Week 1: Getting Started
To get started decluttering:
- Pick a small but high-impact space to declutter.
- Make it one you can complete in a short chunk of time, like 30 minutes.
Gather up some boxes or bins and label them:
- Relocate to another room
- Shred (if you’re working with paper)
Add a large trash bag and some music to keep you company and you’re set!
While decluttering, ask yourself:
- Do I love it?
- Do I use it?
- Does keeping this item contribute to my vision for my space
If you can’t answer yes to any of those questions, let go of the item. If you’re on the fence about something, ask a couple of more questions:
- If I got rid of this and needed it again, would I be able to replace it?
- How likely is it that I’ll ever need it again?
Set a timer for 20 minutes and go through this weeding and sorting process. When the timer goes off, spend the next ten minutes distributing the items in the boxes and cleaning up the area so it looks better, not worse, than when you started.
Week 2: Guiding Organizing Principles
Here are some guiding principles to follow when you’re organizing what you decide to keep.
- Decide to decide. If you make decisions and act on them, you’ll accumulate less clutter.
- Embrace progress over perfection. There’s no such thing as perfectly organized. Go for “organized enough” instead.
- Wait until after you’ve decluttered to buy organizing products. Know what you need before you shop!
- Store things near where you use them. The closer a thing is stored to where it’s used, the more likely you’ll put it away when you’re done.
- Pay attention to your piles. Organize messy piles where you naturally put things by placing the items in an attractive container.
- Make the items you use most often the most accessible. The turkey roaster you use once a year belongs on the top shelf, while the sauté pan you use daily deserves prime real estate.
- Make it easy to put stuff away. Use open-topped containers and store things within easy reach.
- Add a label whenever possible. Labels make it easier to find things and put them away. (This helps you + anyone you live with.)
Week 3: Keeping up the Momentum
Once you’ve gotten past the hump of getting started, the next challenge in the decluttering journey can be keeping your momentum going. We love the concept of “little and often” where you invest a short amount of time each day and eventually make great strides.
Here are some tools to help you motivate yourself for daily effort:
- An accountability partner to whom you can report every day when you’ve completed your task
- A clutter buddy who declutters alongside of you. This can be in person (you can take turns) or on the phone or Zoom. Just be really selective when you choose your non-judgmental, supportive clutter buddy.
- Ticking off the days on a wall calendar or website or app (just look for Don’t Break the Chain) when you complete the task. The chain you create can be really motivating.
One of the best ways to motivate yourself is to use rewards. When designing a rewards program for yourself, keep the following in mind:
- Be generous. Reward yourself for effort, not for success. Set the bar low and reward yourself often, particularly at the beginning.
- Think about self-care rewards. Pamper yourself a little. Do the things you’ve been meaning to do once you get organized. Do them now, as a reward for working on it, rather than waiting until you’ve finished.
- Don’t use shopping as a reward if you struggle with clutter. Before you buy anything for yourself or your home, make sure you have a place to store it.
- Consider randomizing the rewards. Make rewards even more powerful by building in the element of surprise. Write down the rewards on a slip of paper and put them into a container. When you’ve earned an award, draw a slip.
- Give yourself the reward! Don’t just promise yourself a reward. Actually take it.
Week 4: Moving Forward
The key to maintaining order once you’ve achieved it through your decluttering efforts is create systems that work for you, create some great habits and routines, and not let the inevitable backsliding discourage you.
When creating systems, keep the following in mind:
- Keep it simple. Streamline your routines to maximize your opportunities for success.
- Store things near where you use them. That makes it easier for you to put them away.
- Let go of perfectionism. Your system doesn’t have to be perfect and it can always be tweaked.
- Banish the word “should” from your vocabulary. Do the things that work for you. Don’t do the things that don’t. Make your systems only as complicated as they need to be and no more.
Once you have systems in place, the painless way to maintain order is to establish routines to make doing things automatic.
Examples of routines that can make your life easier and more orderly:
- Handle your mail every day. Throw out the junk, shred things that need to be shredded, then actually make decisions about the rest of it.
- Each day, clear off your desk or kitchen counter or whatever space is important to your productivity and peace of mind. Once you create that routine, it gets to do daily because only one day’s worth of stuff accumulates.
- Run the dishwasher at night and unload it in the morning. That way you have a dishwasher available to you all day and there’s no more guessing about whether the dishes in the dishwasher are clean or dirty!
- Weed constantly. Make it a habit to go through storage spaces when they get crowded and let go of items you aren’t loving or using.
- Put things away. Once you’ve established a place for everything during the decluttering and organizing process, the next trick is to actually put the stuff away. Once you make this a habit, your life will become much more orderly.
Newsflash: Backsliding is inevitable. If clutter gets out of hand again–even if you’ve made a lot of progress–don’t despair.
If you find yourself backsliding:
- Nip it in the bud. Set your timer and start decluttering or putting stuff away. There’s no time like the present.
- Think about why you wanted to get organized in the first place. Recreate your vision for your organized space and reflect on how great it felt when you were more organized and let that motivate you to act.
- Give yourself a reward. Getting back in the saddle can be tough. Reward yourself for doing it.
- Hire a professional. Have a professional organizer come to your home (or hire one to work with you virtually) to help you jump-start your efforts. You can find one at the website of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (www.napo.net). Or hire Shannon (www.shannonwilkinson.com) or Janine (www.peaceofmindorganizing.com) to work with you virtually.