The Best Way to Declutter Is to Take Everything Out of a Room—Here’s Why

published Oct 21, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

I recently read Myquillan Smith’s book “Cozy Minimalist Home: More Style, Less Stuff,” and was particularly inspired by her encouragement to try “quieting” a room. She talks about it on her site, but the process basically involves taking everything out of a room, waiting a couple days, and then slowly adding back into the room if and where necessary.

The idea is that you’ll instantly give your room a refresh and in the end, you won’t have anything in the room that you don’t love or need. It’s a flip of the typical decluttering script that tells us to subtract. Instead, quieting a room focuses on adding in the items that uplift you and meet a need.

In addition to the positive change in perspective, this method gives nearly instant and highly motivating feedback: You get to see how you feel with a cleared-out room with space to breathe, so the “cost” of adding more items to your room is far more palpable and you’ll keep a lot less.

How to “Quiet” a Room

To “quiet” a room yourself, you’ll need to clear all surfaces of decorative or unnecessary items. This includes family pictures, candles, plants, lamps, souvenirs on the bookshelves, etc. If you can, remove pictures from the wall, drapes from the windows, carpets from the floor, and even furniture from the room. The more you can take out, the fresher your start will be.

As you’re adding things back, start with furniture and take it slowly. Only return the items conducive to fulfilling the room’s function and purpose. Play with furniture arrangement and live with it for while so you can test its functionality. Once your furniture is thoughtfully arranged (and possibly minimized), slowly begin adding decorative items.

You may have realized that you love the extra light that comes in after removing the valences and that no one ever sits in that velvet armchair because it has no light source. You may find that you don’t miss a single one of the tchotchkes you removed from your shelves enough to diminish the calm and harmony your room has taken on without them. If you can’t get rid of some of these items right away, box them up to go through later.

You’re so used to seeing the things that are all around you, that you sometimes don’t even notice when something is cluttered or hard to maneuver around. By removing as much as you can from a room, you’ll give yourself new eyes and a keener sense for what you choose to surround yourself with. Before you do the hard work of decision-making and parting with things, you get to experience the joy of a fully decluttered space and, in the pursuit of getting rid of stuff, there is no greater incentive.