by Susan McCarthy
Setting decluttering goals helps you to stay on track and notice when you're taking a detour that's moving you away from your goals. Learn how to create a realistic goal and turn it into a daily plan of action.
With a new year rolling around have you thought, “This is the year I want to get organized.” Or “I really need to stop talking about decluttering and actually do it.”
But how do you go from wanting to declutter to actually seeing consistent results?
You want to set an achievable goal.
Did you roll your eyes? Yeah, goals sound great, but grabbing a trash bag right now sounds a bit more useful.
But imagine heading on vacation with no destination. What clothing do you pack? Do you need to fill the gas tank for a road trip or buy plane tickets? When will you leave and when will you get back? Going with the flow might mean a fantastic vacation. But chances it will be filled with more frustrations.
That’s why decluttering goals are important. They can help you do away with frustrating feelings about nothing getting done.
Getting Your Decluttering Goals Accomplished
While “Get organized this year!” is too vague to guide you into action, “Declutter my home this month!!!” ups the pressure and stress.
So, why is a realistic decluttering goal important? And why even bother creating a plan for reaching your goal?
You can feel a burst of motivation after reading an inspiring book or participating in a class. Maybe you find a new year, season, month, or even the start of the week a source of motivation. But motivation wears thin as time goes on.
A goal…and its plan…reminds you of what you want to accomplish and helps you see the progress you’re making. Writing out your plan helps you see if you are being realistic. Do you really have time today to declutter an entire room? And how many days in a row can you truly work at peak mental and physical levels?
The Importance of Setting Realistic Decluttering Goals
Wondering if your plan of action is a bit too optimistic? Chances are that it is. How can you tell? You’re not already working on it.
How can you set a more realistic goal? Divide your goal in half. So, if your goal for the day is to work for 60 minutes or fill one trash bag, divide that in half. Could you declutter for 30 minutes or fill half a trash bag each day?
And if you don’t meet that goal? Cut in half again, could you declutter for 15 minutes or fill a quarter of a trash bag?
What if the realistic action you can take seems frustratingly insignificant? This is your base action for a day, what you know you can get done. You can always do more. But the base action should feel easy to attain…even on a busy day.
And, yes, I do think you should declutter even a single item every day as opposed to once a week or twice a month. Decluttering a single item on the craziest of days acts as a reminder that you are progressing toward your decluttering goal.
This means that your decluttering plan could involve getting rid of one item a day and spending eight hours on two Saturdays a month.
SMART Goals for Decluttering?
You may have heard about setting SMART goals, but the concept seemed too business-y in relation to a project like decluttering your home. However, the SMART framework is useful in that it gets you thinking about how and when you’re going to do the work.
See, it’s all too easy to think that decluttering will be something that you “fit in” when you have the time. But how often do you find yourself with a free afternoon or day and think, “This is the perfect time to tackle that decluttering project!” I’m thinking that doesn't happen too often.
And if you do set about clearing the clutter, do you run out of time to finish the job you started? Are your efforts somewhat spasmatic…a day followed by another day six weeks later?
Setting SMART goals for decluttering helps you think through your expectations to ensure that they are clear and realistic. Without a SMART goal, decluttering will be more happenstance. If you keep telling yourself that you want to declutter, but it hasn’t happened, what could it hurt to create a workable plan?
Setting Clear Goals to Declutter
SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic or Relevant, and Time Bound. Download these handy worksheets so you can write down and revise your plan as you read through how to set goals for decluttering.
Specific – Telling yourself that you want to “declutter your house” is much too vague. What do you want to get done…and by when? And what would “done” look like anyway?
To get specific, you can’t go wrong by thinking of this in terms of the 5W &H – Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
Who will be involved in decluttering? Are there projects you can do on your own? Which projects will involve others and are they actually interested in decluttering those areas? A junk hauling company or charity that will pick up from your home can also fall into this category as are any friends or family members to whom you want to give specific items.
What do you want to declutter? Do you intend on sorting through every drawer and cabinet in your home or are you more interested in clearing the visible clutter? When you say that you want to declutter your house do you really mean that you want to deal with the paper that ends up in piles throughout your home?
When will you declutter and when do you want to start and finish the work? When things aren’t getting done, chances are that you haven’t scheduled time to do the work. This is that “I’ll fit it in” fallacy. And even if you don’t need a deadline to declutter your home, setting one can help you see that you’re working toward your goal in a way that will help you attain it.
Where will you declutter…or where do you want to declutter? Do you only want to declutter the living spaces in your home or is the attic, garage, and basement part of your goal as well?
Why bother? Why do you want to declutter? And why is now the right time to take on this project? What would you be able to do in an organized home that you couldn’t do now?
How will you declutter? Do you want to do the work 15 minutes a day? (Before you roll your eyes thinking that’s not enough time, a mere quarter hour a day for a year tally of over 90 hours. Chances are that you’d have a difficult time blocking off 90 hours in your schedule. Or do you feel confident that you can block off four hours every Saturday to sort through clutter?
Measurable – How can you see that you’re actively working toward your goal? What would you need to get done each quarter, month, or week to know that you’re on track? In other words, could you check off an action on a tracker or to do list, confirming that you’ve made progress.
In the example of being specific, I said that I’d do one room or storage space each month. But what does “done” look like?
I could decide that emptying each shelf, drawer, cabinet, and space in the room is my goal. This is easy to measure. I could even list every space in the room so I could check things off and see my progress throughout the month.
Attainable – How much time do you think you need to declutter a room or storage space? (Answer, more than you think you’ll need.) Remember, to declutter, you need to empty a space, judge each item, put back what you’re keeping and then get rid of what you no longer want (trash, sell, or donate).
How much stuff you have in a space…and how quickly you can make decisions about items greatly affect the time it takes you to declutter. If you have piles of stuff everywhere, your plan to declutter the living room in two hours will likely result in frustration and failure. Those feelings won’t encourage you to take on other projects…you’ll expect more of the same results.
Instead, create an optimistic stretch goal (it feels like a bit of a stretch to attain) but also create a buffer of extra time because, well, life.
For example, if you want to declutter one room or storage space a month, give yourself three weeks to do the work…a stretch. But then leave the fourth week as your buffer. This could be the week you cart things to the donation center, put items up for sale, or sort through the box of photos you found.
Of course, the buffer week may be the time you need to finish decluttering the room because your kid got sick, you agreed to babysit the grandchild a few evenings, you needed to work late at work, or any other life event.
Relevant – Why is it important to declutter…and why is now the time to do this work? In the case of decluttering your home, a reason connected to your feelings may make this project more relevant than simple saying you want your home to look neater.
As a professional organizer, I’ve talked to people who have tears in their eyes as they describe the clutter in their home. While feeling overwhelmed can make it more difficult to declutter, connecting to why you want to declutter can help you stay focused and make decisions.
How do you connect to your why? Think of the things that you could do if your home was more organized and less cluttered. Would you feel more comfortable inviting people into your home? Would you have the space to engage in a hobby?
Instead of just imagining what your home would look like, envision what you could do in your home.
Time Bound – Throughout the process of making your goal of decluttering your home a SMART goal, you’ve been encouraged to schedule time to declutter as well as thinking of a deadline when you want to be done.
But why bother setting a deadline if a natural deadline doesn’t exist (say, because you’ll be moving)? An end date helps keep you on track.
If you want to declutter your home this year but by March you haven’t got beyond clearing off the dining table, then you may need to readjust your goal date and then schedule time to tend to tasks. Should you decide that you really do want to meet your deadline, then you’ll know that you’ll need to spend more time each day, week, or month clearing clutter.
When you dismiss the importance of the date you’ve set, then it will be difficult to feel inspired to declutter when other more distracting (or enticing) options come up. A deadline keeps you honest…to yourself.
To reach the deadline you’ve set, you need to note when you’ll act. To increase your chances of success, link decluttering to something you already do. For example, after you clean the kitchen after dinner, you’ll declutter for 15 to 30 minutes.
Write an Implementation Intention - An implementation intention is a brief sentence that summarizes the action you are going to take now. This brings the ideas in your SMART goal into a "this is the action I'm going to take now" format.
I will (action) (when), (where).
What SMART Goals Forget
While SMART goals encourage you to set a deadline, you need to check in to make certain you are staying on track. Once a week, do a review so you can readjust if necessary.
This doesn’t have to take a lot of time. And this is why it’s important to write down what you want to see accomplished. While it’s very tempting to focus on what you didn’t get done, notice what you were able to do.
If you wanted to declutter for fifteen minutes a day for seven days and you were able to declutter for five days, maybe next week you readjust to declutter for twenty minutes a day for five days.
Put this weekly review in your calendar or planner so you remember to do it. And readjusting helps you stay successful. Remember, decluttering is as much a mental and emotional task as it is a physical one. Tweak your plans so you stay successful.
Setting Goals Won’t Solve All Your Clutter Troubles
A SMART goal can help you declutter your home…but it won’t keep your home organized. Maintaining order comes from habits not goals. Habits involve regular practice. What types of habits can help you to stay organized?
Continue to do some of the same actions that helped you to get organized. There’re a few actions that can help you both declutter and then maintain order. After you’ve cleared the clutter, they take much less time to do, and they help keep your home in order.
Plan a few minutes to tidy a room when you are finished in that space. Imagine how you’d like to find the room when you return to that space. Bed made? TV remote on the coffee table? Surface of desk tidied? Kitchen counter cleared of the previous meal-making tools and plates?
Only you can decide what actions are important for you and your home. (And notice that you may already engage in helpful habits.)
Keep a box available for items you no longer want to keep. When you find something that no longer serves you, pop it into the box. When the box is full, donate the contents.
Carry something with you. Each time you leave a room, take something with you that belongs in another room. Bring the mail requiring action to your desk. Carry your mug to the kitchen.
Shop more intentionally. Avoid recreational shopping that results in bringing in things that may become clutter. Make, and stick to, a list so you purchase things you will use. If you buy something, consider getting rid of a similar item that you own so to keep your possessions in balance.
These may seem like small behaviors that won’t make a big difference. But remember, it’s rare that your house is filled with a lot of stuff in a day or two. Instead, your home became cluttered item-by-item over days and years.
Small actions taken (or not taken) today and every day do compound over time.
What Are Your Decluttering Goals for 2023?
More Resources to Help You Achieve Your Decluttering Goals
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