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.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I help people focus on what's important to them by guiding them through clearing clutter and distractions from their lives. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; courses; speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.