by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I know, it’s spring, so it may seem like it’s too early to start thinking about holiday gift-giving … but, there are also birthdays and other life events to think about; the other day my husband asked what I wanted for my birthday which is three months away, so, I guess that put the topic of gifts on my mind.
If you’ve been decluttering your home, chances are that on more than one occasion you’ve held an item that you received as a gift. While for other items, you asked, Do I use this? Do I like this? With gifts, you probably also questioned your relationship with the gift giver and how they would react if they learned you gave away a gift.
Although a gift shouldn’t come with an obligation or burden to use, display, or store an item, sometimes, it does. Think about the different people you’ve exchanged gifts with and you can probably recall a memory or two of someone asking you about something they’d given to you as a gift. However, this isn’t everyone you know (at least, I hope not!).
Also, you’ll want to have personal conversations with family and friends, either in person, by phone, or through email. You’ll have different suggestions for different people and situations – you won’t have the same conversation with your mother as with the members of your book club.
Start talking to the people whom you believe won’t be upset or offended by the idea of not exchanging gifts or by gifting experiences. Don’t wait until it’s November to have this conversation – some people buy gifts months in advance.
Tell Your Decluttering Story
If you haven’t already told those close to you that you are decluttering your belongings, this is the time to share what you are doing. Explain why you decided to get rid of excess items and become more intentional about what you are keeping.
You may even want to mention what you’ve done with items, explain where you’ve donated items or how you’ve sold some things. Judge the individual’s reaction. Are they concerned that you’re selling things because you need the money? Do they think you’re decluttering because you are going to move?
Are they telling you that someday you’ll regret getting rid of every item you’ve tossed … what if your grandchild is going to a 70s-themed party and you must explain that you got rid of your leisure suit!
If the person you are talking to seems opposed to decluttering, then you may want to save your talk about not exchanging gifts for some another time.
Offer Minimalist Gift Ideas
Suggest not exchanging gifts. Explain that spending time together is more important and offer some ideas that would appeal to that person – go out for coffee or a meal, go for a walk, spend a day at the beach. Families could schedule time to go sledding or to host a cookout.
If you have a large family that gets together, suggest limiting gift-giving to the kids.
Avoid proposing something that would stress others. Suggesting that everyone limit commercialism by creating handmade gifts puts stress on people who don’t normally engage in crafts. And, now, you’re exchanging gifts that people may feel obligated to keep.
Explain that you’d like a donation to be made to a specific charity. If you have a milestone birthday or a second (or third) wedding coming up and you don’t want to receive a physical gift, suggest that a donation be made. Donate in honor of someone else’s birthday.
Consider consumables such as beer, wine, coffee, or specialty food. This can be a significant gift if you go the route of an edible-of-the-month-club. One of my friends was thrilled that her husband gave her a six-month membership to a vegan treat subscription box.
Exchange gift cards. Although some people feel gift cards are impersonal, if you know someone loves a store, website, or restaurant, then a gift card allows the person (or you) to purchase something they’ve needed or wanted. I asked my brother and sister-in-law for a gift card for Google Play Store, so I could get a subscription to the meditation app I wanted to use.
If someone insists on exchanging physical gifts, ask if they’d be interested in telling you what they want, with you listing a specific item as well. Set a price limit before anyone suggests an item. You could be specific (here’s the item number) or general (I’d like a red wool cardigan).
Gift an experience. Concert tickets, movie tickets, tickets to a show, membership to a museum. For my fiftieth birthday, I’d asked for a gift certificate to get a manicure and pedicure (I’d never had either) and my husband surprised me with an entire day of beauty! I would have never got myself something like this. Be mindful of what the other person normally spends on gifts, so you don’t put a strain on their budget.
Remember, gift exchanges also occur at work or with different groups, clubs, or societies that you belong to. In some cases, a Yankee Swap or white elephant gift exchange may be part of the entertainment. Making this type of event go away would probably be too difficult; however, you could suggest that everyone bring something from home to re-gift, perhaps around a theme such as a book or knickknack.
In the comments below, please share some ways that you deal with gift exchanges as you work at minimizing the excess in your home. And, share this article on social media as a way to start your conversation with friends and family.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Lately, I’ve seen a few real estate agencies use the term ‘smart sizing’ when marketing to individuals over the age of 55 who are seeking to downsize from a larger home. As the term suggests, you are asking smart questions so to make smart decisions about your living arrangements. Do you really need four bedrooms? A formal dining room? A family room?
For real estate agents, the focus is often on one-level living, sometimes with smaller or fewer rooms; or, communities for individuals over age 55 (meaning you don’t have children or grandchildren, even adults, who’ll be living with you).
The idea of downsizing to a smaller home may be something that you are thinking of for yourself, with an eye toward your future retirement. Maybe you aren’t of retirement age, but a divorce or death of a partner or spouse has made you realize that you don’t need all the space that you have. Or, you may be in the process of talking to a parent or parents about removing some of the burdens of living in a large home.
You don’t have to know where (or even when) you’ll move to a smart size home, to start the process of decluttering.
You’ll also want to start thinking about what you want to do with stuff that you won’t keep so as you declutter you keep moving stuff out of your house.
Can You Really Downsize to a Smaller Home?
Your first reaction to the idea of downsizing may be that it’s impossible because your house is full of stuff! However, are you using this stuff or just storing it? Maybe when your children moved out of the house, you started to put a few things in their room, you know, ‘just for a while.’ But, now, you aren’t sure what is stored in that room.
Empty rooms tend not to stay that way. In part, we know we are paying taxes and utilities for that vacated room and so it seems silly to not use it. Maybe we convert an extra room into a guest room or a craft room or an in-home gym, but the room never gets used that way. Maybe the room has become the junk room.
So, how do you figure out how much extra space you have in your home if your rooms are currently filled with stuff?
Empty the Extra Rooms
In most cases, when you declutter with no plan for moving, you may start with your closet, personal library, or with duplicate and damaged items (which are the easiest items to declutter). However, in this case, you’re looking for more than extra space in your closet or kitchen cabinets. You are looking for extra rooms that you don’t need.
Select a room that you haven’t spent time in during the past week. Bring some trash bags with you. You may also want boxes that you can fill with items that you will donate or give to a relative.
1. Remove the Trash
In your first go-around, move counterclockwise around the room, trash bag in hand, and toss anything worn out or damaged. Old magazines and other non-personal papers can go into a box that you’ll take to your recycling bin. Keep this first trip around the room quick – don’t open drawers, and don’t pick up anything that you need to think about.
If the room is so packed with stuff that you can’t walk around the room, then you’ll just deal with what you can reach.
2. Decide What to Do with Surface Objects
When you get back to your starting point, you’ll move more slowly around the room, examining items to keep, toss, donate, sell, or potentially give to someone you know. Start with items that are on the floor or on top of furniture. Don’t empty drawers or closets in the beginning because all you’ll succeed in doing is putting more items on your flat surfaces.
Pick up an item (any item). Do you still use this item? If your answer is, ‘yes,’ when was the last time you used it? Why is this useful item stored in a room you don’t go into? Maybe you’re storing your holiday dishes in this room and you know you use them in the winter. Bring these useful items into another room. (Yes, you may find yourself shuffling items around and that’s okay. It may not seem efficient, but if you aren’t certain what to do with something, you don’t need to force a decision.)
Remember, your goal is to empty the room. It doesn’t matter whether this takes a day or a month … provided you don’t have to move by a certain date.
3. Empty Drawers and Closets
After you’ve cleared the floor of everything except furniture and the dresser tops and shelves are empty, you can now go through each drawer, one at a time.
You may now see why I told you to wait to empty drawers until you cleared surfaces … drawers and closets tend to contain far more stuff that we expect.
You’ll continue to sort the items into keep, toss, donate, sell, or give away boxes. (If you don’t want the hassle of selling items, then move them into the donate or give away box instead.)
How to Declutter Someone Else’s Stuff
Did your kids leave stuff in their old bedrooms? Did your niece ask you to store things for her since ‘you have the space?’ You don’t want to toss or giveaway someone else’s stuff. Call them and explain that you are planning on moving and you are smart sizing the contents of your home. Point out that when you do move, you won’t have extra rooms or storage space. (And, no, you shouldn’t pay for an extra room in your house just to store stuff, especially, someone else’s stuff.)
You can ask that they come to your house to make final decisions about their stuff. This may involve giving them a deadline and maybe even a consequence for not tending to their stuff. (For example, if they don’t take care of their stuff in six months, you will select the items you think they may want and ship them in a single box. Explain that any other items will be disposed of; so, by the time they receive the box that you shipped to them, they won’t be able to request additional items.)
Although that may seem harsh, remember – although they may say the items are important to them, their actions (not keeping the items in their own home), suggest otherwise. Don't just toss someone's stuff. Give them the opportunity to collect it or sort through it.
You can box the items for this individual to take to their own home, further emphasizing to yourself that you are emptying the room so to prove it is an unnecessary space.
Decluttering the Rooms that You Use
Maybe you realize that you have two bedrooms, a dining room, and a bathroom that are no longer in use. You’ve emptied the attic. Your garage has piles of items awaiting pick up by charities as well as piles of things that belong to your adult children (who have promised to collect their stuff when they visit at Christmas).
You have a better sense of what a smart size home would look like for you. You can now move into decluttering rooms, such as your bedroom, kitchen, living room, and home office or craft room that contain a lot of the stuff that you know you’ll take with you to your new home. In my book, Decadent Decluttering, I cover techniques for sorting through the different categories of stuff that you may have in your home.
Remember, if you can declutter before you pack for a move, you’ll save money on moving costs (fewer boxes) and you’ll continue to give yourself a clearer sense of how much space you will need to do the things you want to do.
Preparing to smart size to a smaller home is an opportunity to surround yourself with the things that you know to be useful and that you love. By decluttering extra stuff (and closing off rooms that you don’t use), you allow yourself to see the type and amount of space that would be perfect for your life.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
As you walk around your home today, perhaps while doing your daily task for A Year of Decluttering, notice one thing, a minor annoyance, that you want to change.
No, I don’t mean that you want to keep your kitchen counter clear of clutter or that you want to organize your closet by type of garment and color. Observe something small, so small in fact, that it seems silly to notice it; but, you do.
For me, it’s the fact that when I take off my coat, I throw it on the back of my chair in the dining room instead of hanging it up. Now, I live in a bungalow, and there is no hall closet for hanging coats. My husband has taken over the coat rack in the corner of the dining room (sigh) with several of his sweatshirts and a backpack for portable medical equipment. To hang up my coat, I need to put it in my bedroom closet. No “problem” since the bedroom is a few steps from both the front and side door.
But, I don’t do it. In the scope of decluttering, organizing, and building habits, this is so minor a detail that it is easy to ignore. But, my coat sits on the back of my chair day after day. I pull the coat off the chair when I wear it … and, when I return home, it goes back in the same place.
I do this so automatically, I almost don’t notice the habit. However, I do notice the jacket. As I said, in the grander picture of my home, this is an insignificant detail. But, what does this mindless habit tell my brain, “It’s just for right now,” “This is easier,” “I have bigger projects to tackle,” “I’m busy,” “I’m tired,” “This doesn’t matter.”
So, for the next week, it’s my goal to hang up my jacket in my bedroom closet each time I’m finished wearing it. (Unless, of course, it’s wet; then, I’ll wait for it to dry.) I know I won’t form a habit in a week (I’ve read that it can take up to 66 days to establish a habit); but, I will try to be more conscious of what I’m doing … and what I’m allowing to slip.
Will hanging up my jacket make my home more organized? No. However, it may wake me up to other mindless habits and, once noticed, they can’t go unnoticed. Also, noticing that I’ve succeeded in creating a habit is a win, a small win, but something that will bolster me when it comes to tackling another task.
Maybe, you don’t like how you drop your in-coming mail in a pile by the front door instead of immediately tossing the junk mail and putting bills and invitations into an inbox on your desk. Maybe you are annoyed that you leave used mugs and water glasses throughout your home instead of bringing them into the kitchen. Maybe you never think of hanging your keys on the hook by the door.
Join me and work on that one, small, insignificant task until it becomes a habit that no longer requires thought or energy … you just do it. Let’s see if a small win helps create larger wins in our lives.
In the comments below, list the tiny habit you’ll be working on!
Imagining Life After Decluttering … The Question to Ask When You've Just Started to Clear Your ClutterRead Now
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
When you motivate yourself to start decluttering, you may prod yourself into action with thoughts like, “I’m tired of feeling overwhelmed by all of this stuff,” “I want to spend less time cleaning,” or “I don’t want to be so disorganized that I’m always scrambling to find whatever it is that I need.”
However, what would happen if you visualized your future a few months or a year from now, when you’ve cleared a lot of the clutter from your home? Don’t focus on the clear kitchen counters or the neat closet, think about the time you’ve freed from tasks like cleaning, organizing, shopping, or looking for misplaced items.
What do you want to do with that time?
Even if you are just starting the process of decluttering, thinking about why you are decluttering can not only motivate you to the task of sorting through your stuff, but remind you that you are doing this work to improve your life, to create time and space for the things you want to do with your days.
Do you want to clean your kitchen and dining room, so you can entertain more? Do you want to move the kids’ toys and DVD player out of your bedroom so that you and your partner can share more relaxed private time? Do you want to organize your crafting supplies, so you can spend your evenings making things instead of pawing through materials, looking for what you want to use?
Maybe, you’d use your “found” time to volunteer or start exercising or do things with friends and family instead of explaining, again, that you are too busy.
So, why do you want to think about this now? Because you may have components of your future in your home, right now. If you have dinnerware for eight that you never use, but entertaining is one of the reasons you want to declutter your home, then that dinnerware that seems like clutter right now is really the supplies you need for your future.
If you want to knit hats and blankets so to donate these items to charity, tossing your yarn stash would be counterproductive. If you want to teach scrapbooking classes, then those extra supplies may be perfect for your students’ use.
One of the standard questions of decluttering is, “Have you used this in the past year or six months?” If you answer “no,” but decluttering will give you the time and space to engage in this activity, then hold onto the items. Don’t hide these items but store them where you’ll want to find them when you are using them.
This isn’t an excuse to hold onto things, “just in case” you get back into photography or skiing. That’s why questioning why you are decluttering and visualizing your life as if you’ve completed the task are important steps to take. Instead of thinking, “maybe,” you move toward, “yes.”
And, what if, despite your decluttering efforts and your good intentions, you don't host dinner parties or start teaching scrapbooking classes? Then, you release these items, knowing that you’ve moved onto other dreams and goals.
If you weren't contending with clutter, what would you do with your time? Leave a comment below.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
When I ask someone why they want to declutter, they often say that they are tired of feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff surrounding them. Of course, it is difficult, in an exhausted, frazzled state, to know where to start.
In a moment, I’m going to ask you to close your eyes. You may need to first move to a space where you won’t be distracted for five or ten minutes. Read through the directions first and when you close your eyes, I want you to picture yourself two or three years in the future.
Imagine that you’ve eliminated your clutter. You no longer spend much time shopping in stores or browsing online. You devote much less time during the week cleaning your home. Your wardrobe is pared down to essentials that you love and wear all the time.
How do you spend your days?
Instead of trying to envision your days and weeks, you can imagine that you are sitting at home or in a coffee shop with a friend or relative whom you haven’t seen much of during the past couple of years. Set this scene by layering sensory details. What do you smell? Is the chair you’re sitting in hard or soft and cushioned? What are you wearing? Are you warm or cool?
These details will help anchor you in your envisioned future. Now, while catching up with your friend or relative, you are talking about the activities that fill your days. Pay attention to what you are saying.
Have you changed jobs? Moved? Taken up a new hobby or have finally found the time for one that you never had time for? Do you volunteer for an organization you’ve long wanted to support? Do you travel more often? While you imagine this conversation, continue to anchor it with those sensory details – the feel of the mug in your hand, the steam caressing your face, the music playing softly in the background.
Why bother with these sensory details when you could just make up a list of ways your life could be different? Because, when you imagine such a detailed scene, you’re telling your brain that you are there. Instead of thinking, “Well, my life could be different in this way or that way,” it’s more like you are tapping into a memory. You make your dream for the future a bit more solid and you create an emotional hook that may be stronger than a goal written on paper.
You can spend five or ten minutes envisioning your future … or longer, if you enjoy creating this scene. When you are ready, you can open your eyes. (Don’t worry if you don’t see images. You can also connect to this scene through smell, touch, or sound.)
Now, when you are debating whether to keep something, you can call up your image of future, clutter-free you and consider if that you will want or need that object. You have envisioned your reason for minimalizing your belongings and discovered what you will do with the time and space you create.
If you want to work on reducing your stuff at your own pace, consider working with my book, Decadent Decluttering. And, in 2018, join my free program A Year of Decluttering, to work through your extra stuff with daily 15-minute tasks sent to your inbox.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
If you’ve decided to get organized and clear the clutter from your home, chances are you’ve started with your stuff – your closet, home office, or bookshelves. Then, you moved on to areas where you normally make the decision – the kitchen cabinets, the linen closet. But, now, you realize that you need to move into spaces that members of your family share. This will involve their participation.
You’ll want to begin with steps that don’t seem intimidating. By intimidating, I mean that you aren’t suggesting they start tossing their belongings in trash bags. Unless they’ve brought up the topic of decluttering, chances are that they haven’t considered the need to get rid of anything they own.
Showcase Your Decluttering Efforts
Have you talked to your family about your decluttering efforts? This could be casual comments – “Wow, getting rid of the clothes that I never wore has made my closet so organized. I must save a couple hours every week not hunting down misplaced shoes and lost scarves.” Or, “I’m so glad I donated all those books to the library’s book sale. I wasn’t going to read them again and it looks so much neater not having books crammed on the shelves in every direction.”
When talking about your decluttering efforts, emphasize the benefits you’ve reaped since clearing out your excess. If your teen complains about never finding anything in her closet, your comment could resonate with her.
If you clear out the excess coffee mugs, make certain you leave your spouse’s favorites. What reactions do you get? None? Don’t be disappointed or frustrated. Look at it as a positive sign that reducing belongings won’t be disruptive.
Although you may be tempted to vent your frustrations that no one is noticing your efforts, let it go. You want their help, not their antagonism.
Explain Why You Want to Declutter
Before you talk to your family, you may want to write down your reason for wanting to declutter, so this information stays clear in your mind. You may be frustrated and want to shout, “This house is a pig-sty” or “I’m trying to organize the house, but you people are slobs.”
Don’t. Think about it, if your partner walked up to you and said these things would that excite you in a positive way?
Instead focus on the benefits. Point out that your kids could have playdates or that your husband could have his man cave and invite friends to watch the big game … if the house was free of cluttered surfaces … they may realize that decluttering is about doing more than filling trash bags.
Emphasize the Benefits of Decluttering
Focus on the specific changes you’d like to see. This could be that craft projects are done at the table in your child’s room instead of at the dining table. Or, that all books or DVDs are kept in a single location. Or that junk mail is tossed immediately, and other mail goes into a basket, so it can be dealt with on the weekend.
Again, explain the benefits that members of your family would see. If your kids are forever scrambling to locate homework, sports equipment, and musical instruments, point out that you want their help clearing a space where they can keep these things by the door. Emphasize that this will mean they don’t show up late to sports practices or lose points at school for not bringing in their homework.
Simple Decluttering for Families
Step One: Surface Decluttering
Pick a day and a time frame. An hour this weekend is better than blocking out an entire day next month.
Your family’s first step is to remove obvious trash and bring misplaced items to their proper space. So, catalogs and newspapers get put in recycling. Mugs or plates are brought to the kitchen; books are brought to the bookshelves; toys go to the kids’ rooms; dirty clothes are brought to the laundry room; personal belongings get dropped off in individual bedrooms; and so on.
For surface decluttering, you aren’t picking up every item and deciding whether to keep it. Instead, you remove or move items quickly. This can start conversations … Why is the mail left on the kitchen counter? Why is dirty laundry piled in the corner of the bedroom instead of brought to the laundry room?
Start in one room and move through the house as a group. However, for bedrooms, this may mean the room’s owner sorts their stuff on their own or works with one other supportive person. Focus on removing trash and items that belong someplace else.
Step Two: Daily Decluttering
Tell your family that to maintain this level of decluttering, that each day, everyone will spend ten-to-fifteen minutes removing trash and recycling from the house and will bring items to their proper space. Pick a time – say, immediately before or after dinner. Go back to the rewards your family will reap – inviting friends to the house, having the space to do a desirable activity.
By doing this surface decluttering on a regular basis, you can better notice problem areas where there is too much stuff and what stuff doesn’t have a place where it can be found and returned. Daily decluttering will be done forever … however, it will become easier as you reduce the number of items in your home and decide where every item will be stored.
Step Three: Deeper Decluttering
As your family develops the habit of returning items to their place within your home, you may notice that you have more mugs than will fit on a shelf; more DVDs than will fit in their designated space; more craft supplies than will fit in their organizer. Your first reaction may be to go out and purchase additional organizing tools. Before you do that, go through these items with your family to see if you still use these items.
What about larger tasks like the garage or basement? Consider having everyone work on different projects in the same area. Your husband organizes the tool bench, the kids gather together all the toys and sports equipment from every corner of the garage, and you sort through the boxes you never unpacked after your move several years ago.
What to do with these items your family is releasing? You could plan for a family yard sale, with the proceeds to go toward a fun activity. (Don’t try to rally your family’s enthusiasm by suggesting you’ll be able to fund a weeklong vacation this way. Funds for a day trip destination is more realistic.) Or, you could sell items online. You could also bring the items to a local donation center.
If you keep most decluttering sessions short and focused on something like the rack of DVDs or the toy room, you can get through the task in an hour or a few. You may want to speed up the process with longer decluttering sessions; however, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself or your family. Stressed people will want to cling to their belongings because they’ll feel as if you are trying to make them get rid of everything.
Stay on Track and Keep the Process of Declutter Enjoyable
Play upbeat music. Set a time limit and stick to it. If you plan three hours to declutter, after two hours of pulling out things, devote an hour to bagging trash and returning items to their proper place or organizing them in their space. If you don’t leave time to wrap up your decluttering, chances are the area will look like a discouraging mess and you’ll lose momentum.
When it comes to getting others to declutter, you need to let them decide what to do with their belongings. These may not be the choices you want them to make and this could leave you discouraged. Emphasize the ten-minute tidy up at the end of the day so trash gets removed and items are returned where they belong. And, hope that your family will see the benefits to doing some deeper decluttering.
For more tip, check out these other articles:
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I knew that I’d need to rest and recuperate after surgery*. In my mind, I thought that would mean sitting at the dining room table or on the couch with lots of time to write. I didn’t think that small tasks – wiping down the kitchen counter, reading and answering emails, folding my laundry – would leave me so tired.
Ninety-minute nap tired. Cranky-toddler tired when I’d push myself to do one more thing … thinking it would just take a minute, no big deal.
One of the things that was (is) driving me crazy was that no matter how drained I felt, a corner of my brain kept jabbering at me, reminding me of tasks I didn’t get to before my surgery or that I thought I’d have the energy to work on after the surgery.
I remembered a productivity tip that suggested writing down tasks sort of settles the brain because now it knows you’ve acknowledged the task.
How to Be Productive When Your Brain Is Spinning
1. Do a Brain Dump – Write down everything you must do. Yes, even small tasks, like making a phone call. You can also write down the fun things you want to do, like go out for coffee with a friend. Don’t be surprised if this takes you an hour to do … and then you keep adding to the list over the next few days.
If there is a deadline attached to an action, note it next to the task. Yes, this is a mega to-do list. List things you want to do around the house as well as things you need to do at work.
2. List the Steps Necessary to Do a Task – Okay, if I want to catch up on some podcasts, I’m not going to list steps like, ‘sit at computer, put on headphones, click play button…’ but I will list each individual podcast I want to listen to. If I see “catch up on podcasts” on my to-do list, I’m left with a vague sense of overwhelm because it isn’t clear how many episodes or how many hours will be involved in getting that one item off my list.
If I list the five episodes individually, when I listen to one, I can remove it from the list and feel a sense of accomplishment. If I want to meet with my boss, the first thing I need to do is schedule that meeting, which means a phone call or email is a task that needs to go on my list.
3. Break Down Actions into Turtle Steps – Author and life coach, Martha Beck, often talks about breaking tasks down into tiny turtle steps. So, when I think I’ll sit down and write for two hours and find myself stopping after two sentences, I call that a fail and get upset with my post-surgery lethargy.
Beck suggests breaking a goal in half and checking your body for any tension in connection to accomplishing the task. So, If I think I should be able to write for one hour, I feel some anxiety because I know I haven’t had much luck focusing for that length of time either. Thirty minutes? Hmmm. I decide that 20-to-30 minutes is doable.
4. Give Yourself a Treat – If you’re like me, you’ll want to expand that turtle step because it doesn’t seem as if it will allow you time to accomplish anything. However, writing for 20 minutes is more productive than me deciding that if I don’t write for two hours then I just shouldn’t bother.
To acknowledge that you’ve taken a step toward completing a task or reaching a goal, give yourself a treat. This treat could be stepping away from the computer to get a glass of water. Or, treating yourself to a bottle of sparkling water that usually seems like an unnecessary indulgence. Your treat could be rubbing your hands with hand cream, putting on a favorite song, stepping outside for two minutes, doing a few stretches, writing a gratitude list, writing a brief email to a friend, etc.
The treat isn’t extravagant, but you should give it to yourself right after you’ve completed your turtle step of a task. If you’ve completed several turtle steps to wrap up a project, you could give yourself a slightly larger reward – watch a couple episodes of a favorite television show or go out for coffee or an inexpensive meal.
So, with all this in mind, I pulled out a stack of 1-1/2”x2” Post-It Notes and wrote a single 30-minute task on each piece of paper. Okay, some tasks are an hour (those podcasts) and writing and posting a blog post contains numerous steps (that I have listed on a master checklist instead of a dozen Post-It Notes).
I’ve already felt some satisfaction after peeling a few Post-It Notes from the back pages of my planner and crumpling them into recycling.
Are you ready to be more productive? Check out some of my past articles:
*So, surgery. My apologies as this is probably too much information, but I haven’t yet figured out how to simplify all this. I’d had a pelvic ultrasound in December to locate my IUD, which had shifted. The ultrasound also located what appeared to be an ovarian cyst. This kicked off a series steps: bloodwork for ovarian cancer (negative), an MRI, a second ultrasound, three more blood tests for cancer (negative), and, finally, surgery. It turns out that I had a fibroid on the uterus that was nearly as large as the uterus and so was in front of the ovary, causing the unusual appearance. Or, at least, this is my non-medical interpretation of the situation. I went into surgery thinking I’d likely be getting an ovary removed; instead I ended up with a hysterectomy and a much longer recovery.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
If I mention decluttering in conversation, the person I’m talking to will immediately jump to justifying why they keep the roasting pan they use twice a year, the dress they hold onto for the rare dressy event in their life, or the “pile” of art and craft supplies they use all the time.
No one ever seems to say, “Yeah, I have no clue why I’m holding onto five years of magazine back issues.”
Instead, they go straight to the stuff they use or like.
Decluttering is not about getting rid of things that you use or like. I know, a lot of people will say that if you haven’t used something for six months, out it goes, but, hey, if you know that in six months you’ll break out the Christmas cookie cutters or the bathing suit, then the six-month guideline just doesn’t apply.
What Do You Want to Keep?
Knowing what you want to keep is handy information to have before thinking about decluttering. Instead of questioning what you are taking away, you focus on what you’ll keep. If you know you wear casual/business casual clothing all the time, then it is easier to see which garments don’t fit that description … and probably are things you won’t wear.
Before you delve into a category of stuff (books, DVDs, jewelry) or a room, take a moment to consider:
I know, decluttering is all about getting rid of stuff, but if you focus on what you want to keep – what is important to you – you may find it easier to make decisions about what has to go.
What Stuff Fills the Spaces in Your Life?
When you walk into a room, your first reaction may be that you own all this stuff because you use it or will use it. You might not see it as excess. However, once you ask – What do I use? What do I like? – you will notice items that fill the spaces between the items you know are important to you.
What are these items? In the free program I offer in 2018, A Year of Decluttering, I give a daily, 15-minute decluttering task for each day of the year. (If you are doing this program, I do hope that you are enjoying it.) It may seem crazy that there are 365 types of things to potentially rid from your home … not 365 things, but, types of things.
Many of these types of things fall into the category of extra stuff. Extra stuff is all that, well, stuff, that we convince ourselves could be useful, although we don’t question that usefulness. When you do, you may find it easier to release these items you don’t (or can’t) use and don’t like.
SIX THINGS TO DECLUTTER WITHOUT QUESTION
1. Duplicate Items. We intentionally or unintentionally acquire duplicates of things we already have … an extra spatula and screwdriver and stapler and bedsheets. If we get rid of the duplicate items, we are convinced we are courting disaster that will leave us without a screwdriver, stapler, or spatula. However, with fewer items to clutter an area, the chances of losing the screwdriver is small and if the spatula needs replacing, it is a minor expense.
2. Excessive Quantities. Twenty mugs where we only use four; eight sets of towels where two will do; sixteen black cardigans because every time we see one in a store it seems like a useful purchase while we forget that we have others hanging in our closet.
3. Favors and Freebies. Party favors and assorted freebies from stores, conferences, and events that are really advertisements from sponsoring companies can fill drawers and get tucked onto shelves without much thought. Why do we hold onto these items?
A Brigham Young University study found that people who felt an attachment to an item valued it at a higher price. How difficult is it to develop an attachment to a seemingly meaningless item? A researcher touched a mug and a study participant’s hand at the same time. Yeah, basically, that’s it. So, you hold onto the water bottle you received from the gym because you have an attachment to it.
4. Broken, Stained, Worn Out Items. We want to be frugal and environmentally-conscious, so we think we should get a bit more use from an item before releasing it. We can downgrade the stained tee-shirt to a cleaning rag. We can learn basic wiring and fix that lamp. In reality, this stuff builds up in the corner of the garage, mocking us with our good (albeit unrealistic) intentions.
5. Outdated Entertainment. Once upon a time, you bought CDs and DVDs; but, now you download and stream your entertainment. Do you watch the DVDs and listen to the CDs that you own? If you do, great. If you don’t, are you holding onto these items because you spent money on them years ago? Is the principle worth the space devoted to these items?
The same goes for books – both those that you’ve read as well as those you’ve intended to read. Are you holding onto so many items that you can’t see which you value the most?
6. Former Hobbies and Aspirations. Maybe you used to ski, or you wanted to learn to quilt. You own the gear and equipment that went with these former hobbies and activities you aspired to participate in. But, now, these items weigh on you because they are reminders of what you don’t do.
Honestly answer, Do I want to keep these items? If so, why? What do you get from holding onto these items you don’t use?
What Can You Release?
Not every excess in your home falls into these categories, but categorizing items isn’t the point. Thinking of the items in your home as stuff that fill the spaces between the things you know are important to you, can help break the bonds of attachment you feel toward your excess and move it out of your space.
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.