by Susan McCarthy
Okay, decluttering will never be Disney World/fall fair/birthday party/carnival/island vacation sort of fun. However, you don’t have to feel as if you’re confined from society until everything in your garage is sitting on a shelf…in alphabetical order.
Working with others can help you feel that you aren’t alone as you muddle through the contents of junk drawers and boxes of papers from the turn of the millennium. Finding a friend, or two, to commiserate with about the challenges of sorting through a decade (or three) of stuff, can add fun, accountability, and camaraderie to a process that can take months (or a few years) to work through…often alone.
By working with others, you’ll keep one another focused on your projects, you'll get an instant opinion, or you can quest for advice from someone in a similar situation.
You can help each other through (common) quirks in decluttering behavior (nothing in a room seems all that important until you start handling the objects and then you can’t imagine getting rid of them) simply by being there for one another.
Let’s Work Together…by Ourselves
You might not want to clear your clutter with another person. You may feel embarrassed by the condition your house is in and you don’t want to hear someone else’s comments or jokes. And there’s nothing wrong with decluttering on your own. Even if you become declutter buddies with someone, chances are that you’ll still do most of the work on your own.
However, you may like the idea of having some accountability. A lot of people find it easier to work when they know that someone else will expect to see or hear about their progress (for any sort of project, not just decluttering).
So, how can you add a dose of accountability to your decluttering if you aren’t able to – or don’t want to – work with someone else?
Consider decluttering games which usually challenge you to eliminate so many items in a day. If you're decluttering on your own, the rules of the game become the “other” that you are working with. Although no one else will know whether you pop thirteen items in your donation box on the thirteenth of the month or not, checking thirteen items off the list proves to you the progress you’ve made
The most popular decluttering game is probably The Minimalists Game in which you get rid of one item on the first of the month, two on the second, three on the third, and so on, with the challenge increasing each day. By the end of the month, you’ll have eliminated over 400 items.
While it isn’t necessary to use a checklist to track your efforts, posting such a list helps remind you of your success. (Sometimes, once everything goes into bags or boxes, it can be discouraging to look a three or four boxes and think, “I’ve only got rid of three boxes of stuff! I’m not making progress.” Tallying the number of items, at least in the beginning, can help you feel more successful. And that bit of accountability can encourage you to do more.)
Seeing those checked off boxes is like playing tic-tac-toe by yourself…you know you’re going to win. Fun!
One Way to Make Decluttering Fun - A Declutter Buddy
If you know someone who’s been talking about getting rid of their clutter, instead of commiserating about your messes over coffee, ask them if they’d like to become your declutter buddy.
Be mindful of whom you ask. A good candidate is also ready to declutter and, like you, may feel a bit overwhelmed by the process ahead. While it may be tempting to ask your neatnik sister-in-law or your coworker who makes YouTube videos about folding fitted sheets to be your buddy, you might not want an organized person as your buddy.
Why not? They may feel as if you want them to teach you how to be organized (like them) and they’ll teach their method of staying tidy, which works for them and their lifestyle and their home but might not work for you.
As a professional organizer, I’ve had people ask me to tell them what to do. But despite what you may have read in one organizer’s book or seen in a television show, there is no one true way for keeping a neat house.
And while you may encounter a friend or family member who can help you figure out what will work for you, that might not happen. And if you’re still thinking that it would be easier to follow someone else’s direction, keep in mind that if a method doesn’t work for you, you won’t be able to make yourself to keep up with it.
So even if you think that it would be silly to partner with someone who’s muddling through the process just like you, you’ll find that working together will likely encourage both of your problem-solving skills. And you won’t come to resent the neat know-it-all in your life.
(And, yes, your buddy can be your significant other or even an enthusiastic preteen or teen.)
Help One Another with the Work – If you and your buddy have a lot of hauling and moving of things, then you could take turns working at one another’s houses. Unlike reluctant family members who roll their eyes at the afternoon of sorting that you’ve scheduled, a declutter buddy knows what they’re in for.
Having someone else to work with will help you stay focused. If you start scrolling through your phone looking for places that buy used skis, your partner will point out that you can do that later and get you back to work.
Also, if you aren’t certain whether to keep something or donate it, your buddy will ask questions that will help you through your decision-making process.
In this option, you might work together during bigger projects and on your own for smaller tasks. Just remember, while you’re both doing physical work it’s the owner of the items who’s making all the final decisions.
Sit Back and Offer Encouragement, Not Effort – In some cases, you might need someone sitting in the corner of the room where you're working while the "observer" does their own thing (read a book or some other quiet occupation). The observer is there to help you stay focused and avoid the distractions you may welcome in while working alone.
This handy role is called being a body double and this individual doesn’t do any work and they don’t even offer advice – their job is to create the time and space for you to do your work simply by their presence. (If you have a friend who wants to work on their own but complains about getting distracted by other tasks in their house, you could offer to be their body double, after explaining the concept.)
In other cases, a body double takes a more active role. If you feel more attached to an item when you’re holding it than when you were looking at it, you can ask a compassionate friend or family member to act as your body double in which they handle your items for you.
The individual picks up items one at a time and, without offering their opinion about what you should do, holds up each item and waits for you to tell them to put it in the keep or donate (or trash) pile.
For some people, not touching a belonging helps to create a bit of distance between themselves and their emotional connection to their possessions. This would be a daunting process for an entire house of stuff, so focus on a category of items that you’re having a tough time making decisions. Sometimes, just getting through the initial decluttering session(s) can help you feel confident to work on your own.
Work Virtually in Your Own Spaces on Your Own Stuff – For this option, you and your partner both need a way to video chat and you need an agreed upon meeting time. Set up your devices near the area you’ll be decluttering and work while chatting.
You can both work on the same location (closet, pantry, etc.) or different locations. Here, you stick to the work and gain accountability because you know the other person is going to show up. You can create rules if you wish, such as you can only take a break for ten minutes of every hour, so your clutter cleaning session doesn’t become a catch up and chat session.
Set a time to end as well as a start time. If you have a focused time to work, you won’t want to allow in distractions. Along with knowing when you’ll be doing the work, you get the benefit of having someone available to ask questions and opinions.
Get Help from a Professional Organizer
Not all professional organizers are alike. Some work with a specific demographic or with people who have a particular goal (to move, to right-size their home, to organize their home office). Not only would you be looking for someone you want to work with, but the organizer would also be looking for someone they want to work with.
Some organizers will work with you while others work for you, doing the work after an initial consultation.
Also, professional organizers can work with you in person as well as virtually. The benefit to working with an organizer virtually, is that if you feel self-conscious about someone coming in your home, you can keep your device focused on the area where you’ve asked for help. You’d be doing the physical work yourself, but with guidance (which is all that some people want).
You want an organizer who can not only help you get organized but shows you how to maintain order (otherwise you’ll end up back where you started all too soon). Be clear about what you want. And if you aren’t certain, explain what is bothering you right now about your home and what you want from your spaces. The organizer, or the person doing the intake conversation, will ask you questions and help you clarify what your goals are.
Is working with a professional organizer really a way to make decluttering fun? Maybe it’s just me, but seeing results is its own type of awesome fun.
Seek Support from Friends and Strangers
With the right group, you can use social media to support your efforts by posting before-and-after pictures and asking for opinions and advice. You could start your own private or public group on Facebook (or any other platform you’re fond of) or join an existing group. Of course, even with established rules that require kind supportive comments from everyone, you know how easy it is for people to be sarcastic, dismissive, and downright mean when they aren’t looking at someone in the eye.
So maybe stick to posting progress photos on your regular social media venues (and you’ll still get comments that will make you want to unfriend family members). Use this method only if you love posting on social media and do it frequently about other aspects of your life.
Try Hosting a Virtual Declutter Party
Sure, there are parties where you paint canvases or signs or buy kitchen gadgets, but how about one in which you release unwanted items from your life? Instead of squeezing a half dozen of your besties in your bedroom to watch you declutter your closet, how about if everyone was at their own home, decluttering their own closet, while everyone showed off their “what was I thinking?” items and sharing a laugh?
I recently came up with Clutter and Commiseration, a virtual decluttering party for groups of five-to-ten individuals, done online for a reason – everyone’s stuff is in their home! These two-hour sessions get you and your family and friends started on your decluttering projects.
Everyone gets to ask a professional organizer (me) questions, starts working, and learns how to keep going if the project is bigger than the session.
With so many people decluttering at once, you don’t feel as if your stuff is on display and the attitude of the group can help you stay motivated. And after the party, everyone can split off to keep working with a newfound buddy. Or the group can continue to check-in with one another and keep up the momentum – definitely a way to make decluttering fun and productive.
Decluttering with Others – One Way to Make Decluttering Fun
So, is decluttering more fun with others? If you find someone that you click with, you can support one another either in person or virtually. You can work together throughout an entire project or for areas you find more challenging.
The benefits of working with others:
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