4 simple steps to decluttering your home

4 simple steps to decluttering your home

Here’s the bad news. You can’t organize clutter. 

Clutter. Whether you have a lot or a little, it can be tough to get rid of it. Or maybe for you, it’s not hard to get started, but then you find yourself surrounded by piles in various stages of cleanout that seem even more overwhelming than when they were shoved away somewhere. 

So what is the natural inclination? Shove it all back where it came from, or even worse, leave it out in piles and feel the guilt and shame of not being able to “get it together”.  

Beating yourself up isn’t going to help. But neither is being in denial.

The example below may be extreme compared to your situation. I hope it is. Either way, the principles are the same. 

My mom was a hoarder.  She was a genuinely amazingly giving, loving, caring person.  She would give anything to and do anything for anyone.  Except for herself.  You may already know this, but I’m going to share it again because it’s that important to me.  She is why I am so passionate about helping women take care of themselves.  If we don’t take care of ourselves, it will impact our ability to care for others. We will become exhausted, mentally and physically, and eventually, there is nothing left to give. It was a spiral that I wish I had noticed more, and I believe it contributed to her early death. 

And as her only child, there is something that alternately makes me incredibly sad and very angry.  She spent a lot of time in her last years, time that could have been used to make memories with her family, doing what I call “the shit shuffle”. It was time spent moving stuff around, sorting it, putting it in different totes, getting rid of a thing or two but collecting ten more from various places. Rearranging rooms and boxes and getting new containers … all with the mistaken belief that it was just a better system of organization that was needed.  

Here is some tough love: If you have overstuffed drawers and closets and still have mountains of stuff all over your house, you are not going to be able to just organize it and have the tidy, comfortable home you may be looking for.  

Ready for the good news? It doesn’t have to be so hard.  And it doesn’t have to take over your life (and house).

I’ve come up with the acronym PACK to make it simple. 

P - Prep

A - Act

C - Cleanup

K - Kick-Back

Phase 1: Prep

Why is now the right time for me to declutter?

Take a bit of time to think about this.  Maybe even write it down. Have a cup of coffee and think about what your clutter is costing you. Is it embarrassing? Do you waste time looking for things? Do you buy duplicates because you can’t find what you already have? Do you want to make sure you don’t leave a mess for your family in case something happens to you? 

There can be many reasons, from surface level to very deep and painful, but knowing your ‘why’ will come in handy if and when the excitement wears off.

Where do I start? 

Where to start? You can start with a small or easy area or one that drives you crazy. Find an area that you access regularly, maybe somewhere where things fall out (Tupperware cabinet, anyone?) or overflow, like your closet. Maybe your clothes are always wrinkled because it’s jam-packed, and you know you only wear a small portion of what is there. This is where I'm digging in again. 

Or maybe it's your bathroom cabinet, where health and beauty products seem to multiply. 

You likely know which area will have the most impact. Take a deep breath and try and think of an area that you dread, avoid, or feel stressed out by, and start tackling that. If the whole area feels like too much, start with just part of it.

One thing I would encourage you to avoid, especially if you're just getting started, is the emotional stuff. Focus on neutral things and build your decluttering muscles before you dig into family heirlooms. 

How do I decide what to get rid of?

There's lots of clutter talk out there, and there are different schools of thought. 

  • Marie Kondo encourages us to hold each item and see if it sparks joy in us. 
  • Some give rules about time, like if you haven't used it in X amount of time then it needs to go. 
  • One of the concepts I like is to allow the container to decide how much you can have. For example, if you have a bookcase and you don't want books in other places, you can only have the number of books that fit in the bookcase. This may mean you need to part with some. The actual digging into what to part with can come with challenges for sure. 
  • If you want to keep it really simple, you can ask yourself two questions. If the answer to either question is no, it goes.
    • Do I use this?
    • Do I love this? 
  • If you resonated with the Flylady stuff from last week, incorporating the “27 Fling Boogie”, where you basically go as quickly as possible and gather up 27 items to get rid of (trash or donate) may be what you need to make slow but steady progress.

A couple of quick tips:

  • If you’ve got broken things, toss them
  • If you have several of the same things, decide how many you really need, then part with the rest. 

What do I do with it?

But also there's the issue of what to do with the stuff that you have decided needs to leave your home:

  • donating it
  • garage sale
  • Freecycle 
  • eBay
  • Facebook groups
  • friends swap

Especially if time and space are both issues for you like they are for me, you will want to get it out of your house as quickly as possible. Garage sales are a lot of work, and if you have a lot to work through, this may not be the best choice.  Of course, you’re free to decide that for yourself, but there is a wonderful feeling of completion when we work, gather it all up, and donate it immediately afterward.  Then it is truly out of our space. And we get the added benefit of knowing that someone else is being blessed by something that we no longer needed. 

However you decide to part with it, make sure to actually decide ahead of time where it's going to go and when you will get it there.

This will at least somewhat dictate what supplies you need. Do you want to put it in boxes or trash bags or maybe reuse paper bags like those from Trader Joe's? 

Have them out and ready to go and also have a trashcan nearby. Also, decide how much time you are going to spend on decluttering for this session. 

Phase 2: Act

Only take out what you can put back and go through in an allotted amount of time. 

This will help prevent overwhelm and burnout, which can lead to giving up before you've accomplished much. 

If you start feeling frustrated, take a short break if needed. At the very least, take a few breaths.  This can be fun for some, and it can be sad and triggering for others.  It can lead to feelings of shame for wasting money on unneeded things, for letting it get out of control, for any number of things. Stop.  Approach this with love and grace. Regardless of how or why or how many times you’ve been in this same place, you’re choosing to take control and get rid of the things that are weighing you down.

Phase 3: Clean Up

 When your time is up, don't stop yet! You still need to clean up.  This will only take a few minutes and will leave you feeling good about your decluttering session instead of frustrated because you're now stepping over piles. 

  • Empty your trashcan and put it back. 
  • Take all of your items to be donated to the car.
  • Schedule a time to drop them off.
  • Don't stress about how much there still is to do.  Instead...

Phase 4: Kick Back:

When you are done with your session, even if it was a short one, take a few minutes to reward yourself for your work. I know this may be a struggle for you - it is for me. I can get so focused on the next thing or on how much I still have to do that I don't always take the time to appreciate what I've done. But ending on a positive note will make it more likely that you will dig in again, and not avoid it out of dread. 

If your whole house feels like it's busting at the seams, cleaning out the junk drawer might not seem like much, but it can be enough to encourage you to keep going.  It can be like the shiny sink from last week. 

You can get control of your clutter.

Less stuff means less stuff to clean, and to clean around. It doesn't all have to be done at once. Regular decluttering sessions all add up to big results.  If you find yourself avoiding scheduling more time to declutter, revisit your ‘why’ for motivation.

You can do it, and you deserve to live in a home that makes you smile. 

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