You’ve set aside the whole morning and you’re determined to de-clutter that spare bedroom that has become a dumping ground. You throw open the door and enthusiasm quickly turns to overwhelm as you come face to face with mysterious mounds and bags full of who knows what.
The first thing to remember is to give yourself a break. This is do-able, but it is also probably more complex than you realized and it’s perfectly understandable why it feels overwhelming. Most things feel that way, when we realize they are not as simple as we had hoped.
I get overwhelmed, too, but I have learned that overwhelm is a temporary condition. If I can stay put, my brain will kick back into gear. I start with simple tasks that don’t require much brain power, and this buys time for my rational brain to come back on line.
Here are some ways to get started:
- Just start moving things around to see what’s there.
- Clear the floor–even if it means making bigger piles elsewhere. You need space to move.
- Put like with like.
- Pull out obvious trash.
- Move everything to one side of the room and thoroughly clean all the surfaces on the empty side. Then do the other side of the room.
An hour of de-cluttering
Chances are that once you have done some or all of the above, you won’t feel so stuck, anymore. You will start getting ideas about how to proceed. As long as you keep working, there really is no right or wrong. Just keep doing what occurs to you.
Here’s what that might look like:
- You realize one pile is your sister’s stuff, so you set it aside to return to her.
- Another pile is all the information you gathered when researching new cars, 3 years ago. It can all go.
- The bag on the bottom shelf are the clothes you meant to donate last year. Set them aside to be dropped off the next time you go out.
- You find a bag full of stuff you hurriedly cleared off the dining room table when your son’s teacher asked to stop by. (Officially known as a “stash-n-dash” bag.) See the next section below–these deserve their own special mention.
- A bag of paper you intended to recycle–gone!
- Photos scattered all over the place. Start a box to gather them into as you find them. You’ll deal with photos as a separate project, in the future.
- Old backpack with half-eaten snacks. Thank goodness it didn’t attract critters! Old food gets tossed, backpack is still usable and you store it on the top closet shelf.
- Lots of cables and old technology. Set them aside for the IT expert in the family to tell you what’s still usable, and then make a note to research how to get rid of e-waste in your community.
- You come across your deceased mom’s letters. Oh no–kick in the gut. Take a few deep breaths, and set them aside to review when the time is right.
- The turkey platter you couldn’t find last Thanksgiving! Hurray!
- The clothes you intended to mend. You realize you will never get around to it, and put them in the trash.
- Lots of extra linens. Pull them all together to so you can decide later which to keep and which to donate.
After an hour or so of something similar to the above, you’ll probably be long overdue for a break. Take it! Then review what you have accomplished so far. What’s realistic for you to accomplish in the remaining time? Set a realistic goal, leaving yourself plenty of time to wrap up loose ends and tidy up the area so that it won’t be so daunting when you return to it.
Stash-n-dash is my name for those bags of random things that we quickly gather when we don’t have time to put things away. They come from kitchen counters, desk drawers, dining room tables, cars, purses, nightstands, you name it. Often they are an assortment of important things mixed in with meaningless items. These random collections can be time consuming. I often recommend that you set them aside and tackle them all together, at the end of the project. Here are two approaches:
My favorite, but not for the faint of heart:
- Spread it all out onto a clear surface. If there’s a lot, you may have to empty the bag(s) a bit at a time. Try to work in small sections about the size of a dinner platter.
- Scan the contents in front of you and pull out anything important that meets the following criteria:
- You have been missing it.
- You absolutely know you or someone else in the family will need it.
- It is a forgotten treasure that brings joy to your heart.
- If it doesn’t meet the criteria listed, THROW IT AWAY! Don’t worry about checking to see if the pens are still good or if the cat will play with the leftover birthday party favors. Just let it go.
- Repeat, one batch at a time, until you have sorted all the contents of your bag(s).
I give you full permission to create your own criteria. The important thing to remember is that it all goes, UNLESS it meets your criteria.
Second option, if the method above is just too drastic: Do Step 1 as above, and then instead of keeping only what meets your criteria, sort like with like. Continue sorting the contents of all your bags, in small batches, until done. Now deal with your categories of sorted items in whichever way makes sense to you.
De-cluttering is not organizing!
The other thing to remember is that de-cluttering is not organizing. These are two separate activities. When you are de-cluttering, your goal is to decrease the volume of stuff. When you are organizing, your goal is to put things away in appropriate locations. Stay focused on de-cluttering, and leave the organizing for later.
Also, de-cluttering is a project, not a single task. A task is one specific action that you can complete in one work session. A project requires more than one action and/or more than one work session. De-cluttering is a project. It often requires several work sessions and creates several smaller projects, such as dropping things off for donation, organizing papers or photos, scheduling repairs, purchasing new containers (only after you have de-cluttered and know what you need). It’s okay that you are creating all these “mini-projects.” You will do them in their own good time. Your task for now is to just decrease the volume of stuff.
Let me know what gets you unstuck when you are de-cluttering.