Clutter drains our time and energy, weighs on our minds, takes up space, keeps us stuck in the past, blocks new things and opportunities from coming into our lives, makes us feel less than, and can be a source of conflict in relationships. Clutter can have a ripple effect that touches all areas of our lives, for example, having to rummage through piles and piles of papers in a packed filing cabinet to find an important document may make you snap at your spouse, which in turn puts you and your partner in a bad mood and affects your relationship. Or it may make you late for work, which in turn affects your job. Or it can simply make you feel badly about yourself for being disorganized, which is a feeling you carry with you throughout the day…. and on and on…
Just think of how much time and energy we spend taking care of our stuff—we have to buy it, return it, clean it, organize it, maintain it, repair it. If the stuff is serving us it may be worth our time and energy, but if it’s just clutter than it’s taking away from our ability to focus on, and attend to, what’s really important.
When we think of clutter we often first think of things that are broken, in disrepair, or are worn out, but keep in mind clutter can also be something that’s in perfectly good condition that simply no longer has meaning for us, or worse, is associated with a negative or upsetting memory. It can become an anchor to the past that prevents us from moving forward.
When we let go of clutter we feel lighter and make space for what’s meaningful to us here and now. So let’s get started! Below are a few strategies to get you going.
How to Declutter and Organize
If you don’t have a large block of time or you are overwhelmed by your clutter the best thing you can do is take small steps.
1) Start small. Begin with one drawer, one shelf, or one cabinet. Easy and successful completion of one area will motivate you for the challenging areas.
2) Get a timer and commit to ten minutes a day: If you are overwhelmed by your clutter this is a great way to start. Get an empty box and for ten minutes put as much clutter in it as you can. Commit to throwing away or donating the contents of the box by the end of the day.
3) Get support: Hire a professional or trade time with a clutter- challenged friend. It is so much easier to clear clutter with someone else cheering you on and giving you perspective on what is truly worth keeping.
If you have the time and motivation to make a project out of it, try the following steps:
1) Give yourself a realistic amount of time. It sometimes gets worse before it gets better, so don’t begin de-cluttering your kitchen an hour before you plan to make dinner.
2) Have a plan: Often what holds us back is not knowing what we will do with the clutter. So plan ahead and have an idea what you will do with the items you no longer want or need. For example, if you know you have a lot of electronic waste find out where and when you can drop off those items (try earth911.com). Or if you plan to give things away to friends or family arrange a date in advance when they can pick up the items or at least know how you plan to get the items to them.
Depending on your plan you may wish to have garbage bags and/ or labeled containers available to sort items into the following piles: 1. Donations. Consider Goodwill or a local nonprofit. The Salvation Army may even come to your home for a pick-up. 2. Friends and Family. Maybe you bought something and it never quite fit you, or the color just isn’t right, but it might be perfect for your friend—chances are they will appreciate it and return the favor someday. 3. Salable items. Garage sales or E-Bay are two ways to sell things. If you are never going to use your great grandmother’s china, first offer it to other members of the family and if no one claims it, then by all means sell it. 4. Repairs and cleaning. Commit to repairing and cleaning the items within the week. 5. Trash and recyclables. It is best to schedule a pick-up or plan on getting items to a recycle center or dump right away. Leave the boxes and bags out in the open, so you will be motivated to clear them out faster.
3) Go room-by-room. Start with the easiest and perhaps smallest room. Once you’ve picked a room, stick with it and complete it before moving onto the next.
4) Take everything out first. Everything. This step will ensure that you address each item.
5) Clean each drawer, shelf, cabinet or closet before putting things back inside. You will be less apt to place anything that is less than excellent in your now clean and fresh space.
6) Give each item the useful, beautiful, or loved test. If the item matches one or more of these criteria — keep it. If not, it’s time to let it go. Put it into the appropriate give away pile.
7) Put your selected items back. Take your time. Find a perfect place for each of your possessions and neatly stack, hang, or fold, making sure each item is appropriately accessible. You may wish to organize a closet by color, season, or some personal system of your choice- whatever supports you in an efficient and easy routine. This is a good time to make a separate pile for anything that needs a little care. For example, any clothes that may need altering or shoes that need repair. Do not put anything back that does not reflect order and simplicity.
8 ) Go through each room in your house. Each closet, each drawer, each shelf, until your whole space is completely streamlined. If you start feeling like there are some things you “need,” make a list, but do not buy anything for one month. Writing the items down on paper will satisfy the part of you that feels the need to hold on. If you revisit the list at the end of the month, you might be surprised to find that you can’t remember why these things seemed so important to have.
Other things to keep in mind:
Make a choice, or don’t: When you clear clutter don’t hold yourself up by spending too much time considering what to do with things you’re undecided about. Either make a choice in the moment or create an undecided box. It’s not worth taking lots of time deliberating whether to sell or donate an item—chances are your clutter has already taken enough of your time and energy. Just make a choice and move on. If something truly is making you pause, go ahead and use the undecided box. You revisit the items in the box towards the end of the process and reevaluate.
One Year rule: If you haven’t used it in the last year, let it go.
Take a picture: Sometimes it is easier to let go of things if we take a picture of it to keep as a souvenir! Keeping a digital photo let’s us remember something without taking up our space or time.
Clear first, organize later: Don’t let organizing hold you up. You can’t organize clutter, so don’t try. If you clear first the benefit is that you will have less to organize later. Also, you may be surprised to find you don’t have space issues once you are really left with what is useful beautiful and cherished.
Maintenance: Set aside time on a regular basis to clear clutter. The nice thing about a huge overhaul is that it will last indefinitely with maintenance. Every week go through your home and check each drawer, closet or space for clutter. Make sure everything is in place and clear out anything that doesn’t belong. This doesn’t have to be a long process, try committing to ten minutes a day doing a different room each day, or an hour once a week, to clear accumulated clutter. Also keep in mind how much stuff you got rid of last time you cleared your clutter. Often clutter clearing makes us realize how much excess we have in our lives. If you’re interested in green living, remember being truly eco-friendly isn’t always about buying green products, it’s about buying less.
Keep clutter to a minimum by changing habits: clutter is a symptom of our belief and habits, not the root of the problem. Get out of the endless cycle of accumulating and clearing clutter by checking out our blog, Changing Habits That Create Clutter.
And For Tips on Where to Donate Your Stuff Check Out…
Doing Good By De-cluttering