Is your life simple or are you feeling a bit overwhelmed?
Is your home full of things you no longer use?
Is your business and your work being hampered by all the stuff around you?
Wouldn’t you rather be deliriously happy in an almost empty space?
I cannot emphasise enough the value and beauty of living a simple, uncluttered life.
I began my journey of personal growth a decade ago and the single most important thing I did initially was to simplify and declutter my life.
It was amazing what a difference it made when I started doing fewer things and most importantly when I dramatically reduced the amount of physical stuff in my life.
Indeed, when I take on a new coaching client, one of the first things we look at is how their life can be simplified and how they can declutter their homes.
In recent years, more and more people have begun to wake up to the idea of living simpler lives with fewer things and recycling as much as possible.
A few months ago, I spent an amazing 2 weeks in India.
Whilst visiting some villages in Gujarat (where my family originates from) what struck me was how happy the people were. They had so little in terms of all those material things which in the West we believe we must have to be happy.
I wondered whether the relatives we were visiting in their simple homes even had any idea of just how much stuff we had in our UK homes.
It certainly was a wake up call to not only appreciate what privileged lives we lead, but also realise just how much superfluous our possessions really are.
At the same time, it was sad to see that in the Indian cities there is now a growing desire to consume and collect stuff, so as to be like the “enlightened” West.
It just doesn’t make any sense to me in buying, collecting and hording things we don’t really need and not ever likely to use.
So often we keep things in case one day they are useful. I bet right now you can mentally recall the things you have kept in your home for this very reason.
We all keep things for some day and one day – and that day never comes.
I shall never forget how whilst helping my late father with some old paperwork, I found that he had kept cheque book stubs going back over 30 years!
“As you focus on simplifying your life, make sure your approach to the process is a loving and accepting one. Know that you are now doing all that you can do right now, and that is all anyone can do. When you stay in the moment, you have all the time in the world, and whatever needs to be done will be completed in the exact right time. ~Deepak Chopra~
Today, I am going to invite all of you to start simplifying your life – and start decluttering.
Sometimes it feels as if I am on a crusade to create a simpler world!
But once you have begun to de-clutter your life, you will begin to notice amazing shifts in your energy and your thinking.
Clutter is not just those physical things hoarded for years. It includes relationships, time commitments and other things that use up more of your energy than you can afford to give them.
For example, you can easily create an extra hour a day in your life simply by decluttering.
So here are my 20 questions that will transform your life forever. The idea is to answer NO to as many questions as possible.
Wherever you have said YES is an area for further work:-
1. Do you hang on to clothes that no longer fit you?
2. Do you have in your wardrobe items bought years ago and not worn since?
3. Do you own shoes that hurt your feet?
4. Do you own spectacles for old prescriptions?
5. Do you have toiletries or cosmetics which have dried up or are half-finished?
6. Do you have a pile of papers /unopened mail/junk mail awaiting action or filing?
7. Do you have a pinboard with more than one layer of papers on it?
8. Do you keep old newspapers or magazines as there is an article you want to read?
9. Do you have so many books there is not enough room on your shelves?
10. Do you own gadgets you never use?
11. Do you have a drawer stuffed full of plastic shopping bags?
12. Do you have half-finished projects stashed around the house?
13. Do you have hundreds of photos in boxes, not filed or not put together in some order?
14. Do you have old medicines and pills stored in a cupboard?
15. Do you have things awaiting repairs for months?
16. Do you keep things purely because they were a gift?
17. Do you keep things in case one day they come in handy?
18. Do things fall out of your cupboards when you open the doors?
19. Do you have problems finding things just when you want them?
20. Do you have in your kitchen any items in cupboards or fridge/freezer past their use-by dates?
Wherever you have said YES is an area for further work.
Start clearing out that area today, even if you get rid of just one item.
Keep your Life Simple Always
I have learnt that life really is simple if only we can apply this principle in all areas.
Even if you just do a tiny little thing today to de-clutter your life, it will make a huge difference to you – and the world.
Spring has finally arrived here in London and traditionally that’s been seen as the perfect time to de-clutter our homes – but it can be done anytime – start today wherever you are in the world and whatever your season!
How will you begin to simplify your life from today onwards?
What’s your first step?
You are the master of simple – thank you for this advice. i’ve hit 7 yeses here. Time to clear out the bathroom cupboards. I’m also in the middle of my mental spring cleaning which I’m blogging about – a great way to clear out the junk from my mental attic. Thanks for a call to action!
Thanks Phil for your kind feedback.
In my experience, 7 yeses is actually not bad at all! I had a client once who said yes to 18 questions.
Maybe I should run a competition here to see who has the most yeses – and the prize would be a quickfire telephone coaching session with me to help them clear out their clutter in rapid time!
Over 5 years ago when we decided to become full-time RVers, traveling and working our way across the country, we had to do just that. Going from a 2000 sq ft, 4 bedroom, 2 car garage home to a less than 300 sq ft home was a huge change. We purge and donate our stuff all the time, stuff we thought we couldn’t live without is now someone elses treasure. Whenever we are tempted to buy something new, we ask ourselves what are we willing to give up to allow this item into our home now, most of the time we realize just how much we do not NEED that item we thought we did.
It is a simpler life that not all people are able to live but for us it is a perfect fit. Life is Grand!
Dear Kimberley and Jerry,
Thanks for sharing your tips from the road. I too now apply your principle and ask myself if I really, really need something – and the answer is usually I don’t.
A friend recently returned from living in the Caribbean for a few years – and she is shocked at the waste and consumerism here in London. What people throw away here would be used for many more years in the Caribbean.
It really is a mindset of being and living – and the world needs a great shift in what’s really valuable in our lives.
So are you saying that we should keep hold of stuff and use it? Or throw it away.
Its just the article says ‘throw half used toiletries etc’ away. and yet you are saying that we throw stuff away too early over her compared to the caribbean. We can’t do both. I am confused.
Roger, welcome to my blog.
I am saying keep only those things that are either useful or useable or which add beauty to your home.
In the West, we throw away high value items such as say a washing machine far too early before they have even reached the end of their life cycle.
Conversely we tend to keep so mnay things which we will never be able use and half used toiletries such as mascara was just an example.
In summary I am saying keep and use the things are useful for as long as you can – but get rid of the rest.
Arvind, I think the important thing I have found over time is to KNOW why I am keeping anything. For example, I kept a lot of special clothes over the years, even when I wore them no longer. Who knew that they would become in some way the Proustian madeleines for my blog:). But paperwork, that is another thing. You have inspired me to get back on my paperwork clearing up project:). Thanks! And, as always, thanks for being such a voice of genuine fondness for humanity on the Internet.
LPC, you must be unique in getting such mileage from old clothes!
Paperwork is really THE challenge for most people. Both my sisters horde bills and bank statements going back some years – and also magazines too. Just in case one day they need them or there is a “must read” article!
I hope they are reading this as it may just spur them into action:-)
Mind you, I was the same at one time and it’s only a few years ago that I threw away lots of old magazines and newspaper cuttings.
On that note, at my mother’s home, we still have files and files of newspaper cuttings collected by my late father. Since he passed away over 2 years ago, we haven’t the heart or deisre to go through these files and dispose of them as appropriate.
LPC, I guess as you say, sometimes we just need to be aware of why we are keeping somethimg. My father’s things still have a lot of sentimental value for us.
Maybe in due course, as Leo Babaunta of Zen Habits suggests, we should simply take some digital photos of my father’s sentimental things and then get rid of them:-)
And finally LPC, heartfelt thanks for your kind words and feedback.
When Leo told us during the Bootcamp that he had gotten rid of nearly all of his books and paired his clothing down to a few items, I was blown away. Both of those would be really hard for me (I am a girl after all and we need our great clothes!!). But I have cut back dramatically and have hired someone to help me sort through every nook and cranny of my house to clear stuff out. It feels great!! Getting rid of my books will be another matter. They are my friends and it’s hard to let go.
Thank you for another wonderful post. And thank you for so graciously including my post on your blog.
Barrie, it is amazing how little we really need once we have the mind set of decluttering.
The only thing I have a lot too is books – and as you say they are like old, trusted and tried friends. However I am going to follow Leo’s example and par them down to the bare minimum that I need for my work:-)
My yeses are a slight 1 and a 10, but I’m working there 🙂
I actually donate a lot of stuff (shoes including) using this simple tip: if it hurting your feet you don’t have to keep them. And so on. Donating can become addictive 🙂
Elena, donating our unwanted stuff (junk?!) can certainly be addictive – so much so that in my family, I have got a reputation as someone who gives everything away!
Personally I think it’s a nice reputation to have – better than being known as a hoarder:-)
Niceeee! In the very complex we life, I find simplifying to be a breath of fresh air.
Your questions are very useful Arvind, as I believe a lot of us act like some kind of collectors: we keep everything. Who knows, we might need it someday? And because we think and act this way, instead of helping us, these things we keep become a burden in our lives. Like we’re carrying them with us in a backpack every day.
Eduard, our belief that we might need something, one day some day is probably the reason why we all hoard so much.
I like your analogy of carrying these things in a backpack every day – what a burden to carry. Perhaps that could be a great way of letting go of things – just imagine everything you are hoarding as a heavy load in your backpack – that will soon get you into action to clear it all out!
Books are an interesting one to see on this list. I do not know if I would include them as clutter so long as they are kept because you read them periodically or loan them out to friends and family.
Justin, books are indeed not clutter if they are kept for work, read periodically or are treasured pieces.
However most people end up collecting shelves and shelves of books which they will never read, or have read once and will never return to again. Better to give them away or recylce the paper.
I made a committment to myself at the beginning of the year not to buy a single paper book this year – and so far I have managed to keep this committment easily.
I am learning that there are alternatives to buying more books – my local library is great for sourcing books, and I now also read ebooks a lot more.
so books are clutter? but not if we decide to keep them? again i am confused.
Roger, books are only “clutter” if you are never likely to read them at all, read or refer to them, or if they have no sentimental value.
Keep the ones which fit the above criteria, and give away / sell / recycle the rest!
Great post. While I’m MUCH better than I used to be I could do much more. I find the time and energy it takes to de-clutter is sometimes daunting. Books are the hardest for me to let go of, but I’m getting better at that too having sold quite a few on amazon. My rule is no new books until I give away or sell some first.
Linda, once you start decluttering, you will find that you will get more and more energised as you go along!
Books are also the hardest for me too – they are like old friends. But just like some friends, there comes a time to go our separate ways.
I am going to follow your example, and clear out some of my books on Amazon.
but why sell them? isn’t that a materialist thing to do? why not give them away to your local library where people can make use of them for free?
Roger, I generally do give away my unwanted books to a charity shop or friends.
But at the same time, personally for me there is nothing wrong or materialistic with selling my unwanted books and making some money from them.
I bought them in the first place and if someone else decides to pay for them and get some “value” from them, then it’s a win-win solution all around.
I learned my biggest decluttering lesson when I was moving to the US. Of course I had a lot of stuff in Ukraine (clothes, some keepsakes, favorite books etc.) and I had to pick just very few things that I could take with me. It was so difficult at first because when I looked at some things I thought “How can I leave this behind?” But as the suitcase started filling up I understood that there is only so much I need. I had my most important luggage with me: my husband and my two wonderful girls. What else do I REALLY need in life? Nothing.
Every couple of week I have a decluttering session in my new house. I get rid of everything that I know I won’t use. Most of the time I do not throw away those things but think of the ways to give them to someone who’ll need them. There is a saying “Somebody’s junk is another person’s treasure” (I am not sure that this is the correct wording.)
Anastasiya, the best time to declutter your life is when you move home – so moving countries is quite an opportunity to start afresh.
I like what you say – the most important luggage was your family! If only more people saw life in these terms – loved ones before clutter and excess baggage!
As you say, what else do you need in your life if you have your loved ones?!
I too prefer to give away my unwanted stuff rather than dumping it. But at the same time, I wonder if I am simply just cluttering up someone else’s life. So now I am selective in what I give away and to whom.
I have almost reached the point where I have nothing more to decluttter, give away and get rid off:-)
Conversation overheard between Loud-Old-Unenlightened-Self-Prior-to-Reading-Arvind’s-Post [LOUSPRAP] and Quiet-Smarter-Voice-Trying-Not-to-Say-I-Told-You-So [QSVTNSTYS]:
QSVTNSTYS: Gosh, I haven’t worn those shoes in more than 6 months.
LOUSPRAP: What are you saying?!?!? We’re not thinking of getting rid of them, are we?!?!?!
QSVTNSTYS: Well, they’re too tight and make our feet hurt.
LOUSPRAP: But they’re perfectly good shoes! And cute, too! AND, they’re in SUCH good shape!
QSVTNSTYS: Um, perhaps that is because they hurt our feet and so we wear them only twice a year….?
LOUSPRAP: But all our other shoes might fall apart at the same time and we’d NEED these!
—– Meanwhile, back on the Internet, Arvind’s post is being read…—–
QSVTNSTYS: So whaddya say… send the shoes to the Library’s second-hand store?
LOUSPRAP: Hmmm….it’ll free up a space in the hanging shoe rack…. OK! (thinking of other cute shoes to get)
QSVTNSTYS: And then we can put that other pair of shoes in the rack and clear the closet floor!
—- And thus, a small bit of harmony is created once again on the physical plane. Tune in next time, when LOUSPRAP and QSVTNSTYS become unexpected allies at the thought of applying the uncomfortable shoe suggestion to those cute, strappy stilettos…..
Sherill, you win the prize for one of the most amusing and original comments on my blog.
The ebook version of my book “Get the Life you Love” is on its way to you via email:-)
Arvind, I thought I had it ALL TOGETHER, until I read your post!
Do I really have to count dried up mascara, old prescriptions, and over-flowing shelves of my beloved books? If so, I’m in need of some decluttering too.
Seriously though, I’ve moved 13 times in my life and learned to get rid of a lot of stuff, and to live with less. You are so right in saying that we all have too much, particularly in the West, and that we could easily and happily exist with less stuff.
We spend so much time caring for our “stuff” that we become distracted from our true purpose on this earth which is to; learn, grow, love and give back.
Thanks for another wonderful post.
Angela, I have learnt that no matter how much we think we have already decluttered, we always have more stuff to clear out!
And yes, you REALLY do have to count dried up mascara, old prescriptions, and over-flowing shelves of my beloved books as clutter! Do let us know how you get on with your decluttering – perhaps you can write an article about your success:-)
We all have so much in the West – I almost feel like I am on a mission to get people to consume less. And then they can spend more time as you say on the truly important things in life which are of course to grow, love and contribute something back.
Angela, I think moving is good for what ails ya. When we were younger, my husband and I moved 13 times in 14 years, and several of those moves were cross country. I credit that lifestyle with my formerly gunk-free life. Now we’ve been in the same town for two decades and the same house for a dozen years. I’ve been telling my hub we NEED to move, early and often, to keep the clutter at bay.
Great post. That is really a great list of questions. I don’t think I passed though:) One day at a time. However, I completely agree that minimizing all the things around us is key and really helps us unclutter and organize our lives. Although I am still a work in progress, I can already see how much better and more organized you feel when you have less. I guess that is why they say Order is heaven’s first law. Thanks for all the insights.
Welcome to my blog Sibyl!
In all my time as a coach, only one person has ever answered NO to all 20 questions – and she was a truly exceptional woman, having done a lot of self development work.
So no matter how many NO’s you got today, take that as a good starting point. Work on those areas from today onwards and then revisit these 20 questions in a week’s time. You will be amazed at how quickly you are able to declutter your life.
“Order is heaven’s first law” – that’s the first time I have heard that phrase – thanks for sharing:-)
I do most of them, but sometimes I fall behind to maintaining the process, specially when I or kids are sick. This is a good reminder to have for me, as I need to redo some tasks again. My biggest clutter issue is having to do with kids toys and crafts/papers. I can not seem to throw away all these wonderful art creation by my preschooler, so I have 2 boxes of it. What to do?
Zengirl, I would suggest you keep a small selection of the art creations and dump the rest.
My sister-in-law in the USA kept all the art created by her 3 kids for many years in boxes and boxes in her basement and then one day had to dump them all due to a shortage of space!
It is okay to keep a few sentimental things but within reason.
As for kids old toys, yuor local charity shop will be delighted to take them. Even better, ask your kids to give them away to other more needy kids. That way you will be teaching your children the joys of decluttering and also contribution at the same time:-)
Arvind, I love how you said, “But please believe me that once you have begun to de-clutter your life, you will begin to notice amazing shifts in your energy and your thinking.”
This is one of the least expected and most delightful aspects of de-cluttering and I thank you for bringing it to our attention.
Christianna, welcome to my blog!
The shifts in your energy and thinking is for me the best bit about decluttering your life.
You just naturally feel lighter and happier – and how does it get any better than that?!
Physical simplicity and cleanliness is such a relief, indeed. Then, next one can better focus on simplifying his/her mind. 🙂
Dave, delcuttering and simplifying our minds is so much easier to do once we have cleared out our physical space.
Somehow, by just clearing out our physical space we let go of a lot of mental and emotional clutter. There is no rocket science here either – everything is interconnected, so begin to simplify all areas of your life today by clearing out at least one physical item from your life.
Sadly, the answer is yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. But also yes to the commitment to work on simplifying life.
This is an inspiring post. I would like to see research on the correlation between perceived happiness and material accumulation. I do know that there’s joy in waking in a room in which surfaces are clear and everything’s put away. (It doesn’t always happen in my house…especially when I’m behind on laundry!)
Welcome to my blog Jean!
I love what you are doing at HabitHacker:-)
There is probably some research done in the West on the correlation between perceived happiness and material accumulation. However everytime I have visited places like India, it is striking just how happy most of the people are though they have so little in comparison to us.
Intuitively we know we are happier in clean, clutter free environments.
Remember how great it feels when your home has just been dusted and vacuumed? Now why not just have even fewer things and make your life even simpler and cosier?!
totally agree, life is so much better when you let go. I am living proof you can accomplish the less stressful life. thank you for your post, very enlightening.
Welcome to my blog Butterfly!
I have just checked out your website and you are clearly walking your talk:-)
Time for more of us to start living a less stressful life…
Another fabulous message and lesson – thank you, Arvind. I thought that I did quite well to simplify things when I moved house recently, but see that there is even more that I can do, armed with your list! Sx
Welcome to my blog, Sunita!
There is always more to do even if you have just moved home and simplified – and that’s becase we usually bring more stuff into our homes and our lives. So the key is to remain vigilant at all times – and schedule a weekly clearing out session.
Wishing you a happy and clutter free new home:-)
Hi, Arvind. I have read several articles over the past year, from various blogs, about this same issue: the need to declutter, the need to simplify. (Isn’t this called kanso in Zen practices?) But your article is the one that has stood out for me the most, and I’ll tell you why: it is written as simply and straightforwardly as the principle it describes. Minimalist. Simple. No fuss, no muss.
I felt glad that I could read through your checklist and answer “no” to thirteen of the twenty questions because even though I know I have seven areas to work on, at one time it would have been twenty!!! 😉
My life got much, much simpler four years ago when I moved to Greece. It had to: I had a an apartment full of stuff to sell or get rid of and had to whittle down all my belongings to two suitcases and a carry-on!!! It is amazing how free one feels when all that one has is the three bags in front of him (or her). 🙂
Since then, I have learned to accumulate little. Part of this is financial, but part of this is also because I’ve adopted a policy before purchasing anything of asking myself these two questions: Do I need it? Do I love it?
My husband and I don’t have much “stuff” right now. Our house is remarkably bare. We have some needs for things but the important stuff is taken care of. And, even now, we still sometimes find ourselves thinking, “Where did this ‘stuff’ come from?” 🙂
Thank you for this post. I look forward to being a regular visitor at your site.
Dear Chania Girl,
Welcome to my blog!
Thanks for your wonderful and kind feedback – and in keeping with my article, I shall also keep my comments minimalist:-)
Well done for getting 13 out of 20 – that’s well above average in my experience. Maybe soon you will become the second person ever that I have known to have got 20 out of 20…
You have inspired me to actually do some more clutter clearing in the next 10 minutes – I have some paperwork to dump!
Sunshine and happiness.
I’m guilty of 1, 2 snf 13. The photos seem the most daunting. We’re moving soon so this is incentive to deal with the three things that keep me clutter free.
Tess, many people have great difficulty with their old photos. Just which ones do you keep and which ones do you throw away?
Maybe you could scan them all and store them digitally?
But at the same time, there is something about rigling through and touching old photographs of loved ones:-)
Happy decluttering prior to your move!
Hi Arvind, Great post, I agree once you start decluttering is is addicting! I started last fall with my closet. I went through it 2x clearing things out, then again when I moved. I answered yes to 7 questions. I will be acting on gadgets I never use, and the in case one day things.
It is tough with sentimental things, but I read somewhere (maybe here) to take a picture of those things so it feels like you still have them.
I do have lots of old pictures and photo albums that I don’t know what to do with. I just keep them in my closet. I don’t display photos, so any ideas are welcomed!
Maria, decluttering is certainly addictive! I usually do my decluttering in big busts – it really is energising.
As for sentimental things, it is a great idea to take photographs – I read this suggestion on Leo Babauta’s blog – Zen Habits, and also in one of his excellent ebooks.
You probably already know Leo’s blog but here it is again – https://www.ZenHabits.Net
ACTUALLY BY CHANCE I CONNECTED WITH YOUR “MAKE IT HAPPEN”, BECAUSE OF YOUR NAME AND YOUR FACE I BELIVED YOU MUST BE “GUJARATI”. AND I AM REALLY HAPPY AND GIVING YOU THANKS BECAUSE OF YOU ARE DOING GOOD WORK IN STAYING UK.
JUST RECENTLY REALISED TO MY SELF FOR SOMETHING GOOD WORK BUT NOT YET CATCH PROPER AND PROSPERIOUS WAY TO MY SELF AND FOR OTHERS. IN SORT I AM SEARCHING PROPER WAY AS PER MY THINKING.
CAN YOU GIVE ME A REPLY ?
MY GOOD WHISES TO YOU AND FOR HELPING TO OTHERS.
JITENDRA PATEL. (MUMBAI) MAIL. email@example.com
Dear Jitendra bhai
Good to hear from you!
Thanks for visiting my blog and for your kind words. I am indeed a Gujarati living in the UK:-)
As we, as many relevant articles here on my blog, there are a lot of great blogs which will certainly help you find just what you are looking for. Please do search through my archives.
I wish you all the best to you for your life – go make it happen and change the world for the better!
Love and best wishes
Excellent questions Arvind. I’m really catching the “declutter” bug and plan to continue to let go of things I don’t need to keep – at least some of them! 🙂
I feel as though I am frozen and cannot move when it comes to going through my things. I get so overwhelmed, I can’t even get started. No one has been able to help me as of yet!!!
I feel hopeless but do not want to feel that way.
Please let me know if you come up with anything that can help me because I want it more than you could imagine.
Susan, thanks for sharing your dilemma of being overwhelmed.
What I have found helps in such a situation is starting in one tiny corner of your home or your room. Even by just clearing out one item, you will begin to start making inroads into sorting out your things.
One other key thing that will help – enroll the help of a friend. Empower them to help you clear out things and make you hold accountable to them.
Put both these tips into practice and let me know how you get on. Good luck!
I have been reading articles on Zen habits. One should live simple life and fortunately i have been living very simple life. People find simplicity in me 🙂
Actually our situation made us to keep only required things at home till date we never used proper bedding we managed it very well. All credit we give to my mom, she is farmer and she knows how to manage in minimum things. She always teach being minimal 🙂 Even our wardrobe recently has more than 5 dresses 🙂
After reading you post and on Zen habits, still i am going to check again 🙂
Savi, Zen Habits is so inspirational. And you are lucky to have a minimalist mom.
Last week, I met Leo Babauta for the first time whilst he was visiting London. We presented a talk together about blogging and you can see the photos here:-
Wishing you even more simplicity in your life:-)
Hmmm… not bad. I got just 5 yeses. 1, 2, 11, 12 and 19.
Kaddu, welcome to my blog.
At least you got 15 NOs! Now I challenge you to work in the areas of the 5 questions 🙂
OK- I have a problem! I HAD 20 OUT OF 20! Oh boy! Thanks for your work!
Ranya, you had better get cracking with the decluttering!