by Joshua Becker, author of The Minimalist Home
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Have incredible stories to tell by the end of 2021, not incredible clutter stuffed in your closets. I sincerely wish this for my family, and yours, in the year ahead.
So, let me start off here by asking you…
- Does your home serve you—or do you serve your home?
- Will your home afford you the necessary space to create happy, healthy memories and stories in the year ahead?
These are not questions most of us ask ourselves, but we should. After all, our homes are meant to serve a distinct purpose in our lives—to be both the space we come back to, and the space we go out from each day. Our homes are, in essence, the foundation of our daily lives. This has been especially true over the past year, while we’ve lived through COVID-19.
And as we enter the New Year, it’s a great time to check in with yourself…
If your home is serving you well, it is a safe harbor from the storms of life—a space to relax, rest, and connect in meaningful ways with loved ones and friends. And it’s a secure port of departure when you’re ready to brave the choppy seas of life again. A home serves you best when it provides both of these benefits.
A home doesn’t serve you when it complicates your life and takes more than it gives. When possessing your home (and maintaining the possessions within it) becomes your focus, you end up spending your limited and valuable resources (time, energy, money) taking care of it. That’s when you know you’re serving your home. You’re spending less time living the life you want, because you’re spending more time cleaning, maintaining, and repairing—and perhaps also paying a hefty mortgage or rent for the privilege.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to live more by owning less. And that’s the premise of my writing in The Minimalist Home. It’s a purpose-based guide to a simpler, decluttered, refocused life—one that makes sure your home is serving you, and not the other way around. It recognizes that each of us can love the house—the home—we live in.
Here are 21 changes I offer in the book to help create a home that better serves you:
- Get your head straight about what matters, and what in your home is distracting you from what matters. For most of us, our excessive physical possessions are not making us happy. Even worse, they are taking us away from the things that do. Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter. And sometimes, minimizing physical possessions means an old dream must die. But this is not always a bad thing. Because sometimes, it takes (mentally and emotionally) giving up the person we wanted to be in order to fully appreciate the person we can actually become.
- Remove decorations that no longer inspire you. Just because something made you happy in the past doesn’t mean you have to keep it forever. Your life has moved on—maybe it’s time for the decoration to do the same. Remove the knickknacks and pictures that no longer inspire you. Or the decoration you bought that one time because it was on clearance. Keeping just the items that mean the most to you will help them to shine.
- Reject the convenience fallacy. There are certain places in our homes we tend to leave items out for convenience—a stack of favorite DVDs in the corner, appliances on the counters in the kitchen, toiletries beside the bathroom sink. By leaving these things out, we think we’re saving time and simplifying our lives. That’s the convenience fallacy. Sure, we might save a couple of seconds, but the other 99.9 percent of the time, those items just sit there creating a visual distraction. If you’re not using your convenience items at least 50 percent of the time they’re out, keep them in a cabinet or drawer and out of sight.
- Distinguish between simplifying (or minimizing) and tidying up. Just because a room is tidy doesn’t necessarily mean it’s uncluttered or serves its purpose. Well-organized clutter is still clutter. Never organize what you don’t even use and can easily donate to someone who will.
- Count the “clutter cost.” It can be hard to get rid of things you spent a lot of money on. But keeping things you no longer wear, use, or love also has a cost—every object carries a burden as well as a benefit. The burden or “clutter cost” is the money, time, energy, and space an object demands of you. If you’re having trouble letting go of a pricey item you don’t use—or any item for that matter—remember to consider the benefit-to-burden ratio before you decide to keep it.
- Free up closet space. One of the biggest complaints people have about their homes is that the closets are too small. If you’ve been thinking that you need bigger closets, maybe all you need to do is right-size your wardrobe—and your closet will feel bigger overnight.
- Donate clothes you don’t love. After decluttering your closet, you’ll find more space and peace each morning when you get ready, rather than facing stress and indecision. Plus, donating unused clothing to a local charity is a simple but meaningful way to help others.
- Declutter duplicates. I call this a minimizing accelerator because it’s one of the easiest things you can do to make quick progress. Open your linen closet, for example. How many extra pillows, sheets, and towels do you really need? Other good candidates for eliminating duplicates include cleaning supplies, gardening tools, fashion accessories, home office supplies, toys, books, and kitchen items. Keep your favorite in each category—the ones you actually use—and get rid of the rest.
- Clear your dining room table. Is your dining room table a depository for mail, backpacks, keys, and other things that are in the process of going from one place to another? If so, chances are that using it for a meal may seem like more work than it’s worth. Put the items away where they belong. Make your tabletop a clean, open and inviting space.
- Invite the right people to gather at your dining room table, often. These are the people you enjoy, who love and appreciate you, and who encourage you to improve in healthy and exciting ways. They are the ones who make you feel more alive, and not only embrace who you are now, but also embrace and embody who you want to be. The bottom line is that your decluttering efforts have given you more space to share stories, experiences, hugs and laughs with family, good friends, and close neighbors. Don’t forget to make it count.
- Practice gratitude, in your home, daily. At least once a day, it’s good to pause in your pursuit of a simpler and more organized life, look around, and simply appreciate the life you’re presently living. As Marc and Angel have shared in their inspiring bestseller, 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently: “Look around, and be thankful right now. For your health, your family, your friends, and your home. Nothing lasts forever.”
- Take down signs that don’t sincerely vibe with your present values. I know a woman with a sign in her laundry room that says, “It’s tough living in the fast lane when you’re married to a speed bump.” I get the humor, but I wonder how reading that sign every day might affect her approach to her marriage, even in small ways. If you’re going to put words up on your walls, don’t you want them to inspire you and call you higher instead?
- Calm a space for reading and being at peace. Even if you aren’t up for decluttering an entire room, you can “calm” a space. You calm a space when you minimize distractions. Choose a favorite chair and declutter everything around it. Remove anything from the floor that isn’t furniture. Clear the surface of side tables or a coffee table by removing or storing remotes, pet toys, kid toys, hobby items, old newspapers/magazines, mail, books, etc.
- Clean out your entertainment center. These large pieces of furniture often harbor lots of small items we no longer need. Take out old electronic components, cords you don’t need, and discs and games nobody uses. Get rid of them by recycling responsibly, arrange the devices you do use in an eye-pleasing display, and hide their cords as much as possible.
- Pare down your beauty and grooming supplies. I don’t know how big your bathroom is, but get rid of the clutter and I guarantee it will seem more spacious and peaceful to be in. Empty out the cabinets and drawers. Separate beauty tools (hair dryer, styling iron, savers, etc.) from beauty supplies (make-up, lotion, aftershave, etc.). Eliminate duplicates, throw out anything that’s broken or old, and get rid of items you no longer use. Then wash your storage containers and organize what you’re going to keep.
- Tackle a junk drawer. Most of us have one. It’s the default resting place for small items that have no better place to be. Or for things we think might have some use but we can no longer remember what it is. Chances are good you can toss out most of what’s in there and never miss it.
- Clear space for your car in the garage. A garage is not serving you well if it’s not serving its purpose, which is to house your car. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with using a garage for storage, but it’s possible to go too far with it—and a lot of us do. Get rid of all the obvious candidates for decluttering—odds and ends and leftovers, kids’ unused playthings and sporting equipment, duplicate tools, spare parts, etc.
- Set physical boundaries for your kids. Give your kids a certain amount of space and allow them to manage it how they want. For example, in our garage, my wife and I keep one shelving unit and one plastic bin. The kids store their outdoor toys on the shelves and keep balls in the bin. When things begin to overflow, we ask them to make decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of. The same principle applies to a bedroom or a toy basket.
- Leave space between everything you do in your home, too. Clear a little extra space between your personal tasks and obligations. Take a break to stretch, take a short walk outside, drink a glass of water, perhaps do some simple deep breathing exercises. Enjoy the (emotional and physical) space you’ve created for yourself in your home, and breathe. Remember, your overarching goal is living a life uncluttered by most of the things people fill their lives with, leaving you with space for what truly matters. A life that isn’t constant busyness, rushing and stress, but instead deliberate contemplation, creation and connection with people and activities you love.
- Let go of mental clutter too. Life is just too darn short. Do your best to let go of all the purposeless drama, aimless time-wasters and mental clutter that keeps getting in your way. Again, it’s time to focus more on what matters in the year ahead, and let go of what does NOT.
- Be less “busy” and more purposeful in 2021. As Marc and Angel said in one of their recent email newsletters, “There’s a big difference between being busy and being effective. Don’t confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but never makes any forward progress. So, try not to be the rocking horse in your personal life in 2021.” 😉
Obviously, you may not be able to tackle all 21, but how about two or three as you begin 2021? A home that serves you well in the year ahead is a beautiful thing. It’s less distracting and more calming, which makes it both a joy to come back to and an inspiring place to go out from. Don’t wait any longer to have a home that gives more than it takes.
Now, it’s YOUR turn…
I would love to hear from YOU in the comments section.
What part of your home needs a little simplifying in 2021?
Anything else to share?
Please leave me a comment below.
Author Bio: Joshua Becker is the founder and editor of Becoming Minimalist, a website that reaches more than 1 million readers each month inspiring people to live more by owning less. He is a national bestselling author and his new book, The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life, is available now.
In 2019 my husband and I moved into a granny flat from a 3 bedroom house. Best move ever. Since then we only purchased high quality couches to fit the space, keeping surfaces clean and empty is easy. Everything got a space in the cupboards and drawers. I love to organize, my only outstanding is the bookshelve (tiny but perfect) for my most favourite books, journals and pens. From 2021 we’ll be on a spending fast, only savings/investments will be paid attention to. Took us 3 years to get to this phase. But the mindset is right now for such a big goal.
Kathy Manikowski says
One of the best ways to help yourself pass along things you don’t need anymore is to join a local Swap Shop or Buy Nothing group. I have such joy in gifting things to others who can use them. I occasionally receive something, but give away so much more. One of my biggest lightbulb moments was deciding to let go of books that I don’t plan to read again or utilize in any way. Even my favorite authors’ books can bless new readers!
I like gifting my items to someone who really wants or needs them. It’s been the best group I have joined in a while.
Your book changed my life! Now everything we own brings happiness and has a place so it can be easily cared for. Thank you!
Sheila Blackwell says
These are so totally my goals now. I wish to master control and disposal of clutter. Then to live with intention and peace, living with the time to fully enjoy those that matter most to me. As a friend says…” Life is too short to drink beer you don’t like.” I rarely drink, nonetheless the sentiment hits home for me.
Thanks for the read I am living in my deceased grandmother home that is now my home and she never threw things away so I am now left to do this task and it will be a long journey so please ? for my strength cause I will need it? 4br house clutter top to bottom but I am grateful to be in the home I grew up in ?
I feel your pain, so to speak. When my mom passed, I was alone in dealing with all her stuff. I chose what I wanted to keep and had an estate sale and sold the rest. What didn’t sell, I took to the Salvation Army.
It’s a bit different for you as you’re living in the space but I believe you can do it!
Regarding “word art”: I would go a step further than was suggested in the article and eliminate it all together – inspirational or not. It’s something that is incredibly distracting and makes for a lot of visual “noise” in the environment. (Sorry, Joanna Gaines, this is where we part ways. : ))
Couldn’t agree more. I really really really dislike all those dreadful twee and, in many cases, stupid signs that are supposed to be uplifting and life affirming. That said, I have had the occasional frig magnet, but they have to make me laugh . . . .
Bonnie Haigler says
I love #13, “You calm a space when you minimize distractions.” My biggest problem right now is ‘releasing’ pieces of crystal, etc. that I received from my now deceased Mom. I have most of it in bins and would love to be able to just let it go. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
LeeAnn May says
I too have some beautiful crystal pieces that were my grandmothers and then to my mom and now to me. My sons don’t want it it and the majority of people, including me, don’t use this anymore. Consignment shops near me don’t want it. What else is left buy the trash?
Why don’t you make a collage of your favourite pieces? And then either keep that (say in a small glass bowl) or better yet: take a picture of it and keep that. Your mother is in the memory of the crystals etc, not in the crystals themselves. People who are no longer with us also would not wish for their heirlooms to burden us. Best, Marjolein
Use a bowl or?? To hold something…jewelry, sponge, makeup, etc. My sister used cut glass pieces like that… I was horrified but later enjoyed seeing the pieces that would have been hidden away and later gone to a garage sale or…
Take photos of each piece. Then you can look at them from time to time and relive the memories. Bless someone else with your pieces.
If you don’t want to use it, take the whole bin to donate. If you want a few pieces to keep, do that and take the rest to donate. There are no hard feelings here. You have memories, her stuff is hers, not yours. Do you, and don’t look back. No need for guilt. She lived her life as best she could. Now you continue to live yours as well.
I’m battling the same problem. I don’t have heaps but I do have items that I will never use. I have started to put things on a local waste not, want not FB site and am slowly whittling away. I have never been a hoarder to start with but still manage to have things that are never used.
Kelly Morrison says
Tonight I am sitting in the dining room of my sisters house. She was not your typical 80 year old, until a month ago when cancer came back with a vengeance. She could ou ttalk, out walk and out do me anytime (I am 66) . This New Years Eve I am dosing her with morphine and other meds and being present for her.
I would give up everything I own to have another New Years with her, but that isn’t going to happen. Nothing I own can replace her or her influence on my life. The hole that will be in our family after her death will be enormous. Yes I will take a few things of hers home after but only because they will comfort me in remembering her. I don’t want the fancy stuff-just the goofy stuff that will remind me of her and our many days together.
With her passing I also realize that some things I have held onto are because of hers or others peoples opinions of what I should do-I will be giving up those opinions and moving forward into the life experiences I want. That is how I will honor her and her legacy. Love people not things as they say, Happy 2021.
Donna Shar says
So sorry for your loss
God bless you with peace.
I’ve worked to clear horizontal spaces. Several now have specific decor (ex plant to detox air) or “job” ( ex. A clear view from my kitchen sink to the family room where the kids play). Makes the house look bigger and more functional
Joey Royce says
I learnt at a young age that a cluttered living space often speaks more of the mind of the person that lives in it than a more outright action would. Once again, the heart is golden where your post leaves its mark. Thanks for it.
I say every day I am going to start cleaning out, but get bogged down in the “I might need this later” thought. How do I get past this?
Ha ha. Invite me around. I am ruthless.
Julie Shiverdecker says
What helped me was doing it in steps. For example, with books, I would go through my shelves and take some off each time. I wasn’t willing to get rid of them all at once. I think my heart needed time between purge sessions. Maybe separate out in another place and if dont miss “it”, then release it.
Are you willing to trade a peaceful home for the 5% chance that you could find all those items useful later? Live in the now! If it’s needed in the future, almost everything can be found quickly at a store.
Joan Schmidt says
Based on your insights, I chose the term space. So here are my two commitments for the coming week:
1. Calm a space (for reading, resting, being at peace).
2. Leave space between tasks, appointments, possession.
As a chronically over-scheduled person, I can take control.
In December 12 th of 2020 my husband and I purchase our very first home.
I was thankful to God that he allow us to purchase this home but I didn’t like the house. The house is old, small and it needed a lot of repair. But after reading your articles I became minimalist, It actually change my mind about the house and many other things. Now I can’t wait to fix the house (little by little tho) and enjoy the process of course. I’ll be making things simpler for me and my family. And teaching my kids that there is more in life than a gigantic house that can cause you more stress than life itself.
Paulina P from NJ
Jay and Kay S says
We sold our home after almost 30 years in the same house. We are Seniors. We sold everything in one fail swoop except for the linens that make us feel good, a few large items that bring a smile for decor (like our HUGE Buddha bust) . We started over with a blank slate. We bought land, a 40 foot 5th Wheeler with a structure roof and a HUGE deck up at the Lake in the Mountains. We moved an hour 1/2 away from the City. This has been a 5 year journey for us reaching the goal of real simplicity and minimalism. I am so happy to own my things and not be owned by things. PS: I forced my husband into the life-style. O he bucked me for years. Now he is also HAPPY. YES! He thanks me everyday, yes he does. Now we have time to day trip, walk, explore the National Parks and Falls, the woods, Kayak and do all those things we love to do. We have not looked back – not for a second. I suggest to the younger Generations to do this much sooner as your life will be better.
Julie Shiverdecker says
My husband and I just became empty nesters this month and to celebrate, we sold our house and moved into a one bed, one bath apartment. Because we knew this was our plan for sometime in 2021, we spent the second half of 2020 preparing. I’d say I started the Minimalist way one year ago and husband jumped on board six months ago. There were times that it was hard to part with some things, but we love our Minimalist life now. I’ve inspired some people and then others can’t imagine doing what we did. What helped me was doing it in steps. For example, with books, I would go through my shelves and take some off each time. I wasn’t willing to get rid of them all at once. I think my heart needed time between purge sessions. Thank you for the inspiration!
Can you do recommend the same for ‘digital decluttering’, like saving emails and websites on folders? I accumulate too many! thanks!
In the area of getting rid of books, I, too, find that setting a goal of getting rid of a certain number each year works best for me. For the past six years, I have gotten rid of 20 books a year. Also, now when I buy books I am more apt to buy e-books which don’t cause a lot of clutter or I rent e-books from the library. Many times I will read the book a second time before getting rid of it. I like to be able to pass books along to friends or relatives if I feel they will enjoy them. Otherwise I donate them to a thrift store or to our local library which has a semi-annual book sale.