Journaling Questions That Help You to Declutter Your Home

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Blog/Creating Order/Journaling Questions That Help You to Declutter Your Home

When it comes to organizing your home, chances are that you want to jump right in and start taking action. Grab the trash bags! Fill those boxes with things that I can take to the local donation site! Move, move, move!!!

Yesterday, you weren’t motivated in the slightest. You had too many other things to do. Your back ached. You figured it would make more sense to wait another month and a half and organize things right before your college friend was coming to stay for a long weekend.

But no matter whether you’re telling yourself that you’ll get around to decluttering “later” or whether you’re in full on “get it done” mode, chances are that within weeks you’ll be frustrated by the clutter. Yes, even if you invested the time, energy, and effort into getting organized.

Wait, what?

Why Decluttering Doesn’t Always Solve Your Problems with Clutter

Social media, videos, and articles tell us to declutter because if we have less stuff, we’ll have an easier time staying organized, cleaning our rooms, and feeling in control of our home. Heck, throughout my six years as a professional organizer, presenting workshops and writing about decluttering, I’ve pushed decluttering as the solution to becoming organized.

I’d help people organize their closets only to return a month later to shin-high piles on the floor. Everything had been so neat, why hadn’t they found that inspiring enough to maintain.

Maybe you’ve had the experience of investing hours into decluttering a room or tidying your entire home only to turn around and realize the clutter had returned. Maybe the piles weren’t as high as before or the drawers weren’t crammed quite as full as they had been.

But still, you’re struggling to find things and you feel like you can’t relax until you clear the dining table of the baskets of clean clothes waiting to be folded and put away.

Clutter is a symptom. Decluttering is the equivalent of taking ibuprofen to ease the ache in your back. The symptom (clutter) eases, but the source is still there.

​The solution? One part problem solving and one-part habits.

How Journaling Can Help You Understand Why Getting Organized Is Important to You

It can be easy to feel inspired to declutter after watching a video, taking a class, or reading a book or article. All that information is fresh in your mind. And it all sounds so simple and straight-forward. Do x, y, and z, and your clutter will be gone.

But after a few hours (or days, if you feel particularly inspired and the decluttering is going well), you find it more difficult to make decisions about what to keep and what to pass on to others.

Chances are that in your frenzy of inspiration that you cleared away things that made for easy decisions: packaging from products, junk mail, things that needed to be put away in drawers, closets, and cabinets.

Flush with this success, you push to go through more things. Only the things that you’re sorting through now are items that you used once upon a time … or that you had hoped to use. You begin to wonder if it would make more sense if you held onto them for “someday” just in case they prove useful.

It’s all too easy to waste time, energy, and effort on decluttering only to be unhappy with your results. This can happen when you’re not certain what to keep or when you end up working on the wrong task.

​The problem here is a lack of clarity.

Journal Prompts that Can Help You Gain Clarity

When you’re not certain what is or will be useful to you, it can be difficult to choose the items to keep and understand which you can let go. Imagine trying to pack for a 10-day vacation not knowing where you were going. Do you need a couple of bathing suits, or do you need layers to protect you against the cold?

​Not knowing what you plan to do in the rooms of your home also creates a challenge. What do you need there if you don’t know what you plan on doing in the room?

Journaling Prompt: What do I do in each room and what do I need to support these activities?

Start by writing down the rooms in your home with space in between so you can fill in details. You may want to list only two or three rooms on each page, so you’ll have space in between them.

Next, list the activities you do in the room: sleep, read, watch television, play board games, host guests, exercise, cook, eat, scrapbook, dress, and so on. Next, to each activity, list the general items you use. For cooking, this could be stove, pots and pans, and utensils. For reading in bed, bed, nightstand with lamp, and your current book.

When you’re decluttering the items in this room, and you have a question about the usefulness of something, you can turn to this information you’ve written down and decide it the items in question below.

Journaling Prompt: What do I wish I could do in each room?

Maybe the excess things in a room prevent you from using the space as you wish you could. Your dining table is the catch-all for all sorts of things, which prevents you from hosting meals for family and friends.

Journaling Prompt: What drains my energy in this room?

Often, we focus on the aesthetics (or lack thereof) of clutter. It looks messy and unappealing. But how do you feel, mentally and physically when you’re in the space? You may also find the old paint or wallpaper on the walls uninviting. Or the shelves stuffed with tchotchkes.

Journaling Prompt: What motivates me?

Are there personal projects you’d like to take on or goals that you want to work toward? Where in your home would you work toward these aspirations? Do you have the space, furniture, and materials to do the work you need to do?

​This may be a matter of eliminating some things and adding others.

Use Writing in a Journal to Help You Problem Solve Clutter

You may have noticed that in the past you’d clear a pile of stuff from the counter, a table, or even a spot on the floor, only for a new pile to form once again in that very spot. In this case, the problem isn’t the pile of stuff.

Instead, chances are that this space offers some sort of convenience. You see, habits form when a behavior offers some sort of reward (including a rewarding feeling, like relief). Carrying something around your home, questioning, Where does this belong? Or I don’t feel like carrying this upstairs right now; so, I’m just putting it here for a moment. Or Should I even bother putting this away since I’m going to need it soon?

You may be thinking that you find organizing to be more of a hassle than a reward. Look for the inherent value of a task, the reward for doing the task. (And this doesn’t mean, Oh if I clean the hall closet, I’ll reward myself with one of those decadent coffee drinks.)

Instead, think of the reward feeling of looking at clean kitchen counters instead of ones covered in crusty dishes. And isn’t it more pleasant to not face a whiff of stinky laundry waiting for the wash?

​You add more emphasis to noticing the inherent value of completing a task by telling yourself, “Good job, that’s done” or “Huzzah, my kitchen looks so neat!”

Journaling Prompt What’s difficult?

When you identify the action that you’re avoiding, you’ll have an easier time finding a solution.

Journaling Prompt: What am I afraid of?

While many people dislike being disorganized, some people feel that being organized is too constraining. They equate disorder with creativity, going with the flow, and freedom. But how freeing is it to waste time trying to find something? How creative is it to not see your options because supplies are in multiple locations throughout the house.

​Are you really going with the flow when you’re in a frenzy sweeping surface clutter into boxes that get shoved into the corner of an unused space in your home as opposed to looking forward to a visit from your sister and her family.

Journaling Prompt: What’s causing me to have extra work?

Sometimes, things don’t get put away because it’s a hassle to do so. You need to pull something off the shelf so you can store an item behind another item. Or you use materials in one room but store them in another room. Oftentimes, it’s just easier to leave a pile of the items where you know you’ll use them again.

​This can be a sign that you need to rearrange your storage so it’s more convenient. Simply tidying piles of misplaced items will never resolve what’s really the issue.

Putting Pen to Paper as You Choose the Right Habits for You

Chances are that you have a list of behaviors that you feel you should be doing that are running through your head. But there’s no one-size-fits-all habits. Really. I know you’ve read that you should make your bed, meditate, drink 8 glasses of water, and clear your desk at the end of the day … but are these things important to you?

It’s better to consider which habits will help you to stay organized in a way that works for you.

Journaling Prompt: What are my daily habits? And what habits do I wish I had in order to make my life easier?

These habits can be connected to self-care, housekeeping, staying organized, and so on. Look at the established habits you have and then look at the habits you wished you had. Can you link a new habit to an existing habit?

​You’ll have the most success doing this if the two habits take place in the same area of your home and that there’s a natural flow from one to another. Still, you’ll need to be consistent and persistent to give that new habit roots.

Journaling Prompt: What distracts me?

Maybe your home office is really your desk in a corner of the bedroom or the kids’ playroom. Instead of focusing on your work, you’re distracted by the laundry that needs folding or the toys strew over the floor.

If things are in the area where they belong, you may need to look at the actions you need to take (or have others take). You may need to establish a time for when you’ll do an action to ensure it gets done. If you’re in the habit of thinking, “I’ll get to it” (a phrase I personally say way too often), it can help to figure out when something will get done.

​Think of assigning a task to a time like assigning an item to a particular spot in your home. You know where it is, without question, and you put it away with ease. With a task, knowing that you’ll put the dishes in the dishwasher in the morning means that you can forgive the pile of dishes for being in the sink when it’s time for bed. You already know when that task gets done.

Journaling Prompt: How can I make this easier?

Being organized isn’t about complex systems. It’s the easier ones that you’re more likely to do. For example, I realized that I’d rather do one load of laundry more frequently than doing two loads in a day. It all comes down to the time it takes to fold the laundry, not a favorite task of mine.

You may also discover that you need to move items, so they are closer to where you use them or eliminate items so there’s more room to put things away quickly.

Use Questions to Help You Understand What Works and What Needs Improvement

You can also take a moment at the end of the day to question, “What went well?” As well as “What could have gone better?” If you’re focusing on tasks that get done (or you want done) on a regular basis, these questions can turn a disappointment or frustration into a learning experience.

When you approach something that didn’t work out the way you hoped as a chance to improve the next time, then you grow and develop as a person. You didn’t fail, you have the opportunity to take an incremental action toward shifting yourself toward a new direction.

Why You Want to Write Out Your Thoughts as Opposed to Thinking about Them

As you’ve scanned or read this article, you may have found yourself pausing to think through answers to some of the questions. Why bother looking for pen and paper when you can simply think about your responses?

Writing out your answers causes you to slow down. This means that you’re giving yourself the opportunity to consider both the problem and the solution.

Writing things down gives you a record of your thoughts. It drives me crazy when I have an “ah ha!” thought only to forget it ten minutes later. I try to tell myself that that just means the idea wasn’t very good. But am I really just making excuses for my horrible working memory?

​Putting pen to paper makes it easier to see if you have a plan for an action, you can take or if you’re grasping at the wisp of an idea. Writing things down requires more effort than thinking. You’ll be able to see if you’re giving yourself actionable steps or if you’re accepting the gist of an idea telling you to move those things “someplace.”

Takeaways from Using Journaling to Help You Declutter

Journaling about your home can help you address what you want as well as what isn’t working for you while you’re in a quiet space. It can be difficult to think about solutions while you’re pushing yourself to take action.

  • Putting pen to paper can help you gain clarity into what you want from your home.
  • ​Writing things down can help you solve problems in a way that simply thinking through a situation won’t by getting you to slow down and consider the steps involved.
  • Getting your thoughts on paper can help you see just what habits you want to develop as opposed to thinking that you should be doing this or that because you’ve seen in on a list in Pinterest.

When you’re dealing with clutter that returns or tasks that don’t get done when they need to be done, taking the time to answer some questions and give yourself the opportunity to come up with solutions can more you closer to becoming an organized person.

Woman's hand holding a pen and writing in a journal about decluttering so she can like a less cluttered life.
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Hi, I'm Susan McCarthy

Professional Organizer

After years of organizing ... and wondering why I was never organized ... I realized I needed to declutter. But that wasn't the entire solution. I also needed habits so I could stay organized. Wondering why the clutter keeps returning? Let me show you how to become organized. 

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