One of my core values in that of relationship. I believe the relationships we build with family and friends are the things that matter most. When I was in the thick of raising my littles, I tried to keep that perspective while managing all the little details of life. This allowed me to do the less important things swiftly and efficiently so that I would have time for the things that mattered most.
For a long time, this worked well. Then when life fell apart, all my systems cracked open and life spilled out all over my house. I had to build and rebuild in a way that worked for the way my brain worked. The whole of this experience – managing clutter, feeding a family, organizing everyone’s stuff, keeping a home office from chaos – has helped me to organize my mind, freeing me to be not only more productive, but also freer to dream and plan.
Part of my struggle in this area is an early belief that I could have it all. Maybe I could, but I couldn’t have it all, all at the same time.
I used to have it all. I have a law practice, an office, a secretary, tons of clients depending on me. I also then had two little girls and a husband who were depending on me. I have had it all, and having it all felt like I had nothing at all.
Now, in terms of “things” I have very little. But yet life is richer.
Clearing clutter in your household
If you want to overcome overload, have a more organized mind, and make your life that little bit easier, then organizing your household is one of the very best places to start. With an organized home, you’ll find that it’s much easier to chill out and relax when you get back after a busy day and at the same time, you’ll be able to find things you need more quickly and easily.
I recently heard a speaker refer to the objects of clutter as “delayed decisions”. We hold on to something because we can’t decide if we need it, if we are still emotionally attached to it or if it holds some other power over us.
When we can begin to sort out those emotional attachments, we can begin to explore the liberty of simplicity.
Consider that the more you have, the more it makes every job last longer. You have more to clean, organize, store or display. Doing so leaves less time for life and relationships.
So the only question is… where do you start?
Here are a few tips that will get you started on the right track:
Everything has a place
At one point, we had nine people living in my house. We generally had to have a strategy to answer the question, “Where does this thing live?”
When you have little kids with too much stuff, your house will never look neat. If you don’t have a place for something, get rid of it. Generally, with many people in a home, the problem areas are going to be clothes, toys and books.
You might enjoy my recent article on organizing your wardrobe.
Developing a System
You may be so in inundated with clutter that you don’t know where to begin. Don’t feel overwhelmed. Start in 10 or 20 minute chunks, tackling small areas. Don’t bounce around from one project to another. Stay on one decluttering mission until it is finished, or until you have reached your time limit.
Begin on the room where you spend the most time. If the majority of your time at home is spent in the living room, decluttering this area first will provide the most benefits. When that room is finished, continue to focus your efforts on those rooms where you spend most of your time.
Establish some sensible expectations. If you have lived in a clutter-filled environment your whole life, you will probably not be able to declutter over a weekend. Write down a plan for daily clutter cleaning, and stick to it. Over time, consistent, daily efforts will pay off in a big way.
Probably the number one issue most people have when organizing and decluttering is knowing what to keep, and what to throw away or donate. Let’s take a look at some simple tips that will help you how to decide whether or not you should hang onto or discard something.
How to Decide Whether to Keep an Item
Decluttering is all about making hard decisions. Ask yourself the following 9 questions when deciding what to purge and what to keep.
• Is it broken? If so, is it worth fixing?
• Has this item been used in the last year? If not, will it be used in the near future?
• Would it be expensive or difficult to replace?
• Am I keeping it simply because it would be harder to get rid of it?
• Would I prefer this item, or the space it is taking up?
• If I were moving to another city today, would I keep it?
• Is there someone who can enjoy this item or benefit from it more than I am?
• Do I have other things that serve the same purpose?
• Does it fit your style, your space, your needs, your body, etc.?
As you were going through the questions we just listed, you may have run into some issues. This is because some possessions cause sentimental and emotional reactions. According to these questions an object may qualify as an item that needs to be purged, but you simply can’t imagine getting rid of it.
Sometimes, your emotional response is justified. Other times though, you are simply making excuses for holding onto things because of unfounded sentimental, financial or other reasons. You need to understand when you are just making an excuse to justify keeping something, or when you should actually hang onto it.
Common Excuses for Holding onto Things
There are only a few root causes for holding onto possessions. You may have an emotional tie to something that is simply too strong to consider getting rid of it. There could also be a legitimate and sensible reason for keeping an item rather than throwing it out when you are decluttering your environment. Perhaps you spent a lot of money on an object, and that is keeping you from purging it.
The qualification questions mentioned in the last section can help you get past your emotions and discover what really needs to be kept, and what you need to get rid of. You should also bear in mind some of the following common excuses for holding onto clutter that you may be making.
• I paid a lot of money for this!
• I have plenty of room, so why can’t I keep it?
• I might need it someday.
• It’s in perfect condition.
• It is going to come back into style.
• It’s old, it might be valuable.
• It was a gift from ____.
• I am holding it until I can give it to ____.
• I want to save it for my kids.
Take photographs of sentimental objects that you have been hanging onto forever. The photographs can easily be organized in a photo album to keep your memories alive, and then you can either donate or throw out the physical object.
Things that you paid a lot of money for can be sold. You may not realize anywhere near what you paid for them, but they are not making you any money sitting in your garage or attic either. Don’t play the waiting or guessing game, hoping something will be used one day, or that you may have a valuable antique on your hands.
Have a professional appraiser check out anything you think may be old and valuable. Sell it or trash it based on that advice. If you are holding onto a family heirloom to give to your children, that is admirable. Just realize that you are going to have to purge something else if you decide to keep that particular item. Decluttering is all about making hard decisions, but the productivity and health rewards are worth this daunting task.
As you go through the rooms in your home, organize stuff into three categories – one to definitely keep, one to definitely get rid of, and one “can’t decide” category. Put the “can’t decide” box away for 6 months. If you haven’t looked at or thought about the items, you can feel emotionally freed to throw them away.
Room by Room Decluttering Tips
Different types of rooms require different decluttering approaches. Consider the following tips when you are trying to declutter your environment.
• Begin with your lower cabinets. This can free up a lot of space for countertop appliances and other items.
• Use a left to right pattern. This keeps you from jumping around, and makes you more efficient.
• When you are finished with your lower cabinets, declutter your upper cabinets.
• Work on your kitchen drawers next, starting with those that you use the most.
• Now you can clear your countertops, using the space you created when you decluttered your cabinets.
• Finally, work on your pantry from the top down.
There was a time when simply opening my kitchen cabinets made me feel overwhelmed. I had so much stuff that I thought I needed. Yet the reality was that I hadn’t used the breadmaker since 2003 and it had outlived its time in my limited kitchen storage. If you have less stuff in the kitchen, you will move and plan there more easily.
You might enjoy my article about kitchen fatigue
Family Room/Living Room
• Consider buying furniture that has built-in storage space.
• Choose digital movie memberships over physical DVDs.
• Buy a small wicker basket to hold all of your remote controls.
• Use zip ties to de-clutter cables and cords on your entertainment system.
• Go through the toys, DVDs, video games, books, magazines and knickknacks in your living room. Do you really need them? Can someone else use them? Purge as many as possible.
Regarding toys, early on I realized that kids only play with 20% of their toys 80% of the time. While they are occupied with that 20%, what happens to the rest of the stuff? You end of picking them up all the time. While there are undoubtedly a few cherished items they cannot live without, make a plan to rotate the other toys. Put away 2/3rds of the stuff and change out the boxes every month or so. I used to tell the kids that the toys were taking a rest. Simplifying this one aspect of clutter made a huge difference in my mental clutter in my home.
• Perform an honest furniture appraisal. Is there any furniture you can get rid of without limiting the functionality of your family room?
• Create zones – one for storage, one for paperwork, one for research and one for computer work.
• Limit your desk to what you need on a daily basis. If you don’t use something every day (or at least once a week) relegate it to a drawer or storage area, instead of your desktop.
• Limit the number of personal items on your desk.
• Post-it notes can be distracting. Every day, transfer all notes and messages you have jotted down to your digital calendar or day planner.
• Get your printer off of your desk.
• Sit in your office chair and extend your arms. Within arm’s reach should only be those things you use on a daily basis.
• Purchase drawer organizers.
• Use zip ties to de-clutter cables and cords.
A few years ago, I digitized many of my writing files using this scanner. It does more than make a copy – it scans the document as an editable document.
• Purchase pegboard and shelving.
• Pull everything out of your garage, and this means everything. Go through these items, forming groups that you will donate, trash and keep.
• Now that your garage is empty, clean it top to bottom. Install pegboard and shelving, nails and hooks, getting your possessions, tools, sporting equipment and everything else up off of the floor.
• Consider a fold-down table which attaches to your wall instead of a temporary table.
• Make your bed every morning. This is what psychologists call a keystone habit – one that triggers you to perform other positive habits every day.
• Walk through your room, clearing basic clutter first.
• Dust and clean your bedroom thoroughly.
• Use plastic bins with lids for under the bed storage.
• Add a clothes hamper, and take your close to your laundry room daily.
• Throw out old magazines. Hardback books you want to keep should be removed to your living room or library.
• A bedside table with drawers will keep your nightstands clean and clutter-free.
• Remember, less is more. The National Sleep Foundation has found that your sleep, sex life and overall mental health improve the more things you take out of your bedroom.
• First things first, wash, dry and hang up all of the laundry in your home. This may be a big task, but it needs to be done first.
• Next, remove anything sitting on top of your washer or dryer.
• Start at the top of any shelving units in your laundry room and work down. De-clutter and organize.
• Take out anything that doesn’t make sense. If you are storing your bicycle in your laundry room, take it to the garage and hang it from ceiling hooks.
• Plastic bins or baskets should be used to store similar items. For example, bleach, fabric softer and laundry detergent should all be stored in the same bin.
• Do you keep your cat’s litter box in your laundry room? If so, purchase a litter box system with a shield or cover. This reduces spillage onto your floor.
• Remove dirty clothes and towels.
• Perform a quick and basic decluttering of countertops, shelves and furniture.
• Purchase hanging racks for your shower and use them to organize your shampoos, conditioners, soaps, etc.
• Organize your linen closet, and the cabinets below your sink.
• Attack your medicine cabinet next, throwing out everything that is expired.
• Remember these tips – powder-based beauty products are good for 18 to 24 months. Lipstick and lip gloss should not be kept more than a year. Mascara and liquid eyeliner should be replaced every 3 to 6 months. Liquid foundation can last for up to a year.
Tips for Keeping Clutter at Bay Long Term
Congratulations, you have cleaned up the clutter! Now let’s keep that organization and order in place, with the following clutter free maintenance tips.
• Only purchase what you need. This means cutting back on recreational shopping. When you buy things needlessly, those items and possessions have to go somewhere. This leads to clutter creeping back into your life. When you only buy what you need, your finances are affected positively as well.
• Give away, donate, throw out toys for upcoming holidays and birthdays.
• Handle all of your physical and virtual mail one time. Sort your snail mail of your trashcan, instead of just plopping it down on your desk to deal with later.
• Create a place for everything important.
• Simplify. Do you really need 40 pairs of shoes or 25 baseball caps? Probably not.
• Stop buying on impulse. When waiting in the checkout line, ignore all of the inexpensive, high impulse items placed there to get your attention.
• Scan receipts, warranties, letters and other documents and throw out all those piles of paper. Save the scanned data on a folder in your computer.
• Put things away immediately.
• Keep a donation box, add to it regularly, and drop it off once a week.
• Download a decluttering application. There are some excellent organization and decluttering apps available for free for your smart phone.
• If something comes in, something has to go out. This single tip can work wonders and in keeping your home clutter free once you get it there.
• Perform once a month clutter busting sessions.
• Make everyone in your family responsible for his or her personal space. You simply don’t have enough time or energy to run around behind your family cleaning up the clutter they are causing.
The holidays will soon be upon us. Start your decluttering now to ease stress during the holiday. Declutter those decorations as you pull them out. Make a small start somewhere.
Do you love Lifehacker as much as I do? This is a great article on the clutter habit.