Declutter: STEP BY STEP IDEAS TO GET YOU ON YOUR WAY TO LIVING AN ORGANIZED LIFE
“Later…..is the best friend of clutter” Peter Walsh
This last quote cut to the core of me,
my buddy “clutter”, and its best friend, “later”.
Have you ever started working on a project only to get sidelined by an overcrowded workspace or home space? Clutter is often described as complete chaos…the home of a hoarder. However, clutter can appear to be much more ambiguous. It can even look organized, with neatly stacked piles here and there. Clutter can be neatly boxed and stored in the attic, garage, basement, out building, or storage unit; giving the illusion to self and others that all is well and that you’ve got your act …and stuff… together.
At one point in life I had clutter in all the storage areas above my home. Whew mama! I spent double time searching for “lost” bills, documents, clothing, and even non perishable food that I knew was in my pantry but which I just couldn’t find. Invariably, I would end up venturing out to rebuy the missing item because I needed this for a recipe. Lost time…another casualty of clutter. Because of my paper piles, I threw out at least 2 checks while managing to keep junk mail. When family or friends were coming in to stay, it would take me at least 2-3 days to clean and clear the guest room space, and living spaces, so that it would be open and inviting.
I always found myself wondering why didn’t I just keep up with this instead of reacting when our guests came to stay, or visit for the day? It was truly just a passing thought as i would invariably be on to yet another damage control situation…another lost bill, missing item… Sound familiar? What I didn’t realize at the time was this: Little by little my clutter was getting the best of me and I unknowingly avoided taking action to sift, sort, oust and reorganize. “Later”, as quoted in title, became my best friend. I knew that at some point in time I would tackle what had now become an even bigger clutter de facto.
My hand was forced when we decided to put our home on the market. In a word, “Humbling” best describes finally moving, sorting, sifting, organizing and removing all the stuff. Unneeded magazines, clothes that no longer fit my children, junk mail, old half-used personal care products…purged. This was the baby step that was the beginning of reframing our things so that they would no longer take center stage showing up daily, an unwelcome visitor!
My friend, upon hearing me rant about my situation, advised me of how she came to be successful at removing clutter and offered this information to me. I took to heart her seemingly easy piece of advice. “Go to one room in your home. Find just one place in that room to focus on and get started.” Examples of what this looks like are as such: a table, a desk and a bookshelf if an office place … or home table, nightstand/closet, etc.
Step by Step Plan for Living an Organized Life
Keep in mind that it is key to not make this an overwhelming task. The least stress involved in the process, the more likely you will continue with the process until it is complete.
1. See your home in a new light.
We tend to see our environments with rose colored glasses. In the times that we are not overwhelmed looking for something, we walk around our environments mostly oblivious to the mess. Invite a friend over for dinner. Take some photos of your environment and look at them realistically. More than likely you will be shocked at the mess that you see.
2. Make a list.
After seeing your home in a new light (the way others would see it), make a list of each area (room by room) that needs organized and decluttered. Attach that list to your refrigerator and that will be your game plan for each session.
3. Three basket project.
Grab yourself three boxes, three laundry baskets, or three giant bags. Label them KEEP – DONATE – TRASH
4. Live in the present.
One of my favorite concepts came from Peter Walsh, whom I quoted above. I once heard him speak about two main reasons people hold onto items. You are either holding onto them because you think you will need them in the future or you hold onto them because the items are something from your past. Either way, you are living in the future or the past, but NOT the present. Embrace that thought…live in the moment…this very moment. Let go of the past and stop having anxiety about the future. Let your environment reflect that.
5. Set a timer.
Depending on your commitments, set a timer for 15 minutes or 30 minutes or an hour. Do this daily or weekly, whatever time will allow; just do it regularly. Once you determine your time frame, don’t deviate from it. You may feel inspired to work for 5 hours. At the end of the 5 hours, you’ll be beat. You may be temporarily pleased with the results but, trust me, the concept of organizing will not sound appealing next week when you remember that you spent a solid 5 hours on one area. So, at the end of your designated time, STOP. Enjoy the moment and your accomplishment and now go do something you enjoy…a movie, a book, a date, cook a meal, take a nap, live life.
6. Grab that list.
Choose the area on which you are to start. Visualize what you want it to look like. Is it an office desk that is masquerading as a mountain of junk mail? Is it a closet of size 4’s and you are currently a 12 (after 5 years)? Is it filled with office clothes and you are now a yoga instructor and soccer mom? Lighten your load. You haven’t used it; you don’t need it. You will thank me later when you can walk into your closet…use your desk…offer the spare room to a high school friend who would love to come visit…you will feel FREE. Have a clear picture in your mind of what you see. That will be your end result. Imagine and believe.
7. Give one thing away a day.
Colleen Madsen at 365 Less Things gives away one item each day. Put a box or laundry basket in your car. Every day, take one item out of your house that is no longer needed. Put it in the basket. Once a week, make a stop-by your favorite thrift store and drop off the items. At the end of one year, you will be 365 items lighter and, most likely, living the organized life you crave and that will allow you to weightlessly go after the actual adventures you want to make in your life. Colleen also suggests setting your mission every Monday and then, each day, organize/clean that area for 10 minutes. Having the list done on Monday (or Sunday…or whatever day is easiest for you to designate), will help you by having a plan and by spending a short amount of time on each task so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
8. Organize the spots.
Do you walk in the door and put mail down anywhere it lands? Do you have bits and pieces of jewelry all over the house? Do you struggle to find the receipts you need at tax time? Do you scramble to find the water bill when you realize it’s about to be shut off? You finally are going out on a Saturday night and you have no idea where to find that black dress you brought home from the dry cleaner a month ago?
Make a spot on that desk for incoming mail. One box for important bills. On trash can for recycling.
That clean closet…color code it…white to black. Skirt. Pant. Blouse. Jacket. Dress. Put a basket/box inside of it for all clothes yet to go to the drycleaner.
In short, there is now to be a place for everything.
9. Basket for each family member.
If you do not live alone, get a small basket for each family member/housemate. It should be small enough that it doesn’t become a permanent depository. One of my clients put these small baskets (one for each child) on the stairway and her children had to take them up at the end of each day and put their stray items away before bed. In the morning, the baskets came back down the bottom of the stairs. This eliminated the stray bits and pieces around the house.
10. You remember what I said about “no more than 15-30 minutes per session”?
Forget it..for a moment, or a weekend.
We all have that one spare weekend that we can devote to make ourselves feel free and lighter. Schedule it. One of my clients, who grew up in the midwest, said that every year they had spring cleaning.
Every single item came out of the kitchen cabinets and they were scrubbed down. Bedroom closets…same thing. Some of my Jewish clients do the same thing and it’s called the Passover Cleaning. The Catholic Church does it on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday). Iranians do it on the first day of spring (the Persian New Year) and, also, practice “khooneh tekouni” which literally means “shaking the house” just before the new year. In all of these practices, everything is cleaned from cabinets to closets…from drapes to furniture. My client from the midwest had made the observation that, now, after this habit has been lost on younger generations, the accumulation of “stuff” has become the norm. When she was a child, everything in the home was in use…no hoarding (who would want to have to clean around it every Spring?).
BONUS: The “MAYBE” basket.
Generally I’m not a fan of this as I feel it’s best to make the decision and get rid of it. HOWEVER, if you are someone who truly has a tough time letting go of items, start a MAYBE box/basket and, when it’s full, put it away. Mark a point on your calendar 6 months from the date that you filled it. At the end of that six months, reevaluate. I’m going to promise you that you will most likely realize that you missed none of it.
De-cluttering is part of your priority self-care. When you take care of your external space you give a loving nod to your personal self care.