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Organized for Life eBook

Free Yourself from Mental and Physical Clutter.

Take Control of Your Home, Your Time and Your Life.


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A Room Full of Junk - ClutterOf all the emails I get, one of the most common things readers ask about is how to get rid of clutter in your home.  How to to declutter, how to make decluttering easier, how to make a start, how to stop it building up again and so on.

There is a section in my e-book Organized for Life about how to get rid of clutter in your home and I’m working on a new e-book just about that topic alone!  But I have been promising a newsletter article about it, so here goes.

Decluttering is a habit.  It needs to be a lifelong habit, because it’s never finished.  You will always have new things coming in, and you will always have to make decisions about what to keep, and when things are no longer worth keeping for you; you must learn to declutter as a regular habit.

The reason some people seem to manage to keep their lives free of excess stuff which is not in place and is not being enjoyed and/or used is that they developed habits to keep it this way..  If you don’t make it a habit, then you can have a big cleanup, but it will creep back.

Reducing the amount of mess and muddle involves sorting and organizing things, and making decisions about them.  Making decisions is hard, which is why I like to write about it.  It’s hard because we doubt ourselves and don’t trust our own judgement.  It’s hard because we are often not in the habit of making certain decisions on a regular basis, but we are in the habit of putting those decisions off, lest we make a bad one.

There are many ways you can approach your decluttering, depending on the volume of stuff you want to shift, but they all involve making decisions.  Depending on your situation, you may have a number of categories into which your stuff may fall, but the basic ones are always the same:

-    Throw away – garbage, rubbish, trash, recycling, no good to anyone
-    Sell or give away – good for somebody else, but no good to you any more
-    Keep and put it where it goes, or find a place for it

These three things may have sub categories, but that’s basically it.

If you need to, you can add a fourth category for items you’re undecided about.

Now, given that I’ve said it needs to be a continuous, ongoing and never ending habit, you may as well set in place your own systems for where to put each item when you’ve decided which category it belongs to.  

For example, you hopefully know where your garbage and recycling goes, but there may be instances where you need to arrange for extra rubbish removal, a trip to the tip/dump, or for specialty recycling people to collect something (for example old cars, scrap metal etc).  You may need to allocate a place to put rubbish/trash/garbage temporarily until you have built up enough to arrange its removal.

For things to sell or give away, you need a permanent place in a closet, attic, shed, garage or basement where you keep these things, and you need regular trips to the charity shop to unload it as it builds up.  If you have decided it’s worth your while to sell some items, they need a dedicated storage place where they go, and you need to be prepared to move some items from the ‘sell’ to the ‘give away’ category if it becomes clear you can’t sell it or it isn’t worth selling it.

For things that go to charity, if you are not in the habit of doing this regularly, you might not even know who to call or where to drop it off.  This will hold you up, so you need to address this and find a convenient charity bin or the phone number of a charity which will collect, and speak to them to find out what they will accept.  Charities are not there to provide a rubbish removal service – you need to check that the items are actually useable.

A potential hold up with the ‘give away’ category is thinking you must give the items to family or friends rather than charity.  Don’t waste a lot of time on this and get bogged down in it.  If it seems appropriate, let your friends and/or family know you have a stash of stuff you will be giving away, and invite them to come and take what they want before you move it on.  Set a definite time by which you will give the stuff away, and remember, other people don’t necessarily want or need your old junk.  Leave the choice with them, and don’t wait too long.  If they really are interested, they will show up and have a look through it.

For things you want to keep, move it first to the correct room then fine tune its exact location as you go along with your normal home tidying.  Remember, when finding a place for everything, that things generally logically go in the room in which they are used, and like items, or items used for the same purpose, should be grouped together.

What about things you’re really having trouble deciding over?  They might be sentimental items, letters, essays, ornaments, gifts, things that look like they might be really useful ‘one day’.

Think about how much space they are taking up, whether you are getting enjoyment from them, how they make you feel, how exactly you think it might be useful.

Some things are worth keeping, in my view, for historical and family history reasons.  Things like photos, home movies, letters (letters can be a touchy one, and sometimes they do need getting rid of – but they can often be a fascinating insight into someone’s life, or a unique view of a period of history.  If in doubt, KEEP letters.)  If you have a lot of study papers, you might find that copious notes are not worth keeping, but some of your essays would give you pleasure to glance at in the future.  If you’re not sure, or not in the right frame of mind to confidently decide, box it and label it clearly.  

Ornaments, knick knacks, furniture and decorative items are a matter of taste.  If you are not really enjoying an item but it is sentimental, just take a photo of it and let it go.  If you have boxes of pretty things your grandmother left you, but you don’t like it all or have space for it, just choose a few of your favourite items, and put the rest away in clearly marked boxes until you are ready to decide.

Always clearly label any boxes of stuff that you put away.  Label them very clearly and legibly, and in detail.  You’ll thank yourself later.  You could even photograph the contents of the box with a box number or title included in the photo!  Then you can see what’s in there without unpacking.

Now, about when to declutter.  Yes, you might set aside a Saturday morning or afternoon to work on an area like the garage as a project, but this alone will not work in the long term.  You need to be doing it constantly, regularly.  It needs to be part of your routine.  

In my e-book I recommend a room rotation system for the ‘fine tuning’ tasks of keeping your surroundings nice.  That includes detailed cleaning and removing items which are no longer of genuine value to you.  This system is recommended by the lovely Flylady, who follows Pam and Peggy’s Sidetracked Home Executives system, but the system is way older than that.  It’s a very sensible and practical way of getting the details done without spending inordinate amounts of time on it.  We want clean, organized surroundings, but we don’t want to give up our life to it!

There are a number of ways of doing this, but basically you concentrate on one room at a time (perhaps one room a week, with a set amount of time allocated, not too long all at once), and do what you can do in that time.  You do some sorting of items to let go of, then move to dusting etc.  This is a separate task from your normal daily and weekly cleaning routine, and the goal is to LIMIT the amount of time you spend on it, but keep it up REGULARLY.

By the time you come back to this room, enough time will have passed that a little dust and cobwebs have crept back, and there might be some more clutter items to get rid of.  Or if it was really bad to start with, you will just be gradually reducing the clutter.

What will happen though, is that you will establish a habit of spending regular time on this.  You must limit the time!  You have other important things going on in your life, and this is just part of it.  Keep the balance, and refer to my article about time boxing.   

If you feel the need to make a dramatic difference very quickly to lift your spirits, concentrate on one main area where you spend a lot of time, for example the living room/lounge room.  Move out whatever you can that does not belong here, group things, then start sorting and making decisions.  Go for large items and items of greatest quantity first, so you can see fast results.

Making a start can be the most difficult part of getting something done we have been dreading.  Deciding to do it for just a few minutes is a strategy that works for me when I have this problem.  I might then stop, and do the same thing again later, or I might continue for a bit.  Either way, I get past the inertia this way.  

Organize your life - get the ultimate guide here

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