by Susan McCarthy
Have you wondered how you can motivate yourself to declutter your house? Consider choosing a method that holds you accountable to your decluttering goals whether you prefer to work on your own or with others.
“Accountability” almost seems like a buzzword when it comes to habits, but apparently it does keep you motivated and consistent when you’re trying to make changes in your life. Personally, I’m someone who got kicked out of a fitness program a dozen years ago because I didn’t care for the accountability component that just felt like I was being harangued.
So, in writing about staying accountable while decluttering, I didn’t want to give you a single one-way-fits-all (not) suggestion. Instead, I’m going to give tips for people who don’t want to work with anyone as well as those who want to work with a buddy, an online group, as well as a professional organizer.
Just as getting in shape is really about developing lifelong habits, getting organized isn’t a one-and-done deal – it’s about maintaining the order you create.
Staying motivated for a week, month, or a year while you declutter isn’t the only thing to consider. You’ll want to learn ways to work consistently forever. Remember, it’s easier to spend three minutes tidying a room at the end of the day than to devote three, six, or ten hours decluttering and organizing a room once every year or so.
(I know, in the moment, three minutes seems like a hassle, which is why, ultimately, you want to stay accountable to yourself.
Why bother decluttering and organizing your home?
Decluttering for the sake of a cleared kitchen counter or neat file cabinets isn’t as motivating as you might think. Yes, these might be the things you envision when you talk about organizing your home, but more important is why you want that cleared kitchen counter or neat file cabinets.
Knowing your why adds an emotional component to your reasons for decluttering and organizing and can encourage you to declutter a drawer or shelf even on those days when you don’t really feel like sorting through your stuff.
Figuring out your why isn’t always easy. Consider what you could do with that cleared kitchen counter…why would that be important for the things you want to do?
When you come up with an answer, poke a little deeper. Maybe you want clear counters so you can prep more homecooked meals. Well, why do you want to do that? Why would that be important to you?
This investigation into your reasons for wanting to organize your home makes this a meaningful task as opposed to something that’s forever on your New Year’s Resolution list.
Ultimately, whether you are working to stay accountable on your own, with a buddy, or with a professional organizer, you are the one doing the work for your own reasons. Lots of people will ignore the homework assigned by a professional organizer in between visits – particularly if they feel as if they are doing the work for the organizer as opposed to themselves.
So, however you decide to add an element of accountability to your decluttering goals, remember, you are doing this to meet your goals, not someone else’s.
Staying accountable to your own decluttering habits
There are a lot of reasons for wanting to work on your own. You don’t have to listen to people offering advice you didn’t ask for. You can work at your own pace. You don’t have to answer anyone else’s questions. No one else will look at your stuff – including in photos.
One of the best ways to stay accountable to yourself is to use a habit tracker. If you don’t know what a habit tracker is, Google it and then look at the images of trackers. Basically, a tracker gives you a space to check off each time you engage in a daily habit.
You can track all sorts of habits in any area of your life, although smaller, more specific goals give you a greater chance as success.
The simplest tracker would be a wall calendar or another print calendar that you don’t write on but to put an X through each day you complete your habit.
If you want to track multiple habits, you’d want a chart that would allow you to mark off each day during the week (or month) that you do the habit.
Why does this work? In the beginning, when you first start tracking your habit, your tracker won’t look particularly impressive or motivating. However, each time you mark an X through a box, you set yourself up to want to mark off the box the next day.
And when you string those X’s together? Motivation fire.
Decluttering habits you may want to work on
Have a buddy who will hold you accountable to your decluttering goals
Your buddy can be a friend, family member, coworker, or anyone you know from your life. No, you don’t have to be close to work together.
However, you want someone who feels positive about decluttering. If you find yourself with someone who always has an excuse for why they didn’t declutter what they said they would…while you’re making progress…you may want to step away from the relationship (just in connection to decluttering). If you’re making progress, and they aren’t, things can get tense.
Even if you and a friend were always talking about getting organized, they may not be ready.
Declutter together online – You can both set up a video chat while you declutter at your respective homes. The appointment time for your chat and the feeling that you have someone else in the room with you, hold you accountable to your decluttering session.
You can chat while decluttering and ask one another’s opinions but remember that your goal is declutter. You can work in a similar space (you both work in your closet or you sort papers together) or you each do your own thing.
Declutter together in person – You both want to feel comfortable being in one another’s home. One week, you meet at one person’s house and your buddy helps you declutter. The next week, you meet at the other person’s house. If someone has to cancel a session, then make sure to alternate meetings at one another’s homes.
So, if you help your buddy and then they cancel when they are supposed to go to your house, the next meeting is at your house…it doesn’t bounce back to theirs. So don’t schedule to more than the next session.
One person shouldn’t get all the attention, leaving the other person to muddle through their stuff on their own.
Declutter apart but get together to celebrate- This version is more like working on your own. However, you meet once a week with your buddy to catch up and commiserate about the work you’ve done on your own.
The reward for your efforts could be going out for coffee or lunch. While you can have a casual chat, you should also plan on using part of the time to review what you got done as well as to plan what you’ll do the next week.
Put your goals in writing so you know what one another expects to be done by the following meeting. Yes, life comes up and sometimes one or both of you won’t manage to meet your goal…however, this shouldn’t be a consistent occurrence. If it is, then it’s a sign that the accountability component isn’t working.
Stay motivated with an online group
If you’re on Facebook, you’ll have an easy time finding a decluttering group. If, after you join, you find the group isn’t what you’re looking for, quietly leave the group. Remember, you’re putting yourself and your home out there for a bunch of strangers to comment on.
You’ll not only find people who cheer you on, but you also risk random people who won’t be nice. Even the people who want to know why you kept that can feel like an attack.
Remember, you are living your life in your home with your stuff. No one else has more right than you to determine what does or does not belong in your life.
Of course, you may prefer to join a group from a more voyeuristic point. You want to see what other homes look like (both before and after) but you don’t necessarily want to comment. This tact probably won’t help you stay accountable to your goals.
What will? Posting a before picture or even just stating your goal for the day. Then, let everyone know that you’ve met your goal.
Be mindful of how many people are in the group. I’ve seen people in groups with a thousand or more members put up posts that say, “Here’s what the room looks like now,” and I’m like, “huh?” Maybe I missed the post. I don’t really want to scroll backwards through the group to find your original post.
Instead, remind people who you are and start with, “As you might remember, I was asking for advice about tackling my dresser….” Or “I’m the one who posted the picture of the laundry on her bed.” This is a helpful thing to do!
Work with a professional organizer
For some people, the idea that they’re spending money on organizing their home seems like it would hold them accountable. Not always. You want to be honest with yourself here – Do you hope that the organizer will make the decisions for you? Or that they will handle some of the chores you find tedious – like filing papers or putting away your clean laundry.
Do you want a professional organizer, who will help you declutter, organize, and set up systems? Or do you want housekeeping, a laundry service, and a file clerk? You’ll be more pleased with the service if you match your needs to the correct service provider.
Some of the benefits to working with an organizer, besides those mentioned, are that you will have scheduled times during which you’ll declutter. This appointment can keep you accountable.
An organizer may also assign you “homework,” which puts you back in the realm of working on your own. However, your next appointment with the organizer can act as a deadline, which can be motivating.
If you find decluttering boring, ambiguous (“what am I supposed to be doing?”) or overwhelming (“too much, too much, too much, ack!!!”), then agreeing to homework may not be your best tactic. (Which is why you’ve hired someone instead of deciding to work on your own.)
How to stay consistent when decluttering
Whether you decide to work on your own, with a buddy, join an online group, or hire a professional, the key to success will be related to how consistently you work toward your goal.
You can grab some of the best elements from these various ways of staying accountable:
Remember, the goal of accountability is to take consistent steps toward your goal of an organized house.
More Resources to Help You Stay Accountable to Your Goals
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.