5 Overwhelming Areas in Life You Can Declutter in 15 Minutes (Or Less)

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woman reading a book on a chair in an empty room

I’ve studied and applied minimalism for a year now. It’s one of my favorite philosophies of all time. But when I first got into minimalism, it wasn’t easy.

The whole shebang of simplifying and decluttering life used to feel endlessly exhausting. I felt pressured to get rid of 95% of my possessions, wear the same shirt every day, and live out of a backpack.

Soon, I found this ironic. And so, I started mulling:

Shouldn’t the pursuit of a simpler life be… simple?

Today, I’m convinced the answer is yes. In fact, I’ve discovered certain areas where decluttering takes minimal effort but yields maximum results. For these, it doesn’t matter if you’re a novice or a hardcore minimalist. All you need is a bit of time and the will to simplify your life.

Here are five often overwhelming spaces — digital, physical, and mental — you can declutter in 15 minutes or less.

Your Emotions (15 Minutes)

Recently, I finished a week-long hiking trip and felt calm, centered, and excited. But then, on my way home, my train got delayed. I had to wait on the platform in stinging heat. I was tired, hungry, and depleted.

Once I arrived home, I found out my mom caught Covid. Then, I checked my computer. My email inbox was spilling over. My most recent articles didn’t perform as well as I’d have liked. 

At the end of the day, there was no sign of my initial calm. Instead, I felt anxious, uninspired, and on edge. And I didn’t know why. All I wanted to do was distract myself.

What happened here?

My mind got cluttered with emotional events I didn’t properly process. I was so caught up in the heat of the moment that I didn’t listen to my needs. As a result, I built up an emotional backlog that added a negativity filter to all my actions.

Why am I able to tell you this?

Because I took the time to declutter my emotions, process them, and identify any self-inflicting accusations. The exercise I use is called stream-of-consciousness (SOC) journaling. And it’s just that: You continuously write down whatever crosses your mind. (Chances are, grumpy thoughts will bubble to your mind’s surface.)

The benefits are twofold.

One: seeing negative thoughts lets you observe them objectively. You transfer them from your mind on paper, like putting groceries from a bag onto a shelf. And two: you name your emotions. This weakens their grip and helps you accept them.

How to declutter your emotions with SOC journaling

Here’s a simple guideline:

  • Carve out 15 minutes of quiet time.
  • Grab a notebook and something to write with.
  • Turn off your phone and other distractions around you.
  • Set a timer to 15 minutes and write until it goes off. Write whatever comes to mind. Commit to doing this task. If you think about quitting, write that thought down rather than acting on it.

When you first do this exercise, it can be hard to translate your thoughts into writing. So here are a few prompts that have helped me the most.

  • What do you feel anxious, upset, or envious about?
  • What’s stopping you from being content right now?
  • How did the things you did yesterday affect your mood today?

Over time, this method develops incredible self-awareness. It’s a small investment in your emotional health that pays endless dividends.

Your Desktop (1 Minute)

Decluttering your desktop is all about reducing daily visual clutter.

Seeing a blank canvas (rather than a pile of files) works wonders for your sanity. It’s an antidote for digital overwhelm. Plus, having a clean home screen adds some friction for navigating your programs. Which gives you a few extra seconds to be intentional about your digital consumption.

Now, there’s a quick-and-dirty solution to this. It’s not exactly thorough, but I love it because it’s so easy:

  • Create a new folder on your desktop.
  • Mass-select everything on your desktop and move it to that folder.
  • Done.

For bonus points, you can hide your taskbar and choose a clean wallpaper. Here’s what mine looks like:

My minimalistic desktop. (Screenshot by author)

Of course, you can also go through your folder and delete all the files you don’t need anymore. But this trick gives you tremendous results in less than a minute.

Ever since I applied this quick fix, I’m so much calmer whenever I boot up my laptop in the morning.

Your Mental Inputs (5 Minutes Each)

Why are you reading this?

I’m serious. It’s a question we should ask ourselves continuously. See, we live in a world of information overload. And that’s great if you know exactly what you want. But if you’re anything like me, you get swept away by the newest Netflix releases, notifications, and — oh, look! Funny cat videos!

The problem: Our minds are not wired for a constant barrage of data.

This ties us to a job none of us asked for: We need to be the gatekeeper of our own minds. It sounds like an impossible task. But here are three mental inputs you can easily declutter in 15 minutes or less.

Your inbox

Cancel all newsletters that don’t add value to your life (that includes mine, of course). You can either do this whenever you receive a new email or scroll down your inbox and cancel all unwanted newsletters in one batch.

Your notifications

After I found myself checking my phone like an addict, I did something drastic. I put all notifications on silent (not even vibrate) and banished them from my lock screen. Ever since, I’m way less distracted and less fidgety with my phone. (Here are guides for iPhone and Android.)

Your social media follows

Recently, I wanted to get into Twitter and build an audience there. I put in hours of research and even paid for courses. But you know what? After a few weeks, this platform made me so stressed and anxious that I deleted my account.

Now, obviously, you needn’t do the same if you benefit from social media. But I encourage you to be intentional about your newsfeed. Adjust your interests. Block toxic people. Unfollow content that makes you feel unnecessarily angry. (Here are guides for Instagram and Twitter.)

Bottom line: Expose yourself to inputs that help you thrive — not platforms, social norms, or other people’s expectations.

Your Schedule (10 Minutes Daily)

I’m an extremely chaotic person. Atomic habits don’t work for me, and I hate doing the same thing every day. That’s why I need to be extra careful to keep my calendar simple.

These things help me keep a decluttered daily schedule:

  • Add a “Why?” to every entry you make into your calendar. Answer it as honestly as you can. I often put so many things on my schedule just to fill it. Just to feel functioning and productive. The “Why” is a filter of significance for everything you do.
  • Plan your day the night before. This gives you a clear purpose and helps build momentum every morning. You can even go as far as planning upcoming meals and outfits to avoid decision fatigue.
  • Lastly, scratch everything unnecessary. This sounds obvious, but I recently deleted so many recurring tasks from my calendar that I wasn’t even doing anymore. All they did was make me feel guilty.

Your Desk (15 Minutes)

Physical space mirrors mental space.

The less clutter you have on your desk and workspace, the less you’ll be distracted, and the more you can focus. My desk is often the epitome of entropy. It attracts clutter like a magnet. But surprisingly, it only takes a sliver of time to declutter my desk and restore clarity.

Here’s the 15-minute process that has stood the test of time, even for a chaotic person like me:

  • Get everything off your desk and put it on the ground.
  • Wipe your desk clean.
  • Only place back the items that are absolutely essential to your work. In my case, this limits to laptop, monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

Also, here are some rules of thumb for going through the remaining items on the ground:

  • Scan documents with your phone and throw them away (unless you need an original copy).
  • Assign everything else that adds value to your life to a place that isn’t your desk.
  • Put your phone in a different room.
  • The rest: sell, donate, or recycle.

This process always gets me in a productive, creative mood. And, of course, I’m far less distracted once I start working.

Small Steps to Simplicity

These five decluttering methods completely changed how I look at minimalism. They finally took off the pressure to take minimalism to the extreme. Not only that, they show its ideas aren’t bound to physical clutter. It’s a philosophy you can apply to all spaces in your life.

So if you only take one thing away from this, it’s that creating a simpler life is not black and white. It’s more like a spectrum you can gradually move along. 

Minimalism doesn’t need to happen overnight by selling all your stuff. Instead: start by taking 15 minutes and simplify one space in your life — be it physical, digital, or mental.

These tiny steps can, over time, turn into leaps of simplicity.