Decluttering isn’t just about randomly getting rid of stuff because you haven’t used it in the past six months. Instead, clearing clutter creates space in your home for the activities you want to do. And creating order in your home also saves you time, money, and stress!
Learn what steps to take…in what order…and eliminate overwhelm and doubt in favor of calm, intentional decluttering.
by Susan McCarthy
The most common question I get asked is, “Where do I start to declutter my house?”
And the answer is … by understanding what you want to accomplish and why that goal is important to you. (Ha! Did you think the answer was going to be ‘your closet’?)
The following activity helps you to clarify what you’re decluttering and why. Don’t skip this step because it seems a bit woo-woo. Getting clear on your destination helps you save time, energy, and stress while decluttering.
Instead of holding onto things just in case you need them someday, you can go to your vision of the life and home you want and know if that item will be beneficial to you.
To better understand what matters to you, do this visualization activity:
Starting the decluttering process with a trash bag in hand will only get you so far. You’ll clear away obvious trash and recyclable items. You’ll get rid of duplicates and things that you know for certain you won’t use.
But chances are you’ll hold onto stuff that you’ll never go looking for … ever. And while you may be thinking that you have the space to store these things, so, what’s the big deal if you keep this stuff, it is more challenging to keep more stuff tidy over time.
Knowing your goal and the reason why you are decluttering helps you to stay focused while sorting through your stuff.
Know This Will Likely Take More Time Than You Think (or Hope) It Will
How quickly you can declutter your home depends upon a few things.
What you have is what you have … that’s why you’re decluttering. However, you have more control over the next three factors on that list.
Will you devote 15 minutes a day to decluttering or one hour? Will you block four hours every Saturday morning to clearing out the clutter?
Commit to the time you will declutter. Again, set your intention, “I will do (what) (when) (where).” Sometimes your intention can be stated in a single sentence … and at other times you’ll need to write a paragraph or two to get clear on what you expect to get done.
Do not, I repeat, do not tell yourself that you’ll “fit in” decluttering to your schedule. If you want to get this done, whether your timeline is a month or a year, you will need to make time.
This may mean eliminating unnecessary actions or temporarily cutting back on some desirable activities so you’ll have the time to go through all of your stuff.
You’ll find a chart in the free download where you can categorize your tasks and actions and see how and where you can make time to clear clutter.
Your next consideration is how quickly you can make decisions about individual items.
Again, this is why gaining clarity with the visualization exercise is so important. Your vision for your home will tell you whether or not you will need or use something someday.
While there’s all sorts of decluttering questions you can ask of your possessions, they basically come down to -
Make it easy on yourself and identify the stuff that you know for sure that you use and like.
And don’t talk yourself into holding onto things that you feel indifferent toward because you feel you should because (insert obligation here).
Finally, avoid shopping faster than you can declutter!
Buying new bedding and donating your old bedding isn’t decluttering, it’s redecorating. Decluttering removes unnecessary things from your home and life.
Be Kind to Yourself
Decluttering is difficult work physically, mentally, and emotionally. So,
Decide Before You Declutter
Another thing to consider before you begin decluttering is what you will do with the things you no longer want.
The reason you want to know what you can do with your stuff in the beginning of this process is so that things don’t pile up in your home. Boxes of stuff that haven’t left your home haven’t been decluttered!
Also, the organization you want to give things to may have such limited hours that it’s too inconvenient to get things to them. Better to learn that early on when you have one car trunk full of boxes rather than when you have a wall of boxes piled up in your garage.
The easier it is for things to leave your home, the more encouraged you’ll feel.
Looking for worksheets to help you figure out what to do with stuff … and keep track of the things you are getting rid of? Download this free guide.
With hope, the preparation you’ve done is making you feel confident. Remember, just because an item is useful doesn’t mean that you’ll be the one to use it.
Check in with your vision for your home and life and ask if you see yourself needing an item to support that future.
So, you know what you’ll be keeping and you know what you’ll do with the things you’ll be getting rid of. What’s next?
Choose a room to work in. You’ll see more progress if you declutter one room at a time. It doesn’t matter whether you’ll declutter the room in a day or a month, focus on one location.
Organizing has nothing to do with bins, drawer dividers, or any other gadget. If you have less stuff, you might not need organizing supplies.
Organizing items should solve a problem so that it is easier to retrieve and return the items you use.
When it comes to deciding where something belongs, you want things stored where you use them. And the more often you use them, the more accessible they should be.
So, the roasting pan that gets used twice a year doesn’t earn prime real estate in a cabinet next to your oven. However, the skillet you use every day should be near the stove.
Also, keep things that get used together near one another. The tablecloth that only gets used in your dining room can get stored there as opposed to upstairs in your linen closet.
This is why gift wrap could get stored in your home office … because that’s where the scissors, pen, and transparent tape get stored. Not only can you find everything, you can put things away with ease.
It’s okay if you don’t get it “right” the first time. If you’ve moved something to a new location and it doesn’t work for you, do some problem-solving and try again.
If you have more stuff than will fit comfortably in a space, you may need to declutter some more.
The goal is to have some wiggle room around items so you can both see and reach for items with ease; you don’t have to move something to get to something else (unless it’s a rarely used item); and when you remove something, that area doesn’t fall into instant chaos.
And remember, shelves, bins, drawer dividers, etc. all take up space, they don’t create space.
Keep It Organized!
I know, after you organize a space that it will look so good that you’ll turn your attention to the next space you’ll declutter.
But know that “organized” is just a point in time and “being organized” is a process.
Tidying a space to keep it organized is much easier than doing a full-on declutter and organizing after things get out of control.
Some organizing habits to try. Figure out which one (or combination) works the best for you -
The habits that you’ll keep are those that are easy, obvious, and satisfying. You should be able and interested in doing the action. The more complicated you make the habit, the less likely you’ll do it.
Develop Systems and Routines
Some regular actions are really a series of tasks. Take the laundry. You need to collect the dirty clothing, get it to the washing machine, sort into loads, remember to switch the clean clothing into the dryer, collect the clothing, fold or hang the clothes, put them away.
Laundry, washing the dishes, and cleaning chores support your decluttering and organizing efforts. (And decluttering should make them easier to do.)
And while it might not seem to make sense, owning fewer dishes, glasses, and clothing makes it easier to keep these things clean and organized.
For one, you won’t have “endless” socks or cereal bowls or food storage containers to use and so you can’t allow dirty items to pile up. You’ll need to clean them more often.
And while that seems like more work, you’ll have fewer items to put away … and this will take less time to do.
Also, what are you more likely to procrastinate on … doing six loads of laundry (including putting everything away) or doing one load?
Another way to streamline your routines … pay attention to how much walking around your home you need to do to complete an action.
Going back to the example of doing laundry, do you carry clean clothing into your living room for folding and then carry the items into the rooms where they belong? Could the clothes get folded in the room where they’re stored?
As you do chores around the house, start to notice the distance between where something is stored and where it gets used.
Oh, and a mindset to develop is one that involves less shopping. You don’t want to fill up your home with new stuff, undoing your efforts. You can also try getting rid of something each time you do buy something new so to keep a balance in the number of possessions you have.
Acknowledge Your Accomplishments
Remember those reasons you uncovered for wanting to organize a room? Do them!
Did you declutter your bedroom so you’d have space to do yoga? When your bedroom is organized, do yoga! Don’t tell yourself that you have to wait until you’ve gone through your entire house.
These incentives will help to keep you motivated. If you never allow yourself to enjoy your decluttered spaces, you’ll start to feel deprived.
Let’s face it, you’re getting rid of all sorts of stuff. You are changing your identity as you clear out things that you realize you’ll never use again. (When you get rid of the skis, you’ll go from someone who could ski someday to someone who used to ski.)
Also, as you shift your time and energy to new activities, you’ll craft a new identity.
So, enjoy the results of your efforts with each accomplishment! Invite your neighbor into your tidy kitchen for coffee. Host your book club. Invite friends to dinner. Enjoy spending time crafting in your newly organized space.
Celebrate all the work you’ve done, each time you complete a room or space in your home!
Hi, I'm Susan
I'm a former teacher who became a professional organizer (and not because I'm a natural-born neatnik). I live with my husband and fluffy cat on a river in Massachusetts. I crochet, make handmade cards, and love reading young adult novels. Learn more about my decluttering journey here.