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Decluttering — Step One

13 Tips for getting a grip on your stuff

You have stuff ... lots of it and you know the only way to get control of your space is to declutter.

If you're like many of us, you postpone the inevitable as long as possible, hoping that all the stuff you've crammed into the attic, garage, basement, or closet will somehow be spirited away one night by gremlins. And that, sadly, never works. It's the reason the storage business is booming!

Though it's essential to head off your bad habits, for now, let's concentrate on having a little success at taking something OUT of your space and giving you a bit of room to breathe.

Everyone has an opinion

Getting started with decluttering is different for every person. Why? Because everyone collects for different reasons. Some people keep stuff because it's easier to stash things than make a decision about what to do with their things. Some people keep stuff because it might come in handy someday. And some of us are just lazy (but not in a bad way).

We ignore, excuse, and deny that there's a stuff problem even as we continue to replace the flashlights and corkscrews we can never find when we need them. It's an expensive path to march down.

So okay ... what's step 1?

Here are some suggestions for your personal step 1 and a couple hints for getting it done.

  1. Call an organizer. It's okay to call a pro. For some people, it makes sense to have a professional organizer come in and help you get started. Sometimes it's the idea that you are paying someone for the advice that can galvanize you to take action. A good organizer can help you identify the reason you collect and hang on to stuff and they can customize a program for you. Get a recommendation from a friend, let your fingers do the walking through the Yellow pages, or Google organizers in your city.

    The organizer you choose should listen to you and work with you. Don't hire anyone who doesn't meet your needs. Once you do settle on one though, you need to relax and follow the program.
  2. Allocate a zone in your house to begin organizing by person, collection, or room. If you have a spouse and kids, get them involved. Organize only the toys, sewing stuff, or CD collection to start.
  3. Sort by last use. Almost everyone has heard the advice "toss it if you haven't used it in the last year." We think 18 months is probably better just because sometimes it takes a full year or a little more to go through your complete cycle.
  4. Another technique is to set up the "keep," "put away in another room," "give away or sell," and "toss it" boxes. Once you go through a drawer or closet, then take the toss it box and throw the contents in the recycling or garbage. Take the give away box to the car and go immediately to the charity thrift store (don't forget to get your tax receipt). The keep box is then sorted, items are cleaned if necessary, and then everything is put where it belongs.
  5. Make a list of what you need and use regularly. It is rarely necessary to keep 46 pairs of shoes. If you wear six pair on a regular basis, then the rest can go! The same is true of crockery, DVDs, and toys.
  6. Empty the room. Take everything out of a designated room or space. Wash the walls and paint while you're at it. Think about the space and how you want to use it. Set up zones for different tasks. For example, you might want to use your den as an office/guest room. Put anything that is pertinent to either function back in the room. Go through the house on a treasure hunt looking for everything that should go in the office or the guest room. Once everything is collected, sort for duplicates, junk, and functional items in good condition that meet your purpose. Once you know what you're going to keep, then you can plan how you're going to organize it. (Hint: buy NO containers or organizational tools until you get to this point.)
  7. Box it up. Some people can organize, they just hate getting rid of stuff. You can make a deal with yourself. Pack up everything you haven't used for a year in one room, drawer, or closet. Label and seal the box. Put an expiration date on the box and store it in a corner of the garage or basement. If the expiration date arrives and you haven't looked in the box, get rid of it. This is a good way to declutter without prompting an anxiety attack. Once you know you can get along without X, it's much easier to get rid of.
  8. Pretend you are living at the beach. Vacation living is simple living. Stuff is comfortable, useful, and necessary. It's not about decorating or collecting; it's about relaxing, spending time with friends and family, and doing things ... not having stuff. Get rid of everything that you don't use at least once a month.
  9. Do a two-fer. In Your Money or Your Life, the writers suggest you do a complete inventory of all your possessions. Go out and buy some of the garage sale stickers and start pricing everything you own with the current market value (what you'd get on eBay or a garage sale). Create a complete inventory and put a sticker on each item. (Make two copies for insurance purposes and store one at the office or in a safe deposit box.) As you use each item, take the tag off. In six months, anything that still has the price on it, can go in your once-in-a-lifetime gigantohugic garage sale.
  10. Remember to take bites of the elephant and stay focused. Nothing is more discouraging that biting off more than you can chew at one time. Schedule appointments to declutter for a short period (one hour or so) and stay focused on the task at hand. It's easy to get distracted while decluttering the kitchen junk drawer and suddenly find yourself in another room entirely with the junk drawer unfinished.
  11. Set yourself up to succeed. You know your circumstances, idiosyncrasies, budget, and family. They may or may not support this effort. You know which of your weaknesses will get you. Plan accordingly; reward yourself as necessary ... just not with stuff!
  12. Pace yourself. This is not a contest or a race. Many of us plan to get our decluttering done in a weekend, which is just about enough time to do a medium-size room. We tear the place apart and then panic because we want everything put away by the time we go to bed on Sunday night.
  13. Get a buddy. It helps to have someone to work with. A good friend can be objective about your stuff. Besides, it's more fun to trade decluttering projects than trying to do it all alone.

One right technique or even a combination might be the winning combination for you. If one doesn't work, try something else.

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