7 steps to declutter your home, life and finances before 2018

Image: A man uses a computer on a tidy desk
Take an afternoon and clean out email inbox. You don't have to reach inbox zero, but take the time to unsubscribe from the email newsletters you really don't need. Copyright Artur Debat Getty Images
By Chelsea Fagan with NBC News
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Get rid of the clutter now so that, come 2018, you can focus on the things you want to add to your life.

Like a lot of people, I entered into this year with a lot of goals in mind. I was going to save more money, eat better, actually exercise, etc. — and for the most part, I made the changes I wanted to make. I started doing regular workouts at home when I had time during the day (albeit some weeks have been more consistent than others). I opened up a retirement account with a robo-advisor to make investing in my future simple and automatic. And despite being a natural-born packrat, I even cleaned out my entire apartment in the 30 days before I moved. But, of course, through an (perhaps unattainably) idealistic lens, my life isn't exactly where I'd want it to be.

We're approaching a new year, but that doesn't mean we need to adapt a "screw it, it's too late now" attitude. New Year's Resolutions are not the only way to set and follow goals, and not reaching them does not mean you're a failure. Sometimes our goals are too lofty, or we were never going to reach them because we weren't motivated by the right thing.

Start getting rid of the clutter in your life now so that, come 2018, you can focus on the things you want to add to your life — from healthier habits to more in your savings account. Here are just a few suggestions to get you started.

1. Spend 15 minutes decluttering each day.

If you live with a lot of physical clutter, it can be a bigger source of anxiety than it deserves to be. Trust me, I've been there — and I've learned that keeping a lot of things doesn't mean I simply like things more. I used to have random piles of crap I'd ignore. None of it was important to me, but it still weighed down on me and was an endless source of distraction.

Clean Freak

I highly recommend sifting and getting rid of everything in your home you don't need, but don't feel like you need to clean out everything in one weekend. Start small; pick one little area to tackle in 15 minutes this evening, like your junk drawer. Do the same thing tomorrow, the next day, etc., and by the end of the year, your home will actually feel like a place you want to spend your time.

2. Automate your bill payments through one account.

Bills are tough to keep track of, especially when they all come with different (often confusing) systems for payment. Start streamlining your payments so that they all go through the same account. If your bank offers a bill pay service, definitely take advantage of it. By keeping all your bills in one account and automating your bills, you can make sure you always have the right amount of cash in that account and that you never miss a payment.

3. Start using an RSS feed.

If you spend any amount of your life online, you know how much information there is to keep on top of—so much so that it's easy to get sucked into a rabbit hole of catching up on what you've missed when you should be working or focusing on other things. It's really important to me that I stay caught up on everything I read, from news sites to baking blogs, but it can be a big time sink.

An RSS feed like Feedly is a great way to stay up to speed. It lets you essentially tailor your own newsfeed by aggregating the sites you want to see stories from, meaning you don't have to sift through endless social media posts to find something interesting to read. (Not that I don't love mindlessly scrolling through Twitter when I wake up each morning.)

4. Set up automatic savings deposits.

If you have a consistent paycheck and at least a little disposable income, there's no reason why you shouldn't be automating your savings. Even if it's just $20 a week, set up an automatic transfer to savings so that you're always saving at least something. You'll quickly start to see how even small amounts add up, and you'll be entering the new year on the right foot—one with a tiny bit of a financial cushion.

There are many online savings accounts that come with relatively high interest rates, through banks such as Ally and Barclay's, but if you're new to saving, ease yourself into it by simply opening a savings account at the same bank where you already do your checking. If you don't have consistent income, try saving with an app like Qapital or Digit, which can analyze your spending and help you set aside "spare change."

5. Set aside one afternoon to clean out your phone.

I can't tell you how many times I've gone to download a podcast only to find I didn't have enough storage space left on my phone. An "easy" solution would be to get a phone with greater storage capacity, but that's quite an investment — and not one I personally want to be making every 18 months.

Even if you have plenty of space on your phone, it's probably cluttered with more apps, photos, and videos than you'd ever really need. Take one afternoon and backup your photos to a hard drive or cloud so that you can free up a bunch of space. Also, get rid of the apps you're not using. Even if it doesn't feel like they're taking away from your life, they're probably using up storage space and data. Plus, having less to scroll through when you're trying to post on Instagram isn't such a bad thing.

6. Apply for a balance transfer card to consolidate credit card debt.

I've gotten myself into a bit of credit card debt in my adult life, and the one thing that really helped me get out of it was a balance transfer card. Thankfully, my debtwas never anything too drastic — the most I've owed at once was about $3,000 — but it still felt draining, especially when I didn't have enough coming in to pay off my balances in full. A balance transfer credit card let me consolidate all my debts onto one card for a fee of 3% of the total balance. Then, I had 18 months to pay that balance off with 0% interest. That interest-free period was a lifesaver in paying my debt off — as was having just one credit card payment instead of several.

Good Cents

The specifics of these cards differ, of course — the fees will vary; some offer only six months of a 0% APR period on balance transfers, while some may offer up to 21 months; and they will each have their own specific qualification criteria. Additionally, if you do obtain a balance transfer credit card, be sure you read the fine print and know the exact date the "real" APR sets in — and make sure you pay off your balance before then. Otherwise, it will sneak up on you, and you'll end up paying much more than you should.

7. Unfollow pages and unsubscribe from emails that don't add to your life.

Finally, take an afternoon and clean out email inbox. You don't have to reach inbox zero, but unsubscribe from the email newsletters you really don't need. (You can do this en masse through a service like Unroll.Me.) That way, you won't have emails from brands you don't even pay attention to cluttering your inbox and distracting you from emails that may actually be important.

Additionally, stop following pages on social media that you don't care about seeing. Up until recently, I was still seeing updates for the movie Pride & Prejudice on my Facebook newsfeed, simply because I'd "liked" the page back in 2007. I personally find social media more enjoyable than annoying, but finally unfollowing a bunch of pages that were doing nothing for me has made it infinitely better. You may also want to take time and unfriend (or simply unfollow) people who you don't add to your life. The more you can streamline your social media feeds, the more they'll add to your life rather than distract from it.

The point of decluttering is not to completely turn your life around, but simply to make more room in it. The fewer distractions in your life, from your finances to your email inbox, the more space you have— physically and mentally — to focus on things that are actively adding to it. Start decluttering now so you can approach your goals with a clear head come 2018.

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