How to Go Zero Waste and Do Less Dishes

If I had to say there was a drawback to living plastic-free or zero waste, then I would say it is this: the dishes.

There’s not really any way round it. Choose reusables and you’ve got to wash them up. The more reusables, the more washing up.

Sigh.

It’s not that I hate washing up. I love washing up… well, once it’s done and put away. (I’m less of a fan of the dirty dishes.) It’s not that I mind the process itself either. It’s just that there are always dishes.

Always. Dishes.

Still, once we’ve accepted that there will be dishes, we can do things to ensure there are less dishes. The less the merrier, I think! (That’s not a saying, but it should be.) Because we’re not going back to single-use plastic and disposables, right?

So let’s do what we can to make less dishes.

To Dishwasher or Not to Dishwasher?

As soon as I mention dishes, someone brings up dishwashers. Yes, I’ve read the studies, and it is true that some dishwashers use less water than filling a sink and doing the dishes by hand.

A modern water-efficient dishwasher might use 15 litres per cycle. Depending on the size of your sink, how careful you are with water and how long it takes for the water to run hot, plus any rinsing, hand washing can use a fair bit more.

There are other factors. Dishwashers use electricity. They are also big chunks of metal and plastic (those resources had to be extracted from the ground), and take up a fair amount of space in a small kitchen.

I have solar hot water, meaning it comes from a tank heated by solar panels whereas a dishwasher would run from the mains. I have a fairly minimalist kitchen, and I’d run out of things before the dishwasher is even full. (This is by design – for creating less dishes. I’ll come back to this.)

Plus, I have unresolved childhood trauma around dishwashers. Don’t ask ;) All things considered, a dishwasher won’t work for me, and I’m happy with my sink.

If you have a big family, you already have a dishwasher or you know that a dishwasher will be the thing that makes less waste possible for you, go for it! Look after it, service it, get it fixed and make it last.

For those who have taken the path of more dishes and no dishwasher, here’s my tips for keeping them to a minimum.

Not Dirty? Don’t Wash It.

Now I’m not advocating for risking food poisoning here, but we can be sensible about these things. And if something isn’t dirty, we can get away with not washing it.

Level 1. The wipe.

Does it need to be washed, or could it just be wiped? Plates that have had toast or dry crackers tend to accumulate nothing more than a few breadcrumbs. These can be brushed off.

The same goes for lunchboxes that have had sandwiches in them, and bowls used to weigh out dry ingredients. Sometimes I’ll wipe out a jar from the pantry rather than wash it if I know it is something I use often (pasta, oats).

I find a wipe with a clean dishcloth or a dry tea towel is enough.

Level 2. The rinse.

Some things can pass with a quick rinse, particularly bowls, plates and cutlery (not forks) if rinsed straight after using. It depends what is was used for and by whom of course. I’d be happy to rinse a spoon that I’d used to measure out coffee, less so if someone had just eaten a dessert with it.

I’m also happy to quickly rinse out pans that have steamed vegetables or boiled pasta, too.

Oh, and I save the rinse water and add to the compost or worm farm.

Level 3. Wash it up.

Actual washing up is best for anything baked on and greasy, most cooking pans, dinner cutlery, day-old lunchboxes, pantry jars that have been stored to a while, anything sticky.

Coming back to food poisoning, the highest risk foods include ice-cream, rice and animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy). I’d recommend washing up anything that contained these foods.

Own Less Stuff

There are two reasons why owning less stuff helps with the dishes. The first is that with less stuff, you use up all the stuff more quickly and need to wash it before your kitchen gets swallowed by unwashed dishes.

This doesn’t create less washing up, but it does create less overwhelm, and keeps things more manageable.

The second is that when your stuff is all used and dirty and you need something but can’t be bothered to do the dishes, you’ll spot clean that one item – or just use it again as is – which means the number of dishes don’t get any bigger. And some things get used again before being washed up.

If I’m out of side plates for lunch I’ll figure out which one had toast for breakfast, dust the crumbs off and use that again. Same for mugs and making tea. No net gain in dishes.

Eat Like No-One is Watching

Well, when no-one is watching, does it matter if you use a proper plate? Or could you just eat out of the saucepan? Classy no, but if it saves on dishes then I am willing to make these sacrifices.

Quite often if I reheat my lunch I’ll eat it out of the pan, or if it was stored in a container I’ll then eat it in that rather than dirty a plate. If there’s the last of something coming out of the fridge I’ll eat that straight out of the container, too.

Me 1, dishes 0.

Make Your Dishes Multi-Purpose

If try to avoid washing something up after it has been used once. If I can get a few uses out of something before it heads to the dirty dishes pile, that’s a win. If I’ve used a bowl to weigh something out, I’ll try to use that same bowl for the meal. I might even store leftovers in it, in the fridge.

I’m a big fan of using the saucepan I used for cooking as the leftover container – meaning, I stick the saucepan straight in the fridge. Especially if the food can be reheated in the saucepan. Otherwise I’m washing the pan, putting the leftovers in a container, emptying the contents back into the pan the next day and washing it all again.

Saucepans are excellent stainless steel storage containers that we already own.

I do the same thing with glass jars. Just finished off the pasta? That jar is good for leftovers in the fridge.

Plan Your Meals with the Dishes in Mind

Just thinking about all the prep you need to do in advance can save on dishes, particularly with trickier-to-clean items like blenders. I like to time my prep to maximise the making of stuff and minimising the washing up.

For example, I might make nut butter, scrape that out of the blender and then make nut milk (usually with a different type of nut). Once emptied, I might make pesto, and then whizz up some tomatoes. Four things and one wash.

I don’t need to eat all these things that day, as they will keep in the fridge for a few days. Rinsing out a jar later is less onerous than cleaning the blender. Again.

Make Extra

I never make a one portion meal. Not only because of dishes but also because it is never twice as much work to make twice as much. I always make extra, and pop the leftovers in the fridge or freezer for later.

Reheating something uses far less dishes than having to chop, steam, boil or stir-fry a bunch of different things every single meal.

Plus, I am a messy cook. Stuff gets everywhere. I might as well trash the kitchen once, and then enjoy the relative tidyness for a few days.

Sometimes I’ll just double or quadruple the recipe. Other times I’ll just cook more of an ingredient. I always make a big pan of rice or quinoa, and keep the leftovers to make stir-fry or to go with something else the next day.

In an ideal world Sunday is my day to do this, when there is more time to make things and clean up. It feels good to start the week without an onerous pile of dishes every night. If that doesn’t work, it tends to be mid-week when I’m sick of the chaos!

Eat Leftovers Cold

I like leftovers cold. I don’t have a microwave, and to save on using a pan to heat things up I just started eating my leftovers cold. Pasta salad is a thing, rice salad is a thing, so it isn’t that strange not to heat things up.

It does depend on the weather – in the depths of winter I’m prepared to wash than pan for the heat it gives!

There’s no miraculous way to end the dishes, but there are little tweaks we can do to create less of them. On the plus side, there’s no hauling bags of trash to the kerb every week, and there’s no trashing of the planet, by contributing to the litter/landfill/plastic problem.

Plus there’s something quite satisfying about a gleaming stack of glass and stainless steel. And if the options are creating dishes or creating plastic pollution, I know where my choice lies.

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you have any tips for doing less dishes, we want to hear them! Do you have a dishwasher, or do you manage without? How do you keep the dishes under control? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


8 Zero Waste, Plastic-Free and Sustainable Lifestyle Books for 21st Century Living

Times are changing. It wasn’t that long ago that the section in the library or in the local book store about green living had a couple of books about keeping chickens, preserving your entire homegrown harvest and going off-grid, a few more about saving the planet without even leaving your armchair, and not very much in between.

Plus, even finding that section in the first place was a mission.

But over the last few years, the number of books focused on living more sustainably and reducing waste, particularly for those of us that live in cities and suburbs, has blossomed.

The best thing is that these books are practical. Live in an apartment? Still in college? Have a baby or young kids? Trying to make your budget stretch further? There’s still plenty that can be done!

I’ve put together a list of some of my favourite books taking zero waste living, going plastic-free and making sustainable choices into the 21st century. They are all books I’ve actually read. They are all different, which is great: different people are on different journeys, and need different inspiration at different times.

Rather than compare, I’ve tried to articulate not only what the book is about but also the style and tone, and who it is ideal for.

Just because something isn’t featured here, that doesn’t mean it isn’t great – it probably means I haven’t read it (yet)! And I do intend to update this list as more good books are released into the world.

Lastly, this post does use some affiliate links. As always, I encourage supporting your local library or your local independent bookstore (if you’re lucky enough to have one) before buying online.

Zero Waste by Shia Su

Shia is from Germany, and has a popular Instagram account called Wasteland Rebel. She lives a zero waste lifestyle with her husband in urban Germany, and is also a minimalist, and vegan.

Zero Waste is a great beginner’s guide with colour photos, well structured and clearly laid out. The content is both thoughtful and practical, and her tone is helpful and non-judgmental. She explains the premise behind the zero waste movement and touches on some of the bigger issues at the core of the waste “problem”, whilst making this a book focused on solutions.

Shia talks about the choices she has made as well as offering alternatives and encouraging readers to find their own way.

Suited for those new to the zero waste movement, or interested in learning how others make zero waste living work for them

Worldwide delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK stockists

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Waste Not by Erin Rhoads

Erin is a zero waste blogger from Melbourne on the east coast of Australia, who writes the blog The Rogue Ginger. We started writing about plastic-free and zero waste living around the same time, although it took a while for us to connect – and when we did it was interesting to see how much similarity there was in our journeys. I’m very happy to call Erin a good friend of mine.

Erin’s book is an in-depth look into what zero waste is and a practical guide to wasting less. As well as the obvious things like food shopping and choosing reusables, Erin covers weddings, babies, mending, activism and some of the lesser talked-about aspects of living waste-free.

Waste Not is very comprehensive, and written in a gentle, encouraging tone with lots of stories of Erin’s journey along the way. There are recipes and how-to’s and plenty of step-by-steps, although Erin is very clear to emphasize that she does not advocate making everything from scratch.

Suited to anyone who wants a really comprehensive introduction and immersion into the topic, or who wants to get serious about zero waste living. This book isn’t just about why – it’s about how. It’s written in a way that is very easy to read, although the sheer amount of content means it will take a while to work through – trust me, it is most definitely worth it.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Waste Not Everyday by Erin Rhoads

Erin wrote a second book Waste Not Everyday as a sister book to Waste Not, published a year apart. With Waste Not Everyday, Erin wanted to create something more digestible for people who weren’t quite ready to immerse themselves in zero waste, or who wanted quick tips and easy-to-grasp ideas to inspire rather than a comprehensive step-by-step road map to change.

Waste Not Everyday is divided into 365 tips, with simple recipes and heaps of great ideas for reducing, reusing and reconnecting. It’s really easy to dip in and out of, it’s fun and it’s still packed with good ideas.

Suited to anyone who find big in-depth books intimidating, or wants simple inspiration and is happy to go and do their own research to find out more.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

Not yet published in UK/USA/CAN.

A Zero Waste Life in 30 Days by Anita Vandyke

Anita is from Sydney, Australia, although she spends half her time in San Fransisco, and has a popular zero waste Instagram account called Rocket Science (she’s also an aeronautical engineer, and currently studying medicine).

Anita’s book is very different to Erin’s – it’s small, light and easy to read although still full of ideas for living with less waste. Beautifully presented, with illustrations rather than photos. The tone and style is very similar to the posts Anita shares via Instagram, with hints, tip and tricks, giving the reader ideas and inspiration to take away.

Although the book is called A Zero Waste Life in 30 Days and presented as a tip for each day, the actual changes suggested are more about changing our mindsets, habits and behaviours than making simple daily swaps.

Suited to anyone who doesn’t have the time or inclination to read a more in-depth book, or who likes their information in bite-size portions. The book is an entree of the the ideas behind living a zero waste life, written to inspire and motivate rather than providing a step-by-step of how to get there.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble |Indiebound


The Family Guide to Waste-Free Living by Lauren and Oberon Carter

Lauren and Oberon Carter are also from Australia (they live in Tasmania) but their zero waste living experience differs from the media stereotype of the young urban-dwelling woman-only lifestyle: they live on a 850m2 block in Hobart with their three daughters, whom they homeschool, and grow a lot of their own food. They also run the Zero Waste Tasmania Facebook page and an online store called Spiral Garden.

A Family Guide to Waste-Free Living covers a lot of topics not delved into by the other zero waste books on the market: there’s much more focus on doing things from scratch, growing food and the self-sufficiency side of zero waste living. It’s very much a family-friendly guide, with some less commonly seen but definitely practical DIYs, and beautiful photos throughout.

Suited to anyone who loves the idea of embracing the DIY, self-sufficiency side of living in a modern, 21st century way. This book is for those wanting to go further than the more straightforward and most talked-about swaps; and for those interested to learn more about how a family of five can live waste free.

Worldwide Stockists:

Book Depository

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks


Live Green by Jen Chillingsworth

Jen lives in Yorkshire in the UK with her husband and teenage son, and her Instagram account is Jen Little Birdie. She writes about slow and simple living rather than zero waste specifically, but there is so much alignment with her content that I had to include it here – plus I love her tone and voice.

Jen’s book is tiny – it almost fits in the palm of my hand – yet it packs the content in. This book is brimming with ideas. It’s beautifully illustrated in full colour, with six sections: Green Home & Garden, Eco Household, Eat Green, Slow Fashion, Natural Beauty and Simple Christmas. The concept is one idea a week for a whole year. Jen is thoughtful, thorough and there are lots of practical how to’s and recipes to support the ideas and help the reader take next steps.

Suited to anyone at the beginning of their sustainability journey or looking for some next steps, who wants ideas for living more sustainably in an easily digestible format – but still with practical how-to’s. With thoughts on energy efficiency, slow fashion and mindfulness, Live Green covers a broader range of topics than many zero waste books. And that’s a good thing – these issues are all interconnected, after all.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | Indiebound


Less Stuff by Lindsay Miles

Of course I’m including my own book here! If you haven’t met me before, I’m Lindsay, and I’ve been living plastic-free and zero waste since 2012, and writing this blog since 2013. My minimalism journey (or my journey to ‘enough’ as I like to call it, because labels can be so polarising) started because I was struggling with having too much stuff and hating the idea of waste.

It took a lightbulb moment for me to realise that keeping stuff I didn’t need, didn’t use and didn’t like was actually a huge waste – there had to be (and is) another way.

Less Stuff is a book about decluttering but it’s more than that, it’s about redefining our relationship with stuff. How we choose things, how we use things, and most importantly – what we can do with our things when we’re done with them. It’s a practical guide with a step-by-step approach, and in particular there’s a big focus on the ‘how’ of finding new homes for our old things.

Suited to anyone who thinks they’ve got too much stuff, those of us who feel guilty throwing things in the bin and anyone wanting to redefine their relationship with their things.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Simplicious Flow by Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson is a journalist and TV presenter most well-known as the founder of I Quit Sugar, but she is also passionate about reducing food waste (among other things). Her last I Quit Sugar book, Simplicious Flow is actually a zero-waste cookbook.

With Simplicious Flow Sarah wanted to do things differently. Not just with the recipes, but with the whole cookbook-making process (she wrote an interesting piece about the behind-the-scenes here). Talking of content, this book is packed full: there are 348 recipes that range from the kinds of recipes you’d expect in a cookbook to a 3-page spread on using up jar dregs, and a banana cake that uses banana peels.

Suited to those who already have a bit of confidence in the kitchen and want to make more foods from scratch, and anyone passionate about reducing their food waste at home. I suspect this book might overwhelm absolute beginners partly due to its sheer size and partly due to the ‘flow’ which means recipes move from one to another. Sarah’s recipes use a lot of meat, fish, eggs and dairy so if you’re vegan or plant-based this is something to consider. It’s family-friendly, with recipes for kids included.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Waterstones


As I said, I’m hoping to add more to these as I get round to reading them. On my to-read list, Tara Button’s A Life Less Throwaway, Kathryn Kellogg’s 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste and Mike Berners-Lee’s How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything. All other suggestions welcome!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – what good books on sustainability have you read? Which did you love? Which didn’t quite work for you? Have you read any of these and what were your thoughts? Any new releases you’re looking forward to reading? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

5 Mantras for Buying Better

Nobody intends to buy things and not use them, but of course – it happens. We buy clothes that we end up never wearing, we buy tools or gadgets we end up never using, we buy games we end up never playing… and the list goes on.

I, for one, was particularly guilty of buying clothes that I never wore. There were a myriad of reasons for this. I had a tendency to buy things ever slightly on too-small side (wishful thinking on my part), I’d buy things that suited the model on the billboard but not me, I’d buy things that looked nice (on the hanger) but just weren’t practical for wearing to do the kinds of things I actually do.

Oh, and of course I’d totally confuse the “bargain price” as a reason to buy things, without giving much thought to whether they were useful or practical – I was too focused on the “money saved”.

Oh the irony, when I could have saved 100% of my money and bought nothing at all.

This pursuit of bargains started out as sales shopping from regular stores, but when I first started buying things second-hand I noticed another huge spike in my shopping – there was a whole new category of “bargain” to be discovered!

When I began my journey to less stuff back in 2013, I started to notice these patterns in my habits when it came to buying things I then didn’t use. I decluttered slowly, and began appreciating my new-found freedom from yet-another-weekend-of-endless-sorting.

I knew I had to protect this space from a new influx of clutter.

Decluttering is hard work. There was no way I wanted to go through that again! This had to be a one-time journey for me.

I’ve put in place a framework (or call them ‘rules’, if you like!) around how to make better buying decisions. The goal is that I only buy things that I truly need and will use often.

I don’t want to spend my money on stuff I never use that I then feel guilty about and have to tidy up and maintain and look after. No thank you.

Of course I’m not perfect and stuff occasionally slips through the gaps, but having a structure in place really helps with making better choices.

1. Do I Need It?

You’d think this would be obvious. But often we say we need things, meaning – I have to have that! – rather than – I actually need this. If you’ve ever seen a pair of shoes or a handbag or a new gadget or [insert shiny new thing here] and said “ohhhhmygoodness I need this!” then you know exactly what I mean.

We don’t need the thing, but we’re enthralled by it, we love the design or the style or the ingenuity of it, and so we want to buy it.

But often things we ‘need’ (as opposed to things we need) don’t actually get used, or they don’t get used often enough to justify us buying them.

So the first question to ask is honestly, do I need it?

2. Will I Use It (Often)?

We can justify our needs by telling ourselves we will use the item. And maybe we will. But how much? And ultimately, is that worth the price?

One of my favourite rules around this is the idea of ’30 wears’. Meaning, when I buy an item of clothing, do I know that I will wear it 30 times?

This means that for me, items like underpants, jumpers, and comfy jeans get a big tick. And items like fancy dresses purchased for a wedding, formal wear and high heels get a no.

If I can’t see myself going to 30 weddings or 30 formal dinners in the near future, I can’t justify buying the item. I can make do with what I have, borrow from a friend, or maybe hire something.

So when I’m thinking about buying something, I ask myself what would be a realistic amount of use for that item, and whether I would use it that much.

If I need something once, for a specific task, then I try to borrow it instead. I don’t need to own every single thing I might use once. That can amount to an awful lot of (barely used) stuff.

If I need something short-term, then I try to buy second-hand and commit to passing it on to someone else or back to the charity shop when its useful time with me has come to an end.

3. Is It Made to Last (and is it fit for purpose)?

I am sure I’m not the only one who finds it super annoying when stuff breaks. Rather than wait for something to break only to find out that the item is non-repairable and the manufacturer would rather sell me a whole new one, I now think about this before I buy stuff.

So I think about what it’s made of, how it’s made, whether there are any breakable parts, whether it’s possible to buy spare parts should something break, and how easy it would be to fix.

With tech, I try to buy the most up-to-date version I can to make sure it lasts, whilst steering clear of anything that seems like a fad (as someone who had a minidisc player and a VHS collection, I’m well aware that technology gets superceded).

Coming back to clothes, for example, I try to steer clear of anything that is definitely dry clean only (I’m not going to get it dry cleaned – I can’t bear the thought of all those chemicals), I avoid excessive embellishments such as sequins (they’ll detach quickly making the garment look old, and I know I’m not going to sew them on again) or anything that I know won’t make it through 30 cycles of a washing machine.

4. Wait 30 Days

So far, so practical – but there’s definitely a place in life for beautiful things, things that we ‘need’ because they bring us joy, or allow us to support an artist whose work we love, or because life is allowed to be fun too.

(I’m not a total stick-in-the-mud, honestly!)

The issue is that there are so many beautiful things, that if we buy them unchecked we end up with a house full of things that are no longer beautiful and fun so much as mess-inducing and overwhelming.

To help me navigate this, I have a rule that I let wants brew for 30 days. If I see something I ‘need’, I leave it for 30 days and then I come back and make a decision.

I don’t make a note, because I think that if I can’t remember after 30 days, I really couldn’t have ‘needed’ it in the first place.

The things that really have a place in my heart, I remember.

And if I come back in 30 days, and the thing has gone, I consider that it just wasn’t meant to be. No doubt there will be something just as lovely – no, probably even more lovely – just around the corner.

5.What Will Happen to It Afterwards?

I don’t like putting things in the bin. You’ve probably noticed. So a big consideration for me is what will happen to this item either at the end of its life, or when I no longer need it any more.

Certain brands, products and materials have a great second-hand market. Take Lego – you’ll rarely see that in the charity shops, and there are sets that are decades old selling for a good price on online classifieds.

Some stuff keeps its value.

So I try to choose products and brands that are made to last and that someone else might want. Whilst I buy things intending to use them forever, it doesn’t always pan out that way. At least I know someone else will want what I have.

For those things that get used until very my life expired? Some materials can be repurposed, reused or recycled. Others can’t. Natural fibres can be composted. Polyester is plastic.

Mixed materials are difficult to separate and that makes it harder to reuse those resources.

I try to give these factors consideration when I bring things into my home, and choose the most recycable or compostable materials.

We can’t predict the future, but we can make best guesses about whether we need stuff and will use it, and we can consider the intended lifespan of this stuff, and how we will let go afterwards.

Life doesn’t always go as planned, but when we choose to buy things, we can do our best to make sure the odds are in our favour. It’s not just about hoping the purchases we make are good ones, it’s about knowing our personal weaknesses, and having a framework to make better choices.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any rules when making purchases to ensure the stuff you buy gets put to good use and doesn’t end up being a waste of money? How do you decide whether to purchase or not? What things do you get particularly stuck on? Any other helpful tips? Please share in the comments below!


3 (More) Assumptions You’re Making About Decluttering…And Why You’re Right

After writing last week’s post all about assumptions that we make about decluttering that are actually wrong (no, decluttering something that you never use, don’t need and don’t like is not a waste – you can read all about these assumptions here), I wanted to continue with this theme – but talk about some other assumptions we make that are actually right.

Yes, some of those assumptions we make about decluttering are most definitely right.

I want to talk you through three of the assumptions I made before I started my decluttering journey and that – now I’m out the other side – still hold true.

I also want to talk you through why they aren’t necessarily bad things, and give you some tips for staying on track.

4. Decluttering is hard.

I’m not going to lie or try to pretend otherwise: decluttering is hard. Yes there are people who find it easy to let go of things. (I’m not one of them.) The thing about decluttering is that it is the removal of clutter – and people who are good at letting things go tend not to have clutter in the first place.

The definition of clutter is “an untidy collection of things” and those people who find it easy to let things go do not amass collections of things.

The rest of us – well by the time we realise there are collections of things that bother us, those collections tend to be sizeable amounts. We need to declutter a lot, and it’s hard.

But hard is not impossible.

I think a lot of the “it’s so hard” feeling comes because by the time we notice that we have all this clutter and need to do something about it, it’s becoming a little overwhelming.

We realise it’s overwhelming and we want it gone – now!

But we forget that this stuff took us months and often years to accumulate, so wanting it gone in an afternoon is wishful thinking.

(Well, unless you order skip bin and toss the lot. I think, not only is that an incredible waste of useful stuff, but how can we possibly change our relationship with things if we don’t take the time to consider why we bought these things and why we’re letting go of them now? How will we ever learn the lessons that stop us just accumulating more stuff and having to repeat the whole process again?)

We think decluttering is hard when we think of it as a task, because we then become overwhelmed with the enormity of it. Really, we need to think of decluttering as a project.

We need to simplify into manageable steps.

Divide a Big Project into Manageable Tasks

Once we think of it as a project, we can start to split it down into manageable tasks.

First, we can prioritise our spaces and stuff according to what is difficult and what is easy, what will have a big impact and what will have less impact.

I talk about this in a lot more detail in my book ‘Less Stuff’, but the premise is this: start with the easy stuff that will make a big difference – either to the look or feel of a room, to the surface clutter, or simply for your sanity levels – and start there.

That way you’ll not find it too challenging and will see results quickly – and that keeps you motivated to do more!

The garage might be desperately in need of a clearout but if you know there are still boxes of stuff in there from when you last moved 20 years ago, it’s not going to be the best place to start.

Batch Your Tasks

Second, I’m a big fan of ‘batching’, which means do the same task a few times before moving on the the next thing.

For example, gather together items and sort them into how you’re going to deal with them, and once you’ve got a full box of things to sell or things to donate, move onto dealing with these.

Dealing with one item at a time is woefully inefficient. By the same token, waiting until you have 15 boxes of stuff you’d like to sell will become so overwhelming you won’t want to look at it.

Also, the longer we leave taking action, the more likely we are to convince ourselves that we did need things after all – and unpack those boxes.

So batch. Find a few things you no longer need, decide what to do with those items, deal with them, and then find the next few things.

Decluttering (the entire house) might seem hard, but listing a few books on the Buy Nothing group is easy. Donating some unwanted gift food items to the Food Bank is easy. Selling a couple of unworn dresses is easy.

Decluttering might seem hard, but it is also simple. Let things go, one at a time.

As a wise philosopher once said, a journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step.

5. Decluttering takes time.

Yes, decluttering takes time. Just as accumulating the clutter took time, letting it go takes time. I don’t believe anyone can (responsibly) declutter a whole house, or even a whole room, in a single afternoon.

I think it takes weeks, sometimes months, and maybe even years (depending on how much stuff we have when we start, and how much time we can dedicate to letting it go).

But taking time does not mean taking forever. There is an end. And you will get there.

The journey is just as important as the destination.

When we declutter, we aren’t just physically letting go of stuff, we’re de-owning it. To do that sometimes means letting go of the ideas we attach to the item. Whether that’s guilt or regret or fear, we attach a lot of emotions to our stuff. We have to let go of these as well as the actual object.

It’s about finding acceptance with who we are now (no, hot pink really doesn’t suit me; no, as much as I love the idea of playing the guitar I know I’ll never be disciplined enough to practice; no, I’ll never fit back into that dress I wore at that party in 1977).

We need the time to learn the lessons. We need the time to test our fears (because sometimes we really aren’t sure, and no-one wants to buy stuff they decluttered back again). We need to develop a new, better relationship with our stuff.

All that time we’re in the process of decluttering stuff but not yet finished, we’re learning.

So yes, decluttering takes time, but that is a good thing. All things that are truly rewarding and worthwhile take time.

6. Decluttering is oh-so worth it.

We know that those piles of things are driving us crazy. We know that “reorganising the linen cupboard – again” is not the best use of a long weekend or day off work. We know that madly panicking just before leaving the house because we’ve no idea where our stuff is, except that it is in one of the piles, isn’t helping our blood pressure levels.

We know that less stuff makes us less stressed. We know it gives us more time. We know it gives us more freedom. Research tells us that, and so do those people who’ve successfully decluttered. I’ve never ever come across an article or a person that said “I got read of all that stuff I didn’t need and was so overwhelmed by the calm and the clear space that I had to go and buy a bunch of pointless junk to fill it again”.

So yes, decluttering is immensely worthwhile. It can be hard, and it can take time, which is why it is so easy to talk ourselves out of it, or maybe justify not doing it at all.

Because ultimately, less clutter, less mess and less stress is worth it. More time, more freedom and more calm is worth it. The work might not be easy, but the results speak for themselves.

‘Less Stuff: Simple Zero-Waste Steps to a Joyful and Clutter-Free Life’ by Lindsay Miles is available to order now from all good bookstores and online.