The Clutter-free Holiday Guide

By Leo Babauta

You often see holiday gift guides and the like, but not often enough do we see guides on dealing with clutter during this most cluttered of seasons.

From gifts to wrapping to decorations to cardboard boxes from Amazon and more, the holidays can see more accumulation of clutter than any other time of the year.

How do we deal with it? It takes a multi-pronged approach.

Let’s dive in.

Clearing Existing Clutter

If your house isn’t free of clutter at this point, you can start to make a dent, even with a busier holiday schedule.

Some ideas:

  1. Spend just 2-5 minutes at a time. Get a cardboard box for donations. When you’re in your bedroom, spend 2-5 minutes picking off a few things you definitely don’t need, and put them in the box. Later, when you’re in the kitchen, spend 2-5 minutes doing the same on your countertop. And on your dining table, on shelves when you walk past them, on your closet floor, all at various times as you’re walking through an area. Not all in one day, but in bits each day.
  2. Carve out 30 minutes a few times a week. Put it on your calendar. Spend that time clearing out a closet — just take out as many things that you don’t need as you can in 30 minutes. Put them in the donate box or the trash.

You probably won’t have time to declutter your entire house during the holidays, but that’s OK. Just get the ball rolling, and tackle the rest in January.

Gift Expectations

Probably the biggest clutter problem during the holidays, for many people, is getting gifts you don’t need that will just clutter up your house.

The key here is to manage expectations:

  1. Talk to your friends and family, or send out an email or Facebook post. Tell them you’d prefer not to get any gifts because you’re trying to reduce clutter.
  2. Consider asking them to join the Buy Nothing Until 2013 Challenge. Then you can not buy stuff for each other together! It can be a fun new family tradition.
  3. Ask people who really still want to do gifts, to consider baking cookies or other consumables, give gift certificates for services (babysitting, yardwork, washing a car) or experiences (wine tasting, hotel stay, rock climbing gym, etc.).
  4. Ask people to consider donating to charity instead of giving things.
  5. Warn them that you will probably donate other kinds of gifts that you receive (other than the non-clutter kinds) to charity.

Dealing with Gifts You Get

Some people will get you gifts no matter what you ask. Don’t be mad or petty about it — be grateful for the thought.

But you’ve warned them, so don’t feel bad about passing the gift on to someone who might need it. Ask your other friends if they need a new toaster (or whatever you got), or give it away on Yerdle or Craigslist or other similar listing online.

If you really want to keep a gift, that’s OK — just get rid of two similar-sized items you already own for every one you keep.


If you give gifts, consider wrapping in newspapers or magazines that you already have around the house, so you don’t waste more paper. Or wrap things in cloth, using cloth items that you are getting rid of.

Be sure to recycle wrapping paper from gifts that others give you.


Filter out the holiday decorations you have that you never use, and donate or trash them. Consider using festive plants like red and yellow leaves, evergreen branches, pine cones, colorful gourds and pumpkins, instead of store-bought decorations. These can be composted after the holidays are over, instead of stored or trashed.


People who buy gifts often order them online, which means lots of boxes. Even buying things in a store usually means boxes and shopping bags.

Consider not buying gifts, and not ordering them online, to reduce this waste. Again, giving consumables, gift certificates for services or experiences, or charity donations are great ways to reduce packaging waste.

Consider also making your own gifts. A memory jar with lots of people’s favorite memories of a person, printed on card stock and put into a mason jar, is a great gift. So is a cookie recipe with the dry ingredients layered in a mason jar, or home-made hot chocolate mix with a personalize mug. Make your own board games, puzzle books, Kindle and laptop covers, memory albums, family cookbooks, and more.

If you do end up with some cardboard boxes, fill them with things from your house that you’re going to donate to charity or give to other people you know. Then the boxes go towards decluttering your house, instead of contributing clutter.

Clutterfree on Kindle

To further help you become clutterfree, Courtney Carver of Be More With Less and I have published Clutterfree, and we’re proud to say that it’s available on the Kindle today. (Note: If you’re in the Buy Nothing Until 2013 Challenge, you can wait until January to buy it.)

This book is a great weapon for your fight against clutter because it doesn’t just teach you how to get rid of it, but also why you have it in the first place and how to maintain a happy clutter-free life.

Three sections and 23 chapters guide you through the most important parts of being clutter free:

  1. Emotion. Understand why you have clutter.
  2. Action. Learn how to get rid of clutter.
  3. Maintain. Enjoy your clutter-free life.

Clutterfree is available for $2.99. Courtney and I hope you enjoy the book and your clutter-free life.

Quick note: You don’t need a Kindle to read Kindle books. They can be read using the Free Kindle Reader App for your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, or Android.