Decluttering doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m sentimental about things, from my kids’ baby clothes to books I love to cookware from my grandmother’s kitchen. When you add to the mix that we have eight kids, along with all the stuff that kids bring with them, you can get an idea of the landscape. Then add in that over the last several years we’ve cleared both my in-laws and my parents’ homes and we’ve become the recipients of family heirlooms and household goods, and you get an idea of the constant clutter current I’m battling.

Good times, good times.

I’ve become a student and a connoisseur of all things decluttering as I’ve waged my own war against the chaos. There are plenty of great tips out there about how to strategically stage your pantry and fold your socks like intricate artistic pieces of origami.

And those things can motivate me.
But my issue isn’t inspiration. It’s continued momentum.

So here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that are helping me get our casa shoveled out and our shelves back to order.

No guilt.

We can’t miss the part that for many of us, we’ve spent more time in our homes than ever over the last year. For me, it put me on a path of a massive cleanout of all kinds of spaces, as I just couldn’t handle all the people and clutter at the same time. But it’s also completely understandable if all the events of quarantining, schooling and working from home, and pandemic fatigue has made decluttering feel like an overwhelming effort on top of everything else.

However you find the state of your house at this point in the game, give yourself plenty of grace. It’s hard to find sustainable motivation from a guilt base. Be encouraging to yourself. Celebrate the small milestones, like getting that junk drawer in the kitchen sorted. You’ll get a lot farther faster if your brain associates pleasure with the clutter clearing, instead of a pounding condemnation.

Pick an area that gives you a big win.

Notice that I didn’t say to pick a big area. Don’t plunge into the depths of your garage full of vigor and expect to come out the other side an hour later feeling like a conqueror, at least if your garage looks like mine. Choose something that has been a cluttered pain that you encounter often. Maybe it’s your bathroom drawer. Maybe it’s the top of your nightstand. Set a timer, give yourself 30 minutes, and get it cleared. The psychology of choosing a frequently used area is that when you go back to that area on the daily, it will reinforce the reward of creating order for yourself.

You don’t have to face every skeleton in your closet before you can make some room in there!

Carmen Klassen, Love Your Clutter Away

Put together that playlist…and use it.

I’ve got very intentional playlists for my training long runs…so why did it take me so long to figure out to do the same thing for cleaning and decluttering? As it turns out, HR specialists are now also recommending the use of music to keep employees motivated and focused. Check out what human resources manager Peter Jenkins discovered about productivity and great tunes: “[A] couple months ago we incorporated music therapy into our work routine to help our employees maintain focus. As a result, their productivity increased by 40% and they became more satisfied with their job as well.”1 I find the time flies and the energy stays high when I put in my earbuds and power my way through a musical soundtrack (hello, “Hamilton”!). And there may or may not be a playlist on my phone comprised exclusively of 80s music, as in, there absolutely is.

Take pictures.

You take pictures of a favorite dessert at a restaurant. You take pictures of your antisocial cat. So why not document your decluttering milestones? They don’t have to go on social media (unless that gives you a thrill). But it’s a great way to keep track of what you’re accomplishing and the progress you’ve made. Keep an album on your phone of your decluttering journey. And be sure to tack a couple of quick snaps of the items you’re donating, as a record for when tax time comes around.

Momentum and drive stay higher when we’re kind and encouraging to ourselves, when we can take a pause and appreciate what we’ve been able to accomplish, no matter how big or how small. As you tackle your own clutter hotspots this spring cleaning season, crank up the tunes, celebrate all the wins, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

A time to search and a time to give up, time to keep and a time to throw away.

Ecclesiastes 3:6

Julie Lyles Carr is a best-selling author, podcaster, and entrepreneur living in Austin, Texas, with her husband Mike Carr. They have eight kids, two unfriendly cats, and an antique dachshund.