If you’ve been reading here and there about how dreamy it is to live a simple uncluttered life, and starting to envision your home as the peaceful, uncluttered haven it could be, then girrrrrrrllllll, we are on the same page.
My enthusiasm for simplicity will never die, but I do know how difficult it can be in the beginning to feel like you are making progress. For a long time I had a constant “giveaway” box continuously being filled, but the results it had in my home were almost completely unnoticeable.
There are so many reasons why we are living in cluttered homes. There are reasons why, despite our constant efforts, we can never seem to gain traction or see significant progress towards that beautiful, peaceful home we crave.
I’ve written a bit about why clutter kept creeping back into my life, and how finding my “why” was the catalyst that finally started me on my journey toward a simpler life.
But there’s a point where all the theory is making sense and it’s time to put all those thoughts and feelings and longings into ACTION.
This is exciting. This is happening, and it’s my pleasure to share with you the things that really keep me on track when it comes down to the very practical side of decluttering.
A quick word of warning…
If you’re just starting out, you should expect to have moments of overwhelm. Please expect them, then you won’t be shocked or surprised when they happen. I’m a fairly “let’s get down to brass tacks” sort of personality, but I cried. Lots of times. This ain’t no picnic, sister, but you’ve got what it takes. Lets go!
Schedule your decluttering time.
We all have lives that carry on, children need to be fed, groceries need to be bought, homework needs to be finished. So schedule the time that is set aside only for decluttering and don’t neglect your daily duties. It may only be for half an hour before bed, but plan to have nothing else on your plate and dedicate yourself to the task at hand. Focus. It’s worth it.
Get the ball rolling with an easy win!
Fact – Trash accumulates in a home that is cluttered with too many things. If there is trash laying around your home, grab a garbage bag and make a whirlwind trash grab throughout the house. This is just a one time thing that will help you see some immediate difference. It’s technically more of a tidy than a declutter, but give yourself the pleasure of this easy win and just grab all visible trash. No need to sort through piles of paper. I’m talking food wrappers, old newspapers, mangled art projects, piles of old receipts, old toilet paper tubes, church programs and product packaging. Get it in the bag and out of the house.
Don’t step on toes…just yet.
Start with your own things and household things that you are in charge of. There will be a time for getting other people in your home on board, but if you’re just starting out, then it’s likely that your spouse or older children are not at the same place of action that you are. That’s ok, don’t force the issue. Just begin and stay positive, and cross that bridge when you come to it. Chances are, if you let your family members see the hope you are experiencing, they may be inspired themselves!
Let’s break it down.
I found it so very helpful to break up the project into categories. Marie Kondo, the famous decluttering expert, recommends this, and though I don’t agree with everything she says, I do think this is a big one that makes a huge difference. Here are the categories I use. They are listed in the order that you should complete them (more on that later).
- Clothing (yours and little kids, grown kids/husbands do their own)
- Jewelry and accessories
- Coats and all outerwear
- Personal grooming products. (soaps, shampoos, hair stuff, make-up)
- Medicines and First aid supplies
- Refrigerator and Freezer
- Pantry/Dry Foods
- Kitchen wares (all dishes, silverware, pots and pans, and utensils, canning jars, and appliances)
- Toys (including toys in storage and dress up)
- Towels and washcloths
- Linens (sheets, tablecloths, etc.)
- Books and magazines
- School supplies/office supplies
- Knick knacks and home decor, wall art
- Outdoor/sports equipment
- Yard/garden equipment
- Tools/hardware/home improvement/paint
- Extra furniture (book cases, shelves, chairs, old area rugs, lamps)
- Junk drawers/bins/areas (like the top of the fridge or side table)
- Keepsakes and special mementos
- Visual Clutter
Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? But I do try to organize it in a way that will start with the easier things and give you some serious momentum as you keep chugging through the list.
Let yourself dream.
Breathe deeply and close your eyes. Give yourself an Anne of Green Gables moment and just imagine what your house will be like when you are done. Is it tidy? Peaceful? Cozy? Does it smell fresh? Is there light flooding in the windows? Are you able to sit and read, or bake, or draw without that underlying feeling of dread? Can you engage in the things you love for pleasure without that festering feeling of procrastination hanging over you? This future awaits you, don’t lose sight of it!
Let’s get down to business…
Prepare yourself with two black garbage bags. (I choose black on purpose because you will not be distracted by what’s in the bag) One bag for throw away, and one for give away. When a bag is filled get it out of the house. OUT! To the porch or to the trunk of your car, or even the garage. Don’t wait till you have a big load to donate. One bag is enough. Donate as often as you can, even if you have to make a special trip just to donate.
Each thing that is in your future home will be a thing that you have decided is worthy to accompany you into this next part of your life. As you sort through your things, take time often to ask yourself “Is this something that belongs in my future?” This is another helpful tip from Marie Kondo, and one that helped me to see clearly what I should keep, and what I could let go. You won’t get it right every time, but it’s extremely helpful when you come to those items that you don’t know if you should keep or give. Even if they served you in the past, they may not have a place in your future. This is good news. Be grateful that they have served their purpose, then let them go!
Well begun means half done…
As you go through the categories, it’s essential to deal with everything in that category. Looking into closet or dresser filled to the brim with clothes, it’s almost impossible just to take out the the ones you don’t need. Rather, take out every piece of clothing. Every. single. one. then only put back in the items that have a place in your future. Deal with every piece of clothing you own (even the ones in the laundry and storage) before you move on. You may have to run around the house or even go to the car to get every piece. Do it. Don’t try to multitask in different categories. Finish completely before you move on.
Each and every time you finish a category, celebrate! It seems silly, but say it out loud. “I did it!” If you plan to move on to another category, take a moment to refresh yourself with a few minutes outside or a cuppa tea. Then, onward!
What if the categories are mixed up together?
Every cluttered home will have categories that overlap spaces. Office supplies may be mixed with books and DVDs. As you are working on a category, when you come across items from other categories, just put them elsewhere and don’t get distracted.
Remember how important it is to gather all the items together before you declutter. If you are working on books, work near the bookshelf, but go to every room in the house and grab all the books from each place. You need to do this or you won’t be able to finish that category, and it will be a loose end lingering in your mind. You need a clear mind to do this. Don’t clog it up with jobs half done.
Why gather it all up first?
It may seem like more work to do the gathering up, but the strategy is designed to give you the mental capacity to forge ahead without getting overwhelmed. If you neglect the thorough gathering up before you begin to declutter a category, and just begin working on whatever is in front of you, you will be putting an unnecessary burden of unrelated decisions on yourself. Staying in one lane at a time may be a new tactic for you, but it will greatly increase the quality of your decluttering.
Don’t get distracted…
Suppose you are going through the kitchen cooking utensils and you find an old stack of papers that you never put away. It could be very tempting to sort through those papers, and you may think to yourself “I can do this, it will just take a few moments.” But I encourage you to set those papers in a sensible place and stay in the kitchen utensil frame of mind. The papers have their turn coming, oh yes they do, but they’ll have to wait. You are in the zone and you are not going to let that stack derail your focus.
If you come across an item from a category that you have already completed, it still needs to be set aside. Coming across some scarves in the linen closet would be a common thing. It would be tempting to just throw them in with the rest of your accessories. Don’t do this. Stick to the system. Set them aside until you are done with the entire linen section. Then and only then, take the time to reflect on your accessories, and decide if the scarves are something that deserves a place in your wonderful, peaceful future.
What if I hate it, but I need it?
Some things may not have a long-term place. An ugly fly swatter may be a temporary keeper, until you get a nice one that you want to keep for a long time. Some older dishes you may need to keep until they are replaced with the ones you want to keep for a long time. Don’t worry about this. Once you are done with your decluttering, you will have a much better idea of what things need to be replaced, but that is not something you should distract yourself with now.
Declutter vs. Organizing (they are very different)
Many organizing specialists may recommend that you go room by room, closet by closet, cupboard by cupboard. I’d like to stress that I think that this works very well for ORGANIZING, but it is not the same thing as decluttering. I want to urge you to focus on decluttering only, and not get caught up in organizing. While it is very important in the long run, it will distract you from your goal of purging. Once you get on a roll, don’t let yourself stall out with making things look perfectly prim and pretty. Get through the list, and when you are freed from all that clutter weighing you down, then it’s time to organize.
Don’t sabotage yourself…
This list is organized in a way that will help you to see success quickly. It can be terribly defeating to work all day and not see a noticeable difference. I encourage you to stick to the order of the the list as best you can, perhaps reversing one or two categories, but never start with things at the bottom of the list. I know from personal experience, getting bogged down with junk drawers and stacks of paper can snuff out that flame of excitement so, so quickly. You need to build up some endurance before you tackle the lower half of the list.
Big wins in one fell swoop!
Here is a really exciting notion that will give you an extra boost of success and keep you charging ahead. There will come times when entire categories or sections of things will be able to go with no sorting. MAJOR WIN! For example, several years ago we made the decision to say goodbye to all, yes all, of the DVDs and CDs. We decided to embrace the digital age and just let them go!
With so many movies and music available online (and much of it for free) we were able to let go completely of this major clutter category. We realized we were not using them, we had already essentially converted about 95% of the way to digital consumption of this type of media. Boxes of clutter gone forever and we have not missed them one single bit. If there is a classic movie we want to watch, we rent it online for $2.99. If there is an album we want to hear, we listen for free online, or if it’s a real classic and special (James Taylor’s Greatest Hits, anyone?) I go ahead and spend $10 and buy it digitally. Zero clutter and money well spent, I say.
Perhaps you thought would like to flip furniture and you never got around to it. Maybe you used to enjoy painting but the supplies have all been sitting for a long time without being touched. Maybe you thouht you would use that exercise bike but it just turned out to be super uncomfortable. No worries, people grow and change and there’s things you’ve just moved on from. See it as a chance to experience a big decluttering win.
Making space to think clearly.
Last on the list is visual clutter. Even a home that does not have too many things can seem crowded if it is visually cluttered. My favorite example of this is my refrigerator. You know how easy it can be for things to accumulate on the fridge. Cute magnets, kid’s art, recipes, appointment cards, Christmas newsletters. I put it all away, and my kitchen feels much less cluttered.
While everyone has different aesthetic preferences, I would encourage you to just look around and see what you can remove or store out of sight. You will be pleasantly surprised how much visual clutter has been effecting your mental state.
What kitchen appliances can you store in a lower cupboard, rather than on the counter? Could you keep just one candle in the bathroom, instead of four? Can you store your personal grooming products in a drawer rather than on the bathroom vanity? Could shoes be stored in a closet rather than a shelf by the door?
And suddenly there was…space!
Often times, you will find that since you have decluttered you no longer have need for certain storage items. How pleasant to find that all your coats fit in the closet, and you don’t need the coat rack anymore. Your entry way will feel luxuriously spacious without it. It’s like you upgraded houses!
The Junk Drawer Power Move…
Just to inspire you, let me tell you what I do with junk drawers. (I know it’s not for everyone, but consider it, ok?) It’s shocking and thrilling and leaves me giddy. I dump the whole thing in the garbage. Bwahahahaha! It’s like looking at a pile of bad decisions and saying “You don’t own me” and shoving them over a cliff. If you think there may be something very important in there, like a floating social security card, do a quick check. Then focus on those familiar voices of fear in your head. They say things like…
“That’s wasteful, what if there were things you could have used, it would have saved you money.”
“You are throwing away perfectly good hair ties and pens and erasers and mini notepads. Have you lost your mind? That’s reckless you’ll regret it.”
“There could be at least $5 worth of change in there, you should at least grab out the change.”
“Just comb through it, you may find something that makes you happy.”
“You should save that old phone. What if the new one dies, you’ll have the old one to fall back on.”
“Your friend may enjoy this. You should keep it out and ask them next time you see them.”
My dear, those are the voices of the past. Those are the voices that got you into this mess in the first place. The tricky part is, there’s some truth in each thing they say. But my answer to each voice is…so what? SO WHAT?
You’ll be able to deal with any of these small occurrences of life. You will do so properly and confidently when they occur, and meanwhile you’ll be going through your life with the deeply satisfying knowledge that you are not one of those people that has a junk drawer. You will lose some stuff, but you will gain power over the voices of fear in your mind. Power over fear. That is so worth a jar of change or an old dental floss, or a pair of headphones that only works some of the time. You are ruler of your possessions. Long live the Queen!
Be confident: You can do this.
This method works. For the home with barely enough space to turn around, or for the home that looks tidy, but every closet and cupboard and drawer is about to bust. If, like me, you are ready to cast the burden of materialism away once and for all, then let’s do this thing. Expect some failures and burn out, maybe some moments of backsliding. Allow yourself to take breaks whenever you start to feel overwhelmed. But stay the course. Your future of freedom awaits. You are about to change your life.