by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Before you start organizing your photos – print and digital – you want to ask yourself this important question – What is your goal for organizing your photos?
If you don’t answer this question, you are going to waste a lot of time sorting and organizing photographs that just aren’t significant to you. Below are just a few reasons why you might want to curate your photos.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
When you look at your to-do list, do you see things like, “organize the garage,” “plan vacation,” “clean office,” and other items that take up a mere line on your list but can take hours (or days) to complete?
If you find that you can never motivate yourself to start these projects (because you know they’re much more involved than that single line item suggests), let me help you break that project into manageable actions.
Sorting Tasks from Projects
Let’s think of a chore or a task as something that can be completed without a break. Yes, I know that you think that you can work three-hours straight, without a break; but, realistically, consider that you can be productively focused for 20-to-30-minutes.
You’ve got yourself a project if you need to do several types of activities to complete something, or it involves several locations (and by location, I mean boxes, shelves, drawers, wall, section of the floor, etc.), and it is going to take you more than 30-minutes to complete.
If it’s a project, you want to break it down into smaller tasks, turtle steps if you will. This doesn’t mean that you still can’t work for three-or-four-hours; however, you’ll be giving yourself mini-goals along the way so that you can check in with yourself and know you are accomplishing what you want.
Break Down an Organizing Project into Tasks
Many of the objects we use to store or display our stuff can be divided into areas such as individual shelves, drawers, bins, surfaces, etc. that naturally suggest manageable projects. Don’t have a lot of stuff on that shelf? Bonus! You’ll finish fast and feel a sense of accomplishment.
You can track tasks by making a physical list or keeping a mental checklist.
For example, the dresser in my bedroom has six drawers. I’d list each drawer as a separate decluttering task. The top of the dresser is another task. The jewelry box sitting on the dresser is another task. If I stored stuff under the dresser, I’d make that its own task. I might even decide to list cleaning the mirror attached to the dresser as a tenth task.
As a list, that one item in my bedroom looks like this:
Why Task Thinking Can Help You Get More Done
I know, I know, you might be thinking, hey, hold on there, you just made more work! Nope. We’re still talking about the same dresser. However, if it’s 9 p.m. and you were hoping to squeeze in some decluttering and organizing, if you think, “I want to go through my dresser,” you’ll look at the clock and realize you don’t want to be up until midnight and so you might walk away from this project, leaving it for another day. However, if you go up to the dresser with a task mindset – clean that drawer, you’ll realize that you have the time to get it done.
If you are thinking, “big deal, one drawer;” remember, if you looked at the entire dresser as your to-do and you walked away because it was too overwhelming, you got nothing done.
Attics, garages, basements, and sheds can be trickier. If there are shelves, treat each shelf as a task as opposed to thinking of the entire shelving unite (of course, how much stuff is on the shelves can also make a difference).
Since boxes and bins can contain a lot of smaller components, judge each box as a separate task. If it takes 10 minutes to sort, fantastic! Move onto the next box.
When you finish a shelf or drawer, you’ve completed a task that’s part of a larger project. After each task, you could take a bathroom or water break or snap a photo and post it online. Depending on how much time you have, you could move on to another task. You could do a series of tasks in your allotted time.
Give Yourself a Time Limit
Set the timer on your smartphone or watch for 20 or 30 minutes (or, compromise at 25). If the timer goes off and you aren’t finished with the task, examine why. Did you finish one task and segue into another task? Was the task too large and involved? Did you get distracted and start micro-focusing on something?
For example, you found a packet of photographs and started looking through them instead of emptying and sorting the contents of a drawer. If you find something that will become its own task, set it aside for your next block of time.
By setting the timer, if you’ve gotten off track, within a few minutes the timer will go off and act as a reminder for what you intended to be doing.
When to Break Projects into Tasks
A Year of Decluttering is the free, year-long program I’m offering in 2018. Daily emails give you a focused task to work on for 15-minutes a day. It’s not too late to jump in and start decluttering.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
When we think of decluttering, we imagine large, multi-hour (perhaps multiple day-long) tasks. Just the thought of decluttering becomes so overwhelming that we exhaust ourselves just imagining starting on the task.
The following six techniques help you focus your mind and your energy on the task by making it more manageable.
1. Do Unscheduled Decluttering
Can’t find something? Clear your way to it. For example, you can’t find something in your closet or purse. Dump out your purse and clean out the clutter as you look for what you were trying to find. As for your closet, grab two bags – one for things that will be thrown away and another for things that can be donated.
Work through the items in your closet until you locate the thing you were trying to find. If you have time to finish the job, great; if not, take the trash to bin and put the donation bag in your car or with the pile awaiting pickup by a charity.
2. Straighten Up Throughout the Day.
When you stand up from your desk, bring your dirty mug to the sink instead of waiting for the end-of-the-day clean-up. Pick up as you go along to save things getting out of hand.
3. Focus for Five Minutes
Set a timer for five minutes and file papers, put away laundry, empty the dishwasher, or declutter a room. Because you know the timer will go off shortly, you work and make decisions much faster.
4. Set a Micro-Goal
If you are dreading going through the pile of mail, a micro-goal would be sorting through the stack and tossing the catalogs. Basically, for a micro-goal you want to break a project down so that you can do it in one chunk of time (that isn’t so long that you risk distraction).
5. Avoid Micro-Focus
Micro-goals are good for you; micro-focus, not so much. Let’s say your goal is to declutter a shelving unit in your living room. As you go through stuff, you find a box of photos and you start looking at them. Before you know it, an hour has gone by and you haven’t finished decluttering the shelving unit.
If you know you slip into micro-focus, set the timer for every ten minutes. When it goes off and you are resetting it for the next ten-minute round, ask yourself, “Am I working on the project I’m supposed to be working on?”
6.Assign a Time Limit
Instead of assigning a task, set a time limit. So, instead of saying that you are going to clean the garage today, establish that you’ll work in the garage from 9 a.m. until noon. Then, stop. If you don’t think you’ll stop, ask someone to call you or stop by or set an alarm.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the idea of decluttering. By establishing time limits, straightening throughout the day, and even doing some decluttering when the mood or circumstances arise, can help make your decluttering efforts more productive.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Back in January, you were determined that this would be the year you organized your home. You jumped into some big projects, started moving things around, got overwhelmed, got caught up in life, and now you realize you have more clutter than you had six months ago.
Although it can take a lot of time to complete a project, once it’s done you’ll save yourself time. You won’t be searching for misplaced items. You won’t waste time cleaning or moving around the objects that need to be decluttered. You won’t squander time thinking or talking about the same tasks that loom over you.
1. Determine Your Goal
Maybe you want to park your car in the garage, cook more meals, invite people over, spend less time digging through your closet. In each case, you have a vision for what you’ll be able to do in your life if you weren’t facing disorganization.
2. Schedule the Time
It’s easy to think that you can squeeze in a task when you see an opening in your schedule. However, this makes it too easy to put off the task until your calendar is wide open. When’s the last time that happened? Look for one or several two-to-four-hour blocks of time and write it onto your calendar. Plan for child care, ignore social media, and only respond to text messages or emails that can’t wait until you are done.
3. Break the Task into Smaller Pieces
You may think that two-to-four hours isn’t enough time to finish the project. Maybe it isn’t. However, your focus and energy will probably drop the longer you push yourself and you’ll be less productive. You’ll end your time feeling discouraged instead of looking forward to your next session.
4. Decide if You’ll Need Help
Do you need to involve your spouse or partner? Would a friend or professional organizer help you stay on task? If you’ll be sorting through things that belong to another member of your household (including the kids), get them involved since you shouldn’t make decisions about someone else’s stuff.
5. Declutter Before You Organize
Getting organized doesn’t start with buying storage bins, shelves, or organizing systems. Your problem may be that you have too much stuff that you don’t use or that is damaged and can’t be used. When you clear from your closet the clothing that doesn’t fit or remove the hobby and recreational supplies that you haven’t used for years, you’ll free up a lot of space. Organizing stuff that you don’t use, don’t need, and don’t like just wastes your time.
6. Determine Where Unwanted Stuff Will Go
Will you sell stuff at a yard sale, in a consignment shop, online, or through an app and when will you do this? Where will you donate items? (When can you drop off items or will the charity come to you?) What shelves and storage supplies do you already own? (You may empty some things, making space for other items.)
7. Give Items a Home
Know that mugs go on this shelf and plates on another shelf. Determine where sports equipment is stored. Know where items can be found and where they will get returned.
Just as you need to find the time to work through organizing projects, you also need to make the time for maintenance. Devoting a few minutes each day to returning items where they belong can keep disorganization at bay.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Maybe you decluttered and organized your closet without much trouble; but, when you moved to your books or your kitchen gadgets, you started to worry that you’d get rid of something useful. Or, you were looking at images on Pinterest of minimalists’ homes and you got uptight thinking you’d have to get rid of all your stuff to be organized.
Sometimes, clearing through a lot of stuff in a week or a weekend and seeing the dramatic results feels great. Other times, it’s too much
First, Sort Stuff by Category
In Decadent Decluttering, I focus on sorting categories of stuff because I think that makes it easier to compare items and judge how much space you need to display or store them.
To start decluttering, select a category of stuff – bakeware, books, clothing, jewelry, toys, craft supplies, etc. You may have books in your living room, bedroom, and home office. Select the room with majority of the items and bring everything there.
Sort the items so like things are together. For example, put all your pants in one pile, long-sleeve shirts in another, sweaters in yet another. Notice, some of these groupings can be subdivided; so, when you start sorting your pants, divide that pile into black dress pants, jeans, khakis, etc.
Next, Eliminate Ten Percent
After you’ve sorted your items into categories, eliminate ten percent of the items in each category. So, if you are sorting shoes, get rid of ten percent. Start off by counting the items. If you have thirty-seven pairs of shoes, round up the number to forty to simplify the math. Pick the four articles of footwear that are the most worn-out or uncomfortable.
Chances are, when you return the items to their home, you won’t notice a significant loss. Instead, you’ll appreciate that the area looks neater. You won’t get that panicky feeling of getting rid of too much. Now, in a couple of weeks or months, go back to your shoes and gently eliminate another ten percent. (Round the quantity up or down to the nearest number ending in a zero.)
You can continue to clear your clutter, removing ten percent of your items each time you go through a category. You don’t even have to worry about the math; just remove a few items from a category every so often.
Try This with Your Trickiest Clutter
Won’t this take forever? If you’ll be moving in two months, this isn’t the best method for you. However, if you realize that you have too much stuff, but the idea of decluttering makes you nervous or resistant, removing ten percent of the items in a category can ease you into the process.
One, you may not need this technique for everything – you may struggle with books but not kitchen gadgets; blouses but not pants. Two, bringing everything in a category into one place can help you see unnecessary duplicates. And, three, you can always get rid of more if you feel comfortable doing so.
What group of items are you ready to get rid of ten-percent of what you own? Could you suggest this technique to the person in your home who doesn’t want to declutter? Please leave a comment.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
A few weeks ago, an acquaintance complained about starting her day on the wrong foot when she couldn’t find her keys. I made the suggestion (that she’s probably heard dozens of times), “You could put your keys in the same place all the time.”
She sighed, “I put up hooks for the keys, but I never remember to use them,” She shrugged as she wandered off, suggesting this was a situation beyond her control.
I could have asked her why she didn’t hang her keys on their hook. This probably would have put her on the defensive and she would have told me about everything she carries into the house and how she starts making dinner before she even has the chance to take off her coat.
Or, I could have asked her why it was important to find her keys in the morning. Now, (I imagine) she’d start talking about saving time and feeling calmer and more organized instead of frantic. If I’d asked why this was important she would have found her real goal. Her goal wasn’t to hang her keys on that hook … her goal was to know where her keys were.
Sometimes we treat a task, “do this,” as our goal. However, a goal is really the outcome we want. Doing a task is taking a step that will help get you to your goal. The following four steps will help you set a more meaningful goal (and, yes, you can follow the steps for any goal, not just finding your keys).
How to Set Your Goal
Now, when you find yourself walking into your home, with your arms full of grocery bags and the mail and a kid (or spouse) asking what’s for dinner, your goal, not just the task of hanging up your keys, will float through your mind. Instead of thinking, “I’ll hang up my keys later,” you’ll think, “Wait, tomorrow I’ll want to leave the house feeling calm,” and that goal may be the incentive you need.
What’s your goal? Feel free to share it in the comments below.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
When we finally decide that it’s time to declutter our homes, we want to see fast results that will keep us motivated. But, sorting through every object we own can be draining. At the end of an hour, we may feel more frustrated than inspired … so much more to do!
How Much Do You Have to Declutter?
Of course, there is no one answer to the question how long decluttering will take. A professional organizer may estimate ten hours for a room; however, how much stuff do you have? Have you decluttered here and there through the years? Even if tabletops, counters, and shelves aren’t laden with objects, how much stuff is stored (or crammed) in drawers, cabinets, and closets? How many rooms and spaces do you need to declutter?
If you’ve never really decluttered in the past, or you have a lot of small items to sort, you’ll need more time. My parents’ home was a hoarding situation. Although the house was a small 800-square-feet, there was an attic, basement, two-car garage (with additional attic space), porch, and shed to clear. My brother and I probably spent a couple hundred hours emptying the house, which included a yard sale and multiple trips to donation centers.
What Rooms Are You Decluttering?
Decide what room you’ll start in. You can go for some easy wins when you start. Decluttering bathrooms, the foyer, a hallway closet, a guest bedroom, or the laundry room will take less time than, say, the garage or attic … unless that guest bedroom has become the catch-all for everything you didn’t want to decide what to do with in the past.
However, the guest room that hasn’t been used and won’t be use immediately, could take a lot of time yet leave you feeling as if you’ve accomplished nothing. One of the reason so many books on organizing start in your closet is because you start every day in this space.
You may think it is selfish to start with this space, particularly if your kitchen, dining room, and family room are cluttered; however, starting your days with an organized closet could be just what you need to get inspired to tackle the next task.
What’s Your Timeline?
If you are downsizing because of a move to a smaller home, or because you are being relocated across country for work, then you may have a tight timeline to work with. Although you may declutter obvious clutter with no trouble, if you can’t easily make a decision with an item, chances are you’ll take a lot of stuff with you thinking that you’ll decide what to do with it when you reach your new home.
On the other hand, if you are staying in the same home, but you want to simplify and give yourself more space to move around, then there is no rush and you may devote more time to mulling over items. And, honestly, 15-minutes here or an hour or two there won’t feel overwhelming, but it will add up over the months.
I’ve seen quite a few people on private Facebook minimalism groups admit that it took them a couple of years to minimalize their belongings. So, if you feel like you should have got more done this past weekend, remember, you did enough.
Where Might You Underestimate the Time Required?
If you plan a yard sale, you’ll need time to price items and set up the sale as well as manage the event and clean up after the sale.
If you plan to sell items online, you’ll need to take photos, write descriptions, answer potential buyers’ questions, and schedule time for buyers to come to your house or plan time to pack items and take them to the post office.
If you will sell items on consignment at different stores, you’ll need to contact the store owners or managers, bring in your items, and retrieve what doesn’t sell within a certain timeframe. You may be dealing with different stores, so you’ll need to research the proper location for clothing, furniture, antiques, or jewelry and track what you bring to each place.
If you are donating items, do you need to bring them to a donation box or center or schedule time for a group to pick up items at your home?
You could use A Year of Decluttering’s daily tasks to remove some of your clutter so that when you have more time to work in a room, you’ll have already cleared a vast assortment of things which will help speed up your process. Remember, unless you must move by a certain date, you don’t have to declutter your house in a week or a month. And, by decluttering now, by your choice, you’ll have an easier time packing should the need arise sometime in the future.
When you’ve tackled a decluttering project, how long did it take you? Leave your comment below.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
When decluttering, it’s easy focus on our stuff, because we’re handling everything we own and focusing on its place in our life. (Do we use it? Like it? Want it?) However, decluttering is an opportunity to clear space for the things we want to expand or add to our life.
When we spend less time cleaning, rearranging, organizing, shopping for, and otherwise managing our belongings, we are granted the opportunity to decide how we’ll use that time. Peter Walsh, in Let It Go, highlights some of the benefits you’ll gain from decluttering.
1. You’ll have more time and energy for the people who are a part of your life.
2. You’ll meet other people with similar interests and values as you take the time to have experiences.
So, the next time you find yourself debating the fate of a gadget or knickknack, consider what it will add to your relationships or experiences.
Know a friend who is feeling overwhelmed by their clutter? Please share this article with them and help them see some of the things they can gain by decluttering.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I just stated reading Peter Walsh’s book, Let It Go (2017) about downsizing. He’s speaking to individuals who are downsizing an entire lifetime’s worth of stuff because they are retiring and moving to a smaller home, to couples who are combining two household’s worth of stuff into a single home, and to people who are left to sort through their parents’ belongings.
He has one section subtitled, “clear away stuff that doesn’t represent who you are” with the awesome line, “Your life is giving you new opportunities. But with all your stuff piled around, you may not be able to see them.”
Declutter These Things
As Walsh points out, we aren’t always logical when it comes to our reasons for holding onto items. Do you keep things that cast a negative cloud over your home?
Why You Haven’t Got Rid of this Stuff
I had a collection of fairy tales, folklore, and mythology that filled five of twelve bookshelves. I had packed and unpacked these books over six moves. One day I was looking for something to read and it occurred to me that the only time I’d touched these books in the past twenty years was to move them. I had been treating these books like a part of my identity … only a part that I’d released long before I donated the books.
So, why haven’t you got rid of things you don’t like, don’t use, and don’t want?
Like with my book collection, sometimes it just takes a moment of looking with fresh eyes at something you’ve had for a long time to realize it is time to release it. In my book, Decadent Decluttering, I describe how to clear and curate your stuff so you love and use what you keep in your home.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
As a young adult, every Sunday morning I’d drive my mother to the local CVS Pharmacy so that she could pick up the Sunday papers and shop for the beauty and grooming supplies and other sundry items available at this store.
Since I was there, I’d shop for whatever I needed while checking out new products. Along the way, I adopted my family’s habit of making certain I didn’t run out of anything (even though the store was a five-minute drive from home). This meant that if I started on a new bottle of shampoo or body wash, I would buy a new bottle on my next shopping trip – even though I wouldn’t need it for another month or two.
When my mother died, I took home bags of new and nearly new grooming supplies that she had stockpiled. I didn’t have to buy anything for months. This had me rethink my shopping habits with these types of items.
What Is a Shopping Ban?
A shopping ban doesn’t mean that you can’t buy anything. Consumables that get used up, such as food and shampoo usually get the green light. However, you set rules on the gray areas. For example, coffee is a consumable, but you may decide that you won’t buy it at a coffee shop, but you can make coffee at home. Also, if you know you need to replace your worn-out sneakers, you can buy them during a shopping ban, if you add them to your approved list.
I’ll give myself a mini shopping ban when I go to the store where I’ll limit myself to what is on my list, and I can only list items that I’ve run out of or I will run out of in the next week. No browsing or impulse purchases.
Tempting Sales, Coupons, and In-Store Offers
Yesterday I went to CVS with a shopping list of six items – four I would use or start using right away and two that I’d need within a week. Each item came with an enticing offer that would have required me to spend more and bring home additional items.
Usually, the practicality of grooming supplies would have given me the go-ahead to buy more. After all, I’d save money now and use the items later. But, I’ve started to question if that tactic is in alignment with my goals. So, what challenges did I face in the store?
Hair color – In the Sunday paper, I’d found a three dollar off coupon that would expire in two weeks. I planned on coloring my hair right away, so the coupon was a good deal, I wasn’t buying something I wouldn’t use for months.
Shampoo – If I wanted the sale price on the shampoo I was buying, I would have to buy three bottles of shampoo. I bought one bottle, paid the regular price and spent half of what I would have if I’d stockpiled a nearly six-month supply of shampoo.
Moisturizer – Yes, this was on sale; however, if I spent a certain dollar amount on this line of products, I’d earn an in-store reward. Because the moisturizer was on sale, I’d have to buy a second product to reach the reward. I didn’t need another product.
Sleeping Aid and Toothpaste – Both items offered a buy one and get one at 50% off deal … tempting, but I decided I didn’t want to spend more money.
Replacement Electric Toothbrush Head – Not on sale.
I spent $100. If I’d taken advantage of the offers I mentioned, I probably would have spent another $40. I also would have ended up with a stockpile of items that I wouldn’t use for another month or six. In those few months, I would have shopped at CVS additional times and encountered other sales. I could have bought items that I’d forgotten I had stocked at home.
Define Your Shopping Ban or No-Spend Month
If you do a shopping ban, where you limit yourself to an approved list of purchases, you decide how you’ll handle sales and in-store offers. Do you buy the shampoo while it’s on sale, even though you won’t need it for a while … or, would you count that as an impulse purchase?
If you find that you have a stockpile of items that you’ve purchased on sale or with coupons, you could do a no-spend month which doesn’t just cut out spending but encourages you to use the things you’ve already bought.
So, how do you handle coupons, sales, and other in-store offers that encourage you to stockpile beauty and grooming supplies (as well as food and cleaning supplies) while managing your desire for less clutter? Please leave your tips and suggestions in the comment section below.
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.