10 Easy Steps to Declutter Anything (Do This Before You Organize!)

As with anything worth achieving in life, getting started is the hardest part.  It can be overwhelming when you think about the decluttering task in front of you, as a list of "to do's".  It can be very daunting when you think about starting to sort through a drawer; a room; a home; a lifestyle.  So, where do you start? In this blog post, I will provide you with 10 tried and true self-tested steps to assist you in sorting and decluttering anything in your home.

Step 1: Determine Your Goal

First, do not skip the most import step in accomplishing your de-cluttering goals.  You must determine what your overall goal is.  Do you wish to declutter your entire home? Do you want to be able to love every item  -  or have a purpose for, every item in your home?  Do you feel the need to get rid of excess? Do you want to be able to find everything you need at a moments notice?  Do you crave a more peaceful atmosphere and welcoming environment for your guests to enjoy? Without knowing the why, you will not have a foundational reference point through which you must filter every item you own.

Step 2: Determine Your Timeframe

Once you know your goal, then you will need to determine your timeframe for accomplishing your task at hand.  Do you have 15 minutes? An hour? A day? A week? Are you expecting to de-clutter your entire home in one hour?  This just isn't possible unless you have superpowers (which you may).  Regardless of your amazing abilities, it is always wise to start small.  For example, if you are wanting to declutter your kitchen, start with the refrigerator and get rid of all expired items.  Or, if you have only 15 minutes, start with a drawer.  If you have an entire day, then start with a drawer and work through your entire kitchen, one cabinet at a time. Whatever your task at hand, be realistic with your timeframe.  If you have too high of an expectation for how quickly a project will get done, you will only cause frustration when this expectation is not met.  So, keep yourself sane by keeping your task simple and small, at first.  In this way, you will create momentum and excitement once the small project is completed.  As a consequence,  you will feel like accomplishing more with this new momentum.

Step 3: Create Your Post-It Note Labels

You've got your goal in mind.  You now have your realistic timeframe for your first project.  Now, you need a plan.  The good news is that I'm going to help you create a plan that will work with every decluttering project you have in mind - whether it be a 15 minute decluttering of a drawer or a year-long decluttering of your entire home.  It is quite simple.  Start by grabbing 5 post-it notes.  Label each note with one of the following: "Keep", "donate", "sell", "toss", "relocate" and "uncertain".  Next, stick them on a large enough area to fit all of the items you are sorting. For example, stick them to a kitchen table or counter when decluttering a cabinet or drawer.  Or,  stick your post-its on a wall, several feet apart, when decluttering an entire room or a larger area.

Step 4: Create Your Strategy

Now that you have your labels set up, you will need a strategy.  Your strategy will include the most time-efficient method to keep you on track and to keep you focused.  So, you are going to start by emptying the area you are sorting.  If it is drawer, cabinet, or shelf, take everything out.  Now that you have a pile, you sill start in one corner and begin sorting in ONE direction.  You choose the direction but stick to this direction.  For example if you are de-cluttering your living room, pick a corner to start in.  If the bookshelf is in this corner, start with the book shelf and empty all of the shelves, if you have time. If you have 15 minutes, empty one shelf.  The idea is to not jump around.  In addition, you will need to be aware of the common "time-suckers" so that you can avoid them.  For example, be careful that you do not waste time by putting all of the "relocate" items where they actually belong, before you are done sorting everything in the area you have chosen.  This will break your flow and get you off track.  Simply put these items in a pile under the "relocate" post-it note and keep going.  When you are done sorting everything, then put the items back in the room  - or the location - where they belong.  Likewise, sentimental clutter can really "suck up time". This is not the time to stop and go through a photo album and relive fun memories.  You will lose a lot of precious decluttering time.  I find that the "relocate", the "uncertain" and the "sentimental clutter" can take up the most time, if you don't have a strategy in place.  I will address sentimental items or items you are unsure of, later in this post. In general, the best strategy I have found,  is to place every item in one of the categories under a post-it note and keep going. To recap: Your strategy is to empty the space you are de-cluttering, move in ONE direction, avoid "time-suckers", put everything in a post-it category and keep moving!

Step 5: Filter Each Item through Your Original Goal

How do you know if you should keep, toss, sell or donate an item?  This is the challenge that most people face, when starting to declutter.  Typically speaking, you will need to have your goal in mind at all times.  This is why you determine your goal first: to keep your focus and to filter every item you pick up, through your goal.  Ultimately, you want to own only the items that you love; that you use and that serve a purpose.  Everything else, is unnecessarily taking up space. If the item in your hand passes the Filter Test and you are 100% sure that the object supports your goals; put the item in your "keep" category.  If you are uncertain, move on to step 6.

Step 6: Ask the Right Questions with Each Item that Passes the Filter Test

A good question to ask is: "Have I used this in the last year?"  If not, you probably aren't going to use it.  DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT keep an item because you think you MAY NEED IT.  If you haven't used it in the last year, chances are you will not use it in the next.  If you haven't used it and it is in good condition, then donate it.  Is it destroyed or something no one would want (i.e. used underwear)?  Then, toss it.  Is it worth more than $25?  Then, consider selling it.  You can often use local Facebook buy and sell groups, Craig's list, eBay, etc. I'll do another post on how to do this, later.  But for now, just put the time under the appropriate post-it. For items you do not use and they are decorative, in storage, or taking up space, then ask: "Does this item lift my spirits when I look at it?". Also ask, "Does this item serve a purpose?" "Do I love it?" and "Is it good quality?" "Would I buy this item again if it was lost or stolen?" If you answer "no" to any of these questions, then seriously consider donating, selling or tossing the item.

Now as promised, we must address what often is the most difficult clutter to sort: sentimental clutter.  A very common pitfall is to stop and think too much about these items.  Instead, be strategic with your pauses.  Ask yourself why you have it.  Does it make me happy?  Does it lift my spirits each time I see it? Conversely, "Am I holding on to it out of guilt?  If it is the latter, then every time you look at it, you are dragging yourself down with unnecessary guilt-ridden feelings - whether it is consciously or subconsciously driven. If your goal is to create a more peaceful and welcoming environment, then this item you are heavily contemplating probably does not support your goal. Again, always keep your goal in mind.  Another filter you can use with sentimental clutter is: If it makes me happy, then is it on display or do I have it boxed and put away?  If it is boxed, how is this serving my goal? If it doesn't make you happy and it isn't on display, then chances are it needs to be enjoyed by someone else.  There is someone out there that will cherish this item and will consider it a treasure.  Additionally, you can also ask yourself: "If I was moving today and in the process of packing, would I be glad that I am boxing it up or will I feel that it is adding to the mounds of unused items that I have accumulated?  Will it remain in a box after I move or will it be on display for me to enjoy?" If it will remain in a box and it is adding to your clutter, why are you holding on to it? Let it go...

A tip for sentimental clutter you know you must part with but you feel connected with: If you are donating or selling a sentimental item, you can always take a photo of the item to refer to it later if you need to be reminded of it.  At least in this manner, it is not taking up space or obstructing your subconscious with feelings that drag your soul down. You are able to hold on to a vivid memory without holding on to space-occupying clutter.

Step 7: How to Handle the "Uncertain" Items

But what if you walk through all of these questions and you still don't know what to do with an item?  You feel stuck and helpless?  This is normal.  However, you have a choice: you can either stare at it for hours and wait until you have an answer or you can simply put in the "uncertain" pile.  When you are done sorting everything and you have a nice pile under the "uncertain" post-it, box everything up and label the box with a date 6 months to a year from now.  If the 6 months come and go and you have not missed it, do not open the box. Simply donate it and let it go.  I REPEAT: Don't open it up!  You didn't really need it. And trust me, your soul will feel lighter and you will be glad that you have created more space for the things your heart truly loves and that you truly use.  Ideally, this should be your ultimate endgame: 1) To create a home that has plenty of space to think, to move, etc. and 2) To create a space that when you see your belongings, you have a sense of peace and joy, not stress and chaos.

Step 8: Make it Fun!

It is also important to make the decluttering process fun!  Put on your favorite music, podcast, sermon, audiobook, etc.  Grab a glass of great wine (not too much) or coffee (depending on the time), your favorite finger foods and invite a friend over to help you.  Regardless, don't make this a begrudging task.  Again, always keep your end-goal in mind and know that with each and every item you let go of, you are moving closer to living the lifestyle - and the mindset -  that you desire.  In essence, every item you sort, brings you closer to more peace; more contentment; more time and more energy to enjoy things that really matter in life.  For example, previously,  you may have spent 20 minutes staring at a closet full of so-so clothes that you aren't excited to wear - and as a result, you were often late to meet a friend for coffee.  Consequently, now that you have a closet full of clothes you wear, that fit you and that you love, you have no difficulty picking out a great outfit and you are easily on time to your coffee dates.

Step 9: Shop Smartly!

Once you have de-cluttered your space, shop smartly moving forward!  Do not buy an item because it is on sale or because it may fill up a corner in your home that needs "something".   Ask yourself the questions provided above and remember your goal.  Does it not evoke any sense of spirit-lifting or is it so-so?  Does it serve a purpose or will it just collect dust somewhere? Do you love it or are you thinking it is "good enough"?  Is it good quality or will it break down and need replacing in a few months? Would you buy it again or would you make a different purchase if given the chance? Interestingly, living a decluttered lifestyle does not mean that you have to be a "minimalist".  It does not mean that you avoid purchasing more expensive items; but, it does mean, that overtime, with each purchase, each item in your hand (or online cart) has passed the goal filtration and the question test.  In fact, decluttering gives you the space to bring in items that will serve a purpose and make you feel good when you look at it.  For example, if you are considering a $200 pair of shoes, ask yourself,  "How often will I  wear them?"  If  the answer is: "Once every three months.", then, figure out the cost per wear and ask yourself, "Is $50 per wear in a year, worth it to me?"  What if you wore the shoes 3 times a week?  Is $3.57 per wear worth it?  Conversely, if you buy a sweater on sale for $50 and you wear it once in a year, is this purchase worth it to you? You get to decide this.  That's the fun part. When you look at purchases as a "cost per use", you can really identify the value very quickly.  In this manner, you can often justify a quality purchase over a whimsical one. So for this example,  in terms of your closet, the goal is for every item you see to be "worth it" - whether you bought it on sale or paid full price.  You should be able to say, "If I lost this or it was stolen, I would purchase it again!"

Step 10: Maintaining Your New Space

It is important to note that decluttering is an ongoing process.  It never stops.  It must be maintained and monitored to continue to provide you with the benefits of achieving your goal.  You don't stop exercising and eating healthy when you reach your goal weight, right?  Likewise, you cannot stop decluttering once you reach your goal.  The good news?  It will require much less effort to maintain.  Set aside a small amount of time each week  or each month to review a space for items that need to be tossed or donated.  It doesn't need to be more than five minutes.  You will be surprised that in just five minutes, with each pass of an area, you will find new items you previously thought you need and use; but, now you recognize that it's time to give it away.  Make this process a habit and it will serve you well. In future posts, I'll share with you my decluttering calendar that helps me maintain my efforts and keeps my home manageable and welcoming.

Note: It is always important to declutter FIRST before you organize.  You do not want to organize items that you haven't used for a while, you don't like, and aren't serving a purpose.  This is a waste of your time and clearly a waste of precious real estate in your home. So before you go out and buy organizing containers, follow this decluttering plan! Trust me...you will thank me later.

So let's recap this process from start to finish so that you can refer to this as often as you need reminding.

  1. Determine your overall goal and make it clear and concise.  Include the feelings you want to have when you look at the room or area needing decluttering.  What do you want others to feel when they walk by it?  What purpose will this area serve?
  2. Determine the time frame you have to declutter.  Schedule it if you need to.
  3. Create your post-it notes labeled: "keep", "sell" "donate", "toss", "relocate" "unsure". Note: "unsure" should be the very last resort after you have gone through the necessary processes outlined above.
  4. Create your strategy.  First empty the space. Move in ONE direction. Make sure you don't get stuck on the "uncertain", the "relocate" and the "sentimental" clutter.  If it makes you happy, keep it, and put it on display. Otherwise, take a picture of it and give it away or put it in an "uncertain" box.
  5. Filter each item through your original goal. If it doesn't support your goal, put it in one of the categories and keep moving.
  6. With each item in your hand ask: "Do I love it? Do I use it? Does it serve a purpose? Is it good quality? Would I buy it again? If you answer no to any of these questions, then consider donating, selling or tossing.
  7. If you are still unsure after asking these questions, then put in the "uncertain" pile and then box the "uncertain" stuff up and label the box with a date 6 months from today.  Donate the box if you never open the box to get an item out.
  8. Make it fun - whatever this means for you.
  9. Make smart choices when you shop.  Ask yourself the same questions you use for decluttering for shopping.  You don't want to have to declutter these items you are considering purchasing in the near future, correct? You don't want buyers remorse for that sweater you have worn once in 12 months just because it was on sale. If it helps, break the cost down by your estimated use.
  10. Maintain your efforts by spending a few minutes every week - or every month -  reviewing a previously decluttered space for any items that can be reconsidered and let go of.

I know that decluttering your home can be a daunting task; but, if you take it one small step at a time, one cabinet and drawer at a time, you will eventually have an entire home that shines with purpose, use, and joy.

Supercharge your health. Satisfy your soul. Simplify your lifestyle.

All the best to you,

Dr. Linné

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