Decluttering and cleaning both give you a new perspective on your home…and in turn, your life. I think when we make space in our home, we also make it in our life. Let’s create a little space to grow the things we want in our life…more time and energy for the people, activities, events, and experiences that are what’re really important.
Day One - Start by Clearing the Trash
Grab a box or a bin and move around a room…or your entire house…gathering anything that belongs in the trash bin or recycling. This could be food wrappers, soda cans, junk mail, old newspapers or magazines, broken items, and excess cardboard boxes that are too large or small to use for packing donations or items you’re planning to sell.
Whether you do a room, or your entire home will depend on how much time you have for this task as well as how much stuff you have to pick up. Do what will work for you. Remember, doing a little work is better than doing a lot of nothing.
If you find yourself holding something and debating what to do with it, put it down and move on. You can come back to this item later (and maybe, in the meantime, your subconscious will decide what to do with the item). Today, focus on trash and recycling.
After you’ve filled the box that you’ve been carrying with you, sort the items into the trash or recycling bin.
Day Two - Follow Stuff's Path into and through Your Home
If you’re decluttering the stuff that has taken up residence in your home, you may not quite notice the new things that are coming into your home on a daily (or nearly) basis. What happens to these things when they are brought into your house? Does the path they follow lead them to where these things belong (get stored or readied for the next necessary action)?
Or do they get set down “for a moment?”
Right now, close your eyes and imagine bringing in a package, the mail, shopping bags, your purse, and so on. (You can focus on one thing at a time.) What do you do with these things? What do you wish you did with them? Envision the path you take to bring these things into your home.
If you’re thinking, “I wish I put the mail in a basket near the door,” don’t hurry off to buy a new basket. Instead, put a box, bowl, or basket that you already have in that space. See if you can develop this habit…and that you’re pleased with the results, before you invest a lot of money, time, or energy into your solution.
Do you drop shopping bags of non-perishable items in the corner of a room without putting these things away? Do you then go out and buy more of these items because you forgot you already bought more?
While it may seem premature to focus on organizing stuff that you haven’t yet brought into your home, it is very easy to give all your attention to the things that have been in your home for a while. We can declutter one location while clutter collects in another.
Check out this new article about the cycle of endlessly clearing clutter…and how figuring out why clutter collects, and how to stop it, can help you keep clutter from forming.
Don’t worry about trying to resolve every drop spot for the things that come into your home in a single day. And if something is working for you, don’t change it! But if it isn’t working, use the tips in the article to come up with another solution.
Day Three - Gather the Piles of Paper
Do you have piles of paper everywhere? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Sorting through paper is one of the most dreaded tasks…an inch high stack of papers can potentially contain 150-200 pieces of paper! And to sort through them, you have to touch and glance at each one. Ack!
However, sorting through paper early in your decluttering journey can be discouraging, so much work with so little a ‘wow!’ factor for all your efforts.
But papers in the kitchen, bedroom, and other rooms is demoralizing. Here’s my radical suggestion for clearing piles of paper without sorting through everything.
Grab a stack of file folders (or even bags). Next, scoop up everything from a surface and put it all in a file folder. On the front of the file folder, in big letters, identify where these papers came from. For example, “dresser in bedroom” or “kitchen table.”
Then, place these folders in a box and bring the box where you store your papers. Right now, you don’t need to sort the papers or file them. However, as you’re scooping them up, you do want to look for anything that needs your attention (for example, something that will need to be paid or mail you need to respond to or sign).
Clearing surfaces of stacks of paper is a quick win. You can see results, and this is very important to staying motivated.
With yesterday's tip, you envisioned how things like papers made their way into the house. As you collect piles around the house, you can confirm where things end up. Ask yourself why the papers don’t get to where you want them to go. What could you – realistically – do to get paper where it belongs as opposed to these convenient drop spots?
Collect papers around the house. No, the next step is not sorting them. First, revel in the cleared spaces. Next, think of ways to keep papers from returning to those spots.
Day Four - Gather Things that Are in the Wrong Place
If you have a spot in your home where random items have gathered, chances are that these things belong someplace else. Too often, we look at such a spot and proclaim that we need to declutter it, while equating “declutter” with “get rid of.”
But what happens when we find something that we use, that isn’t trash? We start sifting through items and end up returning most of the items to the spot we took them from. We feel like we failed because we didn’t “declutter.”
But here’s the thing about clutter. It isn’t always something to toss, recycle, sell, donate, or give away. Sometimes it is stuff that needs to find a home or get returned to the one it has.
Today, walk around your room (or rooms), looking for items that belong someplace else. Carry an empty laundry basket or a box with you, fill it with items, and then, on a second trip around your home, put the items where they belong.
If you don’t know where something belongs, put it near where it could go. Don’t waste time rearranging things so you can give these things the “perfect” home. Not just yet.
Make a note of areas that are full of stuff, making it too difficult to put things away. For example, you may have a pile of tee shirts on top of your dresser because the drawers are too full. Decluttering these spaces not only means less clutter in these spots but also less clutter in other areas of your home where things accumulate because there is no space to put them away.
Day Five - Tackle a Hot Spot
Not knowing where to start…or what task to tackle next is one of the biggest challenges of decluttering because it prevents you from even starting!
If there is a room or area that is really bothering you, that can be a great place to start. But if soooo many spots annoy you, then it can be difficult to choose.
Today, look around some of the rooms where you spend the most time for “hot spots” or “dumping grounds,” places where things accumulate. Choose a hot spot to declutter today.
Instead of sifting through the items, clear the space of everything. This might mean putting all this stuff in a basket or bin. (If you need more than one box, or you need a big box, you may want to divide the space…like a dining table…in half or quarters.)
Carrying out all the following steps can take approximately 30-to-60-minutes (which includes cleanup tasks).
Now the difficult part…plan to return to this space daily or weekly to clear away the things that don’t belong here or to put away the things that do belong here.
If you’ve cleared your nightstand, then each night before bed (or each morning, depending on what time works best for you), tidy this spot. Clear away the used tissues. Return the book you finished reading to your bookshelves. Bring the glass of water to the kitchen.
Maintaining the order in a space that you’ve decluttered can take less than a minute and will prevent the clutter from returning.
Day Six - Eliminate 5 Things
Find five things that you can donate or give away. The size of the item doesn’t matter. You can look in one place for five items or you can gather them from different locations.
Day Seven - Recycle Old Magazines
Do you subscribe to one or more magazines? Do you plan time to read them when they come in? Or do they build up in a “I gotta get around to this one of these days” pile?
My suggestion…recycle all but the most current issue of your magazine subscriptions.
Are you grinding your teeth at that suggestion? Are you thinking, “I’ve spent money on these and I’m going to read them”? Do you feel some anxiety that you’ll lose out on a fantastic recipe, craft project, piece of information, or hint?
I get it. I came from a family that kept bags and boxes of years-old magazines. I followed the family line and filled a shelf with old issues of TV Guides. Then one day I was trying to squeeze in another issue, and I suddenly wondered why I was holding onto three-plus years of them. This was one of the first things I decluttered.
Do you really want to read a Thanksgiving-themed magazine in March? And come November, you’ll get a new issue with fresh inspiration.
And what about the articles you feel you should read, or read again? Unless you have an eidetic memory, chances are you won’t hold onto the information.
What could have been pleasurable, reading the newest issue of a magazine, becomes an obligation when they start piling up. And this obligation causes stress by adding to your to-do list…When will I read these? Where can I store them?
Recycling all those magazines might not feel good at the moment but in a day or so you may realize that you feel lighter for having lifted this unnecessary obligation.
Day Eight - Tidy a Relaxing Space
Do you have a spot in your home where you go to unwind? This could be the place you drink your morning coffee or sit and read or knit in the evening.
Today, tidy this area. Clear away anything that you don’t need to enjoy this space when you use it. If this is the corner of a room you sit in when reading, do you need a tall stack of unread books here? Chances are that these bits of clutter add stress to a spot you want to use as a refuge from your to-do list and obligations.
Before you start, define the space that you will declutter, so you don’t end up feeling overwhelmed that you need to declutter the entire room because the chair is connected to the end table. The end table is connected to the bookshelves. The bookshelves are connected to the …. (I have the tune in my head, but I can’t think of the words to the song.)
You may end up creating an oasis of order in a room of stuff. That’s okay. You could decide to work a little bit on expanding your oasis every day. The goal today is to declutter your refuge for relaxation.
(If you can’t decide where to declutter, tidy your nightstand. I know that mine quickly collects books, hand cream and lip balm, the blister pack holding OTC sleep aids, and other things I use and set down.)
Day Nine - Pick It Up and Ask a Question
Take fifteen minutes at some point today to walk around your home and collect any items that have ended up out of place and return the items to their home. If you have a lot of things that need to be put away, decide how much time you can devote to the task. Then, give half your time to picking up items and the other half putting them where they belong.
If this is the type of task that you never get around to, set a time to work. This can either be clock-related (8:15p) or task-related (after turning on the dishwasher, I’ll collect and put things where they belong).
What types of items get used but not put away? Do you not leave time for this action? Do you not know where something belongs? Is there no space to put something away?
Answering these questions can tell you whether you need to declutter, organize, or develop a habit.
Day 10 - Clear a Flat Surface
Work, and my volunteer efforts with my Friends of the Library and Garden Club, all involve a lot of paper. I have a poor memory and one of the ways I compensate is by printing out emails that I know I’ll need to refer to for upcoming events or projects.
Yes, I save the emails for reference in digital folders (it’s very handy to forward an email when someone has a question). But I’m an out of sight, out of mind sort of person (and very tactile), so sorting through physical paper is useful for me.
This means that papers can pile up quickly so a couple of times a week, I go through the nascent piles on my desk and file them in folders fit into a horizontal organizer that sits on my desk.
Arriving at my desk to see the organizer and my laptop as the only things on the surface makes for a less stressful morning.
Today’s task is to declutter a space and enjoy the peaceful quality of less stuff.
Choose a flat surface in your home – the kitchen counter, the top of your dresser, your desk, the coffee table, or even an end table that has more stuff on it than you’d like.
Clear everything off this area. Take a minute to appreciate the cleared space. Next, consider what you want in this space. Useful things? Decorative items? Be intentional about what you choose for this location.
Decide on the next actions for the items that aren’t being returned. Toss? Donate? Give away? Sell? Put someplace else in your home? If you don’t have time to take these actions now, decide when you will.
Day Eleven - Box Up Things from a Past Identity
Over the years, the number of items that I carry around in my purse has ranged from wallet/phone/keys to a whole lot of just in case items. You know, things like a compact umbrella, a shawl, hand cream, bandages, measuring tape, scissors, notebook, pens, and so on.
While I felt prepared for every situation, I rarely used the items. I’d lug all this stuff around and feel inconvenienced even though it had been my decision to carry all those things with me!
Part of me wanted to be the type of person who if someone needed something, I could dig into my purse and pull out the desired item. When I decided that I didn’t want to carry around a bunch of unnecessary stuff, I needed to let go of this identity before I could let go of all those things.
As you look around your home, notice if you keep things because you connect them to part of your identity, a part that you may have already released. Look to things connected to hobbies, interests, recreational activities, even a past job. You may have knickknacks related to collections you used to actively assemble.
Letting go of these things can be a challenge because it can feel as if you are releasing part of your identity. Really, it can feel upsetting to get rid of items connected to activities you used to do because you’re acknowledging that you’ve changed by moving away from past interests.
Getting rid of these items doesn’t change who you are right now. Instead, it allows you to see how you’ve grown. Those past experiences and interests make you who you are today. I’m still a helpful person even if I don’t carry around Tylenol and hand cream. I just help in other ways.
Today, look around your home for things that are no longer a part of your current life. By keeping these things, do you feel obligated to go back to that hobby or interest?
Consider boxing up these items and then setting the boxes aside if you’re not ready to let go of these things just yet. Notice how you feel about not seeing that collection of Precious Moments figurines. What is it like to open that closet and not see the tote bag burgeoning with yarn and the blanket you haven’t worked on for five or six years?
Practice being without these things. Mark your calendar for a month from now and then judge if you’ve missed these things. Remember, you’ve already moved on and away from these interests, activities, and collections. You’re deciding to allow your home to catch up to who you are.
Day Twelve - Declutter Your Purse
Clean out your purse, wallet, briefcase, tote bag, or whatever you carry with you when you are out and about.
I know, the temptation is to make quick work of this and glance through the contents, pulling out any old receipts and hard candy wrappers while figuring everything else is useful.
Instead, lay out a towel on a table or your bed and dump out the contents, giving the bag a good shake. Now, plan on only returning the things that you use and want to keep with you.
If your bag is filled with smaller bags, such as a makeup or grooming supply bag, set these to the side so you can sort through the contents after you’ve done the main compartment. If you find loose items that belong in one of these bags, set them with the bags.
Before you return something to your purse or tote, question if this item is useful to have on hand. For example, at one time you needed to keep a physical customer rewards card that the store could scan. Now you’re asked for your telephone number to connect to your account; so, do you need the card or key fob you’ve been carrying around?
Question the other items you keep with you. How many pens do you need? Do you use the notepad that seemed like a handy item? Do you ever think of applying the hand cream you keep in your purse?
Remember, ‘useful’ and ‘used’ aren’t the same thing
Day Thirteen - Declutter and Organize Beauty and Grooming Supplies
When I cleaned out my parents’ house, I found bottles and bottles of body wash, shampoo, and lotion. I hated to see all these things go to waste and at the time I didn’t think anyone would want products that were all opened and partly used.
I used these things. I didn’t have to buy anything for months.
My mother had so many grooming products because she had limited mobility and when aides came in to help her bathe, she didn’t want them rooting around her stuff and so she was always asking me to pick up things for her at the store.
There’s a lot of reasons we end up with excessive products:
Today, seek out all your beauty and grooming products and bring them to a table or countertop.
Day Fourteen - Clean the Cleaning Supplies
When decluttering, do you clean at the same time? For some people, if the closet is empty, they’re going to wash the walls and vacuum the floor. For others, they figure they have enough to do just focusing on the contents of the closet.
Neither way is better than the other. If the idea of decluttering and scrubbing an area is too much, doing what you can is always better than waiting for some ideal moment in the future in which you’ll be bursting with energy and the desire to clean and declutter.
Today, declutter the cleaning supplies. This may inspire you to do some cleaning, if just to use up the small amount of cleaning products remaining in some bottles. (I find it oddly satisfying to empty containers…and it doesn’t matter whether it’s shampoo, rice, toothpaste, or bathroom cleaner.)
If you keep supplies in multiple places, bring everything to one location. Then sort the supplies by type of product so you can see what you have.
I like to arrange the products by the amount left in the bottle, so I remember to use up one supply before starting another.
Note any supplies that you have plenty of (sort of an anti-shopping list). Decide if it would make sense for you to keep supplies in a single location. Or, if you prefer to keep things where you use them, can you create a stock area to check before adding a product to your shopping list.
If you have products that you didn’t like how they worked (or the fragrance, which usually does me in), see if someone you know would appreciate them…or post the items on a local Buy Nothing group or another site where you can give away the products. Or use them so the bottle doesn’t clutter your shelves.
I’m getting in the mood for spring cleaning…are you? Have you already started?
Day Fifteen - Clean and Organize the Medicine Cabinet
My bathroom isn’t the smallest I’ve ever been in; but it’s small. No vanity (we have a pedestal sink). No over the toilet cabinet (the hubby had the toilet set at an angle to accommodate man-spread).
The only storage space is the medicine cabinet. To not have the bottle of ibuprofen falling into the sink every time that I went to grab the toothpaste, we use the over sink cabinet for grooming products and a kitchen cabinet just outside of the bathroom for bandages and Tylenol. (A small triangular space so things are always falling out onto the kitchen counter below.)
Whatever you keep in your medicine cabinet, take a few minutes today to clean and organize it.
Day Sixteen - Organize beneath a Sink
Have you ever found yourself holding a supply or product and debating where to store it in your home? It could have been a bottle of shampoo or a cleaning supply…something you’d need in the next week or so, but not right away.
Your first concern would be where you could put the item so that you’d find it when you needed it. The next thing you may have looked for would be the space to store the supplies. Places like the cabinet under a sink (kitchen or bathroom) become a great place to put these products because then the item ends up near where you’ll need it.
Unfortunately, these spaces can be deep and poorly lit, making it easy to look at what’s there. Today, let’s organize a space under a sink.
If you don’t have any bins to keep products sorted and straightened, look around your house for small plastic bins and cardboard boxes. Don’t go out and buy anything. First, use what you have around the house for a couple of weeks to determine what would be useful. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Pull everything from the space and wipe it down if you want to.
Group similar items. As you move the products into categories, you can also check expiration dates as well as the quality and condition of the product. Toss things that are unusable.
Next, consider what you want to store in this space. Have you found supplies that you put here because this is where you had the space…but you never thought to look for things here when you needed them?
Sometimes this means that you’ll need to declutter the space that would be the better place to keep things. You don’t have to do this task right now! But make a note of when you can do it. Keep the project small (clear the shelf you need and worry about tackling the rest of the closet another day).
Put the groups of supplies that you will store under this sink in boxes and bins. I don’t favor storage with covers, particularly when the items are often used, because the covers create a flat surface (perfect for setting things on) and can hide the things you are looking for.
The benefit to the bins is that they are easy to grab and pull into the light so you can see what you have.
Seeing what you have available can save you from spending money on supplies you don’t need. You also avoid the frustration of rooting through a disorganized space.
Remember, you don’t need color coordinated or special organizing tools to organize under the sink. Under my kitchen sink, I have some supplies in an oversized bin intended for keeping ice cubes and others in a bin I was given for the car ride home after day surgery (I won’t elaborate, but it wasn’t used.)
These aren’t Instagram worthy storage solutions, but they do the job. I can see what I have and when the plumber needed to do some work, I cleared out the space in 30 seconds.
What do you want these storage spaces to do for you?
Day Seventeen - Determine What You Wear
Where I live, in Massachusetts (the northeast coast of the US), spring weather can mean anything from 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. One day I’m pulling on a winter coat; the next day, I’m walking down to the mailbox in a tee shirt.
To deal with weather fluctuations (and menopause), I don’t pack away “unseasonable” clothing. However, if you switch over seasonal clothing, this can be a great time to notice the clothing that you didn’t wear during the previous season.
Remember, decluttering your closet isn’t about getting rid of the things you wear. Maybe you have a dress that you save for weddings or holiday parties. If you haven’t worn the dress for a couple of years, but it still fits and you know the situations that you’d wear it, count it as something you wear.
On the other hand, if you pull something from your closet that you could have worn but never felt enthusiastic about spending the day in the item, this might be something you could let go.
One of the easiest techniques that shows you what you do and don’t wear is to turn around all the hangers in your closet. When you wear something and return it to the closet, turn the hanger in the conventional direction.
After a season, it’s clear what you wore and what you didn’t. If you’re convinced that you should hold onto clothing because you might wear it, this ‘backwards hanger’ technique shows you what you wear.
Fun fact of the day…most people wear 20% of their clothing 80% of the time! Do you wear the same core items over and again? I know I do!
Day Eighteen - Let It Go
When I was cleaning out my parents’ house, I found four or five toasters up in the attic. Although I didn’t remember each one, I knew that none of them worked. And I knew that each time my parents bought a new toaster, they put the old one – that didn’t work – in the box that the new one had come in.
Packed, it went into the attic. Why? In case the new one doesn’t work; they could use the old toaster.
Yeah, I don’t know how that’d work either. I tried pointing out that if the new toaster didn’t work, they’d have two toasters that under- or over-toasted bread.
I think the idea was that the broken toaster would work “good enough” and so they’d keep it because it could be useful.
Was that a story that made you roll your eyes? Me too. But then again, I’ve bought new shirts and then decided I’d hold onto the older shirts that I was replacing to wear when gardening or doing housework (even though I already had more than enough shirts for these tasks).
I’ve replaced a cracked bowl and then found myself thinking that the damaged one could get used for something.
Yes, if you’re clever and crafty, you can upcycle items…but that only works if you need and will use the item you’ve created.
This is a strange tug-o-war labeling an item as both ‘not good enough’ and ‘good enough.’ How to handle this?
Today, look around your home for at least one item that you’ve been holding onto because it’s ‘good enough.’ Have you already bought something new to replace it or discovered you don’t miss using it?
Can you let go of this damaged item?
Day Nineteen - Decluttering Game
How many minutes can you devote to decluttering today? Ten minutes? Thirty? Sixty? One minute?
When you’re ready to declutter, set a timer for your designated minutes and then declutter the same number of items as minutes you’ll be decluttering. So, if you have ten minutes, try to declutter ten items.
You can focus on one location, like your closet; a single room; a category (paper); or move throughout your home looking for things that you can toss, give away, donate, or sell.
(Since it’s easy to lose track of your tally, you can bring items to a table, bed, or even an out of the way section of floor and put the items in piles of five so you can quickly count how many items you’ve cleared.)
Wrap up this task by bagging or boxing the items. If there is a next step, like posting the items online, note on your calendar when you do this.
Day Twenty - Find Clarity in What's Important
Is there something (or a group of somethings) in your home that right now you’d never consider getting rid of? Is it books? Photos? Sentimental items? Materials related to an interest or hobby?
Do you give time and space to these things? For example, are the sentimental items packed away in boxes or are they on display where you can appreciate them each time you walk by? Do you make time for your hobby?
Although with decluttering we often start thinking about what we don’t want, identifying what is important to us brings us clarity. When deciding whether to keep something that we don’t use and aren’t certain we still enjoy, you can know compare it to what you know you do like.
After doing less crafting over the past few years, this year I’ve found myself adding some new supplies and returning the media I haven’t used for a while. To make time and space for these activities, I’ve started looking around for ways to make time and space.
What do you want time and space for? Does this clarity help you see what you’re willing to let go of so that you can have more of what you want?
Day Twenty-One - Plan for Some Spontaneous Decluttering
Today, each time you open a drawer, cabinet, or closet, take a few seconds to see if there is one thing you can get rid of.
For example, when I went into my closet to grab an outfit for the day, I noticed a pair of pants that I didn’t find comfortable to wear the last time I had them on. I pulled them out of the hanger.
I noticed the wood spoon with the crack…why was I holding onto it when I have two other wood spoons?
This takes a few extra seconds to do, and chances are that you won’t remember to do this every time you open a door or drawer. However, I do find myself noticing items that I’ve ignored or overlooked during past trips to these spaces. This isn’t a deep decluttering of any one space.
Instead of waiting until you have time to declutter, this allows you to sneak in moments during your regular activities. Keep a few boxes in handy locations for collecting any decluttered items that you can donate.
I guess you could call this planned spontaneous decluttering!
Day Twenty-Two - Focus on a Shelf
Select a shelf to declutter. This can be a bookshelf, a shelf of knickknacks, a pantry shelf, a shelf within a cabinet or closet, or any other shelf in your home.
Is your goal to clean the items on the shelf? Move these items to a new home or homes? Declutter them? Reorganize what you have?
Remove everything from the shelf as opposed to looking at or shuffling through the items. Take a moment to appreciate the cleared space. As you return the items, keep your goal in mind.
Shelves are great spaces to declutter when you have 10-to-30-minutes to work. Because they are a defined Little Space, it’s easier to stay focused on your task and avoid the overwhelm that can occur with less defined spaces.
If you have the time, you can move on to the next Little Space, another shelf.
Day Twenty-Three - Choose Your Next Step
Have you decluttered a shelf and wished you had the time to tackle the others? Did you declutter a drawer and notice the adjacent drawers needed to be done as well?
Today, identify the next step you want to take. Make certain that you can accomplish the task in the time you have available. Remember to leave a few minutes to clean up the area – move things into the trash, pop items into the box you’re filling with items for donation, tidy the space where you did the work.
Day Twenty-Four - Make a Decision about Paperwork
Even before I became a professional organizer, I’d have coworkers, family, and friends of friends hire me to bring order to their paperwork at home. Because I’d grown up with parents who kept all the papers, I did the same.
And the people who hired me (way back in the days before online banking and bill paying was an option), wanted their copies of paid bills and bank statements. When there was so much paper in a file drawer that it was impossible to fit in another sheet (and even removing a file would result in a mess), no one decluttered. Instead, they bought another file cabinet.
Nowadays, you can find your bank statements and bill paying history online. It isn’t necessary to print these documents as a backup. But still, chances are you have a lot of paper in your house (and more shows up every day).
Today, look at different sites that recommend how long to keep paperwork. If you don’t like an answer (you’d rather hold onto a year of x as opposed to a single month), do what works for you.
But also, consider how often you’ve referred to your files.
Some organizers suggest that you don’t need to keep physical paperwork (although there are legal documents that it would be a hassle to replace). Again, do what works for you. I have important paperwork in a fire-resistant box and personal and home paperwork fit into a single file box.
Look at the recommendations for what to keep and for how long. Write down the rules you will follow. Making these decisions before you sort through your papers means that you’ll save a lot of time when decluttering because you’ll have already made your decisions.
Day Twenty-Five - Keep Your Files Simple
Yesterday, I talked about deciding what papers you want to toss and which you wanted to keep for reference (and for how long). Making these decisions ahead of time means that handling papers will be easier because you’ll already know what you are doing with most of them.
Declutter before you start organizing your files. And whether you are setting up or reorganizing your filing system, beware of the temptation to make files for very narrow categories. For example, you could start with a file labeled for your car or cars. In this would go the insurance policy, AAA membership, excise tax, maybe even repair and maintenance work.
Yup, one file for everything car related. If at some point you realize that it’s too difficult to find what you’re looking for, you could then decide to divide that one category into the subcategories you need. If you have a file folder with one or two pieces of paper, consider if you’re getting too specific.
So, after you declutter, start with general categories and only get more detailed if breaking down the topic helps you to find paperwork that you often refer to.
Avoid filing papers that you don’t need to refer to.
Avoid creating files that are more specific than they need to be.
Day Twenty-Six - Get Something Off Your To-Do List
Clear an item from your to-do list. Either decide that it is no longer important to do, delegate it to someone who can do it, or take care of it yourself.
For seven months, I looked at a task on my to-do list. When I rewrote the list, I carried this task to the new list. The task nagged at me. What was it? To call and cancel a subscription that I couldn’t do online.
When I called, do you know how long it took to do? Ten minutes. I probably spent more time telling myself that I needed to make this call than it did to actually do it.
Is there a task that you’ve been putting off that you can do, ditch, or delegate today?
Day Twenty-Seven - Prevent Paper from Piling Up
While you can get a lot of declutter done in a month, chances are you have more areas in your home to sort through. And this is when frustration can slip in. You move onto a new room or area of your home…and the areas you already decluttered start to get messy.
Not right away. You might have a busier than usual day or week and you set down some things to take care of “later.” Then a few more things land in these spots because you may as well keep together all the things that need to be put away or filed. One day, you fling your hands up in the air wondering how the clutter came back.
As you declutter, keep in mind that you need habits to maintain order in your home. Today, consider paperwork. When do you toss junk mail? When the mail comes through the door or when the basket that collects your mail is full?
How and when do you process paperwork that needs to be paid for or responded to?
Where do you store magazines and catalogs you want to read…and when do you recycle them?
When you set up rules that work for you, the area stays free of clutter. Instead of thinking “later” without any sense of when that will be, you know when you’ll take care of paperwork. Moments of maintenance saves you from hours of decluttering months (or years) from today.
Day Twenty-Eight - How Will You Keep Your Closet Tidy?
For many people, decluttering their closet is right up there with sorting through paperwork. It’s overwhelming to know what to let go of.
My bare bones formula is that if you “don’t, won’t, and can’t” wear something, it doesn’t belong in your closet. (Sentimental clothing items can be in a keepsake box or protected – and hidden – in a garment bag. But these items shouldn’t look like components for outfits.)
The challenge after decluttering is to keep this newly organized space tidy. Choose the actions that will keep this space organized. Remember, this is the way to get the best use from your wardrobe.
Keep the Clutter from Coming Back
When you’re in decluttering mode, it can be difficult to think of maintenance. You want to put your energy into moving forward.
But while you’re decluttering is the perfect time to develop the habits of maintaining order. How do you maintain order while you’re surrounded by clutter?
Take a few minutes at the end of every day to tidy the areas you’ve previously decluttered. Remember, maintaining order daily takes moments…not the hours it took to declutter. Even if it’s a matter of hanging up a jacket or dropping one piece of paper into a file, done daily, it can never become cluttered.
And you’ll notice how many areas stay tidy during the day.
So, decide when you’ll institute this evening tidy up. After cleaning up from dinner? At a certain time? Focus on the areas you’ve decluttered. This isn’t the time to take on a new decluttering project or to clean the house. Maintain the order you’ve created.
Day Thirty - Become the Organized Person You Want to Be
I’ve organized home offices, creating filing systems and getting every paper put into a file. I’ve organized closets, folding drawers of clothing and hanging and arranging items in closets.
And I’ve returned to these spaces a month or so later to find piles of paper stacked on every available surface and more clothing strewn on the floor than was hanging up.
Getting organized isn’t the solution. Even decluttering isn’t the solution. Maintaining order is. While several minutes of tidying each day can seem like one more thing you need to add to the to-do list, this is what makes your previous efforts worthwhile.
Consider the maintenance habit of ‘resetting the room.’ This is different from an evening tidy up in that you don’t wait until the evening to check for things that are out of place. Instead, when you reset the room, you straighten as you go.
You can start the practice of resetting the room even if you are still decluttering. Return a space to how you’d like to find it tomorrow and greet your more organized self.
Day Thirty-One - Remind yourself why you’re decluttering.
While on the surface, decluttering may seem to be all about a cleaner, tidier-looking home, it’s about so much more.
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.