How To Conquer Decluttering
(When you don’t know where to start)
How often do you get home from work, look around your house, and feel so overwhelmed with the amount of clutter and undone tasks that you don’t do anything at all?
If you’re anything like me, this may be a regular occurrence for you. Some days, I’ll put the girls down to bed for the night, and even though it’s only 7pm, I can’t figure out what to do with my time (but I have to-do lists written everywhere).
This has a name and it’s called paralysis by analysis. It’s what happens when the overwhelming nature of the situation blocks your ability to make any decision.
When you’ve reached that point of enough, it can be hard to figure out where to start to make a change. This goes with anything. Weight loss, toxic relationships, negative habits, etc.
Maybe you, like me, have reached the point of enough with keeping up with all the stuff in your life. And I’m not just talking about physical stuff, but digital stuff too: e-mail, social media, computer files. Beyond that, maybe your calendar (work and social) is filled with things that may not be truly important to you. Maybe you’re beginning to resent many of your commitments.
But where do you start? How do you make real changes without overhauling your entire life?
(pin this for later!)
Step 1: Examine How You Spend Your Time
Our time is finite–there is only so much of it. The first step to decluttering and simplifying your life is to look closely at what you spend your time doing. Most of us are creatures of habit, and the breakdown of our work days and non-work days tend to be pretty similar.
Chances are you can probably find 15-30 minutes per day to dedicate to your decluttering project. This may mean getting up when you wake up, as opposed to spending time scrolling through social media while in bed. Or maybe you can cut out some TV time. Are you spending hours cooking every day? Maybe you can plan to batch cook some meals.
Step 2: Do Just One Thing
Once you’ve made the decision to free up 15-30 minutes per day, commit this time daily and keep it sacred. Put a reminder in your phone, post-it note on your mirror, or write it in your planner. Additionally, consider telling a friend, family member, or spouse about your plans.
And then, show up.
If you are serious about making a big change, you need to treat this time with the importance it deserves!
Once that reminder goes off, it’s time to get to business. Put your phone away and on silent. Turn the TV off and your favorite 90s playlist up. Set a timer for however long you are going to dedicate to the project.
If you have young children like me, I highly recommend scheduling this time during nap/bedtime or when you have a dedicated babysitter or someone taking the kids out of the house.
If you’re lacking motivation, feel free to reward yourself with another activity once you’re finished with this task. For example, “once this closet is entirely purged and organized, I will sit down and watch no fewer than two episodes of Gilmore Girls without interruptions.”
Step 3: Have a Plan
Personally, I started with decluttering and purging things, as opposed to digital items, social media, or other commitments. I knew that transforming my physical space would give me the biggest reward and motivation. Also, maintaining my physical space is what makes me feel the most overwhelmed.
I wouldn’t call myself a hoarder, but I may or may not still have movie ticket stubs from seeing Titanic in 1997. I am one of those sentimental hoarders. I keep things not because I need them, but because of the memories they provide or the feeling they give me. For this reason, I purposely started purging areas void of sentimental items. I know those areas will be easier once I have some momentum behind me.
Start with small areas that can be completed within the 30-minute timeframe and that don’t contain a lot of chicken-factor items. Chicken-factor items: things that you tell yourself you can purge, but when the time comes you chicken out and keep it.
Some great quick and low chicken-factor purge projects include the linen closet, the guest bathrooms, the coat closet, or your books. I recommend planning the areas ahead of time and putting it in your calendar reminder.
Step 4: Get Down to Business
Okay, it’s time to start your project! You have 30 minutes. You’ve put away all distractions and you’re ready to make things happen.
Get ready by having bags/boxes for several categories, including Toss, Donate, Keep, Belongs Elsewhere. You may also want to have a separate box of things to sell.
Purge: ask these questions
- When was the last time I used this thing?
- Will I need it in the immediate future?
- If I won’t need it for a long time, is it easy to replace?
- Does it add value to my life?
- Does it contribute to the goals I have for myself and my family?
- What is keeping me from getting rid of this item?
- Is there something else that serves the same purpose?
Your decisions should be easy if you have this approach to each item you come across. You can also take a few passes through your items. Go through everything once, erring on the side of keep if you’re not sure. Then go through the keep box and commit to getting rid of 5 more items (or whatever goal you want to set).
When your timer goes off, I give you permission to be done. You likely already completed the bulk of the project, and I encourage you to completely finish it if time allows. Put the donate box in your car and decide when you will drop things off. Take the trash pile to the actual trash so you’re not tempted to go through it. Take the items you’re keeping and put them back in the space. Stand back and marvel at your accomplishment!
Since you will likely be tackling projects one at a time (maybe over a course of a month or more) I highly recommend that you do not leave projects unfinished. This should not be an issue if you allow appropriate time, work with focused intensity, and commit to completion!
Celebrate your accomplishments!
How does it feel to have set a goal and reached it? Pretty darn good, right? This past week, using the above method, I successfully decluttered three bathrooms, a hallway coat closet, and finished the first pass of my master closet. The bathrooms took a total of 1 hour, the hall closet took 30 minutes, and I spent 60 minutes on my master closet. The feeling of pride in my work is what is propelling me forward to continue! And since I got rid of so much stuff, maintaining these spaces is pretty simple. I promise to take photos of everything moving forward, but for now here is the master bath!
For inquiring minds, I completed this project early in the morning before my toddlers woke up (thank you, black out curtains!). I stuck to my 30 minutes and rewarded myself with a nice hot cup of coffee. Is there anything better?