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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 4 million readers. As featured on: ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, TODAY, NPR, TIME, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

Decluttering Doesn’t Work

Decluttering is, by and large, a farce. If you clicked on this post to figure out how to declutter your closet, you’re in the wrong place. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything here even vaguely resembling something as trite as “67 Ways to Declutter a Messy Home.” That’s because decluttering alone doesn’t solve the problem: discussing how to get rid of your stuff answers only the what, but not the why.

The what—i.e., the how to—is easy. We all know, instinctually, how to declutter. You can start small: focus on one room at a time, making progress each day as you work toward a simplified life. You can go big: rent a dumpster and throw out everything, moving on to a more fulfilling life. Or you can take the moderate approach: plunge into a Packing Party and embrace the fun side of decluttering, enjoying the entire simplification process.

People should, however, be much more concerned with the why—the purpose behind decluttering—than the what. While the what is easy, the why is far more obscure because the nature of the why is highly individual. Ultimately, it has to do with the benefits you’ll experience once you’re on the other side of decluttering.

Decluttering is not the end result—it is merely the first step. You don’t become instantly happy and content by just getting rid of your stuff—at least not in the long run. Decluttering doesn’t work like that. If you simply embrace the what without the why, then you’ll get nowhere (slowly and painfully, by the way, repeatedly making the same mistakes). It is possible to get rid of everything you own and still be utterly miserable, to come home to your empty house and sulk after removing all your pacifiers.

When you get rid of the vast majority of your possessions, you’re forced to confront your darker side:

When did I give so much meaning to possessions?
What is truly important in life?
Why am I discontent?
Who is the person I want to become?
How will I define my own success?

These are difficult questions with no easy answers, but these questions are far more important than just ditching your material possessions: if you don’t answer them carefully, rigorously, then the closet you just decluttered will be brimming with new purchases not long from now.

Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.