by Susan Caplan McCarthy
If you are involved in a major decluttering task, be it at your home or a parent or relative’s house, it’s all too easy to feel as if you need to keep pushing yourself through the task until it’s done – even if you know it will take days, weeks, or even months, to reach a “finish line.”
You may face a lot of negative self-talk, “Look at all the money I wasted on this stuff.” “Why did they keep this stuff? Didn’t mom and dad care how much time it would take me to get rid of their junk?” “How did I let things get so out of hand?” “I need to keep pushing myself as punishment for ending up in this position.”
However, some self-care can help you stay energized during your decluttering project. Taking care of yourself while decluttering and rewarding yourself afterwards will help you realize that you are accomplishing a lot.
In 2009, my then boyfriend (now husband) and I moved in together, selecting an apartment between his mother’s and my parents’ houses (which were maybe one mile apart). Several weeks later, my mother died, and I’d regularly check on my father on my way home from work. In 2011, he was diagnosed with dementia and moved into assisted living.
I was in the habit, each morning, of driving to a nearby park to take a walk. I drove past my father’s house. Assisted living is expensive, so I wasn’t certain if and when we’d need to sell the house. One day, instead of driving to the park, I stopped at the house to wrap my head around what would be involved in emptying the place. My parents were hoarders – everything had seemed important to them. I filled some bags of trash and then asked my brother if he could call his connection and get us a dumpster.
Once the dumpster arrived, I never went on my walks. I’d dress for exercise, but then stop to empty the house. My flexible work schedule didn’t help because I could get caught up most mornings in four or five hours of going through boxes and bags and cabinets.
I’d finally realize that I hadn’t eaten breakfast … and it was lunchtime. I was reacting to the dust and mold I’d stirred up while purging. I’d go home, shower, eat lunch, and crash on the couch. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, I was overwrought.
Self-Care While Decluttering Your House
There are a few things that you can do to be nice to yourself while you are decluttering.
Self-Care Rewards for Getting Rid of Clutter
If you spent four hours cleaning your closet or eight hours sorting through the garage, you deserve a reward. Even if you have more decluttering to do, give yourself some downtime to recharge and reflect on what you’ve accomplished.
Yes, You Deserve a Break
I know, you’ll just go through one more box of stuff and then get a snack. Or, if you squeeze in an extra hour’s work today, you’re convinced that you’ll get done faster – only, you haven’t noticed that the longer you work, the slower you go.
Plan. If you are sorting through boxes of paper in your home office, have a bottle of water and a snack on your desk when you start. Set your smartphone alarm as a reminder to stop, even if for five minutes. Make time to reread a favorite book at the end of the day. Be nice to yourself.
However, don’t reward yourself for getting rid of clutter with a trip to the mall! Plan a nice experience – a trip to a museum or the library, a walk in the woods or a couple hours at the beach, or even dinner with someone special – for when you finish with a room or complete a task you know will be difficult (such as sorting old photographs).
These are all things that I wish I had offered myself while decluttering my parents’ house; now, I offer them to you.
If you are decluttering your home, I offer ways to sort through everything from jewelry to the pantry to collectibles in my book Decadent Decluttering. I also offer a free program, A Year of Decluttering, in which I send you daily emails with a 15-minute task that will help you clear the excess from your home.
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.