Minimalism is a wonderful and practical tool to shed your clutter and find simplicity. When becoming minimalists, our physical possessions are an obvious place to start—but sometimes it’s simply getting started that is the real struggle.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work in front of you and can’t seem to get started, you’re not alone.
In my own life, I’ve struggled to find the time or motivation to tackle a decluttering project. But I’ve realized it’s not actually the clutter that’s the problem. It isn’t that the task is actually insurmountable, it’s my emotional clutter that’s standing in the way.
“Clutter is not just physical stuff. It’s old ideas, toxic relationships, and bad habits. Clutter is anything that does not support your better self.” — Elenor Brown
There have been situations where the clutter was not within my control to change and it left me feeling frustrated. But in either case, worrying and feeling frustrated about it just made the situation worse. We can decide to stop worrying, because choosing a life of less can bring us peace.
Helpful Ideas When You’re Stuck on Getting Started
If you are having trouble taking first steps, here are some ideas that might kickstart your simple living journey. I hope they help!
1. Think outside the rut.
If the advice to start small and start easy hasn’t worked for you, maybe it’s time for a different approach altogether? When you find yourself saying, “I don’t have the time, there’s just so much to do, I’m overwhelmed, or I don’t know where to start,” shift your focus to address the emotional clutter.
2. Ask yourself questions.
What keeps me from getting started?
Is it exhaustion, depression, distractions, or even a desire for perfection? Maybe it’s fear, obligation, or guilt that keeps you stuck on getting started. When you find your answer, name it out loud and make the decision to start anyway.
A desire to meet my own high expectations and waiting to be ready has kept me back many times. Growing up I remember hearing my grandmother say, “Don’t wait for the stars to align perfectly.” You will never reach your goal if you stop and make friends with every fear that arises. And if you wait for everything to be perfect to take action, you may very well be waiting for a lifetime.
Am I making excuses?
If that room full of boxes you were going to sort or the bags of clothes in your car you were going to drop off two months ago are still there, you may be making excuses. The boxes are still in your house because at some point, for two months, there was something else you’d rather do.
Maybe you’d rather read a book or scroll on social media instead of sort through those boxes. That’s ok, but if you want change, it’s time to buckle down.
“Don’t sacrifice what you want most for what you want now.” — Henry Marsh
Am I living the same year over and over?
Are you telling yourself the same thing year after year? This year I’m gonna exercise, this year I’m gonna clear out the clutter, this year I’m gonna downsize, etc… I know I have.
“Don’t live the same year 75 times in and call it a life.” – Robin Sharma
3. Why power trumps will power.
Making a change is not about your will power, it’s about your motivation—your why. Dr. BJ Fogg, founder of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford, shows that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation (your why), ability, and trigger.
When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements are missing. Notice that willpower is not one of the 3 essential elements of behavior. You can find your way when you discover you why.
4. Find inspiration.
Another way to increase your motivation is to find inspiration. There are plenty of enjoyable blogs on simple living, documentaries, and YouTube channels are a great way to find inspiration and stay motivated.
Time and time again, I see folks in the No Sidebar Facebook Group sharing how helpful the community has been. It provides encouragement and motivation to get started and keep going. Use it to your advantage.
5. Counter discomfort with self care.
As you begin or attempt to start, feelings of discomfort often come. Counter discomfort with self care by making time for it. Your self care may also be part of your why—this is what you want more of.
When we want to make small changes in our lives, self care can help us push through the discomfort. Choose an area that you can declutter and use for self care. Having a place to meditate, read, or practice yoga will boost your efforts.
6. Start with the unemotional.
Starting easy isn’t just about starting small. Try decluttering areas or rooms that don’t hold much sentimental items. A bathroom or hall closet can be a good place to gain momentum and experience small wins.
7. Create accountability.
Make your desire public, ask a close friend or family member to follow up every week on your progress, or find someone who wants to do it together.
8. Practice gratitude.
I’m sure I could include practicing gratitude on every single list I write for the rest of my life. Gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that can change our lives. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can reduce a multitude of toxic emotions and change our behavior.
Robert A. Emmons, a professor of psychology at UC Davis and a scientific expert on the science of gratitude, believes gratitude works because it allows people to celebrate the present and be an active participant in their own lives. We can incorporate a life theme of gratefulness and happiness when we set time aside daily to give gratitude for beautifully ordinary things in our lives.
9. Experiment by elimination.
This is one of my favorite ways to make progress while experiencing the immediate rewards of a simplified space. The idea is to choose one area or room, preferably one you use often, and clear nearly everything from it.
Leave only what you really need, then box up the rest and put it out of sight. This allows you to experience the benefits in a space without stumbling on letting go. I suspect that after enjoying this newly uncluttered space for a few weeks, you’ll have more motivation and clarification that will help you let go of the clutter you packed away in those boxes.
10. The power of making a decision.
Sometimes, for me, the first step towards making progress is deciding that I’m not going to stay where I’m at. I either move forward or I’ll stay stuck—I recognize this is my decision and I decide to move. Every day I wake up, I am given another opportunity to make new decisions. I may not reach my goal today or tomorrow, but I know little by little, a little will become a lot.
Note: Check out my new book, Minimalism for Families: Practical Minimalist Living Strategies to Simplify Your Home and Life, where I share practical and actionable tips to clear the excess from every room in your home, strategies to shift your family’s mindset, tips to help your kids see how minimalism can be applied in their lives, lessons learned, and much more!