When I was a kid, our school made us a simple offer: read books, get free pizza.

Our teachers would set reading goals for us, and when we met those goals we’d get a free personal-size pizza (donated by Pizza Hut).

Of course there were some kids who were pretty much on auto-pilot to hit their goals every month. But there were other kids who didn’t do much in the way of recreational reading, and for them this was a huge motivating factor. After all, what kid doesn’t like pizza?

And if a goal plus a small bribe can get a kid who wouldn’t normally read much to read an extra book or two each month, I think it’s easy to argue that it’s worth it.

So what does this have to do with us?

Our Lack Of Motivation – Some Perspective

In American culture, we frequently see things like decluttering as a matter of “you just need to suck it up and get it done!” And if you can do that, great! But if you’re like me, that just doesn’t work.

Here are a few things to get straight from the get-go:

Lack Of Motivation Is Not A Moral Failing. If you’re having a hard time finding the internal motivation to declutter, it’s not because you’re defective in any way. Everybody has things they love doing, and things they hate doing. If you don’t love decluttering, you’re far from alone. In fact….

Skill Does Not Equal Enjoyment. When pressed on the matter, a lot of people who are fantastic at decluttering actually admit that they don’t like it – but they’ve had to get good at it. A mom with five or six kids is either going to get really good at cleaning and decluttering, or their house is going to be destroyed. That doesn’t mean she loves decluttering!

Successful People Aren’t Above Bribery. Not “bribery” in the sense of “paying somebody off to treat you differently”, but in the sense of “creating treats and rewards they love in order to motivate progress.” The same technique that got us to read lots of books as kids works on adults too!

Pause for a second, and reflect on this. Your clutter problem isn’t because you’re a bad person. It’s not just that “some people are good at it”, and you’re not. There’s nothing wrong with figuring out positive ways to motivate yourself – especially when what needs to be done isn’t its own reward!

Breathe in, breathe out.

Ready to do this?

Creating Motivation Via Sense Experience

When you need to manufacture motivation, sense experience is a great place to start. Here are some ways to consider using sense experience to trigger decluttering motivation.

Sight. This is the obvious one. What will this space look like when you’re done? If you’re a highly visual person, considering what the drawer, shelf, desk, or room will look like when you finish will help.

Touch. Ever notice that cluttered surfaces are frequently dirty surfaces? If you’re like me, you probably don’t like cooking or working on a dirty countertop or desk. Decluttering and tidying up gets you back to “cleanable”, which is a hop, skip, and a wet towel away from “clean”.

Hearing. Unless you’re hoarding cats, clutter doesn’t usually have a sound. But listening to some favorite music, listening to a podcast, or even talking with a friend while you declutter (pick a judgement-free friend that helps, not hinders!) can be a huge motivating factor.

Smell. All things being equal, clean and organized spaces (especially kitchens!) tend to smell better than dirty and disorganized spaces. Not because clutter necessarily has a smell (unless it’s old produce on a kitchen counter!), but because clutter makes it less likely that you’ll do the basic cleaning for a space.

Taste. Please don’t taste your clutter. But if you’re the sort of person who’s primarily motivated by a good meal or a great snack, finding a way to indulge your sense of taste is a great way to motivate yourself to declutter. You’ll want to scale this up or down depending on the amount of stuff you have and your level of motivation, of course.

And One “Big Rock”

For maximum motivation, complement your sensory motivation with one benefit that’s just a bit more broad. Frequently, this is in the form of seeing a solution to a larger problem. Here are some ideas:

  • You could eat at your dining room table again.
  • You would have enough space to exercise.
  • You’d have more money (not re-buying things you can’t find!)
  • You could have friends over for dinner.
  • You’d have more time (not constantly trying to find things!)
  • You could cook more meals at home.

There are lots of options, and none of them are really right or wrong (unless yours is “I can find a place to stash some dead bodies!”). What you need to do is find one that suits you.

What About You?

Motivation can be a tough nut to crack, but once you really get the ball rolling it does get easier – I promise. In fact, some people who had a next-to-impossible time getting started discover that they actually love to declutter!

Have you ever struggled with motivation? Did you find anything that really helped you to push through it?