongings, and suite case with clothes. Within months through the Freecycle network I was able to pick up things like a couch, table, etc. When I plan on moving I will be putting my received items back into the network for someone else to benefit from. This allows me to have a very mobile lifestyle without any extreme attachments to particular items like large furniture. Hopefully this resource helps others out there!


    • Hey Maria,

      Good to hear from you! I added your suggestion to the post. Thanks for letting me know about this. I am going to try it out this week.


  • Speaking on decluttering, I would like to know where and how you stored all those peanuts before releasing them on your unsuspecting buddy there!

    • :-) Quite observant of you. I stored them at my parents house in my old room until it was full. As you can imagine, my parents are quite patient people.

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