by Susan Caplan McCarthy
March - Spring Cleaning
Storage spaces include attics, basements, garages, sheds, and that extra room that was supposed to be the home office or guest bedroom, but you gave up years ago thinking of it that way – now, you call it “the junk room.”
You don’t move into a house or apartment thinking, “this will be a great space to fill with all my crap.” The creep of stuff was more insidious. “I’ll just leave this here until I decide what to do with it.” Unfortunately, the only “decision” you made was to put more stuff in limbo until you find yourself facing a wall of stuff.
The consequences are varied: You go out an buy a new screwdriver because you can’t reach your tool box. You notice the box of handmade quilts you took from your grandmother’s home has water or rodent damage which bothers you, but at the same time, you never really knew what to do with them.
Storage spaces are filled with delayed decisions. It’s not just the stuff that holds us back from tackling a task, it’s the thoughts and emotions attached to these items.
Before You Start Decluttering Your Most Stuff-Filled Spaces
Before you break out the trash bags or hire a Dumpster, take a deep breath and ask yourself (and other invested adults), “How do I want to use this space? What do I want from this space?”
Get clear on your vision for the space. Do you want to park your car in the garage? Store only holiday decorations in the attic? Keep the guestroom open for frequent visits from the grandkids?
The answers to these questions not only serve as motivation, they are important to clarify your intentions so you can make honest decisions about the items in this space.
How to Start Decluttering a Wall of Stuff
Chances are that you can’t easily move around this room. Work with what you can see and excavate as you go, carving your way into the space. Although it may be tempting to think that you should drag everything out of the space and start fresh, unless you have a crew of people helping you and you’ll be tossing most of the stuff without debate, leave everything where it is and deal with what’s in your hands.
This technique limits the decisions you have to make. Pull everything out of your garage and you’ll have to deal with neighbors stopping by to see what you’re doing, people asking if you’re having a yard sale, and your own brain yelling at you to get the project done before nightfall. Too many thoughts, too many decisions.
Instead, look at what’s immediately in front of you and ask, “Is this trash or recycling?” Toss what you can. (Don’t reach or climb over stuff, deal with what’s at arm’s reach.)
Next, go through the same area and ask, “Who can I give this to?” Can you donate the item to a charity? Give it to a friend or relative? Sell it? Give it to the person who actually owns the item? Pop the stuff into well-labeled boxes.
If you’re considering keeping an item, ask, “Does this item help support my vision for this space?” If you want to park your car in the garage, can you keep the treadmill and comfortably fit the car in the garage? If you want a space for yoga and meditation, is it helpful to have a wall of boxes filled with paperwork from your previous career?
What to Do with “Useful” Stuff
You may find potentially useful items like jars, boxes, old tee shirts (for rags), etc. that you’ve held onto because the item seemed like something that could find a new use. Group like items together. (For example, put all those glass jars near one another.) This will allow you to see how many you’ve collected.
Now, consider how many you use in the course of a month. If you feel that you should hold onto some of these items, define a space to hold the items and only keep that number. For example, you can keep a single box of jars or the fifteen that fit on a shelf. No more than that. If you use an item, you can replenish your stock, if you don’t go beyond your designated space.
Examining the Possessions that You Want to Keep
Remind yourself of your vision for what you want from the space you’ve been decluttering. How do you really want to use the space?
Look at the items you feel you should keep and ask:
Continue Working through the Storage Space
Whether you can give the space 20-minutes a day or 20-hours over a long weekend, continue decluttering the space until you feel that it holds the things you use, want, and love. It may take a few rounds though the space before you feel comfortable releasing some things, and that’s okay.
Sometimes, repeat viewings of an item helps you realize that you have no reason for holding onto it.
So, although storage spaces are overwhelming to declutter, it is possible to carve away at the clutter and free the space.
I help people focus on what's important to them by guiding them through clearing clutter and distractions from their lives. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; courses; speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.