by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: As tempting as it may be to declutter for others, don't touch their stuff. Encourage them to see the benefits of decluttering and decide for themselves.
If you’ve decided to get organized and clear the clutter from your home, chances are you’ve started with your stuff – your closet, home office, or bookshelves. Then, you moved on to areas where you normally make the decision – the kitchen cabinets, the linen closet. But, now, you realize that you need to move into spaces that members of your family share. This will involve their participation.
You’ll want to begin with steps that don’t seem intimidating. By intimidating, I mean that you aren’t suggesting they start tossing their belongings in trash bags. Unless they’ve brought up the topic of decluttering, chances are that they haven’t considered the need to get rid of anything they own.
Show Off Your Decluttering Efforts
Have you talked to your family about your decluttering efforts? This could be casual comments – “Wow, getting rid of the clothes that I never wore has made my closet so organized. I must save a couple hours every week not hunting down misplaced shoes and lost scarves.” Or, “I’m so glad I donated all those books to the library’s book sale. I wasn’t going to read them again and it looks so much neater not having books crammed on the shelves in every direction.”
When talking about your decluttering efforts, emphasize the benefits you’ve reaped since clearing out your excess. If your teen complains about never finding anything in her closet, your comment could resonate with her.
If you clear out the excess coffee mugs, make certain you leave your spouse’s favorites. What reactions do you get? None? Don’t be disappointed or frustrated. Look at it as a positive sign that reducing belongings won’t be disruptive.
Although you may be tempted to vent your frustrations that no one is noticing your efforts, let it go. You want their help, not their antagonism.
Offer Reasons for Clearing Clutter
Before you talk to your family, you may want to write down your reason for wanting to declutter, so this information stays clear in your mind. You may be frustrated and want to shout, “This house is a pig-sty” or “I’m trying to organize the house, but you people are slobs.”
Don’t. Think about it, if your partner walked up to you and said these things would that excite you in a positive way?
Instead focus on the benefits. Point out that your kids could have playdates or that your husband could have his man cave and invite friends to watch the big game … if the house was free of cluttered surfaces … they may realize that decluttering is about doing more than filling trash bags.
Emphasize the Benefits of Less Stuff
Focus on the specific changes you’d like to see. This could be that craft projects are done at the table in your child’s room instead of at the dining table. Or, that all books or DVDs are kept in a single location. Or that junk mail is tossed immediately, and other mail goes into a basket, so it can be dealt with on the weekend.
Again, explain the benefits that members of your family would see. If your kids are forever scrambling to locate homework, sports equipment, and musical instruments, point out that you want their help clearing a space where they can keep these things by the door. Emphasize that this will mean they don’t show up late to sports practices or lose points at school for not bringing in their homework.
Introduce Your Family to Decluttering
Step One: Surface Decluttering
Pick a day and a time frame. An hour this weekend is better than blocking out an entire day next month.
Your family’s first step is to remove obvious trash and bring misplaced items to their proper space. So, catalogs and newspapers get put in recycling. Mugs or plates are brought to the kitchen; books are brought to the bookshelves; toys go to the kids’ rooms; dirty clothes are brought to the laundry room; personal belongings get dropped off in individual bedrooms; and so on.
For surface decluttering, you aren’t picking up every item and deciding whether to keep it. Instead, you remove or move items quickly. This can start conversations … Why is the mail left on the kitchen counter? Why is dirty laundry piled in the corner of the bedroom instead of brought to the laundry room?
Start in one room and move through the house as a group. However, for bedrooms, this may mean the room’s owner sorts their stuff on their own or works with one other supportive person. Focus on removing trash and items that belong someplace else.
Step Two: Daily Decluttering
Tell your family that to maintain this level of decluttering, that each day, everyone will spend ten-to-fifteen minutes removing trash and recycling from the house and will bring items to their proper space. Pick a time – say, immediately before or after dinner. Go back to the rewards your family will reap – inviting friends to the house, having the space to do a desirable activity.
By doing this surface decluttering on a regular basis, you can better notice problem areas where there is too much stuff and what stuff doesn’t have a place where it can be found and returned. Daily decluttering will be done forever … however, it will become easier as you reduce the number of items in your home and decide where every item will be stored.
Step Three: Deeper Decluttering
As your family develops the habit of returning items to their place within your home, you may notice that you have more mugs than will fit on a shelf; more DVDs than will fit in their designated space; more craft supplies than will fit in their organizer. Your first reaction may be to go out and purchase additional organizing tools. Before you do that, go through these items with your family to see if you still use these items.
What about larger tasks like the garage or basement? Consider having everyone work on different projects in the same area. Your husband organizes the tool bench, the kids gather together all the toys and sports equipment from every corner of the garage, and you sort through the boxes you never unpacked after your move several years ago.
What to do with these items your family is releasing? You could plan for a family yard sale, with the proceeds to go toward a fun activity. (Don’t try to rally your family’s enthusiasm by suggesting you’ll be able to fund a weeklong vacation this way. Funds for a day trip destination is more realistic.) Or, you could sell items online. You could also bring the items to a local donation center.
If you keep most decluttering sessions short and focused on something like the rack of DVDs or the toy room, you can get through the task in an hour or a few. You may want to speed up the process with longer decluttering sessions; however, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself or your family. Stressed people will want to cling to their belongings because they’ll feel as if you are trying to make them get rid of everything.
Make the process enjoyable. Play upbeat music. Set a time limit and stick to it. If you plan three hours to declutter, after two hours of pulling out things, devote an hour to bagging trash and returning items to their proper place or organizing them in their space. If you don’t leave time to wrap up your decluttering, chances are the area will look like a discouraging mess and you’ll lose momentum.
When it comes to getting others to declutter, you need to let them decide what to do with their belongings. These may not be the choices you want them to make and this could leave you discouraged. Emphasize the ten-minute tidy up at the end of the day so trash gets removed and items are returned where they belong. And, hope that your family will see the benefits to doing some deeper decluttering.
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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.