How to Declutter When You’re Short on Time

 Inside: Don’t have time to devote to decluttering your home right now? Here you’ll learn how to declutter when you’re short on time.

how to declutter when you're short on time

Early in my minimalist journey I recall listening to an interview where an expert shared that it had taken him nine months to declutter his entire home from top to bottom. As I sat  there listening in, I remember thinking to myself, “That’s way too long. I’m totally going to do this in three months, tops!”

As the classic Aesop’s Fable goes, I was arrogantly harnessing my inner hare, while assuming that tortoise had it all wrong. Just get it done already!

Well, the rest of the story goes quite like you’d imagine, and it in fact took me a full year to finally declutter every area of our home. There were plenty of naps and panic sprints involved too. Though the naps were less out of overconfidence and more out of overwhelm.


You see, in the story of the tortoise and the hare, that poor rabbit always ends up the villain. “What a dumb little bunny, starting out all cocky and taking all of those breaks. She shouldn’t underestimate her competition like that either.” Meanwhile the tortoise steadily cruises along to eventually win the race and prove once and for all that consistency beats intensity.

What this story fails to highlight though is that both the rabbit and the hare arrived at their intended destination. That overly confident bunny still crossed the finish line. She just did it in her own time, utilizing her own strengths.

We use this story to remind us that consistency beats intensity while ignoring the fact that most of the time, there isn’t actually a race underway!

We’re all just trying to get where we’re going while maintaining a pace that works for someone else, not ourselves.

You don’t need to beat anyone’s time or get decluttered by a certain date. When it comes to getting uncluttered, this is simply you changing your approach to material possessions, eliminating what is unnecessary, and creating a home that is more of a sanctuary than the sacrifice it’s felt like for so long.

Put Ignorant Bliss to Work for You

There is something to be said about diving into a new challenge with a little overly confident enthusiasm. Thankfully, we don’t always know ahead of time just how long and arduous a task will be. Ignorance can at times be as vital as it is blissful.

For example, when I volunteered to coach my son’s soccer team, I thought I was just doing it for a couple of seasons. I figured after a year or two, a more qualified coach would take over. Well, here we are on season eight of what would make for a very comical reality show some days. Nobody told me back when my now junior higher was in second grade, “Hey, if you start this team, you’ll be coaching it through junior high.” If they did, I probably would have backed out, and ultimately missed out on one of the most fun, challenging and heartwarming experiences of my life.

how to declutter when you're short on time

Overconfidence and ignorance can actually pave the way for the necessary consistency.

Decluttering at a Pace That Works for You

I don’t know any minimalist who would say, “Yeah, I just found myself with so much down time that I thought I’d use it to declutter my entire life.” Maybe they’re out there somewhere, but that certainly is not the normal narrative surrounding those who decide to live a minimalist lifestyle. Instead, the stories go more like…

Aha moment -> Declutter like a lunatic -> Hit a wall -> Take a break and regroup -> Start again, this time at a more realistic pace while capitalizing on motivation and slivers of free time.

No matter when you start or what area you tackle first, don’t be surprised if life gets in the way. I can almost guarantee it will. There are a number of variables that will slow you down and trip you up as you work to get uncluttered. But if less stuff for the long haul is what you’re after, here are three tips to decluttering your home when you just don’t have time to declutter your home.

How to Declutter When You’re Short on Time

1. Stop Buying Crap

I see you over there, scrolling on by this point like it doesn’t apply to you. Hear me out.

Ceasing, or at the very least, slowing, the flow of material items into your home is hands down the most important step in getting uncluttered.

It’s basic math. Let’s take a look shall we?

Jill had ten items. She decluttered seven. Over the next four months she buys eleven new items. How many items does Jill have now? Is Jill any more uncluttered than she was at the beginning? Nope.

how to declutter when you're short on time

I don’t care if you don’t get around to decluttering your basement storage room for a good four years. You can still make progress toward your goal by simply bringing in fewer items starting today.

Now, I said “simply” as if it’s easy, but I recognize it’s not. After decades of mindlessly buying the things we’re told we need, it’s hard to make the shift from overconsumption to conscious consumer. We buy things for a variety of different reasons such as saving money in the long run, fear of needing something one day, keeping up with trends, and coping with stress. However, our accumulation of more stuff is only adding to our cluttered homes. I talk more deeply about the driving forces of consumerism in my book, Messy Minimalism, (available now where books are sold.)

Messy Minimalism

Decluttering your home without first stopping the influx of new stuff into it is just as effective as paling water out of a sinking boat with a gaping hole in the bottom.

2. Pick One Space

Start small and pick just one area of your home to begin in. I don’t care if it takes you six months to get through it. Pick one room, that when decluttered will improve your day to day.

Perhaps that’s your coat closet, car, kitchen, bedroom or wardrobe. You don’t need to wait until you have an entirely free weekend to dive in. Get a box, place it in the corner and begin to make headway by adding just a few items every single day to your donation box. When it’s full, donate it.

When short on time or stuck in a busier season of life, the task of decluttering your home can feel next to impossible. While we know an uncluttered home will simplify this busy season, getting there often takes more than we have to give.

how to declutter when you're short on time

I want you to, for now, let go of the expectations that you’ll get through your entire home. Reduce your goal until it’s something attainable and sustainable for your real life right now.

Stop setting unrealistic decluttering goals that leave you feeling like a failure rather than the growth minded, challenge embracing, rockstar that you are.

3. Make Decluttering a Habit by Habit Stacking

Sure getting rid of a few things a day sounds simple enough, but if it isn’t apart of your routine, it’s going to be easy to forget to do it. The next thing you know, a month will have gone by and you’ll still have a mostly empty donation box in the corner of your home.

Habit stacking, according to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, “is a special form of an implementation intention. Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit.”

Instead of choosing a specific day of the week or planning to set a timer to declutter for ten minutes a day, I want you to create a habit out of letting go. Pick something you do every day. Maybe that’s reading a novel, drinking coffee, brushing your teeth (well, I hope you’re brushing your teeth every day), or watching a show after dinner.

Draft off of your already established habits by stacking this new habit of decluttering behind it. Start letting go of just a few items every single day while you perform your already established habit.

There will certainly be seasons when you’ll feel like that hare, confidently tackling your coat closest in record time. Then other seasons, many even, when you must slowly plug along, decluttering two excess coffee mugs one day, and then three ill-fitting t-shirts the next. All while drinking your morning coffee or brushing your teeth before bed.

There is no right or wrong way to get uncluttered. All forward progress counts. Sprint when you can sprint, crawl when you need to crawl, but for the love of all that is good stop bringing in more stuff.

Messy Minimalism, Available Where Books Are Sold

Sick of the clutter, but not quite sure “minimalism” as you know it is for you? You’re probably right. Minimalism as you know it, probably isn’t for you. It wasn’t for me either.

messy minimaism

Because of that, Messy Minimalism was born. Messy Minimalism is a doable, grace-based approach to living a clutter free life. It frees you up to embrace the mess, live with less and create an imperfectly perfect home for you.
Messy Minimalism is available NOW from your favorite book retailer.

For more information on Messy Minimalism head to

Need Some Serious Decluttering Motivation?

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Here we will tackle 3 common decluttering obstacles so you can let go and get uncluttered for good. If you’ve ever gotten started and then gotten stuck, this FREE resource is for you!

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