Desert Island Decluttering

Walking on a Tropical Desert Island - Desert Island Decluttering via

Fiestaware Teacup Collection - Desert Island Decluttering via

As a natural-born magpie,

I have acquired a lot of stuff. It feels like my husband and I have spent our entire marriage dealing with an overload of stuff. I’ve tried every decluttering system there is.

Unfortunately, while many of them have given us big steps forward, we still have vast quantities of clutter. It’s like a never ending, life-long process. It’s exhausting.

Most of the common advice is focused on what to get rid of. Get rid of things you haven’t used. Get rid of things you don’t love. Get rid of things that you don’t need. This is way too hard for me. Maybe I haven’t used something, but I just know I will. I have the perfect project and will need those supplies. Most importantly, I love all the things. I wouldn’t have brought them home if I didn’t love them. I don’t want to reject them and send them off to their doom.

So at least for me, choosing what to reject doesn’t work. Instead, I focus on what to KEEP. Pick what to keep and everything else goes by default.

Desert Island Decluttering

Here’s how I do it: I imagine that I am getting my dream of owning and living on a gorgeous piece of property. It’s peaceful and the view is stunning. We’ll be living in a beautifully restored historic building. We get to move in this weekend. I make it as real in my mind as I can.

Here’s the catch: it’s a tiny one-room schoolhouse and I can only take what will fit inside.

Okay, now I am REALLY clear about what I want to keep! Instantly I can tell you off the top of my head which pieces of furniture would go and which I could live without. What is precious to me becomes crystal clear.

It’s like my own personal “desert island” test. You’ve heard that idea before, right? What would you take to live on a desert island if everything you own had to fit in a single suitcase? It’s like that, except the parameters are what you make of them.

I want every item in my home to be a “desert island” item.

Take books for example. In my fantasy one-room schoolhouse, I could walk up to my bookcase blindfolded, take a book at random, and no matter which book it was, be delighted to sit down and read it. ANY book.

If it doesn’t pass that test? It needs to go on a new adventure where it can find its desert island home. It leaves my life and goes to bless someone else’s.

Give it a try. For your mental exercise you can use any small space you want, like a yurt, sailboat or cabin combined with any amazing situation that inspires you like a tropical island, lake house or trip around the world. Really make it real for yourself. It’s happening. You can have it today, but you can only take what will fit. Figure out what those items are, the ones you’d take, and then everything else can go.

Here’s the crucial part. Do not do this while you’re looking at your stuff!! It’s too confusing. Find a quiet place with a piece of paper, and as you furnish your fantasy mental space, write down exactly what you would have in it. That’s your keep list. Keep it handy and refer to it often. If it helps you, take or find a touchstone picture that evokes the feeling you get when you imagine this perfect space you are going to live in. Put the picture and the list on a clipboard and keep it with you when you actually get down to the nitty-gritty of decluttering. You will need it.

Doing the Dirty Work

Now that you have a vision, you are going to have to sort through your stuff. Do this in small sessions. Choose a small space to work on. For lack of a better option, start at the front door and work counter-clockwise around the room. Choose only a 3’ square section at a time. Pick something up. Ask yourself:

  • Does this fit into my “desert island” vision?

  • Where will it go in that vision?

  • Where will it go in my current home?

If at any point, you get a no, then that item goes in a donate box. If you get a yes, then put it where it will go. Then go on to the next item in that space.

One of the reasons why you need to do this in SMALL chunks of time is that making those decisions is o fatiguing! You want to be able to keep that desert island vision in your mind. When you start to lose the vision or get confused, STOP. Refocus on your vision. If you can get it back, keep going, if not, leave it for another day.

But My Home is Bigger than That

Most likely your existing home is bigger than your perfect “desert island” space. True enough. But it’s okay to have very few things in your space when you are done. You can always get more. The purpose here is to eliminate anything that isn’t precious to you so that you can be a curator instead of a collector.

If You Don’t Know, Then You Don’t Know

Remember when you were younger and you asked someone how they knew their life partner was “the one,” and they said, “I just knew?” Which made no sense at all until it happened to you, and you finally felt what “just knowing” feels like?

It’s like that.

When you know, you KNOW. If you don’t know, then you DON’T KNOW.

If you are unsure, then it’s not a desert island item for you. The default answer is no. We are only interested in YES. Big, fat yes in all caps and three exclamation points. If it isn’t that kind of YES!!! then it’s a no.

Work from yes. The rest will sort itself out.

Holding an Orange Cup of Coffee - Desert Island Decluttering via

Okay, then!

Are you as fired up as I am? Thinking about this really motivates me to create the intentional, simple home that I crave. Think you could get rid of some stuff this week? What about 7 things? What about a dozen? Ooooh, what about a HUNDRED?

For more, check out these posts right here:

Or, for more general decluttering advice, check out my list of my Top 5 Favorite Decluttering Books. These are the few I always turn to.



Many thanks to the generosity of photographers whose work is shared for free onUnsplash:Ishan See From the Sky andBrigitte Tohm.


2 responses to “Desert Island Decluttering”

  1. I love this advice. I just wish I knew where to donate my beautiful but no-longer needs things that they would be appreciated. Waste makes my heart ache.

    1. Hi Annie — I know exactly what you mean. When I helped my parents downsize their home there was SO MUCH that had to get donated it really made me a little sick to my stomach. I should write up a blog post about this but off the top of my head my first choice is to give things to family and friends who might need the items — that feels really good when you can help someone you care about. I also feel good about donating to Habitat for Humanity, the library or local schools. Sometimes I sell things, too, but not very often. I do also give things to Goodwill or other thrift stores. I try to think of it as making someone’s day when they find that treasure. Hope that helps! ~Angela~

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