Declutter Your Life in 24 Hours

Turning your life from chaotic to calm isn’t as hard as you might think. Once it’s done, it will free your mind, and the rest will follow...

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Turning your life from chaotic to calm isn’t as hard as you might think. Once it’s done, it will free your mind, and the rest will follow...
Images Corbis/Click Photos
Images Corbis/Click Photos

You’re 15 minutes late for a job interview because you missed the train... because you couldn’t find your pass... because it was in your other bag... which has to be somewhere under that pile of identical black skirts that all need cleaning. And by the time you’ve Instagrammed the hilarious #wardrobesplosion, some other girl has landed your dream job. 

Ugh, hate her. But sort of want to be her, with her immaculate colourcoded wardrobe, amazing social life, streamlined e-mail inbox and accordion-folder thingy full of alphabetised tax receipts.

Getting there (“Why yes, I do have a standing blow-dry appointment.”) from where you are right now (“Why yes, I haven’t washed my hair all week.”) can feel daunting.

But the good news is that decluttering your life isn’t just about writing a to-do list of super-overwhelming tasks. It’s about figuring out what you really want in life, and letting the rest take care of itself.

“When you get clear on what you’re good at and exactly what you want – what you’re on this earth to do – the clutter naturally just starts to fall away,” explains life coach Lauren Heys. The life clutter and every other bit of real clutter... just dissipates.

The hard part isn’t the overdue tax return or the pile of handwash-only clothes in the corner. The difficult bit is figuring out your purpose. But once you do that, you discover new reserves of motivation to get your sh-t in order.

“Emotionally and mentally, once you have connected to that big goal, you’ll be able to break it down and create a must-do list of how to get there, which helps you work out what’s important and what isn’t on a daily basis,” says Lauren.

So, for example, when you realise you do want to start that online business, tidying your workspace becomes a lot more urgent than watching that new episode of Girls. Or, if friendships are your true priority, getting off Facebook messenger and organising dinner with a real human doesn’t seem so completely impossible. “It all comes down to priorities,” says Lauren. “When your priorities are in order, you’ll feel calmer and then your environment quickly begins to reflect that.”

There’s still something to be said about identifying and taking action on individual areas of life-clutter too. And Lauren agrees: “When there’s something hanging over your head, whether it’s an e-mail you haven’t sent or a close friend you haven’t seen in ages, your brain can’t give its full attention to what you’re actually trying to achieve. And so you end up doing all of the things – and none of them well.”

And so, in the interest of your mental clarity, total wellness and a dealt-with “to-Carousell” pile, we’ve put together four common areas of stuck-in-a-rutness, along with handy, easy-to-follow ways to deal with every single one of them. Don’t worry, you won’t be needing any highlighters, post-it notes or manila folders to do this.

Your work

A desk covered in two-week-old takeaway cups and coffee-stained yearly reports isn’t the only kind of “clutter” you’ll find at work. A day characterised by stress, panic, meltdowns and one (avoidable) disaster after another is also a kind of clutter. And a pretty common one at that, to be fair. (Guilty!)

“A cluttered work life is one in which people chase unrealistically high standards and get stuck in a loop of competing with people around them, which can lead to stress,” says clinical psychologist and corporate trainer Dr Tom Nehmy. Instead of feeling focused and at ease throughout the day, you’re constantly measuring your performance against those around you, wondering who’s the boss’ favourite, who’s getting the LA trip and aiming for perfection in pretty much everything you do.

“Being efficient at work is not about being perfect. It’s about deciding when you’re ‘good enough’ and moving onto the next thing," explains Dr Tom. Because, let's face it, your boss isn’t going to notice that you stayed up until midnight rewriting that report five times, but she is going to see that you’re knackered and off your game the next day.

If this particular work scenario sounds we-read-your-diary familiar, the best way to break the loop is by practising self-compassion. “Instead of punishing yourself for mistakes, which are unavoidable, be encouraging and accepting of the fact that you’re only human,” Dr Tom says. “You can never tick every single box, but when you are prioritised and at ease, you’ll reach that zone of peak productivity.”


Write down five common criticisms you regularly make about your work-self. Now, answer each one the way you would if a friend complained that way about herself. If you wouldn’t speak to her like that, don’t speak to yourself like that.

Your wardrobe

We all hang onto things we don’t need for reasons that run from nostalgia to all-out laziness. So just let the fact that Jennifer Lopez has a closet so big she has to use a barcode to organise it help you feel better about your little wardrobe situation.

Working out why your closet is an overstuffed hazmat zone is the first step to actually dealing with it. Are you waiting for a day when you’re a totally different size? (That would explain the 21 size-eight skirts, then.)

Do you buy too much stuff you don’t need because it makes you feel happier/calmer/less bored? (Shopping your emotions away is about as sensible as eating them.) Do you struggle with decisionmaking, and hang onto old stuff to delay making a tough choice? Are you waiting for the magical “one day soon” when you finally feel like spending the weekend indoors, folding clothes?

The next step is a little reality check – ouch, yes, but nowhere near as demoralising as staring down a bunch of too-small jeans every morning. Now start building the wardrobe that serves your true, best self, right now.

Practically speaking, figure out if you have more clothing than your space can realistically manage. “Anything that ends up hidden from view won’t actually get worn, and we’ll often end up buying duplicates,” explains professional organiser Robyn Amott. “If you’ve got no hanging space, store things in drawers in a filing cabinet system, rather than in piles. That way, you’ll see everything you have and where it goes back.”

And remember, if dealing with your huge wardrobe is just an epic timesucker that doesn’t serve a larger goal in life, there’s actually, hands-down, no shame in paying someone to do it for you. (Or, better still, recruiting mum.)


Schedule time to clean out your wardrobe – one hour a night for a week, a Sunday, or one shelf a day. Do it while you’re on the phone or catching up with Game of Thrones on the laptop – whatever takes your mind off the “boring-ness” of the task.

Your friendships

The attention-sapping, stress-inducing powers of social media are well-known. But we’re just so smitten with our Twitter/Facebook/Instagram feeds, it’s hard to switch off. And by hard, we mean pretty much never going to happen.

But one way to reduce the brain clutter that social media creates is to keep in mind that not all “friends” are created equal. There are your besties, then there’s that super-commenty girl you used to work with at Topshop back when you were 17. Err, not the same thing. So you don’t need to lavish these people with equal shares of your attention or likes.

“When we share a lot of personal information, it lets people feel much closer to us than they really are,” says life coach Bobbi Chegwyn. Solution: if you don’t want that girl you haven’t seen in ages commenting on the whole pimple situation you’ve got going on, don’t post about it anywhere she’ll see it.

And when things on social media turn mean (as they so often do) take a step back and remember today’s fresh drama probably isn’t about you. “Everyone is telling their own story,” says Bobbi. “It often feels personal when it has nothing to do with you.” So stick the iPad in a drawer for an hour and breathe.


Don’t sleep with your phone within arm’s reach. Letting Instagram and Facebook be the last things you look at before you sleep and the first things you see waking up keeps the noise at a permanently high volume.

Your fitness

That gym membership, this diet plan, those drawers full of dusty supplements. Despite our best intentions, overcomplicating our approach to health and wellness is easier than falling off a treadmill.

Which is double-crazy because it’s one area of life with ridiculously simple foundations: exercising and eating right (most of the time).

“The more restrictive you are, the more rules you create and the more likely you are to fail,” says Leanne Hall, nutrition coach and clinical psychologist. “And when we’re not realistic about what we’re aiming for, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.”

If you’re bummed out because you hit the gym four times this week and still don’t look like Karlie Kloss, it’s time to switch up your goals, and make sure the form of exercise you choose is something you – wait for it – actually like. “If you hate going to the gym,” Leanne says, “then just don’t join one.” Simple, right?

Beware of your looping inner dialogue about not having enough time to exercise either. “Clients are constantly telling me they need more hours in the day,” Leanne says. “But you can’t have everything. To commit to exercise, something else has to give.”

Also, concentrate on stacking up victories, rather than signing up to your work’s triathlon team before you’ve dusted off your trainers. “Success feeds on success,” Leanne says. “Stack up those victories and you’ll see progress.”


Give yourself credit for even small fitness victories and ditch anything that creates distraction and mental conflict. This includes outdated diet books, calorie-counting apps, and that juicer you used once that makes you feel guilty each time you walk past it. Go with what works.