by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: Work toward your goal a few minutes every day. Count longer blocks of time as bonuses.
While teaching a class about decluttering, an older gentleman commented that his major organizing challenge was all the paper he had to go through, particularly in his home office. Since there was so much, he wasn’t certain where the best place to start would be. I suggested that he start by scheduling 15-to-20-minutes a day for sorting through his papers.
He laughed. He had much, much more than 15-to-20-minutes of work ahead of him.
I understood. I also understood that an hour or two or sorting paperwork, is mentally exhausting. And discouraging (so much paper in such a small space!). So mentally exhausting and discouraging, in fact, that it becomes more difficult to convince yourself to do more decluttering, even though you know you need to in order to reach your goals.
You may feel that more time equals being more productive and so you’ve decided that you need to hold off on decluttering until the next long weekend or when you have an entire day (or at least 4-to-6-hours) to put in some “real” work.
It can be difficult to find that perfect convergence of available time, help from family (if that’s part of your plan), and the desire to spend that time decluttering as opposed to something more, well, enjoyable. When that entire weekend with nothing to do but declutter doesn’t manifest, it’s easy to convince yourself that this is a ‘Big Important Project’ that needs to get delayed.
It doesn’t. Remember my suggestion to declutter 15-to-20-minutes a day? It shows results a whole lot faster than doing nothing while waiting for that block of six-hours that hasn’t yet showed up.
How to Declutter in 15-Minutes a Day
Fifteen minutes is often enough time to declutter one shelf, drawer, or cabinet. If you think that there is more than fifteen minutes of work in that space (say, beneath the kitchen sink), instead of emptying the space, shift items around and remove the stuff that you obviously can toss or that belongs someplace else (or save the space for a day when you have a bit more time).
Return to that location the next day and pull everything out for some more focused effort.
Why Mini Decluttering Sessions Work
Now, you might be thinking, “Cleaning one shelf or drawer a day is going to take forever.” And, I’m not saying that, if you found yourself with an hour or three, that you shouldn’t do more decluttering, given the opportunity and interest.
Trust me, I totally get it if right now you’re thinking, “I’d rather just do it all at once.” (And, this applies to more tasks or goals than just decluttering.)
However, if you fit in 15-minutes, five days a week, by the end of the month, you’ll have done at least five hours of decluttering. And here’s the best part – you won’t feel as if you spent five hours slogging through your stuff.
You won’t feel drained by all the decision-making. You’ll be mentally and emotionally ready to keep going which is important because five hours isn’t going to transform your entire house. There’ll be next month and the month after that. And, developing a habit of sorting through your stuff 15-minutes a day is going to send you a constant stream of small wins – “This week, I finished that shelf, and that one, oh, and that drawer, and today I went through the stuff I had piled in that corner!”
This way, when you do find four hours to start tackling your garage, you’ll be able to think about working box-by-box instead of expecting that you’ll be able to clear seventeen years of stuff in a few hours.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, pursues learning, practicing, and sharing information about the everyday habits that can lead to living a better life.