The 0% Decluttering Method: A Radical Way to Simplify Your Life

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The 0% Decluttering Method is the easiest, most effective, and fastest strategy for a simpler life I’ve ever discovered. It works for physical and digital spaces and shows immediate effects — usually in a day or less.

Here’s the idea: Instead of decluttering a few things here and there, you pack everything away until you arrive at 0% clutter. Then, you gradually reintroduce the items you need the most. Therefore, you override some of the most common issues while decluttering — decision fatigue and loss aversion.

So, before we get into the nitty-gritty, we need to understand the problems with traditional decluttering.

The 3 Problems With Traditional Decluttering

Traditional decluttering follows a simple guideline: gradually declutter your possessions until you arrive at a certain fraction — usually 20%.

The reason for this is the 80/20 rule. This says that you only use 20% of your possessions 80% of the time and vice versa. So we go from 100% possessions to 90% to 80% to 70%, etc. And it’s a clever idea. But in practice, this is incredibly hard. Why? Because we don’t have the guts and energy to let go of the stuff we don’t need.

Here are the three underlying problems.

Problem #1: Decision fatigue

Have you ever wondered why celebrities like Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and Zucc wear the same thing every day?

They want to avoid decision fatigue. This is the psychological concept that you have a mental battery of willpower. The more decisions you make, the more you’ll drain your battery — the quality of your decisions worsens, you put off decisions, and you feel mentally depleted. Thus, when you go through all your valuable possessions, your battery will drain faster than your phone on maximum brightness.

Problem #2: Loss aversion

Loss aversion is our innate tendency to prefer gains over losses. We don’t want to lose $20; we want to find $20. As a result, we find it incredibly hard to simplify our lives because it makes us feel like we’re losing something when we’re actually gaining something — mental and physical space. Even if the item doesn’t add tangible value to our lives, we’ll do everything it takes to prevent a loss.

Creating a simpler life requires overriding loss aversion.

Problem #3: No tangible results

Mix decision fatigue and loss aversion together, and you’re left with a draining decluttering process. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll quit because it made you feel worse than when you started. You’ll slip back into a chaotic lifestyle because you think it’s not worth your precious energy.

The 0% Decluttering Method, on the other hand, cuts to the chase. Yes, it’ll still be hard to declutter. But you’ll postpone decision fatigue and loss aversion after experiencing remarkable results, providing you with an incentive to keep going.

So, here’s how to execute the strategy for maximum results.

The 0% Decluttering Method: A Simple Reset in 5 Steps

Now for the nuts and bolts. You can apply the 0% Decluttering Method to any area of your life. It even works for digital spaces (more on that later). The approach is always the same and comprises five steps.

Step 1: Define

Pick an area you want to declutter. If you want to go all-in, you can do this for your entire life. But starting with a piece of furniture (e.g., your closet) or a room (e.g., the kitchen) works equally well.

Step 2: Declutter

Pack everything away into boxes — and yes, I mean everything. Don’t think about whether or not you’ll need something the next day. Declutter until your defined area looks as if you just moved in. As a result, you speed up the process by removing initial decision fatigue and loss aversion from the formula.

Where should you put these boxes? I recommend building as much friction between you and your items as possible. This ensures you only get back the things you need, not those you crave. Depending on your self-control, a good place could be your basement, your parent’s house, a friend’s home, or a storage facility.

Step 3: Clean

This is optional, of course. But chances are, you’ll feel much better after clearing all the dust and dirt that has gathered over the months… or years (no judgment). It’ll feel like a fresh start.

Step 4: Reintroduce

Now for the fun part: In the following days, you’ll gradually get back the items you need. Hopefully, you’ve built up a certain resistance between your possessions, so you’ll only reintroduce the things you need the most.

Let’s say you want to declutter your desk. Here’s what the reintroduction process might look like:

  • Day 1: Laptop, charger, headphones, and mouse
  • Day 5: Pen and notepad
  • Day 13: Bulletin board and pins
  • Day 17: Pencil and ruler
  • Day 45: Marker pens

Keep going like this until you reach a defined point in time. This can either be a set date (e.g., stopping after 60 days) or a time frame in which you didn’t reintroduce any items (e.g., not getting anything back for 90 days).

I prefer the latter because it makes me realize how long I was able to live a perfectly normal life without needing additional clutter.

Step 5: Goodbye

After your chosen deadline is over, you’ll tackle the remaining stuff in your packed-away boxes. This is important because getting rid of your unnecessary items is the only way you’re not tempted to slide back into a cluttered lifestyle.

Remember: what you now find inside the boxes are primarily items you don’t actually need in your life. You’ve accumulated them over the years and got attached to them. If you truly want to declutter, don’t let your mind tell you that you still need that ugly vase you got for Christmas three years ago. Let it go.

Generally, there are four ways to deal with your boxes.

  1. Sell It has never been easier to get some good money for simplifying your life — there are thrift stores, eBay, and local flea markets. For maximum profit, clean and repair the items you want to sell. If you sell them online, high-quality pictures are key to drawing in buyers.
  2. Donate Tell your colleagues, friends, and family you’re decluttering and ask them if they need anything. That way, you’re ensuring the objects will directly benefit someone. Other options include putting your stuff online for free or donating them.
  3. Keep — You’ll probably come across a few items you’ll need in the future with absolute certainty. And it’s totally okay to get them back. But ask yourself: If you only need something once a year, is it really an essential part of your life?
  4. Recycle — Gather up all the times for which you don’t see any potential future, and drive them to a recycling depot — ideally in one go.

Prepare a dedicated box for each of these categories while going through your items. That’ll help you batch the processes.

3 Guidelines for ‘Throw or Keep?’

The four categories in the ‘goodbye stage’ provide an initial direction for deciding which items you want to keep beyond the essentials. But be ready to face decision fatigue and loss aversion nonetheless. This is an inevitable part of any decluttering process.

The remedy? Have a few decision guidelines that take the weight off your shoulders. These three have helped me the most:

  1. Do I need this, or do I want this? — We don’t need most of our items; we want them. If we need items, we own them. If we want items, they own us because we’ll mourn their loss, although they’re not essential. My favorite guideline is to keep the fewest of a bunch. Assemble your items in groups and select the fewest items you could live with. You might want twenty pairs of pants. But you probably only need two to five.
  2. Confined volume, quantity, or weight — When I moved to Portugal last year, I only took one large backpack with me. With a few exceptions, I fit my most valuable possessions in there. And surprisingly, I’ve never really missed anything. You can imitate this idea by defining the volume, quantity, or weight of the items you want to keep.
  3. Repurpose sentimental items — Sentimental items plague us with the hardest choices. But during my decluttering process, I noticed that I’m not really sentimental about the item itself. I’m sentimental about the memory and the emotion I connect with that item. One solution is to keep a scrapbook. Take a picture of the item, stick it in your scrapbook, and note down your associated feelings. It’ll be much easier to let it go once you know the memory is safe.

If you can’t make a decision, there’s nothing wrong with saving a few items for a later time — particularly if they’re deeply sentimental. Make sure your decision battery is fully charged and give yourself time. The great thing about the 0% Decluttering Method is that you don’t need to rush because you’ve already simplified your space.

Digital Minimalism with the 0% Decluttering Method

The 0% Decluttering Method also works for digital spaces.

I have a habit of hopelessly cluttering my phone and laptop with apps and files I don’t need. This gets to a point where I lose track of all my important data, my desktop turns into a garbage dump, and the memory space of my devices gets completely crammed.

Luckily, the procedure is as simple as with physical spaces. An external hard drive will now take the place of boxes. Make a full backup of your laptop or phone, and transfer all your files to the hard drive. Then, in the following days, you only get back the files and programs you truly need. This provides an excellent opportunity to create a clear, organized folder system.

Eventually, you comb through the hard drive for important files and delete the rest.

Simplify Your Life

Decluttering doesn’t have to be tedious and exhausting. Sure, you still have to do the work with the 0% Decluttering Method. But you don’t have to hammer through a concrete wall to see results. It’s quite the opposite: You start with the results and experience how good they feel. This, in turn, boosts your attitude toward a simpler life and shows you the power of living with less.

You can also use the 0% Decluttering Method in several other areas of your life. I’ve used it to quit social media, alcohol, and caffeine for 30 days — cold turkey. And at the end of each period, I had a clearer, calmer mind and became much more mindful of my consumption. I only reintroduced what was essential to my life. Which was always less than I expected.

The true power of this method lies in experiencing how much simpler your life could be without excess.