Some folks treat decluttering like the organizational equivalent of having a root canal, behaving as if the sheer act of making decisions about their stuff is causing them physical pain — but clearing the decks doesn’t have to be that damn hard! Anyone can do it — with a little patience, a little stamina, a WHOLE lot of coffee, and a logically-devised plan of attack. Here are some tips for creating a well-defined set of guidelines for what to keep/toss, as well as a more efficient way of storing everything that’s left:
start with the issue that causes you the greatest pain — what annoys you most every day?
create a list of areas you want to declutter in order of priority, with a deadline for completing each
find the organizing style and pace that suit you — there is no “right” or “wrong” way to declutter
try to tackle one small area at a time (a drawer, a cabinet, a shelf, a section of a closet)
set aside time each week to work on a different task — even a few minutes can make a difference
move systematically from space to space — completely finish one before beginning another
recruit some free organizing “assistants” (friends, family, neighbors who’ll work for pizza and beer)
consider hiring an organizer if you get stuck or are having trouble choosing the right systems
when was the last time you used it? — think of a recent instance where you pulled this item out
when will you (realistically) use it again? — why would you need it? for what purpose?
who might request it? — imagine a specific situation where someone would ask you for this thing
is it easily replaceable? — if the answer is “yes,” does that make it easier to let it go?
what’s the worst thing that would happen if you got rid of it? — let your imagination run wild
is it beautiful, useful, or loved? — and if not, why are you keeping it?
start with the end in mind — know what you want from your storage from the very beginning
is your goal to maximize space? see everything you own? cut down on cleaning?
make sure each storage decision meets these goals
collect up everything (EVERYTHING) that needs to live together before you sort/purge
inventory your space so you understand exactly how much room you have available
make decluttering easier by doing a quick sweep of your spaces, discarding obvious trash first
excuse — “It was expensive.”
reality — keeping it isn’t going to get your money back (the only thing that will do that is selling it)
excuse — “I might need it someday.”
reality — if you haven’t used it in the past year, what makes you think you’ll use it in the next?
excuse — “It was a gift.”
reality — once you receive a present from someone else, it’s yours to do with as you see fit
set up several cardboard boxes or trash bags as you go through each storage area
label the first box “keep” — for those things that you love and use all the time
sort your “keeps” into different boxes for each area, so you can get them back where they belong
label the second box “get rid of” — for stuff you don’t use, don’t care about, and no longer want
throw anything that can’t be repaired or salvaged by others in the trash or recycle bin
put mean-nothing-to-me-but-someone-else-could-use-them items in a “donate” or “give away” box
toss valuable discards into a “sell” box to consign, put in a yard sale, or list online
label another box “not sure” — for stuff you don’t know if you want but aren’t ready to let go of
tape up the “not sure” box, label with the date and contents, and put in the garage/basement
make a note in your calendar to check back in 6-12 months — if the box is unopened, get rid of it
label a box “need to buy” — for belongings you would use if not for their missing parts
label a box “need to repair” — for items that require some work before they can serve a purpose
label a box “to return” — for stuff that isn’t yours, and should go back to its rightful owner
create a set home for everything you own — no halfway spots or “I’ll just put it here for now”
store like items together according to purpose — sporting goods, office supplies, cookware, etc.
don’t forget related accessories (travel alarm, A/C adapter, and toiletry bag with your luggage)
keep things nearest the point of use — consider owning multiples if you use it in several places
put stuff you get at regularly in accessible spaces — what you need less in harder-to-reach areas
pay attention to climate (heat, cold, moisture, and insects)
don’t store things in an attic or garage if they stand any risk of becoming damaged
leave 15% of your space free for future additions — when you bring more home, clean some out
plan to go through your storage to “purge” once a year
have a good reason for locating an item in a certain place — your system should make sense
stick with see-through containers whenever possible — unless you’re specifically hiding your stuff
label every enclosed receptacle so you know what’s in it without opening the lid
use drawer trays, racks, baskets, and shelves to subdivide larger storage areas
reclaim wasted hanging space on walls and doors with hooks, pegs, and racks
make use of low space beneath furniture and on the floor of closets with under-bed boxes
choose modular components that can expand/adjust as your needs changeClick here for reuse options!
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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.
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