It’s time to sell your home, or your parents home. Only problem? It contains 30, 40 or more years worth of stuff. Your real estate agent says, “I can’t list this house until you declutter!”
The good news is that if you live in an area that’s in high demand, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, you’ll probably sell your home for a lot more than you or your parents paid for it.
Of course, recent interest rate hikes mean a smaller pool of buyers. If this means delaying the sale of your home, this could actually be a good thing. If the house is filled with 30, 40 or more years of stuff, you’re going to need time to get the job done. You can start planning for the “big downsize” and perhaps by the time you’re ready, interest rates will have flattened or lowered.
There’s a formula about time and money that’s significant here.
If you just have time, you have options.
If you have both money and some time, you have more options.
More time means you can chip away at the process of decluttering your home. It could take weeks, months or even years depending upon how much stuff you have and your habit (or lack thereof) of decluttering over time. With a plan, however, it can be done.
If it all feels too overwhelming, you can always hire an organizing coach to help you come up with a plan you can execute alone or with help. You can also hire a solo professional organizer to work with you over time. Just don’t expect one organizer to get your home decluttered in a week if you haven’t done anything in years!
Money and a little time
If you have less time to spare but expect a good return on the investment you made in your home, there is a relatively quick way you can get rid of years of clutter. This is a good option if you are pressed to get your home on the market soon. Keep in mind, this is the more costly option. Think of it as the price you pay for keeping years and years worth of stuff you didn’t need, never used, never purged or kept “just in case.”
This solution involves hiring a professional organizing company that offers a team-based or crew-based approach to getting your home decluttered. When you go this route you are multiplying the hands-on help and expertise you could get from one professional organizer.
Think of this as the pre-remodel phase of getting your home readied for sale. I call it the “pre-model.” How long does it take? It depends on how large and how cluttered your home is AND how quickly you can make decisions and how much energy you have.
What organizers can and can’t do
What organizers can’t do is tell you what to keep. This is not their job. That is your decision. You still have to make hundreds if not thousands of decisions. That being said, most good organizers make this process easier by pre-sorting and supporting or even humoring you to help you make decisions along the way.
If you’re in mid-life, you may have enough energy to make decisions, with the help of a great team, for several hours. Seniors and those with cognitive conditions can take longer or only have enough energy to make decisions for a shorter time. A qualified professional organizing company will take this into account when planning your project.
When you hire a company that can thoroughly and efficiently get your home downsized, this doesn’t mean you can go off to Tahiti while they work. It means that the organizers will take care of most if not all of the physical and logistical demands of getting your home downsized and decluttered.
This could include everything from arranging for haulers, scheduling charity pick ups. selling your unwanted items, purchasing supplies, ordering dumpsters, arranging for document shredding and re-organizing all your retained items until the movers come. It also means sorting and containing everything you don’t want or need from donated items to trash.
What will help you?
Keep only what you enjoy, what you use or would seriously miss if it disappeared. Your new home may be half the size or your current home. Remember you are doing this for a reason. No object is more important than you are.
When I tell people I’m a professional organizer, they almost always ask, “is your house immaculate?”
In the early years of my career as a professional organizer, I dodged the question because I didn’t want others to think I wasn’t perfectly organized.
Over time I came to realize that there is no such thing.
When it comes to having a fulfilling, organized life, perfection will get in the way every time. I don’t want to be model of perfection. More importantly, I don’t want my clients to expect that of themselves.
Having a home that you enjoy, where you can spend time relaxing, enjoying time with family and friends, pursuing your interests and taking care of the business of your life, is far more important than having a perfectly organized life. There is no such thing. Life is messy.
The question about how organized I am in real life prompted me to think about other truths about my personal approach to organization.
So here are 13 confessions about me as professional organizer that may surprise you:
My house is not organized perfectly. It’s tidy and I can generally, though not always, find what I’m looking for. My home is not a Pinterest post or a cover of Architectural Digest. My style is to organize for my real life, not a fantasy life that I could never achieve let alone maintain.
I don’t have an opinion about what my clients keep, donate or toss. The only time I do care is when I see them make decisions that seem contrary to their goals. In that case I will ask their permission to gently point it out.
The papers I keep are contained in three places in my home. One is a small file box. Another is an old suitcase that belonged to my mother. The third is a single file drawer. My paper supplies are kept in a drawer and on a shelf.
I rarely scan anything. The only exception when I need to scan or upload a document to share.
If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist. I have no short term memory.
I can’t fold a fitted sheet like Martha Stewart. (Believe me I’ve tried dozens of times). However, I can make it tidy in a linen closet.
If it’s trash, I don’t feel bad about tossing it. I do my best to donate or recycle it but the world is not set up yet for zero waste and that’s not my fault. I appreciate sites such as Stopwaste.org when I want to recycle something less typical.
I don’t watch TV shows about organizing or hoarding.
Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I don’t decant into containers. If you want everything in your kitchen, pantry or home to be labeled in pretty, matching ceramic containers, as organizers we are happy to do it.
We don’t have a garage. The previous owners of our home took it down to put in another room. We use it as a TV and exercise area. It has a large storage cabinet we use for holiday supplies, camping, memorabilia, sporting goods and games. Behind it is where I store all my supplies for work. My car is parked in a driveway.
I never liked the term “professional organizer.” Unfortunately they haven’t come up with anything better.
My team organizes better than I do but I know what works and I am great at managing projects, people and getting things done.
When I cook, my kitchen becomes a disaster. I am not an “organized cook.” I guess that’s because I’m focused on the food itself, not on the dish that didn’t get washed, the counter that didn’t get wiped or the container of cream that didn’t get put away. My husband is an incredibly organized cook.
If you have household items or unsorted paper on your floor in boxes or bags, chances are you have a clutter problem. That’s because bags and boxes are not furniture, not permanently anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, bags and boxes have their place in organizing. I use them all the time to carry out donated items, to contain trash or recycling or to pick up my groceries. It’s fine to keep a small supply but they are “temporary” containers, not permanent fixtures.
As a professional organizer, coach and move manager, boxed and bagged “clutter” is a common problem for many of my clients.
I’m not talking about items you have stored in a closet, garage or attic. These too may need to be “gone through” – usually when you’re planning to move or sell your home.
It’s sometimes an issue of time management, motivation or other more pressing priorities. Conditions such as ADD, anxiety or depression can also make it difficult to focus on the task at hand.
Whatever the reason, bags and boxes usually signify a “holding” place for your stuff, instead of a “home.”
Here are 10 easy steps to manage the bags and boxes of stuff in your home:
If you have both unsorted paper and physical items, start with the physical items. You will see results quicker and feel motivated to continue.
Sort the items on a clear surface, such as a card table, counter or ironing board if that’s the only surface available.
As soon as the box is empty, break it down and place it by your recycling bin to see space right away. It’s important that you see see results right away to stay motivated.
Now it’s time to make decisions. Look at each item by category and decide if you are using it now or whether it’s something you love. If you wouldn’t buy it in a store, don’t love it, haven’t used it, or it brings up negative emotions, let it go. If it feels good to keep it for yourself, then keep it.
Most clean and usable items can be donated to conventional charities such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or a local thrift shop. Be sure to check days and times they accept donations. Since COVID, many charities have limited their donation drop off times or require appointments.
Don’t spend a lot of time on where you donate your items.This is a form of procrastination. Some haulers now will take items for donation. Two of my favorites in the San Francisco Bay Area are NixxitJunk.com and Remoov.
If you have high value items consider consignment, or online platforms to sell them. Do whatever is easiest or makes the best use of your time.
If you plan to use your empty boxes for donations, be sure you can carry them. You are better off using a double paper-bag or reusable shopping bag for donated items.
Now the fun part: Look at what you kept and decide where it should live in your home. Like you live in your home everything in your home should have a home. An item’s home gets determined first by asking, What room would I look for this? Consider also, where will it be contained? For example, a certain piece of furniture, a specific closet, drawer or a type of bin? Don’t worry if these areas are already cluttered themselves. Get them closer to home!
Do this for each item you’ve decided to keep before moving on to the next bag or box.
Did you get through at least one bag or box? Did you toss or recycle them to make more room for you? Good job!
Aim to do one bag or box as often as you can and before you know it, your floors will be clear of clutter and you’ll feel great!
Too much stuff to do it yourself? Having difficulty focusing or feeling overwhelmed? Consider hiring a professional organizer to help you.
Find one in your area at the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals or NAPO.net and search by your zip code.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Want to get a head start on an organized New Year? Check out these expert tips from several of my professional organizer colleagues around the country. There’s even one from me on how to decide where to start when embarking on a whole-home organizing project. This article is being published, by permission, from the creators of Porch.com.
Get a head start on an organized New Year!
Does the beginning of every new year bring the intention of cleaning out your closets? You might be feeling a little overwhelmed by the thought of dealing with the influx of material goods that comes with the holidays.
The pandemic taught us a great deal: being together and having experiences are more important than any material possession we could possess. Yet, despite this, many people took advantage of the “void” that social distancing had created by shopping online for more items.
Now is the perfect time to take stock of your possessions and purge what you don’t need. However, you shouldn’t allow your possessions to prevent you from having the home and life you desire.
Are you interested in starting the new year with a little less clutter? Check out these useful tips from expert home organizers.
Get the benefits of starting a new year organized and clutter-free
Starting the New Year with a clutter-free, clear, and organized space increases the possibilities of a happier and healthier year.
Your physical space has a significant impact on your mental and emotional well-being. When your home is clutter-free, you feel more relaxed, happy and life is easier. An organized home promotes healthier living, including eating and sleeping better. In addition, you’ll have more time to spend with friends and family and to enjoy hobbies or those projects you’ve been meaning to get to!
Here are some tips from ASPO Certified Home Organizers.
Starting the new year clutter-free can be genuinely life-changing. If your new years’ resolution includes adopting a positive outlook or slowing down your pace of life, decluttering is the place to start. By clearing out your physical surroundings, you clear out your mental space and make room to breathe in new ideas or simply enjoy where you are at. You are gifting yourself a resting place which is what a home should be.
Annie Allen, Professional Organizer in Soquel, CA
Having a clutter-free and organized home will help improve your life because you know where everything is. Your productivity increases by giving you the needed room and space to do more, and it can definitely save you money. Knowing what you have, cuts down on duplicates or overbuying.
Andre Richardson, Professional Organizer in Hampton, VA.
Clutter can cause stress, anxiety, and sometimes depression. Starting the new year clutter-free will help you stay motivated and help you achieve the long and short-term goals you set for the New Year and have peace of mind.
Rekita Brown, Professional Organizer in Jacksonville, FL
Starting the New Year clutter-free will allow you to focus on more important things.
– ASPO Certified Home Organizers
Why it’s important to start the new year clutter-free and organized
Starting the year clutter-free allows you to live your best life throughout the year. During the last year, you may have purchased too much stuff, paper may have become overwhelming, and you may have lost track of our planner. Many feelings come into play with too much clutter, and you may have experienced sadness, hopelessness, or being weighed down. Decluttering is the best path to empower you and help you accomplish your daily tasks and yearlong goals. To move forward, it’s best to release what is not loved, used, or needed. If you are bogged down with paper, learn what you need to keep and shred the rest. Upgrade your planner and make the choice to enter all dates and details as soon as you know these. Most importantly, know that you can make this change right now, and the impact will be remarkable.
-Ellen Delap, Certified Professional Organizer, and owner of Professional-Organizer.com
5 Tips for a clutter-free Christmas (next year).
Give experiences, not stuff. If you give experiences (like a spa visit, a lunch out, a trip to a public garden) to your loved ones, you’ll eventually start receiving them in return. That cuts down on clutter in your home and theirs. It can be challenging to part with gifts, even if you don’t love the item, so adjusting your gift-giving practices is a great first step.
Donate the holiday decorations that don’t put a smile on your face. As you’re decorating your home and tree for Christmas, set aside those items you’re not using or loving. It’s the perfect time to donate them and reduce clutter. When you take down your decorations, it’ll be easier to store them, and you’ll know your collection includes only those things that make you happy.
Reuse last year’s leftover Christmas cards.If you habit of hanging onto the holiday cards you didn’t use because you bought more cards than you sent out, I encourage you to reuse those rather than buying new ones. It would be the rare person who remembered they’d seen that card before. By doing this, you’re not only cutting down on clutter; you’re staving off future clutter.
Discard the Christmas cards you’re sent.When you take down your Christmas decorations, I give you permission to go ahead and let go of the cards you were sent. I can almost guarantee you that the people who sent you the cards won’t be offended. However, if you hang on to all the cards you receive every year, you can create a real clutter problem. (Believe me, I’ve seen it.)
Pare down your gift list.If there are people on your gift list who have been there forever, perhaps you could reach out to them and suggest not exchanging gifts. Or making a charitable donation rather than giving stuff. The fewer items you bring into the house at holiday time, the less clutter you’ll have.
-Janine Adams, CPO® owner of Peace of Mind Organizing
Resolutions for a clutter-free 2022
How does one begin? Here are some steps to help jump-start the process.
Step #1: Start Small
One of the biggest mistakes is taking on the entire task at once. After an initial burst of energy, many people poop out and never finish the project. Instead, do it in steps. Organize one room at a time, one section at a time. Spread it out over manageable steps, but keep to a set schedule –mark the time off in your calendar.
Step #2: Keep it Simple
The best organizing systems are simple to maintain. Don’t try to design a filing system that takes more than a few minutes a day to uphold. When organizing your closet, don’t get caught up in organizing by color, size, and season, or you’ll spend a lot of time trying to keep a system that takes too much effort and will not last.
Step #3: Be Disciplined about Maintaining Your System
Set aside at least ten minutes each day to ensure your home or office remains clutter-free. It’s much easier to do ten minutes a day than try to set aside an entire hour at the end of each week. Once you get into the habit (after two weeks or so), it will come naturally and effortlessly.
Step #4: Keep the Ultimate Goal in Mind
Getting and staying organized requires some commitment, but the payoff is enormous. Your stress level will be reduced, you’ll feel better and more comfortable in your home, you’ll feel eager to have guests over more frequently, and you may even save money. I’ve had many clients repeatedly buy the same item over and over simply because they had given up on trying to find it amidst the clutter!
-Betsy Fein, President at Clutterbusters
Five easy hacks that’ll keep your home clutter-free in the new year
Get rid of items that are broken or no longer used.This is important at the beginning of the year, especially if new computers or other electronics were holiday gifts. Immediately recycle or donate old laptops and electronics that don’t work or are outdated.
Make decisions. If you don’t, the piles will collect around you. When my clients don’t know what to do with the papers in their home offices, they stash them on shelves, drawers or let the piles multiply. Instead, ask yourself, “do I need this” and “can I get another copy.” These questions will help you make decisions regarding what to keep. Those documents can then be filed in an appropriate location to be quickly retrieved.
Don’t forget about the digital clutter. You’ll also want to keep your computer clutter-free so you can quickly find documents. If you’re looking at a sea of documents, folders, and shortcuts on your desktop, systematically declutter and organize the documents and delete shortcuts that aren’t needed. Schedule time quarterly to maintain it.
Process the mail. Depending on the amount of mail you receive, this may be a daily or weekly task. In either case, designate one spot near your front door to collect the mail. Weed out the catalogs and junk mail before dropping the mail in its assigned basket or tray. This way, only items that require your attention will collect.
Unpack those cartons. With the popularity of online shopping comes the daily delivery of boxes. Get into the habit of unpacking the contents of each box, putting them away in their designated home, and discarding the cartons. Making this part of your daily routine will minimize the clutter.
-Stephanie Shalofsky, Certified Virtual Professional Organizer from The Organizing Zone
Stop buying these for a clutter-free New Year!
You don’t need to buy things to get organized! Getting organized is about making room for items you love, not buying more things to store things that you aren’t even enjoying.
For the love of God, don’t buy any more plastic bins! Most households already have too many plastic containers in various sizes and colors, see-through and not, with lids and without. The world does not need one more plastic bin. Putting things in bins does not make you an organized person. They are seductively cheap and easy to carry home, but too many bins just make your home look like a warehouse store.
Don’t buy new things when you are already throwing away similar items. For instance, we buy plastic for dog and cat poop bags. Instead, watch how many plastic bags are already passing through your hands, including grocery store bags, cereal box liners, produce packaging, bread bags, toy packaging, and so many others.
But what will you store things in if you don’t buy plastic bins? If your goal is to live in a clutter-free home, avoid buying more things than your home can hold AND stop buying more things than you can use in a month. That includes buying just enough food, clothes, toys, office supplies, holiday decorations, and other consumable goods. Put your food in your cabinets, your clothes in your dressers and closets, your toys on a shelf. When you’ve got more than you can manage, reduce your load until everything fits. The SORT and Succeed system can help you get and stay organized with five simple steps to save time, space, and money.
-Darla DeMorrow is a Certified Professional Organizer® and owner of HeartWork Organizing
Tips to get your kids to declutter their toys for the Holidays
Are your kids’ new and existing toys taking over your home? When the stress from toy clutter takes away from the fun, it’s time to teach your children how to pare down their collection and tidy mindfully.
With your help, here are five steps to help your children get their toys in order:
1. Do an inventory check. Ask them to bring out ALL of their toys. Seeing how much they have will help them recognize they already have more than enough. Next, sort toys by type (soft toys, plastic toys, games, puzzles, etc.) before making any decisions.
2. Edit each group of toys by ranking which ones they love to play with most. Compare similar toys to reduce. Remove broken or less played with toys. Be sure to ask questions that allow your children to express what they love about the ones they’re keeping and why they are letting go of others.
3. Teaching them to be grateful for their previously enjoyed toys, then involve your children in responsibly donating, giving away, or discarding/recycling properly will give them a sense of closure.
4. With the remaining toys they’re keeping, decide the best locations to store them properly for easy access and put them back. Practice being respectful of the amount of space they have. If there’s not enough room, they may need to rearrange or edit some more.
5. Repeating this process every few months will educate you and your children on which toys they genuinely enjoy. Regular editing and mindful purchases will prevent future clutter from accumulating.
-Ann Dooley, Professional Organizer and founder of Simple Joy with Ann
How to have a clutter-free gift giving experience
I listen to the holiday gift-buying commercials. Television and radio ads encourage us to buy things that people will LOVE, and then the ads change, reminding consumers that since they didn’t get the gift they really wanted, they can exchange it for something they’ll love! No one, it seems, wins at this game of gift-giving/receiving.
In my world, as a Professional Organizer, I walk into many crowded spaces filled with things my client no longer uses or needs or desires. Many of them tell me that some of the clutter comes from those gifts they’ve never needed, but guilt kept the gift trapped in their home!
There’s a solution to this marketing/consumerist problem, and now’s the time to think about gifting that doesn’t cause clutter!
So with a grateful heart, I offer a few tips for gifts for the holidays: gifts that don’t create clutter:
Take people you love to dinner or cook for them. Cook something you know the person likes to eat or take them out to one of their favorite restaurants or dessert spots. Some of the best memories are shared with loved ones at the table.
Help a friend de-clutter their closet. Start by emptying the space you want to organize and create three piles: toss, donate, and keep.
Or – for a friend with a lot of clutter, consider a Professional Organizer gift certificate. Visit Napo.net to find someone in your area.
“Experience Gifts” create lasting memories and are often more enjoyable and fulfilling than any material object. Whether it’s a tour of the city, a hot air balloon ride, or a trip to the spa, your loved one will be happy to be spending time with you enjoying the experience.
Charitable Gifts are perfect gifts for someone who has everything or immensely supports a charitable cause. Consider making a donation in the person’s name; be sure it is a cause that is important to the person, not just to you. Find ways to donate to environmental, children’s, health research, and many other organizations online. Research the fund on Charity Navigator, so you know you’re making a wise choice.
-Regina F. Lark, Ph.D. from A Clear Path
When should I start decluttering?
We have more clutter than we know what to do with. Too many things distract us, create stress, and rob us of our time and self-purpose. It’s never a bad time to start decluttering, so start now! You’ll feel more confident to entertain family and friends in a clutter-free home. You’ll also become happier and more productive in all you do by creating lasting change and balance in your life.
At Sacred Space Organizing, we always recommend starting with clothes. This is because most of us have more clothes than we could possibly wear. It’s easy to let things go when you focus on what you want to keep rather than getting rid of. It’s a paradigm shift that can be extended to all other areas of your life.
Once you start discarding items you no longer use, you’ll be content with who you are and what you have. Surround yourself with things and people you love, and you’ll find your worldly desires decrease. Not only that, but by discarding items that no longer serve us, we can pass them on to those who truly need them, especially at this time of year.
Getting organized can be an overwhelming process. Don’t feel bad if you need extra support along the way. We would love to help you with the process and have worked with clients from all over the nation through our Virtual Organizing sessions. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a local organizer if you need a hands-on approach. You can do this!
-Erin Neumann Professional Organizer and owner of Sacred Space Organizing
Your end-of-year declutter checklist
As a Professional Organizer for 4 years, I have helped people in many different situations. Most of them use one word consistently: “overwhelmed” If you can relate, I hope you’ll read on to see my decluttering tips:
Declutter Your Schedule- Why is my home so organized? It’s simple because I enjoy organizing, which means I do it often. I have a habit of looking at my spaces to see how I can improve them. If you make a habit of organizing and decluttering, you will be amazed at the results. We have two options: Organize now, or organize later… and later is ALWAYS more challenging. Declutter your schedule so you can find time to get your spaces in order (and keep them in order).
Declutter Distractions- If you want more time to declutter and organize, you’ll want to minimize distractions. One reward of organizing is saving time. Clients often say, “I’ve been looking for that,” or “I just bought another one of those” because they couldn’t find it or didn’t even know they already owned it. Time spent looking for lost items is not only frustrating but fruitless. Organizing is an investment of time now to save even more time later.
Declutter in Bits- One of the reasons my clients feel overwhelmed is because the project is “too much.” They want to organize their whole garage, but instead of focusing on ONE shelf or ONE drawer… they focus on the daunting task of the entire space. Give yourself the chance to feel some satisfaction by completing one little area at a time. If you’re familiar with Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball, it’s the same concept. Knock out the smallest project first, and celebrate your accomplishment. From there, you can continue to knock out more small projects, and over time it will add up to MAJOR results.
-Charissa, Professional Organizer owner of Grace To Organize
Ideas for storing your Christmas decor after the Holidays toavoid clutter
Did you overlook some decorations when you were decorating your tree this year? Were there falling apart homemade decorations from last decade that stayed in the storage container? If you own decorations you don’t love anymore and haven’t used in the last two years; it’s time to think about letting them go. Instead, make space for the decorations you love to display by decluttering those you don’t enjoy using anymore.
My hot tip for storing tinsel and string decorations is keeping them in a snap-lock bag, so they don’t get tangled. Next, consider keeping your baubles in shoe boxes so you can stack them with a large storage container without breaking anything. Finally, keep all your Christmas decorations in sealed containers that can live at the top of a wardrobe or in the garage, so it’s easy to find them next year.
-Amy Revell Professional Organiser and Declutter Coach from The Art of Decluttering
Tips to get kids involved in end-of-year decluttering
We can start with what the answer isn’t:
Throwing things away without their knowledge.
Kids pay more attention if they easily understand and are entertained – as do we adults! Explain to them the point of this. Lighten the mood, so they remain engaged. Tips for doing that:
Get everyone on board. Hold a family meeting to discuss why you are decluttering rather than singling out the kids. Is it to move more freely, keep things healthy, find things faster, share your abundance? Have everyone say what they think is a benefit of this and what they’ll do (ex: let go of broken items, clothes not liked it or don’t fit, stuff not often used) and when (ex: by 4 pm today…then we’ll go together to donate them!).
Appeal to their heart. Point out how infrequently they wear or play with something and how they have so many other things they do love and use. Talk about how those things that they’d be giving away could warm, entertain, or help another child.
Make it fun. Put on the music they like. (Not the TV –you’ll lose them!) Allow them to “toss” non-breakables to a “bye-bye!” pile across the room. Take a funny photo of them in a shirt that they have far outgrown. Midway through, serve snacks they like. Keep it light and bright, and pressure-free.
Relate. While they work on their things, work on your own, show them the things you are parting with and explain why.
Be realistic. They will not do it at the same speed or with the same decision-making ability that you would do it. If you see them getting distracted or bored, help them out with a little encouragement and a reminder of the goals you all set.
Show gratitude. Thank them for their help. Ensure they know their efforts are appreciated and what they are doing matters.
-Nancy Meck, Professional Organizer from Meck Organizing
What room should I start with?
“Help! My home is so cluttered. I want to get organized, but it’s so overwhelming. Where should I start?”
As a veteran professional organizer, move manager, and organizing coach, I’ve heard this from hundreds of people.
At LET’S MAKE ROOM, we specialize in “big pain” projects. Yet, what’s really painful differs depending upon your specific circumstance.
When a client tells me they don’t know where to start, I ask: “Which area of your home is causing you the most stress now?”
It could be your overstuffed guest room, which until now has been used as the “catchall storage area,” but, yikes, family is expected for the Holidays!
Maybe it’s your cluttered kitchen, every surface covered with sippy cups, half-eaten bulk foods, and a host of rarely used kitchen tools. Making a meal is challenging enough. Cleaning those counters is nearly impossible.
Are you running a business from home? You’re great at what you do, but how can you do it if your home office looks like it was hit by a tornado? If you can’t be productive and stay on top of your most important tasks and projects, this could be your priority.
Maybe you are selling your home, but your packed garage, the last bastion of delayed decisions, needs to be cleared out of all those empty boxes, old clothes, empty paint cans, hundreds of tools, random bits of hardware, and who knows what else?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your home’s clutter, my simple tip is this:
Start with the room or storage area, which, if organized, would make your day-to-day life easier and give you the most peace of mind.
Getting organized should never be your goal if you don’t have a reason to do it. Instead, think about what you would be able to do if ________ room were tidy and organized just the way you imagine. How would that make you feel?
Listen to yourself, and you’ll know where to start.
-Lis McKinley, Certified Professional Organizer® and owner of Let’s Make Room
Top 3 tips to keep an organized home year-round?
These are my 3 favorite decluttering tips because they are so simple and easy to do all year round.
1) Keep on top of those items that can clutter up the home with this simple idea. Keep a bag in a cupboard or the car boot for charity donations. Drop them in the bag when you spot things around your home that you no longer use or love. Drop it off at your local charity shop and start again when it’s full.
2) Make it super easy to identify the clothes you no longer wear. Turn hangers around in your wardrobe so that they face the wrong way. As you wear an item of clothing and return it to the closet, face the hanger the correct way round. It’ll soon become obvious which items you love to wear and those you never wear. Sell or donate those items you haven’t worn at the end of the season.
3) Use the one in, one out rule. When you make a new purchase or bring an item into your home, use this as a prompt to review and remove something that you no longer need or love. This works really well in the wardrobe as an old coat can make way for your new season’s purchase, worn jeans create space for a new pair. This is a great way to create space for new items and unwanted things cluttering up your home.
-Laura Williams, Founder & Professional Organiser at OrganisedWell
Options for disposing of items
When it comes to disposing of items no longer wanted or needed, I suggest donating first and foremost. A quick and community-minded way is to post items on a local Nextdoor, Buy Nothing, or FreeCycle page. Post photos and a short description, and neighbors can pick up the item at a designated time and location. It skips the middle man resale shop and instantly gets in the hands of someone who will use it. If those aren’t available locally, bagging and boxing up your unwanted wares and dropping them off at any local charity, resale shop, or thrift store is next best. It still ensures those items will be used and loved again and not end up in a landfill. For any specialty item, try a quick online search or ask locals on social media for resources for a donation. For example, if there’s a tabletop loom in your basement, find out if there’s a weaving school, art school, or university nearby that would be happy for the donation.
Finally, pull out anything recyclable after sifting through whatever is left in the discard pile. Filling the trash can will hopefully be the last resort. Not only does this mean newspapers and cans, but likely other items, too. Electronics, ink cartridges, light bulbs, and batteries may be recycled at the local hardware store. Glasses and prescriptions may be accepted at the pharmacy. Scrap and precious metal can be sold by weight. Depending on what you have and your time frame for clearing out, these can all be great options.
-Amy Trager, CPO® from Amytrager.com
How do you declutter when you want to keep everything?
When we work with clients to do a thorough purge, they can more clearly realize the excess. When coaching through the process, we ask questions like, “when was the last time you used this?” to help them grapple with these sometimes difficult decisions. It also helps to pull things out of drawers and cabinets. So much can hide in spaces we don’t see. It’s important to be very sensitive to the needs of people who are holding on to things. There is a great deal of sentimental attachment, so a non-judgmental, empathic coach will help push through some of those hard places. We encourage our clients to take pictures of larger objects and write stories about what they mean so that future generations can appreciate them. Younger people don’t have the same sentimental attachments, but a written family story can carry on for generations, and it doesn’t take up storage space when it can be digital.
When space is limited, hanging on to things can become a real problem. Making use of every inch of storage space is critical. Using dividers, drawer organizers, adjustable shelving, proper containers, and labels can bring plenty of chaos to order.
-Monica Friel from Chaos to Order
How to start decluttering in 3 Steps
Step 1 – Strategize Your Space
Planning is the first step in organizing. Capture your thoughts, ideas, and solutions for each room in your home. Next, assess the causes of the disorder to achieve lasting change.
Some questions to ask:
What do you call this space?
What activities do you do in this space?
Do you have all the items you need to support those activities?
What does the finished space look like to you?
What is your vision of “organized?”
Step 2 – Prioritize Your Belongings
Empty the room you are decluttering and group like items together in bins or boxes.
Relocate or let go of anything that doesn’t pertain to the room’s activities, function, and purpose.
Reduce and let go of what doesn’t serve a purpose in your life anymore.
Tip – if an item makes you feel mad, bad, or sad, you don’t need it in your life.
Return the things you are keeping to the space and place the frequently used items for easy access.
Step 3 – Practice Living Clutter-free
To keep your home decluttered, practice these easy habits:
Don’t wait to decide where something belongs; choose immediately and put it there.
If you take it out, put it back.
Don’t put it down; put it away.
Open and sort your mail daily.
Buy containers only when you know what will go in them.
Set a limit on how many of something you will keep
Set a limit on the amount of space you allocate to a collection.
Organizing is not a one-time “clean sweep” event. Create and follow a maintenance plan for all the areas of your home. You can do all the grouping, reducing, and organizing you want, but you can easily backslide if you don’t learn the skills and build new habits.
-Anne Blumer, CPO, CVPO from SolutionsForYou, Inc.
How to reduce clutter in your bedroom
It is easy for bedrooms to become the collection spot for all sorts of items—piles form. When you declutter the bedroom, start with your clothing. Hang up clothing in a closet or on a rack. Place other clothing in a dresser or on shelves. Have a place to put dirty laundry. Keep the clothing you like wearing, the ones you get compliments on when you wear it, and that suits your lifestyle. Donate the rest. Next clear out the floor of your closet. Keep only the items that should be in the bedroom. The other items need to find new homes. This will create space for shoes, luggage, or accessories. If you need to store sheets in the bedroom, try using the shelf in your closet. Fold the 2 sheets and pillowcase and slide them inside the other pillowcase. You have a nice contained set of sheets that are easy to store. Recycle sheets with stains and holes. Donate sheets you don’t use that are the wrong size and mismatched. Cosmetics can also pile up on bedroom surfaces.
Use a container to store the cosmetics and make them look attractive. Check expiry dates, remove expired items and products you no longer use. Try to relocate some of the cosmetics to the bathroom. Jewelry is another area to consider. There are nice trays that can fit in drawers, boxes to sit on a dresser, and wall-mounted cabinets to store the jewelry you use frequently. Go through your jewelry and make sure you still love it; it is not broken and clean. Donate or sell jewelry that you no longer wear, fads that have come and gone, and jewelry that doesn’t fit. The nightstands in a bedroom tend to collect clutter. Frequently clear off the surface and declutter the drawers. Decide what is important to have handy. Do you need a book, tissues, medication, charging station, or water bottle? In most cases, the bedroom is used for relaxing and sleeping. Find new places for all the items that don’t belong and create a tranquil space.
-Julie Stobbe from Mind Over Clutter
It is entirely possible to live in a home that is free of clutter. You’ll be well on your way if you follow these helpful tips.
Our home is nothing more than a mirror image of ourselves.
A brilliant window that peeks into the most intimate corners of our soul, protecting the most beautiful memories from our past, and creating space for every nook and cranny of our lives to be filled with laughter and love
Regardless of where you’re starting from, there’s nothing that can’t be accomplished to create a clutter-free home and life for yourself. With each piece of physical clutter you clear away this year, you’ll make room for more love, laughter, and energy to come into your life.
To celebrate the end of 2021, (phew) I looked back over my blog posts from this year to dig up individual pearls of wisdom I could share again to inspire you for 2022. Do any of these resonate with you?
Treat organizing your home as a practice, not a one-time event
Home organizing, whether it be your guest room, junk drawer or home office, is as much a mind-set as it is a habit. Practice organizing and over time you will develop an organizing habit. That means, keeping an eye on high clutter areas like your clothes closet, office or garage. Continuously ask yourself “do I want/need/love this item?”
Aim for progress not perfection
Don’t expect your home, office or storage area to look like an ad for “the most organized Mom in the world!” You do not have to spend hours refilling matching containers with cute “blackboard” labels if that’s not who you are. (I know it’s not who I am.) Better to do a small action then let yourself be paralyzed by the enormity of a perfectly organized space.
The less you have the less you have to organize and the easier it is to maintain
In a consumer culture, shopping can be a competitive sport or even a form of therapy. It’s difficult to keep a lid on the stuff coming into your home. One of the best things you can do is prevent those things from cluttering your space in the first place. Cancel those subscriptions, stop the junk mail, don’t buy in bulk if you live alone, don’t keep something just because it’s useful.Only keep it if you use it!
Consider your time, privacy and convenience
It’s great to pass along things to friends, family, neighbors, even strangers. I love the “Buy Nothing” sites as an example where you can give away everyday items you no longer want to people in your neighborhood. It’s also a great way to keep things out of the landfill. But as my client’s often hear me say, “Don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff.” If you have a roomful of items you no longer want, consider the easiest option for letting go of most items all at once. If you’re stuck, it’s always great to ask, “Is it worth my time?”
Sort it into categories that resemble the aisles of a department store
Clothes with clothes, shoes with shoes, office supplies with office supplies, games with games, tools with tools, etc. Think about categories you would find in a department or hardware store. Don’t make any decisions about keeping or tossing until you’ve staged all the categories. By the way, you may need a folding table or two. Seeing your items sorted, and by category, helps you make quick decisions about what to keep. Do you really need all 26 screwdrivers?
Just because something is usable doesn’t mean you have to keep it
There are no clutter police. Almost everything is usable but if you don’t use it, don’t keep it. Ask yourself did I use this in the last year and do I intend to use it in the next year? (e.g., Holiday decor falls into this category). If your answer is no, let it go.
Your home does not have to look like a cover from a lifestyle magazine or a social media post if that’s not who you are. It bears repeating!
If you are not sure whether or not to keep something, ask yourself, “If I saw it in a store, would I buy it?”
We keep things out of habit, delayed decision making, guilt and a host of other reasons. If you are trying to declutter or simplify your life, this is a great way to know if it stills has value for you.
Honor the memory, person or experience with something meaningful
When you walk through a museum or someone’s home and admire painting or an object of art, do you take it home and keep it? Hopefully not – unless you want to end up in jail. Sometimes you can simply enjoy the memory of a person, place or experience without having every item that reminds you of them. Pick one or two things that truly honors the person or best represents your experience.
Only the owner of the item gets to decide about whether it stays or goes
I have a rule when I work with couples. Only the “owner of the decision” has the say about keep vs. go. The non-owner does not get a say unless explicitly asked. I’ve avoided many arguments with this rule. The only exception should be if one member of the couple delegates the decision making to their spouse. In this case, the delegating spouse has to set the parameters very carefully. No coming back later and saying, “I wanted that!”
When you’ve got to get it done quickly, efficiently and expertly, hire a professional organizer
About six months ago, we were getting ready to remodel our basement. I had to move my collection of record albums to another storage area and as I did so, I thought, “why am I still keeping these?”
I didn’t bother to wait for the answer. Instead, I put them away for safekeeping and walked away.
About two months later, with the remodel complete, I moved the albums back into the storage cabinet and thought, “why am I still keeping these?” This time, it occurred to me that if I took pictures of all the album covers I could check to see if they were available for streaming online, something I would have suggested to my clients.
It took about 30 minutes to snap a picture of all 115 albums, a mix of mostly rock, folk, R&B and some classical. Then I walked away.
A month ago, I went to put away our outdoor chair cushions for the winter. As I did, I saw the record albums in the cabinet meant for the cushions. We really need the whole space for the cushions, I thought, so I took the records, divided them between four, double-bagged grocery bags, and left them in the basement on the floor.
“When I get rid of these, it will be easy to carry them away.” Then I walked away.
About a week ago, I went downstairs and spotted the four bags.
So I started asking myself the kinds of questions I ask my clients:
Do I love these? – I love the music and yes, some of the albums themselves.
Would you miss them if they disappeared? – Not necessarily, as long as I could get the music again.
Would you buy the albums again if you saw them? – Definitely not.
So what do you want to do?
I immediately went to my phone and created a post to sell the albums on a popular website. Then I created a shareable link that included the photos of all the album covers I had taken two months ago. Within minutes interested buyers responded with offers.
Being able to share the photos right away really helped since buyers could scan the collection before making an offer.
Proud of myself for finally moving forward I told my husband, “Guess what? I posted my albums for sale.” He replied, “are you keeping any?”
Suddenly a swell of emotion came over me. How did I not think of this?
As an organizer, I always ask my clients who have collections they want to sell, which, if any, do they want to keep? Somehow in my eagerness to get the job done, I forgot to ask myself the same question.
Since no one had actually bought the collection yet, I thought, “I’ll set aside the ones worth it to me to frame and hang,” but as I did so I realized I didn’t want to hang any of them. One by one I quickly went through the four bags of albums. That’s when the memories started flooding back.
Dancing with my friends to Blondie’s Parallel Lines in college. Singing to Joni Mitchell’s Blue in my bedroom as a teenager. Recalling the first time I felt the power of Janis Joplin’s gravelly voice on Pearl. Pining for an old sweetheart while listening to Billie Holiday. Remembering the very first record I ever played on my parent’s portable record player, Getz/Gilberto. I knew the words to The Girl from Ipanema when I was six.
I put all the albums back in the bags and took the best offer.
The buyer arrived that day – a 30 something guy who worked as an environmental scientist but had a love of albums and a small hobby-business selling them. I sat with him while he went through each of them to check their condition. As he did, I heard myself talking like the typical late middle-aged music fan I am, reminiscing about seeing Sly and the Family Stone at Madison Square Garden and how I really wasn’t a huge fan of The Beatle’s Abbey Road but the cover was so iconic.
These albums were the soundtrack of my life. And that’s when it hit me. “I’m not just selling my albums. I’m giving up part of myself.”
It wasn’t just the albums I was saying goodbye to. It was me, Liz – the way I spelled it then – the white, middle class, introspective, New York City kid who felt the sounds of Marvin Gaye and Aretha in her bloodstream. The one who played Fleetwood Mac and Rickie Lee Jones, over and over again in her dorm room or rocked to the sounds of the The Pretenders, The Kinks and Cream in her first apartment.
She was me, the student who stopped one day on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, a freshman at Boston University, and paid the astronomical sum of $10 to a street vendor to buy the album It’s A Beautiful Day with it’s iconic cover of the young mountain girl, her hat and dress pushed by the wind.
“Prophetic,” I thought. The band was from San Francisco, the place I would find myself moving to almost ten years later.
Back in my basement, I watched as each vinyl record passed through the buyers hands as he inspected them. After we agreed on a price, he asked me, quite generously, if there was anything I wanted to keep? Should I have said, “Yes! I want it all back. The years and the time?” I didn’t.
Instead, I picked up the last record he’d looked at, It’s A Beautiful Day. He hadn’t heard of it until I started hum-singing the band’s most famous track, “White Bird” the song about a bird trapped in a golden cage, on a winter’s day, in the rain. Then, of course, I had to tell him the story of how I bought it.
Last year you spent a week, month or a lot of money, to organize your home, or one area of it, and now it’s back where you started.
During Covid, you coped last year by shopping. You got into a new hobby. You inherited items from your family. Either way, you got some new stuff. It may even be better than the old stuff but the old stuff is still there. The stuff you had and the new stuff didn’t get put away or it piled above other stuff you already have.
In addition, all those great storage systems for containing your stuff stopped working for you or your family. You started to fall back into old habits. Now you’ve got more stuff than before.
My advice to you: Don’t be discouraged. It may be time to examine your thinking, perspectives and habits when it comes to obtaining and organizing. Remember, sometimes life gets in the way and your priorities change.
First and foremost, consider it a learning, not an opportunity to shame yourself!
How often do you say to yourself…?
I’ll get to it later
I’m keeping it just in case
I’ll just put it here, for now
My family isn’t cooperating!
I couldn’t find it so I bought another
I’ll go through it tomorrow
I may need it some day
It belonged to my parents. I just couldn’t toss it!
Everything in life is an experiment
Remember that great feeling you had when everything had a “home” and it was so neat and tidy?
It didn’t happen by accident and whether you did it yourself or had help from friends or professionals, chances are you learned something you’ve just forgotten. When you forget, your old habits return.
It’s like other things we try to change in our lives. (Believe me. I know this firsthand!)
For example, imagine you need to get to a healthy weight. It’s going to take action and consistency. Not just once, not just for a week, but every day or at least more days than not. You’ll also need a plan based on your strengths, needs and goals.
The same is true when you want to develop an organizing habit.
Know your strengths
Are you visual? Consider “envisioning’ what an organized space looks like for you. Draw or design it or find a picture online or in a magazine that inspires you. Look around and start to notice what you like about your space, not just what bothers you.
Are you tactile? Go around the space, from right to left, and mark all the items you want to get rid of with some painters tape. Touch the items and decide if they still hold meaning for you or not.
Are you a great listener? Consider watching organizing videos online, listen to podcasts or attend a free organizing talk in your area. Organizers often speak for free at retirement communities, real estate groups, community centers or libraries as a way to promote their services. Better yet, get some free advice
Are you physically agile or strong? You may be able to work alone and declutter yourself. Perhaps you can build yourself new storage systems or shelves. This type of strength is called kinesthetic.
Are you intuitive and pretty self-aware? This will help you to edit what you have. Ask yourself key questions that make it a whole lot easier to feel in control and less overwhelmed by your clutter.
Do I love this?
Does it bring in negative emotions or bad memories?
If I saw it in a store, would I buy it again?
Has it been more than a year since I used it?
If it should disappear would I miss it?
Do I know someone who would enjoy it more than I do?
Would it give me pleasure to give it away?
Am I truly honoring the person or their memory by keeping this?
Consider your needs
Sometimes we just don’t want to do something. We “don’t feel like it.” Other times it’s the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning. Your needs are the basics of what makes life possible for you. For some it may be survival needs for others, they may be linked to your highest values. In general needs are the pre-requisites for functioning at your best. Consider your needs and how they fit into these four questions:
Is this something that’s important to me now?
Will having this space more organized help me get up in the morning or improve my day to day life?
Would learning a new organizing habit make me feel better about myself or change the way I perceive myself now?
What would happen if I left things as is? What would be the consequence?
Reflect on your WHY
Take a moment to identify what you want, how you’ll know you got there and why it’s important to you right now. This could be a short-term goal or a long-term goal. The short-term goal can tie into the long term goal but it should be satisfying in and of itself. For example, if you want to get your garage organized again, start with organizing one cabinet or the tool box. If your guest room has been overrun with stuff and is now a storage area, start with just the things on the floor and leave the surfaces, closets and closet organizing to later.
Achieving small successes will have a big impact on your ability to meet your larger goal. Along the way, you will also want to clarify why this is important to you so you can feel and be motivated to take actions that move you closer to your goal. Try asking yourself these four questions:
If everything were organized just the way I imagine, what would that bring me?
What would I be able to do that I can’t do now?
How would it feel to know that I have reached my goal and am maintaining it?
Besides me, who in my life would be most impacted if I did or did not develop this habit?
Change is certain when you know who you are
The process of change and developing any habit is not impossible. As a professional organizer, move manager and personal advocate for those who want to make change in their lives, I can tell you I wasn’t a “born organizer.” My home is tidy but not a magazine showpiece. I learned to be more organized as I discovered my strengths, needs and what was important to me (and what wasn’t).
It works for me and my husband. We each have our shared and separate responsibilities to keep up with it and I don’t take for granted that I can share those tasks with someone else. If I lived alone, I know it would be harder but not impossible. I also know I would need to make choices about what I could accept and live with.
Even if you live alone, are a single parent, have learned to cope with a physical or cognitive challenge or are recently retired, know that you already have certain strengths that can help you to develop and maintain an organizing habit, enjoy your life and get more done.
Editor’s Note: Cara Lanz is a freelance writer, digital marketer, and self-proclaimed word nerd. She is also a god-send to me. This month she is my guest blogger. When she isn’t creating digital content for clients across the country, she is blogging on MidwesternHomeLife, her own lifestyle website. She loves to share simple and (sometimes) healthy recipes, debt-free tips, and inspiration for creating a happy home in the heartland. You can find Cara at https://midwesternhomelife.com/.
I knew I needed to declutter my dishes when it came down to a math problem I just couldn’t solve. I had two people in the house and a dinnerware cabinet brimming with — among other things — 21 dinner plates, 12 salad plates, 17 saucers, and 20 soup bowls.
Now, in my defense, they were all matching– well, as matching as Fiestaware can be — and neatly organized. No haphazard piles or plastic containers shoved in there. So, on its face, it didn’t really appear as though I needed to declutter my dishes.
But the math just didn’t work. Plus, I had other cabinets bursting at the seams with things I wanted to move into my dinnerware cabinet.
How would I go about deciding what to keep and what to get rid of?
Enter Lis McKinley, owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM. As an organizational expert, she’s helped hundreds of others figure this very thing out.
But, I wondered: Would she finally be the one to pry my superfluous Fiestaware from my gripped fingers, or would I be the one and only person she has not been able to help? I really had no idea which way this was going to go.
So we set up a Zoom meeting.
My Virtual Organizing Call with Lis
When I first got on a call with Lis, I noticed two things right away. She’s warm and welcoming and made every crazy organizational dilemma I had seem like it was totally normal, and she’s heard it a million times. She’s also extremely decisive in that teacher kind of way that just made me want to do what she said because I knew she knew what she was talking about.
She laid out our plan for exactly what we were going to do during our time together. She even had a clever acronym for her process: S.P.A.C.E. She gently took the time to explain what each of the steps meant and made sure I understood them.
For the next hour, we:
Here’s what that looked like.
To get started, I pulled all my dishes out of the cabinet and put them into like piles. Bowls with bowls, plates with plates. Not only did this help me to see with clarity exactly what I was dealing with, but it also gave me an empty cabinet, aka, a clean slate, to start all over again.
The goal of purging was to make decisions about which items I wanted to keep, based on four criteria: Do I love them, want them, need them, or use them? We had really thoughtful conversations and she asked me things like, “If you saw that in a store, would you buy it again?” We also discussed how often we entertain, how many adults and kids, and which dishes we need to accommodate them. Then we pared down from there. It all made perfect sense.
We also sifted through things that I knew just weren’t going to go back into the cupboard. These super fussy 2-part martini chiller/chilled appetizer glasses, for example. Also, some heirloom dishes that are pretty enough, but I’m just not using them.
During the assign process, I had to find a home for everything. To figure that out, I had to think about where I would most likely look for things if I needed to use them. So a good amount of my dinnerware was assigned back to the cupboard.
Those fussy 2-part glasses — and other things I’ll never use again — went straight into the “Donate” box. The heirloom dishes went into my “Ask Mom If She Wants Them Back” box. But that wasn’t the end of it. Lis made me pick a date when I would drop off the “Donate” items and send a pic to my mom of the items that were potentially going to boomerang back to her. So, now I was accountable. But, it was all on a timeline that I chose.
Now it was time to put things back. Contain my pared-down dishes into the cupboard. But it wasn’t just, “Okay now put everything back.” Lis asked me to think about each item I was putting back and where it would be best to put it. We had discussions about things like, “Well, we really use these bowls more than those bowls,” and “I can’t reach those plates very well when the dishwasher is open.” So it was super strategic, and I could tell it was going to set me up for long-term success.
Also, Lis knew one of my goals was to get rid of so much stuff in this cupboard that I could free up my entire top shelf, drop it down to a level I could actually reach, and transport items I use all the time from another hard-to-reach cupboard. So while Lis sat in the Zoom room, I hauled over a bar stool, climbed up on my counter, and dropped down that top shelf. Just like that, that cupboard became 33.33% more useful to me!
During the equalize phase — this was the tidying up at the end of it all — I easily put things back where they belonged. Lis explained that the process of assigning and containing is what makes it possible to equalize, because I had already established a home for everything.
I had a pile of plates and bowls that were going to be put away into my pantry for when I needed them for a large party. I had certain dishes I only use for my food blog that needed to go where those things live. At last, everything was where it should be.
My Dishes, Decluttered
By the end of our hour and a half together, my cupboard was whittled down to a svelte 10 dinner plates, 10 salad plates, and 10 soup bowls. Zero saucers. Lots of room for everything we need, in the places that make the most sense. AND a completely empty shelf ready to take on the overflow when I use the S.P.A.C.E. method to clear out my next cupboard.
You’ve been thinking about getting organized and decluttered for weeks, months, years. You just can’t seem to get started, motivated or going. What’s holding you back?
Decluttering and organizing are not unlike other forms of self-care such as eating healthier, getting in shape or reducing your stress. Accomplishing these takes a plan, consistent action and focus.
It can be as simple as setting a goal, breaking that goal into small parts and making sure you have what you need to obtain and meet your goal. Just like walking – taking one step and then another – you are seemingly doing the same thing over and over but the scenery changes as you go.
As you make progress, you will notice other types of change in your body, your brain and your mood. All these changes work on each other to improve your actual, as well as perceived, sense of wellbeing. The same is true for organizing.
The beginning of the year is a great time to resolve to get organized. Even if you are feeling motivated, your chances of success will depend on having a simple, actionable plan. This will help you overcome distractions and reasons to do something else.
Make a Plan
People sometimes hear the word plan and they give up before they start. Planning is nothing more than visualizing yourself doing the task and considering what you would need to be successful.
In the case of organizing, think about what you will need to get the job done.
Imagine yourself doing the task. Break it into small steps. What will you have to do to tidy or organize your desk, freezer, coat closet, tool area? Will you empty everything first? Do you have enough counter space? How will you sort items? Do you plan to donate or recycle or dispose of items you don’t want? Do you need a sitter for your kids? Take a few moments to think it through.
Consider what you’ll need to support you in the task. Just like it’s a good idea to have comfortable, supportive walking shoes when you go for a brisk walk outdoors, as you get organized, you will need things to support your process. This could be things like bags for donations or trash, a dust rag for wiping off surfaces, a clear surface for sorting items, even music if you think that will keep you motivated and energized. Get those things together before you start organizing. Once you gather your supplies once or twice, it will be second nature the next time you embark on a new organizing task.
Gathering your supplies is a form of taking action. Clearing a surface for sorting is also a form of taking action. Even getting your music set up is an action. The secret to success is taking small, achievable consistent action every time you embark on an organizing project.
Aim for action, not perfection. As the saying goes, perfection is the enemy of progress. This is especially true for physical organizing. Does the surface need to be perfectly clear? No. Do you need to have pretty bins, brand-new containers and chalk board labels? Absolutely not! Most of all, don’t compare yourself with others. Turn off the critic and know that good enough IS good enough.
Treat organizing as a practice not a one-time event. A practice is a series of behaviors that you do over and over with consistency. This will help build what I call the decision-making muscles in your brain. Each time you make a decision about whether or not you want to keep something you own, your decision-making muscles will get stronger.
See yourself as more organized. Getting organized is an action consisting of similar tasks. The more you do the more you’ll develop an “organized” mindset. You’ll start to see yourself as an organized person. That mindset will further propel you to change your behavior. For example, you may think twice the next time you shop or consider bringing something new into your home.
For many this can be the most difficult part of embarking on an organizing project. You have a plan but once the reality of sorting items, making decision after decision and physically moving or transporting items, you will lose focus, get bored and maybe want to give up. Don’t!
Just like walking – taking one step and then another – you are seemingly doing the same thing over and over. But what you are also doing is creating other types of change you might not notice right away in your body, your brain and your mood. All these changes work on each other to improve your actual, as well as perceived, sense of wellbeing. The same is true for organizing.
When you focus on the tasks of physical organizing and decluttering, there are some very real ways you are enhancing your body and mind’s wellbeing.
Improve brain health. Researchers believe the brain’s prefrontal cortex holds the neurons that allow us to sort and categorize. It’s actually a very sophisticated brain process involving assigning categories based on our experience. The act of organizing improves our brain’s health by exercising those parts of our brain needed to accomplish the task of getting organized.
Gain self-awareness. Accept that some areas will be easier for you to declutter than others because of negative associations. If you notice you continually avoid or start and stop an organizing task, ask yourself if there is something about the objects themselves that have a negative connotation. Recognize and accept the association but don’t let it stop you.
Enhance wellbeing. The very act of sorting alone can be a kind of meditation. As you sort, you will notice your mind going in many directions. As you focus, you will become more relaxed and the task of sorting and purging becomes easier. Not only that but the focused actions you take will release the neurochemicals in your brain, called endorphins, that make you feel good.
Sustain motivation. I always ask my clients to imagine the space they want decluttered as already organized. Then I ask them to tell me 1) How it makes them feel and 2) What they can now do differently in the space that they couldn’t do before. Being able to imagine the result is a common strategy used by athletes to keep them focused. Keeping your imagined result, top-of-mind, can be a great way to stay motivated and focused.
For those with cognitive impairments caused by traumatic brain injury, stroke or age-related dementia, you may have a more difficult time with organizing. These conditions often impact your ability to process the information needed to organize your physical surroundings. With support and professional guidance these obstacles can be overcome or diminished.
Organizing physical items in your home – by sorting, editing and assigning where they live – is a form of self-care that improves your body, brain and mood. It may feel difficult, painful or even boring at first but with a plan, consistent action and focus, you will likely feel good, less stressed and happier.
Lis McKinley, M.A., is a certified professional organizer, move manager and owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC based in Oakland, Ca.
Stuck at home. You’ve had your morning coffee, read the gloomy newspaper or scanned your social media apps. You have something pressing to do but avoid it and mindlessly start shuffling papers on your desk.
You wander around aimlessly, straightening pictures, moving a pile of books from one surface to another, throwing out an obvious piece of trash. You know you’re barely making a dent but somehow it seems important in the moment.
You look around your home and feel the familiar pang of shame that comes from knowing your house is more than a “bit of a mess.” Books and knick-knacks piled two-deep on shelves. Your cabinets and drawers packed full with a lifetime of items that meant something to you once but now you can’t even remember where half of them came from.
Almost every surface covered with the residue of the week.
Don’t Go It Alone!
You look around at the 20 or 30 years of accumulated stuff. You wonder if you have the resources to hire a professional organizer who would somehow magically transform your home into a picture straight out of Real Simple Magazine. You know this is impossible now. Money is tight and you’ve just paid your property taxes or your son’s tuition or an unexpected medical bill from a procedure you had last year before something called Covid-19 stole your “normal” life.
Momentarily the thought disappears as your alarm reminds you it’s time for your weekly Zoom call.
During the meeting you happen to mention your desire to get decluttered and curiously ask if anyone else is feeling the same. All at once, hands shoot up in the air. You let out a sigh of relief and recognition. You are not alone in this struggle and that’s when it hits you. “Why not start a clutter support group?”
The idea came to C.J. during a recent Zoom meeting she was conducting with her clients – mostly other self-employed people. C.J. casually mentioned she’d like to be more organized and asked if anyone else was experiencing the same thing.
“Half the hands in the room shot up” C.J. told me recently by phone. She then posed the question to the group, “Maybe we should form a pod? That’s how it started. It was totally spontaneous.”
Within a few days C.J. had come up with a group structure — action oriented, not just a support group – a name, The Decluttering Divas and a schedule. They meet virtually once a week on Monday mornings and keep their computer’s microphones and cameras turned on so everyone else in the group can “get the visceral sounds of decluttering.” C.J. gets the group going but it is strictly peer-support that keeps everyone on task.
Tame Your Inner Critic
Perhaps the biggest value of the group has been the way it helps silence everyone’s inner critic, including C.J’s.
“She tells me this is too big a job and I’ll never be able to complete it. But I keep telling her that as long as I break it down into manageable chunks, and have support, I really can.”
The group shares another bond – that of facing the many challenges of life as baby-boomers. Several of the group’s members juggle their lives and their businesses, often with competing responsibilities for aging parents, adult children and the self-imposed pressure of changing attitudes towards the things they own. For some, decluttering runs into direct conflict with their parent’s depression-era views of save everything
In C.J.’s case, that meant, among other things, coming across a collection of old hair accessories and incredulously wondering why she had kept them. “The last time I had hair long enough to wear hair ornaments was probably in the mid-90s!”
Join A Worldwide Movement
It turns out Decluttering Divas is not alone. A search of other decluttering groups on the popular Meetup.com website found 71 groups consisting of nearly 18,000 members in 62 cities across 16 countries around the world.
While it’s unlikely the Covid-19 pandemic, with more and more people being sequestered at home, lead to the phenomena of worldwide clutter groups, as well as popular topics such as minimalism, online selling, tiny houses, and home editing, it’s probably one of it’s few silver linings. Even C.J.s group has one participant from the United Kingdom.
The reasons people join a decluttering group are as varied as their stuff. In “Decluttering Divas,” one member was dealing with the clutter left behind by her parents who lived with her for many years but who have since moved on to retirement communities or passed away.
Another is an artist who wanted more time for her art and hobbies and was getting too distracted by her clutter.
For C.J. herself it came down to being able to be more productive at work as a busy entrepreneur who travels extensively as well as to be able to relax at home.
Even her husband, without prompting, caught the decluttering bug.
“One day I came out of my meeting and found a bunch of cups and glasses on the counter. He decided it was time to clear out a kitchen cabinet.” Together they got rid of most of them, offering them for free to neighbors through the popular site, Nextdoor.com
Applying what you already know to get organized
While not a professional organizer herself, C.J. had worked with a few in the past, and had read several books about organizing and several of her clients are professional organizers.Along the way, she’s learned techniques and strategies for decluttering but it’s been her coaching and group facilitation experience that turned her casual question into a satisfying reality.
When the group first met, C.J. posed three “focusing questions” to ensure each member had a real action-oriented purpose for being there.
The focusing questions asked members to set and share a specific and attainable goal, explain why they had chosen that goal and set a deadline for completing the goal. Members who could not set a realistic deadline were asked to scale back their goals until they could.
To keep it “manageable,” there are a total of 8 people in the group though other peer-lead groups around the country, according to MeetUp.com show as many as 600 members.
During meetings, members of the group share their goals and even post before and after pics. Offline the group shares or exchanges resources such as where and how to get rid of things, especially useful during the current health restrictions when many charities are not accepting or limiting their donation services.