Certain areas of my home are always getting out of control. The fridge, our desks, the top of my dresser, and the bookshelves in our living room are some of the worst. Stuff just gets set and stashed until it’s impossible to see what’s really there and also impossible to use and enjoy the space.
I’m guessing I’m not the only one.
But in case I am, I’ve stopped short of showing you pictures of my refrigerator (which I regularly declutter using this method), and have opted instead to share some pics from my recent bookcase decluttering. Once we know each other a little better, maybe I’ll let you see the fridge. But probably not.
Over the years I’ve figured out that the traditional organizing advice to “make a pile of your stuff and sort it into three boxes: one to give away, one to throw away, and one to keep” doesn’t really work for me. I just get too hung up looking at every single piece of whatever and it ends up taking me forever. So I started trying something different. And – cue angelic chorus – it seems to work for me. I think it works because it’s quick, meaning I always have time to do it if I really need to; and because it’s manageable, which helps me overcome my resident inertia. It may not end up working for you like it does for me, but if you haven’t tried it before, definitely give it a shot.
Note: If you have one of those glistening homes with always-used labeled containers for everything, this post is not for you. In fact, please stop reading now so you don’t judge me. Please? Great. Thanks.
For the two of you still interested…
Ready to get started?
Arm yourself with:
- two plastic bags
- 20 minutes
Wasn’t that easy? Great! Here we go.
1) Pick a Spot.
Not a room, not a closet… a spot. A single drawer, a shelf, the bottom drawer of your fridge, that cabinet that rains stuff on you when you open it. A spot. I like to choose spots that are really bothering me. That way I feel like I’ve really accomplished something when it quickly becomes clutter free. (Yes, I know I selected “the whole bookshelf” in this case. But I left all the ordered books on it, so I figure it all evens out. See pic of clutter-y bookshelf above.)
After you’ve done this a few times, you can pick larger spots. But. If you have trouble getting on the decluttering wagon, a small spot is probably the best way to start. There are two main reasons for this.
- It’s a baby step. If you’re not a decluttering regular, you need to build some stamina. Starting small will cause you less strain, and build your muscles.
- If you do small spots over the next few weeks, by the time you choose a bigger spot (and I mean “the linen closet” not “the garage”), you’ll have less to do if you’ve already conquered half the shelves.
2) Empty Your Spot.
Pull every last item out and put it on an elevated surface so that the next part goes as quickly and painlessly as possible. Ideally, choose a surface you will need access to later in the day. A little bit of extra motivation never hurt anyone, right? Once you’ve pulled everything out, give your spot a wipedown.
(One benefit of choosing a small area to work with is that you can often fit it all on a single surface, e.g. a kitchen counter, one side of the bed, or a chair.)
3) Clean up your pile.
Notice that I didn’t say “sort your stuff”. The prevailing wisdom – and a technique that seems to work for a lot of people – is to go through your items one at a time and choose whether to trash it, donate it, or keep it. If you like this method and can work quickly this way, by all means use it.
But there’s another way that works much better for me. It’s faster, and doesn’t leave me flummoxed as to what to do with certain things.
Take a plastic bag and snatch up all the trash you see. This includes obvious trash like candy wrappers, but also includes anything that is past it’s prime and isn’t worth giving away. Just start plucking. And be real with yourself. If it isn’t appealing to you anymore and you can’t donate it, just pitch it. Once you have your new clutter free spot, you won’t think about that Six Flags keychain or the Mrs. Green m&m dispenser ever again.
Take a second bag and snatch up stuff to donate. Challenge yourself here. If you have plenty of shirts, donate a few. If you have two dozen mugs, share a few with goodwill. Because you are keeping your favorites, you won’t miss the others when they’re gone.
Put away the rest, continuing to use your trash and donate bags as necessary.
Okay but seriously. If you are putting away ten sets of sheets and you have only two beds in your house, stop. Challenge yourself to give away a few sets. Or a single set. Try to leave your spot with room to breathe.
Once you’ve done this a few times, make the process your own. Add elements that help you (I often use a timer, for instance) and remove elements that slow you down. In the third step I don’t always do trash first. If a ton of “donates” are staring me in the face, I go ahead and do what’s calling to me. It’s flexible. The goal is decluttering, not following a method.
One Final Note…
One final note on why this method is an ideal place to start decluttering and organizing your home.
Clocking in at about 20 minutes, this exercise is accessible. Many of us struggle to declutter because the muscles required for making healthy decisions about our stuff have atrophied. This exercise gives them a small workout without pushing them to the breaking point. As your metaphorical decluttering stamina gets stronger, you can take on bigger areas, or just tackle the same areas in less time.
If your house needs just a little decluttering, twenty minutes a day each day this week might do the trick for you. If your house needs major decluttering, you are likely out of practice. And the best way to make progress is to just start. It’s also helpful not to tempt yourself to discouragement early on. This is where tackling only a small area at a time really shines; you start seeing little successes (without the process requiring more emotional energy than you have available), which makes you want to do more and more of the same.
Whatever your case, just start start where you are. Pick a spot whose new look will leave you feeling accomplished and motivated. Push yourself a little as you are able – one extra magazine in the trash… one more donated toy. Stretch those purging muscles. Soon you’ll be increasingly motivated by your successes and be able to tackle spots more quickly.
Let me know how it goes!
What ideas and tips do you use for getting rid of clutter? I’d love to hear, and I know I’m not the only one!