by Susan McCarthy
If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of decluttering, you're not alone. Jumping in and starting to declutter can leave you even more physically and mentally exhausted. So, what can help? Getting clear on why you are decluttering and choosing a space to organize that will improve your life (not just your home).
The idea of decluttering and finally getting organized has been nagging you for a while. You blocked off a relatively free Saturday to go through stuff. You grabbed a box of trash bags and picked up boxes for the things you could donate.
But then you ended up wandering around your place. You tossed some obvious trash. You moved some things around. You’d start clearing off a counter, get stuck, and move onto the top of the dresser in your bedroom. You grab your phone and start hunting for articles that will tell you how to declutter.
The day goes by, and you didn’t accomplish nearly as much as you thought you would. Now what?
What Can You Do when You Get Stuck while Decluttering?
Decluttering doesn’t seem like it should be so difficult. Empty a drawer or cabinet and go through everything. Keep some stuff, get rid of other things. Done!
But it doesn’t always happen that way. Why?
You might feel inspired to declutter after hearing someone talk about the benefits of clearing clutter. Your motivation is high. But a couple of days later, you’re back where you started. Motivation can vary from day-to-day…relying on motivation can mean you’ll be waiting around for the “right” moment.
Imagine one day you feel motivated to go on a road trip. You don’t want to lose your motivation, so you jump in the car and start driving.
But then you realize you need to fill the gas tank. And it’s nearly lunch time. Why didn’t you remember to bring a jacket? Oh, and where are you headed? You’re getting frustrated because you don’t know whether you want to jump on the highway or stick to backroads.
This aimlessness can also happen when you declutter. You know what you want to declutter, but you haven’t figured out important details like: what do you want to keep and what will you get rid of.
While you may think that you’ll figure out these things as you declutter, just as a road trip needs planning, so does decluttering.
How to Start Decluttering Your Home
Planning to declutter doesn’t require making down-to-the-tiniest-detail plans. However, knowing why you want to declutter can make the process quicker and less emotional.
When you know why you are decluttering…when you’ve considered your goals for your home and your life…then what you keep and what you can pass along is obvious. If you’ve retired, then chances are you don’t need a month of office-appropriate outfits hanging in your closet.
If you’ve started reading books on a Kindle and can’t remember the last time you bought a physical book, then you probably don’t need two shelving units crammed with dusty books.
Knowing your reasons for decluttering puts you in a place where you’ve decided what’s important to you.
Next, commit to a time when you’ll declutter. Decluttering a few minutes every day is manageable…much more so than trying to plan for a block of several hours of sorting through stuff. Ten-to-twenty-minutes of decluttering feels much more manageable that six hours!
Link your decluttering to something you already do each day. So, for example, if you want to organize your bathroom, plan to do so for ten minutes after you brush your teeth at night.
And finally, cheer on your efforts. I know, that sounds a bit “out there.” However, when was the last time you felt motivated to do something that left you feeling lousy? On the other hand, when you feel good doing something, you want to do more of the same.
Telling yourself, “Good job” after you declutter a drawer or a shelf will make it likelier that you’ll continue with the task.
These small habits and mindsets are among the first steps you can take to become organized.
The Best Room to Start Decluttering Even When You’re Overwhelmed
One of the challenges of decluttering can just be starting. Specifically, where to start. And while every professional organizer has their favorite spot to recommend as THE space to declutter first, guess what, it doesn’t matter.
Whether you first declutter your closet or your kitchen or your home office, shouldn’t be about someone else’s preference. It matters where you want to start.
But that’s the problem, right? You don’t know where to start because everywhere needs decluttering.
The one technique you don’t want to use is zipping from here to there throughout your house. Why? This here-there-and-everywhere technique can lead to more frustrations because you’ll be busy everywhere and see results nowhere.
So, choose one room to start. You can even choose one category of items in a room to start – clothing, books, or old papers from school.
Which room? Well, which one is bothering you the most (or more than the others)? Which one has you thinking that if you could just organize the space that you’d feel better…feel like you’d accomplished something big.
Still stuck? Consider where you may be struggling in your life:
You struggle with feeling confident. Declutter your closet. Your closet may be home to things you’ve never worn (and regret spending money on). Things you used to wear but no longer fit (the diet starts Monday!). And things that belong to another season of your life…when you went to clubs…when you worked in an office…when ‘getting dressed’ meant something other than pulling on leggings.
Having a closet filled with your favorite outfits that fit is a fantastic way to start your day.
Life feels out of control. Declutter the kitchen. You’ve been relying on junk food, takeout meals, and whatever you can scrounge from the freezer or pantry. You don’t have the time to meal prep. The sink is full of dishes. You’re afraid to open the food storage containers that got pushed to the back of the fridge. You grab coffee and a muffin because there’s not even room to make coffee and toast.
Decluttering and organizing your kitchen can bring order to your life. Creating a meal from fridge and pantry staples eliminates stress. You can make better food choices that energize you. You take control of simple tasks like washing the dishes.
You struggle with time. Organize your home office or workspace. Piles of papers connected to assorted tasks can leave you feeling like you just don’t have the time to get everything done. And the mix of digital and paper bills and statements can have you wondering where you are financially.
Decluttering unnecessary papers can free you from feeling burdened. Each paper in a pile demands that you, at the least, look at it. Limiting your files to the few papers you need for reference saves you from wondering if you’re letting tasks and opportunities slip through your fingers.
You struggle with clarity. Are you struggling to identify your goals? Do you dread getting out of bed in the morning because you’re facing an endless to-do list? At the end of the day do you crawl into bed wondering what you accomplished…even though you never stopped doing.
You start and end your day in your bedroom. If there’s a lot of stuff here, your thoughts may spin. Creating a calm physical space creates the calm mental space where you can make plans and consider possibilities.
Life feels dull. Declutter your living room. Is this the space where you sprawl on the couch, binge watching some show that a friend mentioned. What is in this room? Books? The start of craft projects? DVDs you haven’t watched in ages? Piles of Paper? Laundry waiting to be folded?
Your living room can become a catch-all for not only stuff but also activities. Clearing through this stuff helps you identify what’s important to you…not just things but activities as well. By clearing away the things that no longer matter, you have space for the things you want to do. And you leave behind the doldrums…and that show you’re not that crazy about.
How Do You Keep Going When Decluttering Becomes Difficult?
For most people, decluttering your home isn’t something that you can do in a long weekend. And because it can take weeks, months, or years (hey, you have a life) to sort through everything in all your rooms, it can be easy to give up.
What can help?
More Resources to Help You to Start Decluttering
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.