Build Your Planning Skills While You Declutter

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Blog/Creating Order/Build Your Planning Skills While You Declutter

You may be like a lot of people who wait for inspiration … and the time … to begin decluttering. And inspiration can be motivating, at least to get you started. You get stuff done. Surfaces get cleared of trash, items get brought to the room or space where they belong, and your room looks more orderly.

But chances are, this doesn’t last. Over time (a lot less time than you’d think), new clutter shows up, often in the same places where you cleared the previous piles.

And even more frustrating is when you can’t find the things that you “put away.” You may be wondering why you bothered and if it’s even worth trying to once again organize the room.

​What went wrong?

​You reacted to the clutter as opposed to proactively planning what needed to be done. Don't worry, you're not alone.

Why You Want to Plan Your Decluttering Projects

If planning isn’t one of your strengths, the only way to bolster this skill is with practice. Gaining practice on your decluttering projects allows you to learn what planning methods work for you.

Another advantage to practicing your planning skills on your home is that your rooms are set up in a way that makes breaking down your project easy to see. If you struggle to break down most projects you want to work on because you can’t think of the steps that would be involved in bringing your goal to completion, your home provides lots of visual cues.

Planning also encourages you to decide where things belong. If you often misplace the things that you put away, that’s because you didn’t really organize the items and determine where you’d go looking for them when you needed them … before you simply hid the item from view.

Finally, it’s easy to see if you succeeded in doing what you planned to do. If your goal is to have nothing on the kitchen table but the salt & pepper shakers and the napkin holder, it’s clear whether you’ve accomplished this or not.

When you plan your decluttering projects, you can decide what needs to get done, where things will go in your home, what you’ll do with the items you no longer use … before you take action. This way you aren’t forcing yourself to plan at the same time you’re acting.

image of guide for affirmations for as you develop your planning and prioritizing skills

Why Planning Isn't a Waste of Time

A plan is a roadmap that shows you the path you’ll take to reach your goal. Since you can’t achieve any sort of outcome without first defining it, planning requires you to determine when you are done.

When it comes to decluttering, this can seem like a never-ending project because clutter returns. Let’s face it, we live in our homes where new stuff enters, other things leave, and items get used and moved around every day.

When you don’t define your end, it’s very easy to confuse decluttering with maintaining order. It’s not like you can declutter and then plan to start keeping things organized in a month or so. Nope, the moment you declutter you switch into maintenance mode.

While that may sound dire (ugh, I’ll never be done?), maintaining order is much easier. It also involves a different plan.

So, one plan to declutter and another to maintain order. (Think of this as a lot of opportunities to strengthen this skill that you’ll be able to use at work or with other life goals.)

With both types of plans you decide what is and isn’t important, before you’ve started doing the work. This saves you time while decluttering as well as mental effort and physical energy. Along with planning, you also build your prioritization skills, not only figuring out what’s important to keep, but also with deciding what to do, in what order, so you don’t end up doing tasks over again.

What You Need in Order to Create a Plan

First off, don’t think that you can do all this planning in your head. Even organized people who are good at planning put things in writing because that makes it clear what they need to do, in what order, and at what time.

If you leave a multiple step project rolling around in your mind, you may forget steps or do them out of order. And what I think is the worst part, your brain devotes all its energy to thinking about the plan as opposed to having more attention to give to the actions you need to take.

To break down the steps of your project, you may want to sketch out the actions in a mind map, write or type up a checklist, put individual actions on sticky notes so you can arrange them in the order that makes sense for you, or you can even try Goblin Tools, an AI tool that will break down the steps for you.

Of course, you can also ask for help from someone who strikes you as organized. Just know that some people who are naturally organized aren’t aware of the steps they take. So, if someone tells you they just do what needs to be done, you may want to solicit help from someone else.

Develop Your Planning Skills with Practice

Maybe at some point in the past you planned out a project. You devoted a lot of time and thought to your plan … but the project didn’t get done. You may have determined that planning is a waste of time. Or you may have been ashamed by your inability to create and carry out an effective plan.

However, like any other skill, you need to practice. You also want to track your progress and evaluate what is or isn’t working for you. Instead of focusing on what feels like failures, use those less than stellar results as learning experiences.

​And creating plans for decluttering your home gives you lots of opportunities to learn what works for you. Each room, each piece of furniture, each Little Space within the furniture is an opportunity to evaluate your plans.

Create a Plan for Decluttering

As opposed to creating a plan for your entire home, start with a room, area, or even a closet. This should be a space that you want to work on, a place that you know, if it was organized, would make your life run a bit smoother.

Next, set your goal. For example, “I will organize my bedroom by clearing all the flat surfaces where I’ve piled everything from paper to clothing. I will then go through every drawer and determine what I can get rid of because I haven’t used it in the past year.”

Now, set a deadline, a realistic deadline. You know from experience that you can declutter for 30 minutes before you get bored and allow (maybe even encourage) distractions. You also know that you can declutter for four evenings during the week. You now know that you’ll declutter two hours a week and you think you can complete the room in 8-to-10-hours.

You may wish that you could finish in a weekend or two weeks, but chances are it will take you four or five weeks, based on the time you can give to decluttering.

This is great to know! Now, instead of feeling like you’re failing because decluttering your bedroom seems to drag on week after week, you know what to expect. And if you need to finish the task sooner, you know that you’ll need to plan more time to do the work.

​Saying affirmations or other encouraging statements can bolster your motivation while you work. You’ll remind yourself that the effort you’re putting into decluttering is moving you closer to your goal. (Also, it’s really discouraging to tell yourself things like, “work faster, dumbass.”)

image of guide for affirmations as you develop your planning and prioritizing skills

Break Down the Actions You Need to Take

Decluttering is a great way to practice your planning skills since it’s easy to see the small spaces that you need to declutter.

For example, telling yourself that you need to declutter your bedroom is too discouraging. It will take you hours to do. And even telling yourself that you’ll declutter your dresser can still represent a lengthy task.

​However, that dresser can be broken down into numerous Little Spaces:

  • Top of dresser
  • Underneath dresser
  • Behind dresser
  • Drawer
  • Drawer
  • Drawer
  • Drawer
  • Drawer
  • Drawer
  • (Perhaps even the stuff piled on either side of the dresser.)

While this gives you a long list, each individual task is manageable … which is the reason you want to break down a project. Since you can see all these Little Spaces, it is easy to list all these tasks on your checklist or sticky notes.

Putting Tasks in Order

When it comes to putting tasks in a logical sequence of steps, consider if there’s a benefit to taking on one task before another. Going back to the example of the dresser, you decide it makes more sense to declutter the top flat surface first because then this will give you space to put items as you move them out of the drawers.

With decluttering, clearing flat surfaces first not only creates a space to work, but it also allows for a fast win … you can see that you’ve cleared the top of the dresser more easily than you’ll see that you’ve gone through the drawers (at least until you open a drawer_.

Figuring out the sequence of tasks may fall into the “learning experience” category. And while each project you take on (decluttering and other) will have its individual traits, you’ll learn to order the tasks with practice.

Keep in mind that sometimes it doesn’t matter where you start, just that you do. If everything needs to get done and none of the tasks seem to be dependent on another task being done first, just start. Maybe you decide to do the task that can be done quickest, since otherwise all the tasks are equal in importance.

image of marker checking off boxes on a to do list as part of building planning skills while decluttering.

Other Things to Keep in Mind When Practicing Your Planning Skills

Set reasonable timelines for each step. Again, this comes with practice. If you don’t have a natural sense for how long tasks will take, make a guess and then double it. If that proves to be an underestimation, the next time, quadruple your guess. Maybe that “ten minute” task really requires forty or sixty minutes.

The only way to learn if your time sense is off is to make a guesstimate and then notice when you start and finish. Of course, you also want to be clear about what you expect to do as part of the task so you can see why you work slower or faster than expected.

If tasks seem to drag on forever, as you inadvertently adding on more tasks while you work?

Review your plan, often. Not only does doing this allow you to see what task is next, but it allows you to judge if you have actions in the best order or if you need to adjust your timeline. You can check in both daily as well as weekly to judge if you are working according to your plan.

If not, is your plan too ambitious? Or do you go off and work on unplanned tasks, which delays or extends the time you need for the project you intended to work on?

Reward yourself. Consider if there is an incentive to doing the work. Maybe the reward will be feeling calmer in the morning and evening, when you’re spending the most time in your bedroom (for the above example).

Maybe you realize that you’re saving ten minutes every morning getting dressed since you’ve cleared out the clothing you don’t wear, making it easier to see what you do. You’ve always wanted to start a meditation practice, but you never had the time (or felt particularly mindful while you dashed around your home in the morning).

​You can now enjoy time doing something you’ve only thought of doing. When you make a point of noticing the benefits of your efforts, you’ll be more inclined to work on other tasks.

image of guide for affirmations as you develop your planning and prioritizing skills

Plan to Stay Organized

After you declutter, you want to start maintaining order in this space. It’s much easier to go through three pieces of mail a day than to wait a month and deal with a hundred pieces of mail. Putting away the clothing from one load of laundry is far easier than putting away six loads of laundry.

This plan may involve a list of cleaning and tidying tasks that each take just minutes to do when done regularly.

A checklist of tasks may come in handy. Again, write it down … on a white board, chalkboard, sheet of paper that you laminate and then mark with a grease pencil.

You may also choose to use a tracker so you can track your consistency in doing daily tasks. Seeing the tracker can both prompt you to act and act as a reward when you feel the satisfaction of checking off tasks and seeing how many days in a row you’ve done the chores.

Your “How to Plan” Checklist

  • Write it down.
  • Identify your goal. What do you want to accomplish? How will you know you're done?
  • Set your deadline. Then set some smaller milestones along the way so you know that you’re on track before your deadline looms. Is this timeline reasonable or aspirational?
  • Determine the tasks you need to do to reach your goal within your timeline. For decluttering, your big tasks may be related to each piece of furniture in the room. You can then break those down further into the Little Spaces each piece of furniture is composed of.
  • Figure out the order to do the tasks. Do you need to do some tasks before other tasks can be worked on? If everything seems equal, choose a few tasks that you can do quickly so you feel successful.
  • Note if you need assistance from others. Maybe you need help breaking down the steps or you’d like the company of someone else when you’re starting. Or you need someone who can carry boxes of stuff out to the car.
  • Choose your incentive for reaching your goal. If you’re decluttering, you may want to avoid a shopping spree that will bring more stuff back into the house.
  • Evaluate, daily and weekly, what is working and what requires some adjustment.

If you haven’t already done so, grab paper and pen and start planning your next decluttering project!

paper and pens being used to improve planning skills by decluttering
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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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