I know doesn’t that sound dreamy… never having to sort stuff and organise again… and unbelievable. But if we declutter with the intention to never come back to that spot and declutter, then we are a long way along the path of never decluttering again. Decluttering is really getting rid of the things that you just can’t be bothered to put away or getting rid of the things that are taking up closet space, so that you can’t put the things you want to keep away.
I have found that just as folk confuse tidying up with cleaning, so they confuse decluttering with organising. When folk say they want to get organised they often really want to declutter. You can not organise a space efficiently until it is comfortably clutter free. Decluttering is really the first step to organising any space: Be it your entrance hall, your kitchen counter, your laptop or your schedule.
- You need to have a reason to declutter: I have one or three family members who are quite happy that they have no access to any of their possessions, even though they can’t get to any of them because of the “jam.” And others like myself who think if they can’t see it or get to it then they needn’t have it. The first type, who has no problem with too much stuff, find it really hard to declutter – they see no reason too, and the others never seem to stop tossing things out. There is a happy medium of course and knowing why you want to declutter is often motivation enough to get the project rolling. Decluttering is like a good intention, a new years resolution… we dwindle and fade from these projects fast… because we don’t often know why we want to do them, we just know that we should. There are a number of very real reasons to declutter:
- Just the sight of all that stuff is completely stressing you. If you sit down on the couch and see piles of paper everywhere then you are not going to relax… it is time to do something.
- If you can’t use any of the surfaces in the house and finding a place to balance your dinner plate so that you can enjoy your meal then chances are it is time to declutter.
- If you can’t get to the materials you need for a project because there is so much stuff in the way – then it is time to declutter.
- If every time you want to do something you have to shuffle piles of goodies around then you need to declutter.
- If you just can’t find anything – then you most likely need to declutter.
- I am sure you can think of dozens more reasons…
I think the most over-riding reason is that clutter causes stress, we simply need our homes to be a haven and if we cannot be comfortable then it is distressing, to say the least and time to lose some baggage.
- Have a Vision:
- Start Small and Work Towards Your Vision:
- Start With a Clean Slate:
- Everything Has to Have a Place:
- Now You Can Declutter:
I am not trying to get rid of everything my family owns by any means, but getting rid of the things we don’t need or use, and worse the things we don’t even like… will help our house to run more smoothly and I am all for that. I live with nine other people there is going to be stuff. But I don’t have to have stuff on every surface and piles of clutter in the entrance way. Before you dive in and start tossing things – have an idea of how you would want to live. If you can’t handle every toy your child owns in the living room, but you would like a small basket of toys to prevent little visitors from roaming the house and unpacking… then aim for that.
It is not enough to have a vision, you need to share it. Often I will say to my kids lets clean this spot out and they will look at me, “like huh”… they don’t have any idea of what I am aiming for and so they can’t achieve it. If I don’t know that I want all the library books neatly in one spot – then I certainly can’t expect my kids to achieve that. If your idea of decluttering is to clear your schedule on Saturday mornings and the rest of your family don’t know this – trust me there will be very few free Saturdays in your schedule!!! You have to communicate your vision, it is a lot easier to achieve something if everyone knows what you are aiming for.
Start small… one shelf of a book case is enough and manageable in a day. You cannot declutter your entire house in a day unless of course you are nine months pregnant and in “severe nesting mode,” in which case you can literally do anything. But since most of us don’t contain that super power, we have to depend on sheer will power and determination. If you have a reason to declutter and a goal in mind then you can break up the project and do little bites and make real progress. If you don’t, and I speak from years of experience… you will unpack entire closets, blink and whole rooms are unpacked before you realise – all with the intention of decluttering – and end up with piles of stuff that you just don’t know what to do with and those piles get jammed somewhere and can linger on for years.
If you are clearing a kitchen counter, or the coffee table, or even a drawer… then clear it out and only put the things you want there. If you want nothing on your kitchen counter then take everything off it. Look at it and enjoy it… and get used to it. When things start to clutter it up again… just clear it off again!!! I have a counter in my kitchen that is definitely a dumping zone – I don’t mind when we need an extra flat surface for school, but the rest of the time I like it clear. I clear it. I take everything off it and put it on our dining table… and then delegate the task of setting the table!!! The table-setter has to put those things away. I have never mentioned this task but it happens ever so gently three times a day and my kitchen surfaces stay clear!!!
That’s a cliche, I know… but it is true. Once you have cleared your space you will have a pile of stuff… if it is important and you treasure it then put it away. If you don’t have a place for something then create one… move something else out and make a space. If something does not have a place – then do not put it anywhere until you have created a space for it. Don’t jam it into a kitchen drawer to sort later, just don’t put things away in the wrong place. It is ruining your “decluttered vision!!!” I know the temptation is high… to take pamphlets that we want to keep and pop them onto the post pile. They are not mail, create a space where you would want to keep pamphlets. Now I know that I said put everything away… but you really do have too… and this may turn out to be your exercise for the day/week/month. If there is a thumbtack, put it away with the other thumbtacks, if there is a pencil crayon put it away with the pencil crayons… a clothes peg, take it and put it with the other clothes pegs. This requires focus… and it is so easy to get distracted here – but it is so worth it to have everything where it belongs and will simplify your life significantly.
Once you have put everything away you will be left with a pile of remnants. Do not take that pile of stuff and jam it anywhere… sort it out until you are done. Put the recycling in the recycling, toss the garbage, if you know someone whole would like something have a spot somewhere for re-gifting, put the donate-ables in the donate pile. Declutter to let off steam, you are far more likely to toss stuff when you are thinking “Do I want it or not?”… Toss, than if you are in an amiable mood, wiffling and waffling through a pile of goodies, wondering if you might like to hang onto something. How do you know what to donate:
- You Just Can’t Face Putting It Away Things: Many small toys fall into this category, so do dried out pens, and endless bits and pieces, then it is clutter and get rid of it… Honestly, these little bitty things can cause mayhem… “one man’s treasure and all that…” I believe it it was treasure then it wouldn’t be lying about and I am happy to get rid of it.
- Sentimental Things: If you have three dozen boxes of artefacts from college days… ticket stubs and magazines and cards from people, who you just can’t remember… then it is time to just get rid of them.
- Saving It For a Rainy Day Things: Oh I used to do this with arty crafty materials, puzzles and board games. Until I figured I was saving these things so dearly that my kids weren’t getting a look in and my grandkids would be lucky enough to take a turn. At which stage we filtered out the things we wanted and let the rest go. It doesn’t matter if it is a classic game that “everyone loves playing” if you and your kids don’t love it then pass it on.
- Bazillions of Books: Okay, I am extreme and I reckon that I could keep ten brilliant books and lose the rest – but I live in a house of books with more coming into it each and every day… we review books… dozens and dozens of books arrive in our home. And we get rid of them. Our shelves are finite… We have a fairly strict one in/two out policy. Remember a book shared means the price of the book just halved… I am all for sharing and passing on the books we have read. You know when you are reading a book if you will read it again or not… And as for kids books… you don’t have to keep them all for a library for your grandchildren… they will want and have their own books. Some books are too good to pass on, of course and some books are just keepers… don’t worry about that – keep them… Just not all books.
- Those Gifty Things: You can’t part with something because it was a gift from an old aunt or worse from a best friend. If half your closet is taken up with gifts from the past then it is time to get rid of them… A good friend who gives you a gift never intends for it to be a burden.
- Things You Might Use One Day: Closets are full of those… clothes for when you get thinner one day, clothes for when you get fatter one day. Keep the clothes that fit and that you like – the other items I bet you don’t wear anyway. If your closet, or your kids’ closets are full of clothes they don’t wear then it is time to move those clothes on… there must be someone in a nearby shelter who could be making good use of those clothes instead of the clothes sitting in bins until they fit somebody. Seasonal clothes put away for other seasons, but if it is stuff you are not using then just pass it on.
- Art Projects And Things: A house with eight kids has literally dozens of art projects. They are often photographed, they are sometimes put up for admiring but eventually they all return to the land from which they came… the land of the recycling bin.
- Those Cost a Whole Lot of Money Things: Something that seemed like such a good idea at the time and you bought it and loved it for a while, but just not anymore… pass it on. Let somebody else love it, if you can’t regift it, then donate it. Whatever you do don’t waste precious real estate on things you don’t like, rather store things you are enjoying right now. I know I have bought entire projects before thinking it was something we would love and then we just don’t get around to it… turns out there are folk who want those things – donate them!!!
- Those Broken Things: You may have this vision of warm cosy winter evenings spent doing the mending… but if they haven’t happened in the last five years then they are not going to happen!!! You may have this idea of a Saturday morning spent mending things together – I know my family has other ideas for weekend activities… Seriously, if things are beyond repair toss them. If they need a light repair donate them… I speak from experience… toys that need a dash of glue, wooden bits and pieces that need a nail – these can sit on your kitchen window sill forever… until you think they are part of the decor – they aren’t… toss them.
- Those Special Collection things: Stop collecting things you are never going to attend to… I had a box of recipes, squirrelled away – torn from magazines, I know folks have these, but I didn’t ever look at them, I look elsewhere for recipes and if I like the look of a recipe then I use it straight away – just no need to hang onto a pile of papers!!!
- Those Duplicate Things: Get rid of them… each child does not need it’s own equipment for everything, somethings can be shared… two of the same book – then out goes one. Two wooden spoons, that’s ok… but eight… get rid of some of them.
- Those Container Things: Don’t fall into this trap… you do not need containers to declutter and you especially do not need to buy containers to start decluttering… once you have decluttered you may need a container or two… but seriously!!! I have passed on dozens and dozens of containers over the last year… no I have no idea what I intended to store in them and they needed to move on!!!
We live in the era of “GEAR” and lots of it… sports gear, kitchen gear, baby gear, craft gear… if you don’t have the equipment then you can’t do the task… Have a look around so many creative people do amazing things without any gear… in fact it would seem that gear and equipment that marketers are tossing at us really hinders rather than helps. I have seen parents go out for the day with their teeny tiny baby and they literally need a small truck for bags and strollers and backpacks and toys and bottles and clothes and … think about it, babies need you, not a whole lot of stuff… but the baby gear business is flourishing. Don’t even start me on toys and sport. Don’t buy special equipment for a once in a life-time trip… borrow it. Just trust me on this… Don’t go out and buy all the gear for a new family project that you might only do once… spend the money on a day course in stead – you will know by tea-time if it is worth investing in or not. Stop shopping, it is a crazy idea: “Shopping as a past-time”… once in a while yes, but every weekend… stay away from the shops and spend time doing other things you like doing. Beware of specials that say: “Buy one get one free”… especially if you only wanted one item in the first place… you never have to bring things that you don’t want to into your home – just say no thank you. When you are shopping, imagine the item lying on your couch at the end of the day would you want to pack it away… if not then just don’t buy it!!!
And the Se7en + 1th Thing:
Nobody’s house is perfect, set yourself a time to declutter and stick to it. I know some folk do a quick tidy every night before bed… I like to do nothing after dinner. For me it is better to enlist all my helpers and do a quick tidy before dinner. When everything is tidy we have dinner… there is a definite air of “we have finished and we are rewarded.” Notice, I said tidy – not declutter… Though you will always have to tidy and maintain stuff… that is the nature of us… if you consistently put things away where they belong and don’t bring things into your house that you don’t ever want there. If you stop shopping for things because “one must” and take up weekend ambling instead… eventually you will run out of things to declutter – one does. Then maintenance is no longer decluttering but rather tidying – putting things away where they belong, and when you no longer love something enough to put it away then pass it on.
Decluttering is a task… and one your family may or may not want to join you in… but there comes a time when you can not breathe anymore and then it is time to get moving rather than waiting for their “less than eager anticipation.” I have conquered my family in the bathroom… ten towels, ten toothbrushes, toothpaste and a bottle of shampoo. Nothing else. They don’t even try and put other stuff there anymore. They know it will be gone next time they look… The rest of the house, well I am working on it, but I won’t be forever!!!
I wrote this post because I am writing about organising and decluttering on our blog this month and because the Problogger had a Group Writing Project this week… fantastic idea… dozens of his readers have written “How to Posts”… pop over and take a peek!!!