How to clutter clear your home 20 minutes at a time

We all know the old saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The same principle can very easily be applied to clutter clearing too.

Clutter clear your home

The trick to successful clutter clearing is to begin small and take it a step at a time.

Use 20-minute time boxes

Begin by choosing a small area that contains things you do not have any emotional attachments to – just a drawer, a shelf, a small cupboard or something similar. Set your timer for 20 minutes and begin.

When your timer alarm sounds, stop and feel how you feel. If you feel like you’re done for the day, that’s fine. If you feel like doing a bit more, set the timer for another 20 minutes and continue in the same area if there is more to do, or move to another area that needs your attention.

Continue in 20-minute time boxes, pausing after each one to assess if you would like to finish at that point or keep going.

If you have good stamina and find that 20 minutes is too short, set your timer for 30 minutes or an hour. But be sure to stop before you feel too tired. When you end each session feeling good, you will be more likely to return the next day to do more.

Why timeboxes work so well

The lovely thing about timeboxing is that each small area you clear releases energy for you to do more. The stagnant energy that accumulates around clutter causes you to feel tired but when you start clearing it, this frees up stuck energy in your home and also energizes you. In fact, so many people have experienced this invigorating effect that I once wrote an article with the title, Don’t read or listen to this book at bedtime! to warn what can happen if you read my book too late at night.

Doing 20-minute timeboxes also means that with each one you complete, you will experience the feel-good dopamine release that accompanies achievement, which will encourage you to want to do more.

Break each area down into small, manageable chunks

Don’t make the mistake of dragging everything out of your cupboards or closets, piling it in the centre of the room and trying to sort the whole lot out in one go. I’ve never heard from anyone with more than a trivial amount of clutter that this method worked for them.

Instead, break each area into small, manageable chunks. If you are clutter clearing a cupboard, work shelf by shelf, completing each one before moving on to the next. For chests of drawers or dressers, work drawer by drawer. If you have a whole junk room full of clutter, divide it into chunks and tackle each area one at a time. If you get easily distracted, spread sheets or blankets over the other stuff in the room to hide it from view, which will enable you to focus completely on the area you are working on.

Use the box system to sort through your clutter

The box system described in Chapter 16 of my book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui doesn’t take long to set up and will help you enormously to sort through your things and make decisions about what stays and what goes. Two boxes that are particularly useful are the Transit box and the Dilemma box.

The Transit Box is used when you are sorting through an area and find things that don’t belong there at all. Suppose you find a kettle that has somehow ended up at the back of a shelf in your bedroom closet. You may be tempted to take it to the kitchen, plug it in and see if it works, then perhaps make yourself a cup of tea. And before you know it you are sitting in the garden reading a book while you drink your cuppa and you’ve forgotten all about your clutter clearing mission.

Using my method, you put the item in the Transit box and carry on. At the end of the session, you go around your home putting the items in the box where they belong, or if you don’t yet have space for them, put them near where they belong.

The Dilemma box is another lovely invention. When you come across something that you can’t decide whether to keep or let go, in the past this may have brought your clutter clearing session to an abrupt standstill. But if you use a Dilemma box, any items you are not sure about can get put in there, and you can just continue.

At the end of the session, stash the Dilemma box away somewhere and put a reminder on your calendar to check it a few months later. The passage of time will usually bring much more clarity about whether to keep the items or not, especially if you haven’t used any of them in the intervening period.

If you’d like a more radical approach, ask a friend to open the box for you. Anything you can name, you get to keep. If you can’t remember what’s in there, it rather proves the point that you don’t need any of the things, and your friend gets to take them away and dispose of them for you in any way they see fit!

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd, 2020

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui, and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must-read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fifth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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13 Responses to How to clutter clear your home 20 minutes at a time

  1. Hi Karen,
    I’m wondering if there’s space clearing for my mind / body. And learning how to keep it clear.
    As I feel like in particular I’m looking for answers to help me as I have some sort distorted eating… for many years.

  2. These are really great and helpful tips! I usually spend hours organizing and cleaning our home because I’m the type of person who is all over the place. I’ll make sure to follow these tips next time. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Dear Karen
    I’m working as an occupational therapist with children. I many times encounter parents lamenting their children are not able to make order in their rooms without help of the parents. Do you have any suggestion regarding this topic? Thank you for your answer.
    Sonia N. from Switzerland

    1. If you have not already done so, I suggest you read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. It’s the best book I’ve ever found on this topic.

      I also find in my professional work that if parents have clutter or do not have organizing skills themselves then they are not able to teach their children. This is a topic that often comes up during my Fast-Track Clutter Clearing online courses, and many parents report afterwards how much easier it becomes to teach their children after they have put their own spaces in order.

      1. Thank you so much for your kind reply and information, dear Karen! I will purchase that book for sure.

        Wish you all the best and much more succsess.

        Sonia, Switzerland

  4. Hi Karen
    I’m starting out as a professional organiser. I’ve worked with quite a lot of people so far (individually) to help them clear basic clutter from their house or office. What I am finding is that people often try to ‘control’ the situation by really digging their heels in and refusing to go to the next stage (for example, for clients I see regularly for a couple of hours a week, they start to get more controlling as time goes on, which prevents me from getting anywhere significant with regards their clutter. I’m quite good at encouraging people and bringing positive energy to my sessions. Do you think all declutterers encounter this resistance or could it be just me?
    Thank you

  5. I do use this method of blocks or boxes of time, and find it very effective. Actually getting things out of the house (donations) after a purge can be tricky for me, so I try to get them in the car and dropped of promptly!
    l love your books, and am delighted to find your blog!

  6. I have a husband who gathers stuff. He cannot easily let go as he was brought up with the mantra ‘don’t throw it out, it might be useful’. We have (amongst other things) lots of rusty screws in the garage – that sit there as they might just be useful. The loft is full to bursting – he can’t bear to throw things out – books are a good example – ‘they cost us money, or someone bought them as a present and they cost money, so if someone wants them, they can buy them’. Hence I take stuff to the charity shop, or local tip, when he is not around. I am trying to tackle clearing in small doses – your 20 minute suggestion is what I do, but I usually take an hour at a time, either throwing (charity or tip boxes) or putting ‘undecideds’ to one side to sort at a later date.

    We are now retired and my husband likes to spend all day reading the paper/crossword/Sudoku puzzles) and watching TV – usually sport or a film. I want to get up and ‘go’, as the time is now mine to do what I want. We have friends (don’t live locally) and the husband is the same as mine – his wife never stops gardening, singing in a choir etc. and he just reads books all day long!! Is it the age they were brought up in?

    It is good to just put this to ‘paper’.

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