by Susan McCarthy
If you’ve been decluttering your stuff, at some point, you may offer to help someone declutter – your significant other, your child (at any age from three through adult), a parent, or even a friend – whom you know is overwhelmed by their clutter.
My question to you is, has that person asked for your help or said that they want to declutter? The big rule of decluttering is that you can only declutter your own stuff, so no telling the person that you’ll do the work and make the decisions for them. It won’t work.
For years I struggled trying to help my parents get organized but all I was really doing was reorganizing their stuff because they didn't want to get rid of anything. (Nowadays, they'd likely be diagnosed with hoarding disorder.)
Talking to Someone about Their Clutter
Bring up the topic of decluttering before you surprise someone with a box of trash bags and enthusiastic plans for decluttering their closet
Talk about your own decluttering efforts. Discuss problems the person you are talking to is having because of disorganization – not paying bills on time, losing important things, spending money on things they already own but can’t find, spending money on a storage unit, not being able to use rooms in their house, or do things like sleep in their bed.
If the person goes on the defensive or doesn’t see a problem with the way they live, end the conversation by telling them that if they decide they want some help, you’d be willing to open this conversation again.
If you live with the person, explain that you are bothered by the clutter and create a compromise where they can keep their stuff in certain rooms or spaces but that you need to declutter and organize some of the spaces that you both share, for example, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room. Explain that you’ll declutter these spaces with or without their assistance. Give them a week or two to remove any items they feel they must keep.
Also, keep in mind that different people identify "clutter" in different ways.
How to Help Someone Clear Their Clutter
1. Determine your commitment to helping them. If you can devote two hours on Thursday evenings for the next three months, that’s your decision. Don’t ask an open-ended question such as, “When do you want my help?” Remind them that they will also be able to work on their own time. You may want to sit down with them and help them identify regular times they can schedule for decluttering.
2. Suggest ways to make decluttering more enjoyable (or tolerable). For example, they can listen to a podcast while decluttering and when it’s over, that signals that they are finished and they can take out the trash and move donation items to wrap up their session.
3. Tell them that they can’t buy or accept anything for free for the next 30 days. If they need milk, bread, shampoo, gas for their car, etc., that’s fine. No shopping sales. No browsing stores. No flea markets or picking up stuff on the side of the road. (As the 30 days draws to an end, ask if they want to extend this so they aren’t bringing new things.).
4. Find a local donation drop-off center or a charity that will pick up at the house. Schedule a pick-up as an incentive to declutter – someone is waiting for your items.
5. Establish some decluttering rules – toss anything damaged, broken, stained, worn out, etc. even if they think they could use the item in another way or fix it; pick the best of duplicates and donate the rest; get rid of anything they haven’t used for a year and that they can’t tell you a specific date when they’d use it in the next six months.
6. Start small, say a drawer or a cabinet. Empty the contents, pick up one item at a time and decide whether it is trash/recycling, an item to donate, or something to keep. Sometimes, it is easier for the other person to decide what to do if they have someone else hold up an item and ask what they want done with it than for them to handle their own belongings. If they can’t decide, try this tactic.
Encourage Them to Declutter on Their Own
If you hear things like, “This was a gift,” “This cost a lot of money,” and so on, think about the questions you asked yourself while decluttering – Is this useful, Do I like this item, Will this item help me live the life I want to live? – and ask them to consider their answers. Although you may view an item as clutter, it may fulfill one of their needs.
Although it may be tempting to sneak a few things into the trash or donation box, remember that this is a guaranteed way to lose the trust of the person you are helping. Helping someone else declutter may not be easy, but supporting them through the process will be appreciated.
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Hi, I’m Susan
I’m the chief (and only) Organized Squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life. In these articles, I meld my nearly 30 years as a teacher with my new career as a professional organizer to show you how to clear your cluttered home and schedule to create the life you want.