There is no such thing as stress-free parenting. Peaceful parenting isn’t a place with no stress, but a place where you take the stress as it comes, in stride, and don’t let it rule you. You let it flow through you, and then smile, and breathe, and give your child a hug.
Parents will always have stress: we not only have to deal with tantrums and homework and refusing to eat anything you cook, but we worry about potential accidents, whether we are ruining our kids, whether our children will find happiness as adults and be able to provide for themselves and find love.
That said, I’ve learned that we can find peace.
Related: The end of the angry mum
There is a Way of Peaceful Parenting, but it isn’t one that I’ve learned completely. I’ll share what I’ve learned so far, with the caveat that I don’t always follow the Way, that I still make mistakes daily, that I still have a lot to learn, that I don’t claim to have all the answers as a parent.
The Way of Peaceful Parenting
The Way of Peaceful Parenting is only learned by walking it. Here are the steps I recommend:
Greet your child each morning with a smile, a hug, a loving Good Morning! This is how we would all like to be greeted each day.
Teach your child to make their own breakfast, get ready for school and be independent in the mornings.
Teaching these skills takes patience. Kids suck at them at first, so you have to show them about a hundred times, but let them try it, correct them, and let them make mistakes. They will gradually learn independence and you will gradually have less work to do caring for them.
Older children helping younger children
Older children can help younger children — it’s good for them to learn responsibility, it helps the younger children learn from the older ones, and it takes some of the stress off you.
Read to and with them often. It’s a wonderful way to bond, to educate, to explore imaginary worlds.
More on this: How to keep older kids reading
When your child asks for your attention, grant it.
Parents need alone time, though. Set certain traditions so that you’ll have time to work on your own, or have time with your partner in the evening, when your child can do things on their own.
When your child is upset, put yourself in their shoes. Don’t just judge the behavior (yes, carrying on and screaming isn’t ideal), but the needs behind the behaviour. Do they need a hug, or attention, or maybe they are just tired?
Model the behaviour you want your child to learn. Don’t yell at the child because they lost it. Don’t get angry at a child for losing their temper. Don’t get mad at a kid who wants to play video games all the time if you’re always on your laptop. Be calm, smile, be kind, go outdoors and be active.
Find the humour
When a stressful time arises (and it will), learn to deal with it with a smile. Make a joke, turn it into a game, laugh … you’ll teach your child not to take things so seriously, and that life is to be enjoyed. Breathe, walk away if you’ve lost your temper, and come back when you can smile.
When your child asks for your attention, grant it.
Let your child share your interests. Bake together. Sew together. Exercise together. Read together. Work on a website together. Write a blog together.
Know that when you screw up as a parent, everything will be fine. Forgive yourself. Apologise. Learn from that screw up. In other words, model the behaviour you’d like your child to learn whenever they screw up.
Boundaries are key
Patiently teach your child the boundaries of behaviour. There should be boundaries — what’s acceptable and what’s not. It’s not okay to do things that might harm yourself or others. We should treat each other with kindness and respect. Those aren’t things a child learns immediately, so have patience, but set the boundaries. Within those boundaries, allow lots of freedom.
Give your child some space. Parents too often over-schedule their child’s life, with classes and sports and music and clubs and the like, but it’s a constant source of stress for both child and parent to keep this schedule going. Let the child learn to hang out and make their own fun. Free time is necessary. You don’t always have to be by their side either — they need alone time just as much as you do.
Exercise to cope with stress. A run in solitude is a lovely thing. Get a massage now and then.
Be a peaceful parenting team
It helps tremendously to be a parenting team — one parent can take over when the other gets stressed. When one parent starts to lose his temper, the other should be a calming force.
Sing and dance together.
Take every opportunity to teach kindness and love. It’s the best lesson.
Kiss your child goodnight, no matter their age. And give thanks for another amazing day with your beautiful, unique, crazy child.
What does peaceful parenting mean to you?
Feature image by Gregory Hayes; Screen by Annie Spratt
Many of us are (rightfully) focused on taking care of our health, eating nourishing whole foods and trying to be active … while meditating and flossing and taking some time of disconnection, away from devices. These are each a wonderful act of self-care, and they are necessary and important.
But there’s one act of self-care that is very often neglected, and it might be even more important than all the others: the practice of loving yourself.
We should give ourselves at least eight doses of loving ourselves every day.
In fact, this is so often neglected that when I mention “loving yourself,” many people don’t know what that means. Many of us have never consciously done it. If we have, it’s so rare as to be a forgotten memory.
But it’s my belief that we should do it throughout the day, like trying to drink eight glasses of water. We should give ourselves at least eight doses of loving ourselves every day.
What is this self-love? Imagine pouring out love in your heart to someone you love dearly — what would that feel like? Now try doing the same thing for yourself. That’s self-love, and it’s a completely foreign concept for the vast majority of people.
This one too: 5 ways to be kind to yourself
Why self-love is so important
I coach a number of people, 1-on-1 and in small and large groups — and pretty much everyone I meet is hard on themselves in some way. In some kind of stress and pain. Disappointed in themselves, angry at themselves, constantly feeling inadequate.
Do you relate to this? I think most of us can find a good chunk of this in ourselves.
This is the basic problem that most of us face, every single day: we don’t love big portions of ourselves.
This is the basic problem that most of us face, every single day: we don’t love big portions of ourselves. We beat ourselves up, all day long.
We stress out about uncertainty because we don’t think we’re good enough to deal with it. We don’t trust ourselves to stick to something, because we’ve formed a really bad picture of ourselves over the years. We get angry at ourselves for eating too much, drinking too much alcohol, messing up in a social situation, getting distracted and watching videos or playing video games, and so on and so on. We are harsh on ourselves, and don’t like how we look or who we are, in many ways.
Related: Self-care for parents: why a bubble bath just won’t cut it
Everything else isn’t enough
This affects everything in our lives. It makes us more stressed, less happy, more anxious, depressed, stuck, procrastinating, less happy in relationships, less focused, more likely to reach for comfort foods or distraction or shopping to comfort ourselves from the stress and pain of being who we are.
But if we could give ourselves love, it would start to heal all of this. Everything could shift. We could deal with uncertainty and chaos and difficulty in a much more resilient way.
Giving ourselves love is such an important act of self-care, and yet is rarely ever done.
How to embrace this powerful act of self-care
Set reminders for yourself, everywhere you go. Put reminders on your fridge, on your computer, on your phone, on your bathroom mirror, in your car, at your desk, near your TV. The reminders only need to be two words: “Love yourself.”
More on this: To be a good mum, you’ve got to raise yourself first
When you see the reminder, the act is very simple (even if it doesn’t feel natural to most people yet — give it time):
Pause and allow yourself to stay with any stress, pain, self-doubt, anger, frustration, anxiety you might be feeling. Let yourself actually feel it, physically in your body, for just a few moments. It’s OK to feel this.
Now give yourself the balm of love. As weird or silly as it feels, just try it. Imagine first that you are sending love to someone you love very much — your child, your parent, your best friend. Imagine them going through difficulty, and send love from your hear to theirs, hoping to make them better. Notice how that feels in your heart. Now try it for yourself, generating the same feeling in your heart, but sending it to yourself instead.
Feel the love as a healing balm. No matter how little you’re able to generate, feel it wash over your stress, pain, anger, doubt … like a thick, syrupy liquid soothing the pain. Let yourself receive this love like the love you’ve been craving.
It’s that simple. It only takes a few moments — feel your stress and pain, send yourself love, let yourself feel it. Do it eight times a day. Or a dozen, if you can.
You need this act of self-care. Don’t hold it back from yourself any longer.
Images by Allie Smith
I had a 15-year-old write to me and ask about figuring out ‘what to do with my life’.
‘As a high school student I’m constantly being reminded to figure out what to do with my life, what career I would like to have and so on. I definitely feel huge amounts of pressure when my teachers and parents tell me to figure out something now. I’m young and I don’t want to make a mistake and ruin my future. I know what I like and what my interests are but when I read about a job related to those interests I always feel as if I wouldn’t enjoy it and I don’t know why.’
What an extremely tough thing to figure out: what to do with your future! Now, I can’t really tell this young woman what to do, as her parents might not like that very much. But I can share what I’ve learned looking back on my life, and what I would tell my kids (oldest is 21 and still figuring things out, but I also have 17- and 16-year-old boys and a 14-year-old girl).
Here’s what I’d say.
Instead of ‘what to do with my life’, ask HOW
1. Don’t focus on the future.
Even young people who have a plan (be a doctor, lawyer, research scientist, singer), don’t really know what will happen. If they have any certainty at all, they’re a bit deluded. Life doesn’t go according to plan, and while a few people might do exactly what they set out to do, you never know if you’re one of those.
Other things come along to change you, to change your opportunities, to change the world.
Other things come along to change you, to change your opportunities, to change the world. The jobs of working at Google, Amazon or Twitter, for example, didn’t exist when I was a teenager. Neither did the job of Zen Habits blogger.
So if you can’t figure out the future, what do you do? Don’t focus on the future. Focus on what you can do right now that will be good no matter what the future brings. Make stuff. Build stuff. Learn skills. Go on adventures. Make friends. These things will help in any future.
2. Learn to be comfortable with discomfort.
One of the most important skills you can develop is being okay with some discomfort. The best things in life are often hard, and if you shy away from difficulty and discomfort, you’ll miss out. You’ll live a life of safety.
Learning is hard. Building something great is hard. Writing a book is hard. A marriage is hard. Running an ultramarathon is hard. All are amazing.
If you get good at this, you can do anything. You can start a business, which you couldn’t if you’re afraid of discomfort, because starting a business is hard and uncomfortable.
Do things now that are uncomfortable and hard, on purpose. But start with small doses.
How do you get good at this? Do things now that are uncomfortable and hard, on purpose. But start with small doses. Try exercising for a little bit, even if it’s hard, but just start with a few minutes of it, and increase a minute every few days or so. Try writing a blog or meditating every day. When you find yourself avoiding discomfort, push yourself just a little bit more (within limits of reason and safety of course).
3. Learn to be good with uncertainty.
A related skill is thriving in uncertainty. Starting a business, for example, is an amazing thing to do … but if you’re afraid of uncertainty, you’ll skip it. You can’t know how things will turn out, so if you need to know how things will turn out, you’ll avoid great projects, businesses, opportunities.
But if you can be okay with not knowing, you’ll be open to many more possibilities.
If you’re good at discomfort and uncertainty, you could do all kinds of things: travel the world and live cheaply while blogging about it. Write a book, start a business, live in a foreign country and teach English. Learn to program and create your own software, take a job with a startup, create an online magazine with other good young writers, and much more. All of those would be awesome, but you have to be fine with discomfort and uncertainty in order to achieve them.
If any opportunities like these come along, you’ll be ready if you’ve practised these skills.
4. Overcome distraction and procrastination.
All of this is useless if you can’t overcome the universal problems of distraction and procrastination. You might seize an opportunity because you’re good at uncertainty and discomfort, but then not make the most of it because you’re too busy on social media and watching TV.
Actually, distraction and procrastination are just ways of avoiding discomfort, so if you get good at discomfort you’re way ahead of most people. But there are some things you can practice — read more here.
5. Learn about your mind.
Most people don’t realise that fear controls them. They don’t notice when they run to distraction, or rationalise doing things they told themselves they wouldn’t do. It’s hard to change mental habits because you don’t always see what’s going on in your head.
If you are prepared, you can do anything you want.
Learn about how your mind works, and you’ll be much better at all of this. The best ways: meditation and blogging. With meditation (read how to do it) you watch your mind jumping around, running from discomfort, rationalising. With blogging, you are forced to reflect on what you’ve been doing in life and what you’ve learned from it. It’s a great tool for self-growth, and I recommend it to every young person.
Start with habits: A quick guide to creating good daily habits for kids
6. Make some money.
I don’t think money is that important, but making money is difficult. You have to make someone believe in you enough to hire you or buy your products/service, which means you have to figure out why you’re worthy of someone believing in you. You have to become worthy. And you have to learn to communicate that to people so they’ll want to buy or hire you. Whether you’re delivering pamphlets or selling your app in the Apple store or trying to get a job as a cashier, you have to do this.
++ 50+ jobs for teens that will benefit them for life ++
And you get better with practise.
I worked as a clerk at a bank and then a freelance sports writer when I was in high school, and those were valuable experiences for me.
Protip: save an emergency fund, then start investing your earnings and watch it grow over your lifetime.
7. Build something small.
Most people fritter their time away on things that don’t matter, like TV, video games, social media, reading news. A year of that and you have nothing to show for it. But if you did a sketch every day, or started writing a web app, or created a blog or a video channel that you update regularly, or started building a business … at the end of a year you’ll have something great. And some new skills. Something you can point to and say, “I built that.” Which most people can’t do.
Start small, and build it every day if possible. It’s like putting your money in investments: it grows in value over time.
8. Be trustworthy.
When someone hires a young person, the biggest fear is that the young person is not trustworthy. That they’ll come in late and lie about it and miss deadlines. Someone who has established a reputation over the years might be much more trusted, and more likely to be hired. Learn to be trustworthy by showing up on time, doing your best on every task, being honest, admitting mistakes but fixing them, trying your best to meet deadlines, being a good person.
If you do that, you’ll build a reputation and people will recommend you to others, which is the best way to get a job or investor.
Take risks — that’s one of the advantages of being young.
9. Be ready for opportunities.
If you do all of the above, or at least most of it, you’ll be amazing. You’ll be way, way ahead of pretty much every other person your age. And opportunities will come your way, if you have your eyes open: job opportunities, a chance to build something with someone, an idea for a startup that you can build yourself, a new thing to learn and turn into a business, the chance to submit your new screenplay.
These opportunities might come along, and you have to be ready to seize them. Take risks — that’s one of the advantages of being young. And if none come along, create your own.
10. Be prepared.
The idea behind all of this is that you can’t know what you’re going to do with your life right now, because you don’t know who you’re going to be, what you’ll be able to do, what you’ll be passionate about, who you’ll meet, what opportunities will come up, or what the world will be like. But you do know this: if you are prepared, you can do anything you want.
Prepare yourself by learning about your mind, becoming trustworthy, building things, overcoming procrastination, getting good at discomfort and uncertainty.
You can put all this off and live a life of safety and boringness. Or you can start today, and see what life has to offer you.
Lastly, what do you do when your parents and teachers pressure you to figure things out? Tell them you’re going to be an entrepreneur, start your own business, and take over the world. If you prepare for that, you’ll actually be prepared for any career.
Does your kid know what they want to be?
Feature image by Elena Koycheva ; 2 by Riccardo Mion; 3 by Mael Balland; 4 by chuttersnap
While I’m not a perfect father, I think I’m pretty good at it. Mostly because I absolutely love it. I don’t consider myself a parenting expert, but I have helped raise six kids (along with their mothers), and being a father has been one of the most rewarding things in my life.
My wife and I also have some slightly non-conventional parenting ideas that might be useful to parents who are always looking for new ways of thinking about things.
So I’m going to share the best things I’ve learned about raising children, not because my way is the best, but because it’s always helpful to have a discussion about parenting.
A really important note: Much of the work of parenting, if not most, was done by my kids’ mums (my wife Eva and my first two kids’ mum). I can only take a little credit.
Some of the best things I’ve learned about parenting
1. Your main job is just to love them.
We have to take care of their basic needs, of course, but parents add all kinds of extra things on top of that, and make the job really hard. Parenting is often not that complicated — OK, taking care of basic needs is a lot of work, but the basic job of parenting is to love your kids.
You don’t need to shape them, to pressure them to be better, to make them do all kinds of activities to become the perfect kid. They’re pretty damn perfect already. Just love them as they are, and make sure they can feel that love.
2. Don’t hover — let them fall sometimes.
Parents these days tend to be overprotective, to be constantly trying to make sure every need is met, and to be afraid of the smallest fall. Nah. Let them live. Let them have some independence. Let them go out and play without you. Let them fall down and scrape their knee. Let them fail at things. This is how they grow.
Imagine if you sheltered kids from failure and pain and struggle their whole lives… they’d be totally unprepared for the adult world! I’m not saying you should never protect your kid, but the less you can do that, without them dying, the better. Then help them cope with the failure or pain on their own, with you helping them to understand how they can do that.
Be there for them, but only to the extent that you’re helping them learn to do it on their own.
3. Harsh disciplinarian methods are more hurtful than helpful.
When I first started parenting, I would yell and spank my kids and punish them for all their wrongdoings. It was totally hurtful, and made them afraid of me. Yes, they would do everything I told them to do, but only because they were scared to do otherwise. And often they’d just hide the things they did, so I wouldn’t know.
I’ve learned to mellow out over the years, to control my temper and be more compassionate. I’m not perfect, as I said, but now I see everything as an opportunity to educate my kids, an opportunity for them to grow, and a chance for me to just love them. If your parents were disciplinarian, that doesn’t make it the way you need to parent yourself.
4. Reading to them regularly is one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I read to my kids most days. My wife and I have done that with all the kids, and it’s a wonderful way to spend time with them, to foster a love for reading that will help them for the rest of their lives, and to explore imaginative new worlds together. My kids have found a love for reading on their own that came from cuddling with me and reading Dr. Seuss and Harry Potter (a series I’ve read four times over with different kids) and Narnia and Arabian Nights and Don Quixote.
5. Let them direct their own learning.
Four of my kids are unschooled, but all of them have done learning projects on their own, and I encourage them to learn about whatever they’re interested in. Many kids are so used to top-down learning (where they’re told what and when and how to learn) that they don’t know how to direct themselves. They’ll have to learn as adults. But instead, we can encourage them to learn what they’re interested in, help them with learning projects until they can do it on their own, and have them learn like adults do.
6. But give them fun challenges and encourage them to try new things.
Self-directed learning is an incredible method, but sometimes they need inspiration. I like to encourage them to look things up, to dive deep into a topic that interests them, to learn about something they don’t know yet will interest them. I try to talk about these things in positive ways, that show how interesting I find them, and I’ve found that sometimes, that interest and curiosity are contagious.
Other times, I challenge them — let’s do a drawing challenge, a push-up challenge… let’s see if we can travel a month with only a backpack each, or memorise the capitals of all the states, or as many digits of pi as we can. Let’s try to program a simple game. Kids (and adults) respond well to fun challenges.
7. Teach them to do things on their own, early.
As soon as we could, we taught our kids to do things on their own. Tie their own shoes, brush their teeth, shower and dress themselves, make their own breakfast and lunch, wash and dry the dishes, clean the house, do their own laundry. For one thing, it made our job as parents easier, if they were helping plan meals, do the grocery shopping, and cook dinners once a week. Soon we didn’t have to do very much for them. But just as importantly, we were teaching them self-sufficiency — they don’t expect things to be done for them, and they learn that they can do anything for themselves that they want taken care of.
8. Let them take charge of things or participate in work when you can.
Along the same lines, we try to get them to take charge of things… for example, planning a trip. They do research, look for Airbnb apartments, plan train routes, book flights. When they get to adulthood, they already know how to do these things. They also know how to take responsibility. Parenting is so often about stepping back and letting the kids try things out for themselves.
9. Try a democratic process of decision-making.
When we decide where to eat out, or what we should do this weekend, we have a discussion, each contribute ideas, and take a vote. This teaches them to take part in making decisions, instead of having their lives decided for them. But it also teaches them to respect the opinions of others, and that what they want is not the only thing that matters. We do similar things when planning for a trip, deciding whether we should move to a new city, and so on.
10. Practice mindfulness with them.
I have meditated with all my kids. Not regularly, but enough that they know what it’s all about. When my daughter comes to me upset about something, we practice mindfulness of how the emotion feels in her body. Being with the emotion. When my other daughter is feeling anxiety, we talk about how to practice with that as well. They’ve also seen me meditating in the morning, so mindfulness practice becomes a normal thing for them.
More on this: Why mindfulness for kids is more than just a buzzword
11. The main way you teach them is by your example.
Speaking of watching me meditate… this is the main way that I teach them anything. By my example. By how I am in the world. If I want to teach them not to fight, I have to be peaceful. If I want to teach them to be good people, I have to be compassionate, considerate, loving. If I want to teach them to not be on their devices, I have to do the same. If I want them to be active, to eat healthily, to read, to meditate… then it starts with me doing it. And talking to them about what I’m doing and why and what I’m learning and how I’m doing it. They learn almost everything from what people around them do.
12. Don’t pretend like you know everything.
That said, while I try to do my best in life, I have to humble myself and admit that I don’t know everything. In fact, I barely know anything. I can’t always think I’m right, nor can I pretend to have all the answers, even if I’m the dad. Maybe my kids know somethings I don’t. Maybe we can learn together … but it starts with me saying, “I’m not sure, let’s find out!”
This mindset of not-knowing is where learning starts, the space that we can explore together, the space where we become open to each other. Many parents (and people in general) come at you with the stance that they know exactly what they’re doing, know the answers. This leaves no room for anything else. It’s fundamentalism.
13. Admit when you’re wrong. Apologise. Make it right.
Along those lines, when I think I’m right, and insist on it… that’s often when I’m wrong. I’ve been humbled like this so many times. What I’ve learned is… instead of continuing to pretend like I’m right, it’s so much better to admit that I’m wrong. To humble myself. Actually apologise if I’ve done anything to hurt them. And do what it takes to make it right.
14. Let them earn and pay for things early. And teach them about debt.
In our house, we don’t have an allowance. We buy them the basics of what they need, but if they want anything beyond that, they have to pay for it themselves. And earn the money through things beyond their basic chores. They might do things for us, or work for my business, or make things or do services for others to earn money. This also teaches them to save for goals. I also talk to them about the dangers of getting into debt, the high cost of credit card debt, and some simple financial truths that I’ve learned.
Thought-starter: How to talk to kids about money
15. Don’t shield them from sex and drugs and technology.
Some parents don’t want their children to hear anything about sex or drugs, and shield them from that for as long as possible. This just makes sex (for example) a taboo subject, and gives the kids an unhealthy idea of how bad it is. I’ve found it much better to speak frankly about it, and if I were going to do it all over again, I’d start that frank talk much earlier.
Sex isn’t something that should be made dirty or forbidden. It’s a natural thing that all adults do. Kids should get that sense from adults, and be helped through that confusing world by their parents rather than having to figure it out through what they hear from friends or happen upon online. I think the same is true of drugs.
Another thing that some parents shield their kids from is technology — no devices ever! But that means that kids don’t learn a healthy way to deal with technology. It’s better to just help them learn to deal with all this stuff, rather than not trust them.
16. It’s OK to hang out without them, and let them have separate time from you.
I love hanging out with my kids. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy for them to be with me every second of the day. Sometimes, they can go play by themselves, while my wife and I have alone time. Sometimes, they can have an evening at home while we go on a date (if they’re old enough). Other times, we can drop them with a relative and go on a trip by ourselves, or with friends.
I think alone time, and time away from parents, is a healthy thing for kids. Give them space. Let them learn to deal with being on their own (again, when appropriate). Give yourself space to replenish yourself, or find romance with your partner, without them.
17. Parenting ain’t over when they reach adulthood.
I used to joke, “If I get my kids to 18 years old alive, I’ve succeeded as a parent!” Of course, that’s absolute bunk. I’ve learned that parenting is far from over once they reach adulthood. Four of our kids are adults now, and it’s a whole new challenging phase of parenting for us. We’re trying to teach them how to do adult things, how to be financially self-sufficient, how to get the dream jobs they want, how to deal with relationship stuff, and much more. I love it, but it’s not like I can just retire now. Parenting is a lifelong commitment.
18. In the end, they will be the person they are.
You don’t get to decide who that is. Each kid is already a fully formed person when they’re young. They continue to grow every year, of course, but their personalities when they’re young continue to be mostly the same as they grow older. We don’t shape these kids, they are already themselves. They will choose their own paths, decide what life they want, and grow in the direction they choose. I don’t have control over any of that. In the end, that’s what we parents need to accept — we don’t really control our kids. We just try to guide them when we can. And love them for who they are.
I’m still learning about parenting and raising good people. I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing. And yet, I hope some of what I’ve learned so far will help a few of you. I love being a dad. It’s an incredible privilege, and one of the deepest joys in my life. Thank you kids. And mums.
Image by rawpixel
Before the tiny folder Marie Kondo came on the scene, there was Leo Babauta’s simplicity and decluttering tips. He’s passionate about sharing decluttering tips and way back in 2008 he shared this post on his blog Zen Habits. This is how you start decluttering when you don’t have two weeks available in order to have a conversation with everything you own…
When your home is filled with clutter, trying to tackle a mountain of stuff can be quite overwhelming.
So here’s my advice: start with just five minutes. Baby steps are important. Sure, five minutes won’t barely make a dent in your mountain, but it’s a start. Celebrate when you’ve made that start!
Then take another five minutes tomorrow. And another the next day. Before you know it, you’ll have cleared a whole closet or a room and then half your house and then… who knows? Maybe before long your house will be even less cluttered than mine. We’ll have a challenge!
For those who are overwhelmed by their clutter, here are some great decluttering tips to get you started, five minutes at a time.
Five-minute decluttering tips
1. Designate a spot for incoming papers.
Papers often account for a lot of our clutter. This is because we put them in different spots — on the counter, on the table, on our desk, in a drawer, on top of our dresser, in our car. No wonder we can’t find anything!
One of the best decluttering tips you can start with is to designate an in-box tray or spot in your home (or at your office, for that matter). Then don’t put down papers anywhere but in that spot. Got mail? Put it in the inbox. Got school papers? Put it in the inbox. Receipts, warranties, manuals, notices, flyers? In the inbox! This one little change can really transform your paperwork.
2. Start clearing a starting zone.
What you want to do is clear one area. This is your no-clutter zone. It can be a counter, or your kitchen table, or a metre-wide perimeter around your couch. Wherever you start, make a rule: nothing can be placed there that’s not actually in use. Everything must be put away.
Once you have that clutter-free zone, keep it that way! Now, each day, slowly expand your no-clutter zone until it envelopes the whole house! Unfortunately, the neighbors don’t seem to like it when you try to expand the no-clutter zone to their house, and start hauling away their unused exercise equipment and torn underwear when they’re not at home. Some people don’t appreciate simplicity, I guess.
3. Clear off a counter.
You want to get your house so that all flat spaces are clear of clutter. Maybe they have a toaster on them, maybe a decorative candle, but not a lot of clutter. So start with one counter. Clear off everything possible, except maybe one or two essential things. Have a blender you haven’t used since jazzercise was all the rage? Put it in the cupboard! Clear off all papers and all the other junk you’ve been tossing on the counter too.
5. Pick a shelf.
Now that you’ve done a counter, try a shelf. It doesn’t matter what shelf. Could be a shelf in a cupboard, or on a bookshelf. Don’t tackle the whole bookshelf — just one shelf. Clear all non-essential things and leave it looking neat and clutter-free.
6. Schedule a decluttering weekend.
Maybe you don’t feel like doing a huge decluttering session right now. But if you take the time to schedule it for later this month, you can clear your schedule, and if you have a family, get them involved too. The more hands pitching in, the better.
Get boxes and rubbish bags ready, and plan a trip to a charity to drop off donated items. You might not get the entire house decluttered during the weekend, but you’ll probably make great progress.
7. Pick up five things, and find places for them.
These should be things that you actually use, but that you just seem to put anywhere, because they don’t have good places. If you don’t know exactly where things belong, you have to designate a good spot. Take a minute to think it through — where would be a good spot? Then always put those things in those spots when you’re done using them. Do this for everything in your home, a few things at a time.
8. Spend a few minutes visualising the room.
When I’m decluttering, I like to take a moment to take a look at a room, and think about how I want it to look. What are the most essential pieces of furniture? What doesn’t belong in the room but has just gravitated there? What is on the floor (hint: only furniture and rugs belong there) and what is on the other flat surfaces?
Once I’ve visualized how the room will look uncluttered, and figured out what is essential, I get rid of the rest.
9. Create a “maybe” box.
Sometimes when you’re going through a pile of stuff, you know exactly what to keep (the stuff you love and use) and what to trash or donate. But then there’s the stuff you don’t use, but think you might want it or need it someday. You can’t bear to get rid of that stuff!
So, create a “maybe” box, and put this stuff there. Then store the box somewhere hidden, out of the way. Put a note on your calendar six months from now to look in the box. Then pull it out, six months later, and see if it’s anything you really needed. Usually, you can just dump the whole box, because you never needed that stuff.
10. Put a load in your car for charity.
All the decluttering tips in the world won’t help you if you don’t have a strategy to move things out of your home. If you’ve decluttered a heap of stuff, you might have a “to donate” pile that’s just taking up space in a corner of your room. Take a few minutes to box it up and put it in the boot of your car. Then tomorrow, drop it off.
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11. Create a 30-day list.
The problem with decluttering is that we can declutter our butts off (don’t actually try that — it’s painful), but it just comes back because we buy more stuff. So fight that tendency by nipping it in the bud: don’t buy the stuff in the first place. This is hands-down the king/queen of decluttering tips.
Take a minute to create a 30-day list, and every time you want to buy something that’s not absolutely necessary (and no, that new Macbook Air isn’t absolutely necessary), put it on the list with the date it was added to the list. Make a rule never to buy anything (except necessities) unless they’ve been on the list for 30 days. Often you’ll lose the urge to buy the stuff and you’ll save yourself a lot of money and clutter.
12. Teach your kids where things belong.
If you teach your kids where things go, and start teaching them the habit of putting them there, you’ll go a long way to keeping your house uncluttered. Of course, they won’t learn the habit overnight, so you’ll have to be very very patient with them and just keep teaching them until they’ve got it. And better yet, set the example for them and get into the habit yourself. Getting the kids on board can often be one of the only decluttering tips a parent needs!!
13. Set up some simple folders.
Sometimes our papers pile up high because we don’t have good places to put them. Create some simple folders with labels for your major bills and similar paperwork. Put them in one spot. Your system doesn’t have to be complete, but keep some extra folders and labels in case you need to quickly create a new file.
14. Learn to file quickly.
Once you’ve created your simple filing system, you just need to learn to use it regularly. Take a handful of papers from your pile, or your inbox, and go through them one at a time, starting from the top paper and working down. Make quick decisions: trash them, file them immediately, or make a note of the action required and put them in an “action” file. Don’t put anything back on the pile, and don’t put them anywhere but in a folder (and no cheating “to be filed” folders!) or in the trash/recycling bin.
15. Pull out some clothes you don’t wear.
As you’re getting ready for work, and going through your closet for something to wear, spend a few minutes pulling out ones you haven’t worn in a few months. If they’re seasonal clothes, store them in a box. Get rid of the rest. Do this a little at a time until your closet (and then your drawers) only contains stuff you actually wear.
16. Clear out your medicine cabinet.
If you don’t have one spot for medicines, create one now. Go through everything for the outdated medicines, the stuff you’ll never use again, the dirty-looking bandages, the creams that you’ve found you’re allergic to, the ointments that never had an effect on your energy or your eye wrinkles. Simplify to the essential.
17. Pull everything out of a drawer.
Just take the drawer out and empty it on a table. Then sort the drawer into three piles: 1) stuff that really should go in the drawer; 2) stuff that belongs elsewhere; 3) stuff to get rid of. Clean the drawer out nice, then put the stuff in the first pile back neatly and orderly. Deal with the other piles immediately!
18. Learn to love the uncluttered look.
Once you’ve gotten an area decluttered, you should take the time to enjoy that look. It’s a lovely look. Make that your standard! Learn to hate clutter! Then catch clutter and kill it wherever it crops up.
19. Have a conversation with your family.
Sometimes the problem isn’t just with us, it’s with the person or people we live with. I can share all these decluttering tips with you, but an uncluttered home is the result of a shared philosophy of simplicity of all the people living in the house. If you take a few minutes to explain that you really want to have an uncluttered house, and that you could use their help, you can go a long way to getting to that point. Try to be persuasive and encouraging rather than nagging and negative.
What are your best decluttering tips? What works for you?
Feature image by Logan Nolin; 1 image Charles 🇵🇭; 2 image Hannah Busing; 3 image Priscilla Du Preez; 4 image Brooke Lark.