• Anita Chastain, MBA

Time to Declutter Your Life? Tips on Removing Physical, Emotional, and Digital Clutter

Updated: Nov 25

Ready to declutter? This article is for you.

Clutter has a tipping point. Before you get to the tipping point, clutter is just messy, an inconvenience.


Once you reach the tipping point, clutter is a source of stress and anxiety. It's a constant, nagging presence in your life. The only way to stop the nagging is to remove the clutter. This article offers tips to help you get rid of the clutter. But first, let's look at the three types of clutter.


Three Types of Clutter to Remove from Your Life

There are three types of clutter and each one affects us in different ways:


  1. Physical clutter - This is the clutter you see around. It's on tables and counters, maybe even the floors and walls. Physical clutter is more than a nuisance, it affects how you feel. Looking at clutter can make you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or discouraged. When the physical clutter around you makes you feel bad about yourself, it's time to act.

  2. Emotional clutter - These are thoughts and ideas that serve no useful purpose. This harmful self-talk is does nothing to create meaningful change in your life. In fact, it does just the opposite. It tears you down. If negative self-talk is dragging you down, it's time to let it go.

  3. Digital clutter - Screens are a daily presence in life but not always a positive one. Studies have shown that technology use has a negative effect on emotional well-being. Even a cluttered screen adds to your stress levels. When technology is the problem, not the solution, it's time to change.


Tips for Getting Rid of Physical Clutter

Decluttering is the quickest way to start feeling better about your surroundings. Here are four tips to declutter a space:

  • Break a big decluttering challenge into small mini-challenges. You can make the mini-challenge as small as a drawer or countertop. Or you can declutter room-by-room. Whatever method you choose, the only real thing that matters is that you're making progress. Spread decluttering sessions over whatever timeframe works for you. Take days, weeks, or months - it doesn't matter as long as you feel like you're making progress.

  • Keep the memories, but let go of the objects. No one says you have to get rid of everything, so don't allow that fear to derail your decluttering plan. Do commit to making choices about what to keep and what to let go of. There doesn't have to be a physical reminder of every memory. Keep the physical reminders that matter the most, then let go of the rest. Here's a good way to ease your mind about letting physical items go: Use your phone to take pictures of those physical items before you let them go.

  • Use rules to make it easier to figure out what to keep and what to remove. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

- Clothing, shoes, small kitchen appliances, and gadgets: Donate anything you haven't worn or used in a year or more.

- Leftover salt packets, napkins, and sauces from takeout: Throw it away. You can always ask for more next time. - College textbooks: Donate them unless you've actually opened and read something in them in the last year. - Junk mail: Never handle it more than once. Throw it away or shred it as soon as you walk through the door.

  • Fill a garbage bag with items you no longer use but aren't ready to get rid of. Put the bag in a closet or other storage space and set a reminder on your phone to check the bag 12 months from now. If you haven't needed it in the last 12 months, let it go. It's unlikely you will need it in the future either.

Learn 22 more tips for decluttering by reading How to Declutter Your Home: 22 Fast & Easy Tips.

Tips for Getting Rid of Emotional Clutter

Emotional clutter consists of thoughts that hold you back from living a healthy and meaningful life. The only way to grow and change is to move past the thoughts that hold you back. You do that by emotional decluttering. Here are three places to start:

  • Stop negative self-talk. There's a difference between being honest with yourself about things you want to improve and battering your self-worth with negativity. Being honest with yourself is necessary for change. Saying things to yourself that devalue who you are as a human being is a destructive form of emotional clutter. When what you say to yourself hurts you or keeps you from living a full and meaningful life, it's time to stop - either on your own or with help.

  • Say goodbye to perfectionism. Perfection isn't sustainable over time. There's no way to be perfect at everything all the time. Even if you achieve perfection in short bursts, it's impossible to maintain. The never-ending quest for perfection is also emotionally exhausting. It takes a tremendous amount of emotional energy to chase perfection. Perfectionism robs you of life experiences too. It keeps you from trying or doing new things because you're afraid you'll fail. The endless pursuit of perfection drains the joy out of life. Let it go.

  • Quit comparing yourself to other people. Comparing yourself to other people is the fastest way to destroy your self-confidence and your happiness. When you focus on what you don't have, you will always be unhappy. Why? Because you measure your life by what's missing instead of what you have. Comparisons don't help you win at life. They sentence you to a life of unhappiness because there will always be others who have more of everything you want. We are happier when we live life with gratitude for what we have, instead of anger and jealousy over what we're missing.

Tips for Getting Rid of Digital Clutter

Like physical and emotional clutter, digital clutter stands in the way of being a happier, healthier person. Technology is an ever-present factor of modern life. This makes it hard to limit its impact on your daily life, but it can be done. Here are four suggestions for getting rid of digital clutter:

  • Close your social media accounts. If your social media platform makes you feel angry, resentful, unhappy, or stressed out, close your account. Yes, really. You are under no obligation to keep your account. The goal of social media is to keep you on their platform - not to make you happy. Media companies want your eyes glued to their platform. How you feel using their platform is way less important than the fact that you actually spend time there. The bottom line? If being on social media makes you feel bad, close your account and move on.

  • Reduce your time on social media. If closing your accounts feels too drastic or you're not quite there yet, try limiting your use of the platform. Check your account less frequently, like once or twice a week or whatever feels right. Worried that you'll miss out on something? Schedule social media time. Add 15-minute blocks to your calendar, then forget about it. Your calendar will notify you when it's time to scroll.

  • Cancel email newsletter subscriptions. If a company bombards you with multiple newsletters a day, sends information you don't find relevant, or sends a tiresome stream of sales pitches, you are free to divorce them. Newsletters should earn the right to land in your inbox. They do that by adding value to your life. If they don't add value, unsubscribe.

  • Clean up your (digital) desktop. If your desktop has more than a couple of rows of icons, you're probably dealing with digital clutter. Looking at all those icons spread across your screen silently reinforces the idea that you're overworked and overwhelmed. Here are two simple rules for preventing screen clutter: 1. Only save frequently used documents to your desktop when you want the easiest and fastest way to access them. 2. When you no longer need to access those documents as frequently, move them to a permanent location. Follow these two rules consistently, and your desktop will stay clutter-free.

Final Thoughts on Decluttering Your Life

No matter whether you're dealing with physical, emotional, or digital clutter - or some combination of all three - removing the clutter will help you live a happier and more meaningful life. I hope these tips make the decluttering process easier.

You might also be interested in:

5 Things to Let Go of to Live an Authentic Life

Feeling Distracted? 10 Ways to Get Focused at Work

15 Things to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed