by Susan McCarthy
Deciding what to declutter to create your ideal space doesn't involve following someone else's list of things to declutter. Instead, you want to connect to what's important to you. So, before you grab the trash bags, do these planning and visualization exercises first. Taking a brief time to get clear on your goals will save you time and stress while you declutter.
A couple of weeks ago, I was using my husband as a sounding board for an idea I had for a new decluttering course. He’s a guy who likes having stuff around. I joke that he’s never found an empty space that he didn’t want to decorate with collections of stuff.
However, once or twice a year he will declutter. He doesn’t ask for my help, and I don’t offer it. He’s very straightforward in his actions.
So, when I started talking to him about a decluttering course, he looked at me and, in all seriousness, said, “How many ways are there to declutter? You grab a trash bag and toss stuff in. What else is there to do?”
Alas, if you’ve struggled to declutter, you’d likely differ with his perceptions about the simplicity of decluttering.
And yet, it is possible to simplify the decision-making process that likely tripped you up while you were decluttering. To create your ideal space, you want to get clear on what that actually means to you before you start sorting through your stuff.
The time it takes to do these activities now will be gained as you sort through your possessions.
The Magic Wand Question
The magic wand question is, “If I could wave a magic wand over my home, I would change these decluttering and organizing challenges and frustrations.”
Write out your thoughts as opposed to simply thinking about your answer. Just the act of writing things down forces you to get clearer. The images flashing through your head are captured on the page.
Note that this question gets to what you want by asking you what you don’t want … the challenges you want to change.
As you declutter, remind yourself that you aren’t getting rid of things so much as you are eliminating frustrating elements from your home.
Visualize Your Organized Home
Close your eyes and imagine walking through the front door and then moving through the rooms of your organized home. If you want, you could even talk out loud and record your voice.
What do you notice about the spaces? What have you removed or rearranged? What is displayed more prominently now that the distractions of clutter have been removed? How do you feel as you walk through each room?
Now, when you declutter and find yourself hesitating over an item or collection, ask yourself if you saw it in your vision of your organized home. If not, perhaps it will be okay to release the item.
Time Traveling Visualization
If you find yourself overwhelmed by thoughts of how long it will take to declutter your home, try this time traveling visualization.
Imagine that it is five years from today. You could anchor this time by considering your age or that of your children or grandchildren. You are in your home, moving around doing some light tasks – fluffing pillows or prepping a tray with snacks – in anticipation of a visit from a family member or friends.
You aren’t rushing around trying to scoop up piles of stuff. You feel relaxed with a happy sense of anticipation for the upcoming visit. You remember the old days when you may have suggested meeting outside of your home, maybe at a restaurant, to avoid having people see the condition of your home.
It isn’t necessary to imagine the details of your home. Instead, focus on the feeling of knowing you are organized in a way best for you and others in your home.
Next, imagine that it is three years from today. You are anticipating another visit. Do you sense the same calm and ease you did in your five-year visualization? If not, do you find yourself feeling more at ease than you would today if someone was planning to visit you?
Now imagine yourself a year from today, once again in the scenario of someone coming to visit you in your home. What actions are you engaged in? Are you hurrying to hide things? Are you doing some minor tidying? How do you feel about having people entering your home and seeing the condition of things?
So, how do you interpret these visualizations? When you experience a sense of calm instead of rushing around to straighten your home, that can be a clue as to when you will create your ideal space.
For example, if in three years you still imagine feeling slightly frantic at the idea of company, then perhaps decluttering will take three or four years. On the other hand, if in the one-year visualization, you’re focusing on arranging a plate of cookies instead of scooping a pile of laundry that needs to be folded off your couch, your decluttering efforts may have gone quickly and smoothly.
This exercise can help you see the timeline you may subconsciously feel most comfortable with right now. If you imagined your home organized three years from now, that could be a clue that your six-month timeline will cause you too much stress.
How You Want to Use Your Time
On a sheet of paper, list 5-to-10 activities that you wish you had more time to engage in. If an activity will allow you to spend more time with people you care about, note that information. However, don’t merely list, “spend more time with ______” without listing what you will do while you are together.
Do any of these activities require equipment or supplies? Do you already have these items? (This isn’t a suggestion to go out and purchase these things.)
Now, when you declutter, you’ll know that you want to hold onto these things. However, when you uncover items that you used to use or at one time hoped to use … but don’t see yourself using in the future … you know that you can let go of these items. No need to hold onto them “just in case” because you’ve already acknowledged that you don’t plan to use them.
Holding onto things that didn’t make your list creates a distraction from the activities that did make your list. Why hold onto the supplies for an activity that you feel lukewarm about … that didn’t even make your top five or top ten list of things you’d like to do?
List the Benefits of Your Ideal Space
What benefits do you see coming from decluttering and organizing your home? Think big – hosting a family reunion; or small – not misplacing your car keys.
Word your sentences or phrases from a positive angle. For example, “I’ll stay on top of sorting the mail” as opposed to “I won’t have to stare at piles of mail on the kitchen counter.”
Post this list someplace you can review it every day to remind yourself why you’re willing to let go of items as opposed to keeping them “just in case” you need them “someday.”
Plan a Pickup or a Party
From a purely practical angle, scheduling a pickup from a charity or planning a party, gathering, or dinner gives you a date to work toward. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that you need to declutter your entire home to host book club. Instead, focus on the spaces where people will go.
And most charities consider eight to twelve bags or boxes as a large donation. And you can always schedule them to come back.
However, if the idea of a deadline on the horizon causes you to freeze like a deer in the headlights, then don’t add the pressure of planning a family reunion for 83 relatives. Maybe start by planning to have a friend over for coffee.
Get Clear on Your Goals
Understanding what you want your ideal space to look like after decluttering can help you stay focused during the decluttering decision-making process. You want to make decisions that support your goals. Holding onto items that you don’t use or don’t want to display creates clutter.
To get clear on what you want in your decluttered and organized home,
More Resources to Help You Create Your Ideal Space
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.