by Susan McCarthy
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Everyday practice: Doing something toward your goal ever day creates more progress than putting in a lot of effort once in a while.
At some point, you look around your house and wonder, “How did it get this way? Where did all this clutter come from?” We both know that clutter doesn’t appear overnight; instead, it’s more insidious.
You don’t have the time to go through the mail for a couple of days, it gets piled in the corner, and you never go back to it when you get a chance. Or, maybe you started decluttering a drawer or cabinet, but you didn’t plan enough time to finish the task and so now you have stuff spread all over the place.
Below, I’m going to describe a three-step process that will help you tackle your clutter. You can use it to declutter room-by-room or to work through your entire home. Whether you have thirty minutes or three hours, you can make this process work. Here’s the tricky part – you need to declutter every day.
Why? Because that’s how your clutter got there. Every day, something was set down in the wrong place and never returned. Trash or recycling ended up on a table instead of the trash bin. You tried on a shirt you haven’t worn since last year, realized it didn’t fit, and returned it to your closet instead of moving it to your donation box.
Clutter appears bit-by-bit every day. You get rid of clutter by eliminating it bit-by-bit.
What You Need to Get Started
You’ll need some trash bags. You’ll also need a box labeled for donations, although these can be items that you intend to give to a friend or family member as well as items meant as a charity donation. If you want to host a yard sale, pick a date now and select a spot where you will collect items for this sale. However, if the sale date comes and goes, break out the packing tape, seal those boxes, and take the stuff to the nearest donation center.
The third thing you’ll need is a laundry basket or similar size bin that you can walk around with and fill with items that need to be brought to another spot in your home.
How Much Time You'll Need to Make a Difference when Decluttering
Finally, you also need a schedule. Like I mentioned, you want to work on decluttering your home every day. Look at how you spend your time at home. Do you scroll through Facebook for half an hour after dinner? Do you sit down and watch television for two or three hours?
I know. You want to unwind after a long day. However, what’s more important – sitting on the couch binge-watching while eating an entire bag of chips or making your home a place where you can de-stress at the end of a day without beating yourself up about the mess surrounding you?
If you can squeeze in 30-minutes, fantastic! If you can declutter for two- or three-hours, great! Maybe you fit in four-hours on Sunday, 15-minutes on Monday, an hour on Tuesday, 30-minutes on Wednesday, etc.
How much time doesn’t matter as much as consistency does. How long the process takes depends on how much stuff you have and how much time you can give to decluttering. In a week or two, you should notice a difference, even you aren’t finished.
Whether you can work for 30-minutes or three hours, plan to do each of the three steps every day.
Step 1: Collect the Trash
Grab a trash bag and fill it with trash or recycling. Trash is stuff like the empty soda bottle left beside the couch or junk mail.
Maybe you have piles of junk mail that you don’t want to just toss in recycling because you are concerned about identity theft. Grab what you can and bring it over to your paper shredder. (If you don’t have a paper shredder and you are concerned about identity theft, get one. If you have years of mail sitting around, get an industrial-quality shredder.)
Trash is stuff that must go. It isn’t stuff that you question whether you should hold onto it.
Step 2: Transport Stuff that Isn’t in the Right Place
If you have 30-minutes to declutter, you might spend 5-to-10-minutes bagging trash and then five minutes gathering stuff that isn’t in the right place. Maybe your son kicked off his sneakers when he was watching television in the family room. You pick up the sneakers and put them in the basket you’re using to gather items.
Other candidates for stuff that isn’t in the right place is glassware and mugs left on end tables and desks, paperwork that needs to be filed, jackets draped on a chair instead of hung up, toys or craft supplies covering the dining table.
After gathering stuff, move it to the correct room. This doesn’t mean that you now start organizing things, finding the perfect spot to put everything. Stop! Put the dishes in the sink. Dump the sneakers in the room (or in front of the bedroom door), hang up the coat even if you have to squeeze it into an over-full closet.
This step gets you in the habit of recognizing that some clutter is really stuff left in the wrong place. If you have items that don’t have a home, leave them in the general area of where their home will be.
Step 3: Eliminate Items that Don’t Help You Live the Life You Want
Duplicate kitchen utensils, clothing that doesn’t fit, books you’ve never read, all these things are weights dragging you down. Too much stuff, stuff that you don’t or can’t use, gets in your way. You push aside stuff in your kitchen drawer struggling to find the can opener. You can’t find anything to wear even though your closet is bursting at the seams.
Go to one shelf, one drawer, one cabinet, and sort through stuff, bagging or boxing stuff to sell or give away. Want to keep things organized? My eBook, Why Can't You Stay Organized? offers over a dozen techniques for making sure the clutter doesn't return.
All that paperwork that needs to be shredded? This is the step when you shred your address and pop the rest in the recycling bin.
Why You Should Do All Three steps Each Day
I know, it’s tempting to think that you’ll clear out all the trash one day, move around the stuff that’s in the wrong room or space on day two, and then focus on eliminating clutter. However, decluttering is a process, which means that you’ll be doing it, to some extent, every day, forever.
Every day, you’ll create some trash. Every day, you’ll have to put stuff away where it belongs in your home. Every day, you’ll make yourself aware of things you no longer need.
Following the three steps to get decluttered will also help you stay decluttered in the future.
When following this three-step process, you can focus on doing a room-by-room declutter or you can work throughout your entire home. Not sure what room to start in? I offer some suggestions about where to start decluttering and organizing here.
Again, how much stuff you have and how much time to devote to decluttering it will be the determining factors as to when you’ll start seeing a difference.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, loves learning and sharing information about organizing, productivity, and habits. She also likes reading young adult novels, crocheting, and spending time with her cat and husband in their riverside home in Massachusetts.