3 Steps to De-Clutter Your Life

For several years, in locations all over the world, I lived out of a backpack for months at a time. I’ve travelled on deep desert expeditions into the Sahara, the Mongolian desert, and other wastelands where my personal baggage was severely restricted because we had to carry so much petrol and water.

One of the lessons I learned during this extreme adventure travel was about just how little you really need in order to live a satisfying life.

But the first time I set out on the road — to Central America — my pack was overloaded with sun cream, duplicate photocopies of passports, traveller’s cheques, wind-up laundry line, rubber sink stopper, water filtration kit (complete with spare filter, of course) and more.

I dragged those practically useless items across 7 different countries. And eventually I threw it all away, one item at a time. The funny thing is, lightening my load — both physically and symbolically — didn’t just make walking to the bus stop easier. It also opened me up to new opportunities.

Travel taught me that it’s difficult to make a change when you’re dragging around a lifetime’s worth of baggage. You can apply that same “road lesson” to your business and your life.

If you want to transform your business or create the life of your dreams, you have to start by clearing the decks to make room for growth.

These 3 tips will help you get the ball rolling.

1. De-Clutter Your Stuff

If you want to de-clutter your life, start by cleaning up your physical environment.

It can be tough to let things go, especially if you’re a bit of a packrat. But those excess belongings weigh you down, both physically and mentally.

Start with the easy stuff, it’ll help you build momentum.

Go through your closet and make a big pile of everything you haven’t worn over the past year. Include clothing that no longer fits. Items you were given as gifts, or that you hid at the back of the closet because they were just too hideous to look at. Sure, they might be back in style in 20 or 30 years. But is keeping them really worth the cost of dragging them around?

Next, tackle your papers. Take the time to sift through the pile, and discard all those old bills, receipts and manuals for products you no longer own. You could digitize those few documents you really need to keep. The online software Evernote is a great solution for this. Uploading them to the cloud gets them out of your immediate personal space. And de-cluttering is now just a click of the delete key away.

So that’s your first task. Throw out the junk that’s crowding your garage, your office or spare room. All those things you haven’t looked at in years. They’re weighing you down.

Give them away or donate them to the Goodwill, where those same items might enrich someone else’s life. You don’t need them anymore.

One final tip. You might consider selling some of these things on Ebay, or having a garage sale or listing them on Craigslist. But before you do, think of the cost in terms of your time and effort. Do you really want to mess around with listings, or run to the post office, or make complicated arrangements for people to view, barter for and pick up these items at your home? I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. But sometimes it IS more trouble than it’s worth. You might be better off simply donating or giving them away.

Don’t think about what you paid for those things in the past. You already got your value from them. Just think about what they’re costing you now. And factor in the time it takes to remove them from your life.

Make it as easy and painless as possible, so you can move on to more productive tasks.

2. De-Clutter Your Relationships

Next, it’s time to clean up your personal life.

You can’t forge new relationships or connections if you’re clinging to a past that no longer matches the vision of the person you want to become. Time passes, and life moves on. If you want to shift your life into new spheres, sometimes you have to move on too.

Start by letting go of those relationships that no longer serve you. Those people whose phone calls you dodge because you really don’t enjoy talking to them. Those relationships that are entirely one way — the energy vampires who monopolize your time and drain your energy.

Make a list of all those people you only spend time with out of a sheer sense of obligation or guilt. Don’t judge them. Just let them go.

There’s nothing callous in this. You’ve simply grown in different directions, and you honor that person by allowing them to move on.

Spend time instead with people who excite you and who encourage you to grow in new directions. If your life is too crowded, you’ll never have a chance to let those new people in.

3. De-Clutter Your Schedule

Finally, when you’ve finished cleaning up your personal environment, and when you’ve cleared your life of those people whose values you’re no longer aligned with, it’s time to tackle your priorities.

Start with how you spend your time.

Do you want to reach new heights in your profession? Let go of those tasks you do only because you feel you have to. Delegate them to someone else.

While you’re at it, you can also let go of all the jobs you absolutely hate — you’re probably not very good at them anyway. Release those things so you can focus on the tasks you’re truly great at. THAT is where you’ll bring something unique to the world.

And what about your home life? Do you find yourself doing everything around the house? Assign the kids to empty the dishwasher, do the laundry, take out the trash and cut the lawn. It’ll teach them the importance of responsibility, and of pitching in.

Take a close look at how you spend your personal time too, and cut the stuff that doesn’t add value to your life. Do watch several hours of aimless TV every night? Switch it off — or better yet, kick it in.

Do you want to replace unhealthy habits with practices that promote your life? Don’t just try to slap a bunch of new ideas onto what you’re currently doing. Let those old habits go. Yes, this means taking the time to closely examine your beliefs and decide why you started doing these things in the first place. It isn’t easy, but it works.

Examine each aspect of your life, consciously and deliberately. And begin removing those non-essential elements so you can focus on the things that truly matter to you.

When you do this, new opportunities that you never imagined will rush in to fill the space you’ve created.

Tell us what steps you will take today to de-clutter your life in the comments section.

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  • Pat

    Great article! Right in line with my desire to change my life and move out of the situation I am now in. I have been clearing out the basement for 2 weeks now and while it is not an easy or pleasant task, I can already feel how it is creating momentum for a move. Thanks for sharing your insights on de-cluttering the other aspects of live.

  • Pauline Cronin

    Talk about more is less. This article covers the whole topic well. I find I am quite inspired by it. Thank you!

  • Well Hello Ryan!

    Thank you for these three incredibly practical steps to de-clutter my life!

    I love the way you organized your steps, the way you presented them, and the practicality within them. Your article has inspired me to start the de-cluttering process, beginning with step 1: my closet.

    I look forward to reading your eBook “Personal Freedom: A Guide to Creating the Life of Your Dreams”. Not because I want to live the life of my dreams, but because I want to replace unhealthy habits with practices that promote my life.

    Thanks again, Ryan!


  • Timothy Johnson

    I really needed this blog more than you can realize! I’m committing to follow the steps!! Today and this week, I’ll get rid of clothes. Next week, I’ll progress to papers and tangible items like that. Throughout, I’ll let go of relationships.
    Thank you for this!

  • Hello again Ryan,

    As promised I just bought your eBook “Personal Freedom: A Guide to Creating the Life of Your Dreams”. I’m only on page 12 and I love it! As directed I’ve made the list and placed it in my pocket so I may add to it each time I experience a moment of happiness. With that said, I’ll proceed to clean my closet with that piece of paper in my pocket.

    I certainly look forward to more excellent and common sense reading combined with action.


  • This is simply the most empowering, freeing, time-appropriate positing I have read in months! I needed this. Thank you – for more than you’ll ever know. ETR, keep up the great works!

  • Ian Scott

    I’m an inveterate hoarder. It would cost me more anguish to throw away clutter than to carry the three ton weight I have strapped to my back. Ian

  • Shamela

    I tend to practice “FILTERING”. People, Places and Things (PPT) that are daily encounters or in your life. As yourself “Why” they are there. Everyday we learn something new from either a stranger or someone we know. At the end of the day, filter your thoughts and PRIORITIZE it’s importance to you and your personal growth. Material things to de clutter space.

  • Sister Catherine Yaskiw

    an interesting and helpful read. i do not want to put stuff on computer but would like helpful hints on how to organize a paper world. any secrests on getting rid of papers and stuff… i have stuff to give away call 416-462-3374. rather give to anyone wanting it than the route of having to borrow a car and trek it somewhere. big items to sell off for donation is some metal shelving as The woodpile shop is now closed.

  • All good tips. It’s funny how when we travel, we realize how much we don’t need.

    A year ago, I set off to Shanghai with two large pieces of luggage and a carry-on. Then, I bought a bunch of custom-made clothes in Shanghai. I wound up leaving a box full of stuff in China and then a suitcase full of stuff in London.

    Just a couple of weeks ago, I dumped half of my suitcase in Singapore. The thing was just getting too heavy.

    I’ve pretty much shed all personal belongings, now. All I really use is my MacBook (to work), my Kindle (to read), and my Nikon DSLR (to take pictures of my travels.)

    Other than that, it’s just a few changes of clothes to get me through the days between washing.

    I don’t need anything else. As far as personal belongings go.

  • I am guilty of having all 3 situations – I am guessing that all of us that live in clutter are, and we are nodding our heads, “Yup, that’s me!”

    I like your approach – identify and then take the steps necessary.

    Wish me luck! Actually, I need more than luck. I need to get to work.



  • The example of living out of a backpack is really eye opening. How much of my stuff do I really need?

    Your point about how hard it is to change or grow when you are hauling around a lot of emotional and physical stuff is a good one. When you think of decluttering, you usually think only of physical clutter, yet the relationship and schedule clutter can cause just as much, if not more, stagnation. Clearing the way for new opportunities is an energizing motivation!

  • J. Richard

    This inspired me to write… The Shift Begins
    At the Moment of Impulse..
    But the Change Occurs
    at the Onset of Action..
    Motivation is the result of this Action..
    Purpose is the Tool
    that gives Motivation Leverage..
    The Result
    is a New Horizon !!

    Dude… Thanks for the Inspiration.. you’re a Stud !

  • Tom

    Early To Rise does a great service. The inspiration this site can bring, is IMMENSE. Thank you to its creators and to you, Ryan Murdock. I have found your work on here to be some of the more direct for my own situations in life.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thanks Tom!

  • maria

    Great article and so true!
    Since I had to clear out the appartment of a deceased relative it became very real to me how much a person collects during his/her life. Its no fun to clean up under pressure. So I promised myself to at least fill the trash can to the limit every week in my own house. I started to sort out the attic and next will be the clothes.
    I like your arguments for when in doubt whether to sell or give away; it makes it easier to decide.
    I am a bit worried though about that law of nature that says a vacuum will always fill itself up, haha.

  • Patrick

    Quite reassuring. Sometimes life seems so hollow and streams of negative thoughts run through my mind.

    I’ll surely follow the steps you have suggested to regain sane thoughts whenever negative thoughts overwhelm me.

    Fantastic read!!

  • Right on, Craig. Last week, I returned to USA from Afghanistan. My favorite day was turning in our military gear!
    Before leaving, I hired an Amazon Co-signer. He came to my house, took a complete inventory, took all of my ‘stuff’, and wired me (70%) money as items were sold. Excellent option.
    My favorite idea in your article is, “Don’t think about what you paid for those things in the past. You already got your value from them. Just think about what they’re costing you now. And factor in the time it takes to remove them from your life.”
    By applying your ETR fundamentals, I’m able to go straight to Europe next week!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Very cool!

  • antonio

    Thanks for the wonderful tips. Its exactly the things we do that clutter up our lives. It wil also help me let go of unncecessary things that drag me down.

  • Maria

    Woo Hoo !! Just the motivation I needed today – look out clutter here I come !!

  • Coral

    I loved it! I started several years ago by putting all the hangers in my closet in backwards. At the end of the year anything that was still in backwards (meaning I never used or wore it) was given away. I am now working on paperwork and my shredder is full almost every day.

  • Outstanding! I’m considering moving just so I can dejunk because there isn’t sufficient motivation to do anything. I’ve lived in the same house for 13 years and with 5400 sq ft of home I could store anything. Now I don’t want any of it. I think I’ll even downsize my house so I have to get rid of it all. I just closed down my data center and I have 25 servers that cost over $100k. I’m going to donate to get them out of my garage! check!