by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Remember your excitement for the start of the school year and your hope for getting better grades, making new friends, claiming a spot on the team, or starting a new extracurricular activity? Even if you’ve been out of school for more years than you attended, you can use the energy of the change of season, routines, and schedules, to work toward a goal.
If you set resolutions or goals in January and they’ve fallen to the wayside, maybe the randomness of starting in the fall will kickstart some new habits. Or, you can think of starting in September as getting a jump start on all those January 1st resolution-setters. Make September your new January.
Setting Goals for the Fall
Start off making a list of the things you said you wanted to get done this year (along with all the other goals you’ve thought of during the past several months).
Pick one thing to devote your time, energy, and attention to. This can be a goal that you can complete in the next four months or it can be a significant start to a goal that will take longer to complete.
I know. You want to work toward more than one goal. But, first, list all the tasks involved in reaching your most important goal and estimate the time it will take for each of those tasks. Add up the total time and then add thirty percent to account for low estimations. Do you really have the time to work on two or more goals right now? Get started with one goal and once you get into a routine, then decide if you can add on another goal.
Click on the image below to get your free pdf download of this goal tracking chart. This will allow you to create a habit chain for the specific tasks that you need to do to reach your goal. Use the chart to track tasks for a month, print out additional copies for each month.
So, while your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, or the neighborhood kids, are starting the school year, use some of that ‘starting something new’ energy and work toward accomplishing one of your goals.
Want to share your goal in the comment section? Making a goal public is great for accountability!
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
My parents lived in an 800-square-foot ranch. To reach the attic, you’d pull the folding ladder down from the ceiling of the hallway. Over 39 years, more and more stuff went up into the attic. When I finally climbed the steps to the attic to empty it there was a narrow band of walking space around the opening and along most of the length of the attic (I was afraid I’d fall through the opening as I squeezed my way past boxes).
I can’t tell you how many hours I spent emptying the attic. I can tell you that heat and cold does nasty things to trash bags and many were disintegrating. Most of the time, I’d toss soft stuff through the opening and use that stuff to cushion other items that I tossed down. Then I’d climb down the stairs and wade through the stuff on the floor, taking it to the dumpster or moving it into my car for a trip to the donation center.
There were brand-new towels from the discount store that my father bought before deciding we could keep using the old towels. There were old pots and pans, blankets, curtains, bedspreads, and shower curtains from relatives who moved and thought we could use their hand-me-downs. There were boxes with decades of old bills and checking statements (all the way back to when they got married in 1964). There were boxes of carefully labelled car magazines. There was a rack of the business outfits my mother wore in the 1950s and early 1960s.
In all of this, there were items that were probably family heirlooms – dishes, tea sets, knickknacks; but it had all been stored in the attic, piled under empty boxes and broken toasters and was completely meaningless. At the yard sale, one woman said, “That must have belonged to your great-grandmother when she was in the old country.”
Maybe. Probably. But, which great-grandmother? What country?
The vase my mother always told me was an antique that “would be worth something” (but not who owned the vase), was an antique … that I was offered ten dollars for.
There was so much stuff in this attic, that when I asked my brother if he and the young guy he had helping him could pull the few pieces of furniture left the attic, he called me to tell me that there was more shoved stuff into the eaves. How much could there be? Enough to fill the floor space of the house – every room – and make it look like I hadn’t already emptied its contents.
My takeaway from the experience? When my husband and I moved into a house I told him that under no circumstances would we put things up in the attic. One, we needed to drag a ladder into the house to get into the attic and two, we were middle-aged and hopping off a ladder and into an attic (while carrying boxes of stuff) just wasn’t going to happen. The Christmas decorations could live in a corner of the basement.
Decluttering Your Attic Storage Space when You’re over 50
How often do you go up into your attic to get things you use? Do you have a regular staircase into the attic? A pull-down ladder? A hole in the ceiling that requires manipulating a ladder into place? Chances are that carrying boxes up and down a ladder or staircase isn’t the easiest thing to do.
Plan on emptying your attic storage. You may have to hire someone to carry boxes down to you, then you can take some time to sort through the contents of those boxes before having your helper back to get more boxes for you.
Chances are that your attic is filled with a lot of just-in-case stuff. Do you really need those extra blankets and towels for guests? And, if you do, do you really want to rummage through the attic in July looking for them?
If you find things that you saved from your adult children’s childhood, snap some pictures of the items and ask if they want them. If they don’t, don’t second guess them and decide to hold onto things you’re certain they’ll want someday. They won’t.
If you are storing heirlooms in your attic, consider that this is not the way to honor sentimental items. You may feel that you are preserving these items, but when your children find these items hidden in a box, under other boxes in the attic, they won’t think these things were very important because you treated the items like clutter by shoving them into a dark corner.
It might take you a year to sort through everything in attic, a box a day, particularly if you’ve lived in the house for twenty or more years. Start now.
Decluttering Your Attic when You’re under 50
Use your attic to store seasonal clothing and decorations. Make sure the boxes get opened and sorted every year. Don’t use your attic as a place to stow things you don’t know what to do with. If you think you should hold onto an item just-in-case, designate a specific reason for holding onto it and keep the item in a more appropriate location.
If those blankets and sheets will be useful if you have guests, keep the items in the guest room. No guest room? Where will your guests be staying then?
Question everything you think should go in your attic storage space. Are you simply delaying deciding to give away unwanted items? And, when I’m telling you to avoid putting things in the attic, that isn’t permission to store it in a shed, garage, or basement instead.
Be honest with your reasons for wanting to store items that you won’t use. Are you frustrated with the money you spent on a little used item? Then try to sell it or donate it for a tax deduction.
Whether you are 30 or 60, emptying your attic can be one of the best things you can do for your family. If you move, you’ll have already gotten rid of a lot of items you weren’t using anyways; and, you won’t leave adult children with the task.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I have a friend who has been working at decluttering her home for a while. A few times, she looked around the room we were in and said that looking at everything felt overwhelming. She hoped that getting more organized would help her feel calmer. She put a lot of energy into thinking about and questioning every item’s past and future use.
The other day, she emailed to say that she had a dumpster in her driveway. My reaction was: ?!!!
Her response was far more verbal. “I wish I could say it feels good to be parting with so much, but it is trickier than that.”
I get it.
It’s easy to talk about decluttering in a non-emotional way, keep what you use; keep what you love; clear out the rest. But, decluttering an item is always wrapped up in some emotion even if you ignore the feeling.
Sometimes, I’ll look at an item for a while, thinking that it is time to donate it, but it continues to sit on its shelf. Maybe I’ll move it to a new location. It’s time, I think. The item sits there. I’ve had it for thirty years! Most of the meaning is tied up with the length of time I’ve had the item.
In one case, it’s a stuffed toy, a dog, a German Shepard that I had bought years after my German Shepard/Husky mix had died. As I write this, I realize that there are no memories directly attached to this toy, it was a reminder of a memory. Last week I tucked it into my to-be-donated box. I wish I could tuck the thoughts and emotions about the items into the box as well.
Recycling the files from my years of teaching, seemed to suck the energy from my muscles and leave my head full of dead leaves. Rescuing binder clips, pulling off rusted paperclips, remembering the hours of unpaid work I put into creating classes, seeing names of former students, trekking from my basement to the recycling bin at the end of my driveway, and then back down the stairs to sort through more papers. Just remembering this process makes me want to lie down.
Releasing things that you've held onto for a while kind of feels like you've created a little hole in your self. There's this gap of - hey, that was part of how I identified myself for years, but not for a while, come to think of it, but, still, weird-empty-feeling.
Even if decluttering isn't physically challenging, it is mentally and emotionally draining. Think of it like sweeping a floor - you stir a lot of dust into the air, no matter how slowly or carefully you go. You need to blow your nose, clear out the dust; get a drink of water.
If you’ve had these feelings and think, “Clearing clutter should feel great! I should feel free! Empowered! It should be a cathartic experience!” Well, yes, and no.
Along with stirring up the dust, decluttering stirs up a lot of emotions. About who you were. Who you thought you would be.
However, eventually, you’ll have a difficult time recalling what you released. Objects. Thoughts. Emotions.
The emotions tied to the object you’re releasing today, will replace the memories of last week’s feelings and donated things. As next week will ease away this week’s emotions.
One day, you’ll notice that there’s space around your favorite objects sitting on a shelf and you’ll realize that there’s some extra space in your heart, your lungs, your mind. You can breathe. You’re ready to explore and discover what will come next.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Decluttering your purse can be a quick task that you can think of as self-care. Consider the number of times you go into your purse over the course of your day, your week. Even when (especially when) you know something is in your purse, if you can’t easily find it, your stress level shoots up. Wouldn’t remaining calm help both yourself and those around you?
How to Clean out Your Handbag
Declutter Just-in-Case Items
Before you pop everything back in your handbag, question how many items you carry with you that you never use. Maybe you think you should carry a comb with you but usually you just run your fingers through your hair. You carry an umbrella with you, but you never remember to use it for the few steps between car and building. You probably carry a lot of practical things with you because you feel that it’s the right thing to do. If someone ever needs a safety pin, you’ll be a hero!
Funny story. I joined my husband for a doctor’s appointment and the doctor commented that he was going to step out of the exam room for a moment to get a measuring tape, so he could measure my husband’s neck. I immediately pulled a measuring tape from my purse and handed it to the doctor, who stared at me with a quizzical look. “I crochet,” I explained, “I need to measure things.”
Then, I was recounting this story to a coworker the next day and she pulled a tape measure out of her purse! “For furniture shopping.”
The point is, even if it’s an unusual item to carry around, if you use it, then it’s earned its place in your handbag. Otherwise, why lug around items you don’t use?
Take all those items that you are convinced that you need and pop them into a zippered pouch or even a plastic food storage bag that you can seal shut. When you use one of these items, remove it from the pouch and store it in your handbag. At the end of a month, look at the items you’ve yet to use and consider that you don’t need to carry them with you.
Do you need a larger bag or a smaller bag now that you see what you choose to carry with you?
Make Having a Tidy Handbag a Habit
If you regularly change your handbag so it coordinates with what you are wearing, instead of having duplicates of basic things in each purse, sort these items into zippered pouches that you can move from bag-to-bag.
Make a point of decluttering your purse regularly. Either empty it every evening or once a week. If you sort through it regularly, then it won’t take much time. Tie this new habit to something you already do. For example, after you put away the groceries, immediately declutter your purse.
Remember, something that is important to carry with you right now might not be important to have on hand in a few months. And, something you didn’t need, may become a necessity. The items in your handbag should serve you and make your day easier.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I’m still thinking about decluttering indecision. I’m creating a self-directed program for DIYers who are frustrated that their previous attempts at getting organized haven’t worked. So, I keep thinking about the thoughts and actions that get tangled with our stuff.
While the other day I suggested having a packing party for that stuff you’re convinced that you use (until you find out you don’t even use half of it), today I want to address the stuff that you don’t use all the time but that you wouldn’t want to get rid of just because you haven’t used it in a month or three (or, maybe, even a year). Things like DVDs, CDs, books, jewelry, hobby supplies, fashion accessories, even cleaning supplies.
Step One: Get It Together
Really truly gather all the stuff for a category and bring it to one place so you can see what you have. You might be able to use the dining table, your bed, or another flat surface – like the floor. You want enough space so that you can not only pile stuff but move it around into smaller groupings.
If you are going to sort cleaning supplies, gather up everything, from every room and storage area. You may have some cleaners in the bathroom, some in the kitchen, some things in your linen closet or cleaning closet or laundry room or garage.
Bring all your books to one area. Gather all your fashion scarves or belts or yarn or acrylic paint or whatever it is that you want to sort through. Focus on a single category during each session. (So, if you work with a few different art and craft supplies, don’t simultaneously sort yarn, rubber stamps, paper, embellishments, paint, etc.)
Step Two: Group Similar Items
Within your category of stuff, group similar items. If you were sorting belts, you could sort them by color or width or whether you’d wear them with casual, work, or dressy outfits. Sort cleaning supplies by bathroom cleaners, glass cleaners, spot removers, etc. Sort jewelry by necklaces, bracelets, pins, etc. Pile books by their subject or genre.
There’s no right or wrong way to group items – and if you want to create subgroups, go for it. Maybe you have a lot of necklaces and dividing them into silver and gold still leaves you with overwhelming piles. You could further divide those groups by length.
I’m going to say that you want a subgroup of three-to-five items so that you easily compare the items. One item by itself is probably an aberration from your normal style or interests, a specialty item, or a gift. Ten items in a group could be overwhelming to compare.
If you notice that something is in poor condition, decide if it’s time to get rid of it. If you realize that you don’t like something and don’t use it (and have no intention of using it again), put these items in a donation bag. Stop moving them around your home.
Step Three: Notice the Excess
If you notice that you have forty-three books on home gardening, focus on this pile and figure out if you refer to all of them on a regular basis. Maybe you have seven bathroom cleaners. Or, seventeen scarves in different shades of blue. Do you use all these items? Were you shocked to discover duplicates or near-duplicates in your groupings? If this happened, then take it as a sign that you have too many of these types of items and you can’t keep track of them all.
If you felt a bit like you were shopping and were excited to rediscover some of these things – great! And that means that you weren’t using them at all. Use this discovery to remind yourself to use these items … or, realize it’s the time to move them along.
Step Four: Use it and Save Money
I love yarn and colored cardstock, but it gets to a point where too much is too much. I can make a lot of projects without buying a single supply. I’ll clear away some of the excess, my crafting space will be neater, and I’ll save cash.
Save money on grocery shopping by using the canned and dry goods in your pantry, particularly if you’ve stocked up on pasta, soup, or tuna in the past.
All those scarves – wear ‘em and don’t buy another one. Wear the jewelry you own. By sorting through everything in a category, you can see what you truly own.
Step Five: Store Like with Like
Have a lot of similar cleaning products? Line up these items from least-to-most full. Use up the products that are nearly empty first. Keep the products together so you can better maintain a sense of your inventory. It might make more sense to have a cleaning caddy filled with products if you have more than one bathroom as opposed to having a full set of supplies in each room.
This also works with beauty and grooming supplies, stationery (use up partially used notepads and notebooks; use pens that are half-filled with ink), and some craft supplies.
Keeping similar items together helps you keep track of what you have, and you’ll save money by avoiding buying things you already own. Also, you’ll have an easier time decluttering because you’ll see where you have duplicates and you can compare the condition or quality of similar items and decide to keep the best.
In my book, Decadent Decluttering, I take you through the process of sorting a wide variety of categories of things you have in your home. Save the physical clutter and purchase the book for your Kindle or the Kindle app.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
You’re sorting through a cabinet or drawer and it seems like, for almost every item you touch, you are telling yourself that the item is useful. You rearrange most of the stuff, maybe toss a couple of things, and you’re done.
A couple of weeks later, you’re frustrated that you’ve spent so much time getting organized and it doesn’t really show. Part of the problem is that you think you use more items than you do. By owning the item and giving it space in your home, it carries an aura of importance. But how important is that stuff to you really?
Have a Packing Party
When Ryan Nicodemus (of The Minimalists) decided to minimalize his belongings, he packed everything in boxes, as if he was going to move. If he needed something, he went to the labeled box and took out the item that he needed – and only that item. Toothbrush, pants, sheets, skillet, you get the idea. Twenty-one days later, he realized that eighty percent of his stuff was still in boxes.
Now, I’m not suggesting you pack every item in your entire home; however, you can work this idea on a smaller scale.
Box up the contents of a junk drawer or your kitchen utensils or your workout gear or the craft supplies for one medium. Use a box on the smaller side, even if you have to use two or three boxes. If you throw too much stuff in a large box, you’ll get frustrated that you can’t find anything. Frustration is not the goal of this activity.
You want to identify what you use most often. Label the outside of the box (if you have more than one) with the general group of items in the box.
Keep the box handy; you aren’t trying to discourage use of the items. When you need something, remove that item. If you are taking out a spatula, don’t think, oh, I’ll need that spoon rest tonight, so I’ll just grab it now. Nope. Wait until you need the item.
Yes, this may cause some tasks to take another minute; but only for a few days, maybe a week. Once you take something from the box, you’ve identified that you use it and you can keep it where you’d normally find it.
Maybe, at some point, you’ll be too lazy or too busy to go through the box and you’ll come up with an alternate solution. This is a sign that the item you thought you needed wasn’t as necessary as you thought.
At the end of the month, you’ll have shown yourself what you use and what you don’t. If you haven’t used it, it’s cluttering the space for the items you do use. Your space will be filled with the items you use.
BUT, BUT, BUT … EXCEPTIONS
Holiday/Special Occasion Items – Let’s say you are sorting through a kitchen cabinet and you pull out the Christmas cookie cutters. You use them once a year, no question. Don’t include them in your packing party. Instead, store them in a less accessible place if they were in prime kitchen real estate. If you’re afraid that you’ll forget where you moved them, figure out when in December you’ll bake cookies (you don’t have to be exact, just beginning, middle, or end of the month). A week or two before you’d bake, make a note or set up a reminder on your phone with the location of those cookie cutters. So, if you bake mid-December, write a note for December first that says, “cookie cutters in box with Christmas decorations.”
If you have something that you only use for summer cookouts and it is now January, move the items to an appropriate place and make a reminder note. The only time to have a packing party with special occasion/holiday items is during their season – do you really wear all of your winter-themed sweaters?
Clothing – Instead of boxing up items in your closet, use the Reverse Hanger Technique. Switch the hangers around so they are backwards on the clothing rod. After you wear something, when you return the item to the closet, turn the hanger so the hook is facing into the closet. In a month, or a season, you’ve learned what you truly wear.
Just in Case Items – Maybe you’re looking at an item and thinking that it would be perfect for a costume or a school project. If you get rid of that empty shoe box or leisure suit from the 70s, you just know you’re going to need it.
If you can think of a potential use for an item, start a box or bin with items that share this goal. Label the box and store it in a logical space. If Halloween came and went and you didn’t think to pull out your box of costume stuff, is it really a useful collection to keep? You’ll find more solutions for dealing with just in case items, in this article.
Now, if you have no issues with decluttering your stuff, you might not need to go the route of a packing party. However, if you really can’t decide if you need or use a group of items, trying this technique can help you clarify your decluttering goals.
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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.