by Susan Caplan McCarthy
One day, you look around your home and decide that you’ve had enough will being disorganized and surrounding yourself with clutter. So, what’s your next step? To get started!
When you look around your home and everything is calling out to you, trying to grab your attention, what do you respond to first?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Every Organizer will tell you to start someplace different, so, really, there is no hard-and-fast rule as to where you have to start. You get to decide. (I know, I know, you just want to know where to start … and I did promise that information in the title … so, here it goes ….)
Where you start depends on what area is bothering you the most and what will give you a happy hit of endorphins when you finish. If you have more than one area to declutter, then you want to work on a room or area that you manage. One of the tricky secrets of motivation is that every time you get something done you get motivated to do the next thing. The more you get done, the more you want to (and can) get done.
But, you haven’t started yet, so your motivation is somewhere along the lines of … oh, look, that movie I wanted to see is available on Netflix.
Put down the remote.
Read the following and then walk around you home and decide where you are going to start. And, then, do one thing to show that you are committed to decluttering and organizing.
Here’s Where to Start Your Decluttering Project
Start in Your Closet If …
A lot of organizers will tell you to start in your closet in part because (theoretically) it’s your stuff in your closet (if you share a closet, then focus on your side of the closet). If you sort through your stuff, no one else in your household is going to get nervous that you are going to get rid of their stuff and give you a hard time before you’ve even started.
Also, starting in your closet can help save you a lot of time, particularly if you struggle to find something to wear every morning. Working through your closet … which can include clothing, outwear, undergarments, shoes, accessories, and jewelry … can be a lot, depending on when you last cleaned your closet.
Of course, you probably haven’t worn a lot of stuff in your closet in the past couple of years and other things may be stained, damaged, the wrong size, or out of style.
If you clean your closet first, in an afternoon or in a few days, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. Of course, once you close the closet door, it doesn’t look like you’ve accomplished anything in the house (but you know you have).
Start in Your Dining Room If …
If your family can’t sit down at the dining table and talk about their day or week, you may want to start in this space to show the family what a decluttered space in your home can look like. Does this room (or is it part of a room?) normally get used as a catch-all space for doing homework, paying bills, and doing craft projects and just leaving things that you aren’t quite sure where to put?
Unlike the homogenous quality of a closet, with things that have a person and task in common, the catch-all quality of dining room clutter means that you may be taking stuff out of this room and dropping it off in other rooms or spaces, which may feel like you are spreading the mess around. However, don’t, DON’T, start cleaning other rooms every time you bring something into that space. Yes, it may seem disorganized to do this, but the big, important thing is that you finish with the room you started with.
When your family can sit down at the table for a meal (instead of sitting in front of the television or in front of the computer in individual rooms), you can bring up that you’d like to work on decluttering other rooms. Be prepared to answer questions about what this means for other people’s time and stuff.
Start with Your Bedroom If …
If your bedroom has become a multipurpose spot where the kids play with their toys or watch movies, or you use the room as your home gym (is that a treadmill or a clothes rack?) or you use the space as your home office … you may want to start here.
If you feel tense just going into your bedroom, chances are that you aren’t going to feel like drifting off into a restful sleep or enjoying time with your partner (should you share your room).
Do the kids have their own bedrooms or playroom? Move that stuff there and ban your room from future use as a play area. Is there someplace else where the kids can watch movies? Move any DVDs to that space. Do you have a stack of books beside your bed that is threatening to bury you in your sleep? If you aren’t actively reading a book, move them to your bookcase or to a chair where you do your reading. (Remember, you aren’t stopping to organize these items and integrate them into their new location just yet. Move them out of the space you are decluttering.)
If your dresser is covered in papers, off to the home office they go. It doesn’t matter if your home office is a desk or a room, keep paperwork centralized there. Should you have your home office in your bedroom? Not if you can help it. Can you find someplace else to keep a desk or file cabinet? You want your bedroom to be a restful space. Also, if you don’t use your exercise equipment, get rid of it.
Now that you feel more rested from turning your bedroom into a sanctuary instead of a catch-all, you can move on to the spaces where you moved some of the stuff you took out of this room.
Start with Your Kitchen If …
If your health or the health of someone else in your home is a big concern of yours, and diet plays a part in your (or their) well-being, start in the kitchen. Remove food that has expired as well as anything that will make it more difficult to stay on the diet.
Clear countertops so you have the space to prepare home-cooked meals which will be healthier than take-out. Get rid of the kitchen appliances that you don’t use so you have better access to those you will use. If you have duplicate tools, pots, pans, plates, and glassware that you don’t use, donate them so you can streamline your kitchen and make it easier for you to use the space for preparing and cooking meals.
With improving health and a better diet, you’ll have the energy to move into other rooms.
Start with the Kids’ Rooms If …
Unless your child is under the age of two or (possibly) three, do not start with the kids’ room. Heck, even if you have a toddler, don’t you have someplace else to start? Kids will notice that their stuff has gone missing and this could make them start hoarding things because they feel a lack of control over their stuff.
Also, if you show that you’ve cleaned your closet, bedroom, or another space, you can talk to your kids about the benefits of getting rid of things you don’t need or use. You are also easing kids into the idea that change (and cleaning) is coming.
Start with the Family Room If …
If your family spends a lot of time in the family room (this may be your living room) and this is the space where guests spend time, then it may make sense to start here. However, this stuff gets used by multiple people and this could cause unrest in the ranks.
So, when it comes to items used by multiple individuals (DVDs, coloring books and pencils, afghans), you will need to establish guidelines and ask other family members to help you. First off, ask everyone in the family (if kids are elementary-school age and older, they can answer the questions too) how they want to use this room.
Is this the place to do crafts or is that for the kids to do in their rooms? Is this the space with a good chair and lamp for reading books? Just because an activity has been done in a room doesn’t mean that it’s the ideal location for that activity. When you know what everyone wants to do in the room, it will be easier to decide what is in the wrong place.
Remember, space is limited. If you have a rack for DVDs and now you have so many that they spill onto the floor and are propped in piles on the coffee table, it’s time to limit the number of DVDs to what fits in the rack. And that’s it. This, of course, involves the Others in your home.
If the family is up to a group project, woo hoo, this is the place to start. If not, start someplace you can work on your own.
Start with the Attic, Garage, or Basement If …
No. Just, no. these are vast dumping grounds and it may seem like you could just go through the stuff, no problem, … but, consider that you already had a difficult time deciding to get rid of this stuff and thus put it far, far away from your daily consideration.
I know, not everything falls into that description, but enough does that would make these unwise places to start. Work in a room that you walk through every day.
Start with the Bathroom If …
Want a quick win? Bathrooms are small and can only hold so much stuff. In a couple of hours … or less … you can declutter the bathroom. Sort through half-used bottles of shampoo and forgotten cleaners. Depending on the condition of this space, you may end up feeling a huge sense of accomplishment or shrug your shoulders and think, “Well, that wasn’t too bad to do. What’s next?”
Start with the Junk Drawer If …
If you are totally overwhelmed, go over to your junk drawer, dump out the contents, wipe the interior, and take a walk around your house putting things in the spaces where you’d go looking for them or throw stuff out. Send the excess pens with your kids to school or bring them to work. Put the tools in the toolbox. Move craft supplies to one spot.
So, basically, start wherever you want. Consider what will benefit your and your family’s life the most. Remember, this is just a first step. If you find that you are moving a lot of kids’ stuff out of your bedroom, then, maybe, the kids’ rooms will be the next place to go (after you’ve finished your room). If your family room has become craft central, but that isn’t working for anyone, then you know that the next thing to do will be to create a craft space … after you’ve straightened the family room.
Want more information on how to handle the different categories of stuff stored in each room? My book, Decadent Decluttering: How to Declutter Your Stuff to Find Meaning and Simplify Your Life will take you through how to declutter everything from shoes to candles to DVDs to sports equipment.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I read a lot about habits and habit-building hoping that eventually, something will stick. See, I have a horrible time building and maintaining habits. However, one of the skills/strengths that shows up time and again when I take different types of personality tests, is a love of learning … so, I read a lot.
And, what I keep reading in books is that, whatever your goal, to get started working toward it, you should do something, anything, … right now.
Not to be coy, but it doesn’t really matter what action you take toward getting organized. Doing something, right now, is better and more productive than waiting for the right time to start.
I know, I know, you need to clear your schedule, hire a babysitter, ask for your partner’s support, look up information on that online program about cleaning your closet, buy a book about organizing your home, and on and on.
Yep, okay, let’s worry about all that later.
Take a Step toward Your Goal Right Now
Right now, do one thing, it might seem like an insignificant thing when facing the full scope of a project, but do one thing, anything.
If your kitchen counter is a disaster, you might decide to remove the mail piled on the counter. What do you want to organize? Go do that right now. No, you don’t have to do anything else. Do that one thing.
If you want to clean your closet, open the door right now and remove three items that you could only wear around your house … and if someone rang the doorbell, you’d pretend you weren’t home rather than let another living soul see what you are wearing.
Break through Your Procrastination
By doing something, anything, right now, you break through the barrier of thinking you need to do x, y, and z before you can start. By doing something right now, guess what, you’ve started.
Instead of thinking that the planets or every element of your schedule has to align in a favorable format, you start. Later today or tomorrow, do something else.
What if you do the wrong thing? Which would be worse – to spend five or ten minutes doing some minor task or not doing anything at all? Besides, if your goal is to clean your kitchen, dealing with the stack of mail on the counter isn’t going to do any harm. Instead, it gets you started.
Defining Your First Step
How do you know what to do? Think of something, again, anything, related to the project and go do it. If you can’t motivate yourself to do that thing, you may be thinking too big. You cannot, right now, clean your entire closet. However, right now, you can toss five stretched-out tees.
Still can’t stand up and do that one thing right now? For where you are at this moment in your life, that step is probably too large. So, instead, you toss two mangy tee shirts because you can handle that. If you can take the action right now, then you know you’ve selected the right action.
If you keep doing this, doing one thing that you can get done right now, you will work your way toward your goal. Maybe you wake up some rainy weekend morning and realize that scheduled events are off and that right now you can work through your dish and glassware cabinet.
I’m not saying that you should never schedule a task. However, if there is a project that is looming over you, instead of thinking about it, and thinking what you must do before you can do anything, the best thing you could do is to do something, anything, right now.
Sign up for emails to join the free program, A Year of Decluttering, and receive a pdf eBook of last year's program.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
My mother died in June of 2009 after a two-and-a-half-year downward spiral. I remember once asking her if she’d like me to help her clean out some of the stuff that was literally stacked up around her.
She started complaining that my father kept telling her to get rid of her stuff, but she wouldn’t until he got rid of his stuff. Stand down, staring match between my parents, both hoarders. Nothing was touched.
When my father, brother and I met with the funeral director, he told us to come back with clothing for her. I asked about a shroud, because that’s what my mother had mentioned. However, we weren’t particularly religious, and the funeral director suggested clothing.
Of course, my mother didn’t have an outfit set aside for her eternal wear.
This memory was just one that came back to me in full force when I started reading Margareta Magnusson’s new book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter. One line that sums up this art, “A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you.”
Death Cleaning for a Loved One
My father and brother went out to deal with other errands related to the funeral so, I went home and opened my mother’s closet.
The 1950s ranch was not big on closets. She used what was probably supposed to be the broom closet, which also had the chimney running through it. This closet was small.
It was also very, very, very, (very) crowded. So much clothing hung from the bar that you couldn’t shift a hanger to the side so much as wriggle it the way a kid would wriggle a tooth that wasn’t quite loose – nothing was going to come out. She also had an over-the-door fold-down hook that held numerous laden hangers.
Many hangers had more than one garment draped over them. To latch the door shut, she had to lean her full body against the door to cram everything into place.
This was the closet I turned to in order to find something to bring the funeral director.
I knew there was a lot of stuff in the closet, although mom had always complained that the real problem was the small size. Yeeeeessss, but.
In the closet seemed to be every garment she’d owned from the time we moved into the house in 1974 until 2009. This spanned probably six or eight different sizes. There was clothing I couldn’t remember her ever wearing. Perhaps she didn’t.
Because she’d been bedridden the last year of her life and I know she’d lost weight, I really had no clue what size she was. I figured the funeral director could clip or cut the back of her clothing, but I didn’t want to make that necessary.
I pulled down an armload of clothing from the closet and carried it into the living room. Although decluttering my mother’s clothing the day after she died seemed inappropriate, I couldn’t put things back in the closet.
Out came the trash bags.
Clothing at the farthest ranges in size, I deemed likely too small or too large. Into the bags. Structured, button down shirts I also thought would be an iffy fit and I decided to look for more forgiving knits. Clothing in the distinctive colors from the 70s and 80s I also bagged. If she’d died in the 1970s, wearing harvest gold for eternity would have been understandable; but, it wasn’t the 70s.
A rather small pile of possibilities got draped on my father’s recliner. I ended up with six or so rather overfull bags of clothing that would eventually go to the thrift store.
I think I selected a navy cardigan and split skirt with a flowered top. I could be wrong … I’d gone through 40 years of clothing and I had the unsettled thought that there was probably more up in the attic (there was).
Had I chosen well? I don’t know. Because she’d kept everything, I wasn’t certain she even like these items.
I think of this any time I go into my own closet and look at a stained shirt and convince myself that I can hide the stains under a sweater or realize that those jeans are two sizes too small. Why would I keep this stuff in my closet?
Questions to Ask When (Death) Cleaning Your Closet
After you read this, go to your own closet and randomly pull something from the rod or shelf. Could you wear this item, today? Don’t say, oh, well, it’s not seasonal or it’s too dressy or too casual. Could you put on this item today?
After reading all this, are you intrigued by the idea of Swedish Death Cleaning? I’d like to give away my read copy of the book to one of my email subscribers. Want the book? Do two things:
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
One of the challenges I face with stuff is that my husband likes to hold onto things, even if he isn’t using them. To him, all his CDs are useful because he can listen to them when he wants to … someday. He wants to keep his DVDs because they are his.
Chances are, you both have a different definition of clutter. People who aren’t ready to declutter, don’t see knickknacks and things they don’t use as clutter. It’s their stuff.
If you are interested in decluttering, but your partner, roommate, or housemate is not, all I can say is to focus on your own stuff. I know, it becomes frustrating after a while because you’ll look at an end table or a set of shelves and realize that it’s cluttered with stuff and none of it is yours.
You can explain why you want to remove clutter, but remember, this is your reason, not the other person’s. You can request that the other person go on a shopping ban (no more books until they’ve read the one’s they haven’t yet read), or point out that there is a finite amount of space to store items … so all DVDs should fit on a particular shelf or unit. And then, the person needs to curate their belongings by following a one-in/one-out (or two-out) procedure.
Consider your specific reasons for wanted to declutter. If you want to spend less time cleaning, explain that you will no longer clean certain pieces of furniture – shelves, for example, because there is so much stuff on the shelves you can’t clean them.
So, focus on decluttering your stuff. When you’ve filled a donation box or bag, and are making a trip to the thrift store, ask the other person if they have anything they’d like you to take to the donation center. Don’t be snide or demanding. Hope that at some point they’ll take you up on the offer.
However, if the other person is a hoarder who can’t get rid of anything and it is hazardous to move through your home, then you either need to convince them that they need to get the help of a therapist and a professional organizer who helps hoarders or perhaps change your living arrangements. Hoarding isn’t just clutter, and it is mentally and physically draining to be around so much stuff. To the hoarder, everything is important.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
For years, I've collected quotes, copying lines from books or noting quotes that other authors highlight in their books. Here are some of the inspiring, get-your-butt-moving quotes I jotted down while reading Eat that Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy. You can also read the article I wrote on Five Ways to Overcome Procrastination based on suggestions from the book.
So, what's all this time management stuff have to do with simplifying your life? Just the way you get rid of the clutter of things that overwhelm you, it's also important to strip away the tasks that distract us from what we want our life to look like. It doesn't happen all at once. It does require that you figure out what's important before you know where to put your attention and energy.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Have you ever hit the end of a week or a month (or a year) and wondered why you didn’t get done the things you said you were going to do? Then, you give a discouraged sigh and think, “I was so busy I could barely keep up with the day-to-day stuff let alone anything I dreamed of accomplishing.”
Were you busy or were you procrastinating? Is your busyness procrastination in disguise?
I’m a big fan of to-do lists … long, detailed to-do lists. I figure that if I’m crossing a lot of items off my list then I’m getting a lot of stuff done. Right? So, why, at the end of too many days, did I feel uptight about accomplishing nothing even when I’d crossed twenty tasks I’d wanted to get done off my list?
Like you, there are things I procrastinate about doing and things that just get done. So, why was “nothing” getting done?
When a few people mentioned Eat that Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy, I popped this title onto my Amazon wish list (where I keep my list of books I want to read). After a couple of months (no, I’m not joking), I looked to see if I could borrow a copy of the book from my local library. (I won’t count my time on the wait list as procrastination.)
Although the book is oriented to a business audience, the core information could be used for personal goals as well. While reading this, I kept saying to myself, “Oh, so this is why I always feel like I’m busy but getting nothing accomplished.”
Five Ways to Overcome Procrastination ... Now!
1 – Do the Most Important Task First
Why Eat that Frog? What do amphibians have to do with procrastination? Nothing. It’s a metaphor about tackling the least savory (but, probably, the most important) task on your to-do list first.
One of my problems is that I’ve created and followed the rule that I just need to get all the “small” tasks out of the way to clear mental and physical space for starting the bigger task. But, how often do I run out of time or motivation? Duh, that big task is the most important thing I should get done during the day and to do that, I need to do it first.
2 – Planning to Do Something Isn’t the Same as Doing the Thing
Like I said, I love to-do lists. I’ve created detailed plans – with lists and charts – about how I’m going to get my act together. And, then, I promptly ignore that plan I spent two hours creating. As Eat that Frog author, Brian Tracy says, “Many people confuse activity with accomplishment.” Planning isn’t the same as doing. Yes, you should plan, but then you need to act on the steps you’ve outlined. Oops.
3 – Figure Out the One Thing that “Would Have the Most Positive Impact on Your Life”
Make a list of ten things that you’d like to accomplish this year. Now, select the one that “would have the most positive impact on your life.” In other words, what would be the most valuable use of your time? If this goal doesn’t have a deadline, create an artificial one so you can keep the pressure on yourself.
Then, make sub-deadlines so you know that you’re staying on track.
I know, you’re thinking about the other things on your to-do list. Are you supposed to ignore them? Keep in mind that “there’s not enough time to do everything, but there is enough time to do the most important thing.” So, if you want to procrastinate on something, do so on less important activities.
But, what if you want to accomplish some of those other things on your list? Focusing on One Thing doesn’t mean that you’re not doing anything else. It just means that the One Thing gets priority over less important things.
If, for the first time, you want to host Thanksgiving dinner at your home, but you can’t see the dining table (and most other flat surfaces in your house), then decluttering your home is your One Thing.
Yes, you have to work and maintain your relationship with your family and friends, and, let’s not forget going to the gym. However, if the choice is between an evening of television or cleaning your pantry, you know which activity will get you to your goal.
Make sure you are “absolutely clear” about your goals and objectives. Use present tense, positive voice, first person singular (unless this is a goal your family is working on together) when creating your goal. So, “I’m hosting this year’s Thanksgiving dinner in my clean, organized home.”
3a – Still Wondering What Your Most Important Thing Is?
“…something that is important has long-term potential consequences. Something that is unimportant has few or no long-term potential consequences.” Ask yourself, “what are the potential consequences of doing or not doing this task?” Keep asking this question until you find your most important thing out of all the things you want to (or feel you have to) do.
Don’t assume you need to do a task just because you’ve done it in the past. You’re wasting time if it’s something that doesn’t need to be done … or be done by you.
4 – Put Your Plan on Paper
Make a list of everything that you think you’ll have to do to achieve your goal. Be specific. “Clean the garage” might be your goal, but it isn’t the steps you need to take to get it done.
Make a list of what you want to get done that month. At the beginning of the week, use the month-list to break down what you want to accomplish during the week. Each night, use the week-list to help you make a list of what you need to get done the next day.
Organize this day-list into a plan by priority and sequence. Use lines and arrows to show how tasks relate to one another. (All this list-making has me giddy. Remember, though, these lists are full of the actions you need to take to reach your goal … they aren’t for reminders to pick up the dry cleaning.)
5 – Act on Your Plan … Immediately, Not Tomorrow or Next Week.
Do something every day that moves you toward your most important goal. Spend more time working on the areas or projects that will make the most difference to your life and spend less time on activities that won’t.
I’ve gone into a room that I want to declutter and listed not only every piece of furniture but every shelf and surface that I need to work on. Yes, the list is crazy long sometimes, but instead of thinking of “the room” I’m focused on a shelf … which might be a ten- or twenty-minute task. So, instead of scrolling through Facebook first thing in the morning, I can clean a shelf or a drawer. I can skip a thirty-minute comedy in favor of working on two shelves.
So, decide what’s the most important thing is that you should be doing to reach your goal. Write that down and write down all the tasks you’ll need to do to get it done. Break that list down into manageable, daily tasks so that you’re always working on reaching your goal.
Ready? I’ll give Brian Tracy’s suggestions a try. There’s nothing earth-shattering about the advice, but, when I realize that I’ll work on little, unimportant tasks before what is most important, I know there’s advice here that I should follow.
Where do you procrastinate the most, and do you think these tips could help get you on track? Please, leave a comment below. If your most important thing is to declutter and get organized, it’s not too last to sign up for A Year of Decluttering and receive daily emails with 15-minute decluttering tasks.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Weird confession. I’m drawn to colors. No, not, “Oh, I love that shade of blue.” Nope, not me. I want all the colors. If I’m looking at an item that comes in multiple colors, I want all of them. Fortunately, this weakness doesn’t extend to purchasing a tee shirt in each of the eighteen colors its offered (my wardrobe is black and gray).
However, I long for the set of Sharpie markers in the largest, most colorful set offered. Instead of buying a palette with two or three eye shadows, I buy the one with ten (neutral) colors. The last time I bought ball-point pens, I bought the pack with pink, green, red, purple, light and dark blue, and black. If I wrote color-coded notes or lists, this would make sense. But, no. I just use the pens as pens.
I once bought one skein of every color Red Heart offers for their Super Saver yarn. I filled four big plastic totes with the yarn that took me over two years to work through.
I have to be vigilant, particularly if I’m tired or stressed or rushed for time when I run into a store. Oooo, a box with 120 Crayola crayons!
When you notice your shopping weaknesses, you can better prepare yourself for not buying things that later overwhelm you when you realize they’ve become more clutter.
Avoid Recreational Shopping
The kids are bored, or you and your friend are getting together for a couple of hours and someone says, “let’s go to the mall.” Maybe you have no intention of buying anything and you think that you’ll just walk around and look.
If you are just getting into the habit of decluttering possessions, why tempt your new resolve by wandering around stores for entertainment?
Limit Online Shopping
I’m always saying that I hate shopping. What I should be saying is, I hate going into stores. Online shopping from the comfort of my home, no problem. Or, well, it is a problem because it’s a little too convenient. Know what I mean?
Scroll from screen to screen and you see far more options than you would have walking around the mall in the same amount of time. And, what about the daily emails from stores and websites? Every one of them offers free shipping or a 2-for-1 deal or a limited time sale that make us feel as if we’d be losing money if we didn’t buy something.
Question Your Shopping Weaknesses
What tests your resolve to limit purchases? Shoes? Handbags? Books? Kitchen gadgets? Craft supplies? Beer-themed knickknacks for the man-cave?
If you know where or what your weaknesses are, you can decide to avoid them. Don’t go all “poor me, I can’t buy those adorable sandals.” Instead of thinking that you can’t buy something, rephrase it as a confident, “I choose not to buy those sandals. I’m working down my credit card debt and I’m cleaning my closet. Keep walking.”
If online shopping at 10 p.m. has you opening packages two days later, wondering what you were thinking, find something else to do at 10 p.m.
8 Ways to Limit Clutter by Limiting Shopping
While we tend to think of decluttering as going through the things we already own, noticing what your shopping weaknesses are can limit the number of new things that make their way into your house.
Learn How to Make this the Year You Declutter Your Home with some simple steps.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
If you’ve just started to clear the clutter from your home, or if you’re feeling frustrated by your efforts of the past few months, you may be wondering when you’ll finish. Chances are, you started the process of getting organized by listing your goal as decluttering your home. However, when do you finish that task?
There won’t be some sparkling moment when you finally toss your high school yearbook that makes you stop and look around and say, “Hey, I’m done!” Instead, you may spend years tweaking your belongings with no clear finish line. So, what does that mean for setting a goal to declutter?
Although many people start January with a list of goals, your goals may not be enough to keep you going. It was an email from a company that deals daily with the goals of thousands of people, Weight Watchers, that got me thinking when I clicked on their article, “What’s your why?”
Your Goal to Get Organized Is Not Enough
One of the lines from the article – “Your ‘why’ isn’t the same as your goal – it’s the reason for wanting to get to your goal; the motor that gets you to your destination.” Hmm, your ‘why’ isn’t the same as your goal.
How often do we think, “I need to get the clutter off the dining room table” or “I need to declutter my craft room.”? If we went so far as to think, “Why do I want to do that?” our answer would be something along the lines of, “To get rid of the clutter.”
Is your ‘why’ really just you repeating your goal? When we get frustrated that the clutter isn’t going away as fast as we’d like (or the kids left the remnants of their diorama projects for school on the dining room table or your partner decided to use the table to sort the contents of a file box), we are left spinning around our why/goal.
Why ‘Why’ Gives You Perspective when Faced with a Mess
If our why for clearing the clutter that collects on the dining room table is, “To eat dinner with the family, seating around the table, at least four times a week,” then the craft supplies that can get cleared away in ten minutes, becomes less of a problem. The file box contents aren’t a problem – yet – because you aren’t eating dinner at home for the next two nights. You can then calmly explain that the table needs to be cleared an hour before Sunday dinner.
Although the clutter may be upsetting or annoying, you can put the mess in the perspective of your why.
As you declutter, your why can change. When I started clearing my bookshelves, my first why was that I wanted to be able to locate the book I was looking for. Later, my why narrowed in on my desire to stand all my books vertically on the shelves instead of laying books on top of other books to fill every available space. Now, I’m starting to question the individual titles that have survived many purges, so I’ll be left with the books that inspire me and I’m happy to read again.
Create Your Why
If you aren’t certain what your why is, take a moment to visualize what you’d like your life to look like in a year (or six months, or three months or five years).
Have trouble visualizing the future? Take out paper and pen and describe what isn’t working in your life now and what you’d like instead. Go for specific details. So, “In a couple of years, I want to visit Italy for two weeks in the autumn” is a much stronger image and goal – and why – than, “I’d like to travel overseas someday.” Then, when it comes to deciding what you no longer need to own and selling these items, you’ll know your why.
However, if your why is centered on another person – your mother who announced at Thanksgiving that she’d like to give up hosting dinner but you’re too much of a slob to fit guests into your home … or, the friend who asked if you were preparing your house for an episode of Hoarders – it probably won’t help.
Your reasons, your why, need to be based on your own desire for change.
Although you may come up with a why that encompasses your decision and desire to declutter your home, you may also find that you want more specific reasons for tackling your closet or your craft room or your kitchen. When you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed by the task, you have a heartfelt reason to keep you moving in the direction you want to go.
Working on decluttering your home? My book Decadent Decluttering helps you consider why you have the things that you do and how you use them to decide whether to keep or clear the stuff that surrounds you at home. Order the ebook and you can start using these tips now.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.