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Cleaning Out Before You Start

As Published At Organize My Drawer
Cleaning Out Before You Start

The first step before organizing any space is a wholesale clearing of the decks — trimming your stuff down to only the essentials, so you’re not wasting valuable storage on clutter. And lucky you, I’ve got a few tips for doing just that.

Beautiful, Useful, Or Loved

Understand right from the start that these three are the ONLY good reasons for keeping an object in your life — anything else is just an excuse for hanging onto extraneous clutter. Repeat this mantra over and over as you sift through your storage spaces, evaluating each object in turn. All of your daily paraphernalia, mementos, and most treasured belongings should easily fit into one of these categories. And if you come across something that doesn’t — ask yourself why the heck you’re keeping it!

Keep, Get Rid Of, Not Sure

When going through any storage space, you want to start by set up three sorting boxes — labeled “keep,” “get rid of,” and “not sure.” Assign each item you touch (you should be touching every single thing you own as you declutter) to one of those piles. “Keeps” are the stuff you use all the time, “get-rid-ofs” are items that you can let go of without a second thought – while “not-sures” are things you think you might need someday and aren’t completely prepared to let go of. So let’s talk about what to do with those…

Set A Time Limit

Here’s a trick for deciding whether or not an item serves a meaningful purpose in your life. Collect up all those “not-sures,” and seal them into a cardboard box or plastic lidded tub — labeled with its contents and an expiration date 6 months down the road. Then put that container away someplace safe. If you need anything from it, it’s easily retrievable. But after six months, you’ll see that whatever’s left is not particularly crucial to your existence on this planet — that much easier to make it all go bye-bye!

If You Don’t Use It, Lose It

So much of our clutter is stuff that’s in a state of temporary dysfunction — we can’t use it right now, but we want to use it again in the future. Fine — do whatever’s necessary to make that thing-a-ma-bobber operational. If it’s broken, fix it. If it’s missing a part or needs an accessory, buy it. If it’s not all-the-way put together, finish it. If it’s no longer suitable for its original purpose but might serve another, find a different use for it. If it’s not in complete working order, it doesn’t deserve your valuable storage space.

Let Go Of Those Excuses

It was a gift? Once it’s given, it’s yours to do with as you wish. Holding onto it for someone else? First make sure that person actually WANTS whatever you’re offering — then go ahead and pass it on now instead of waiting for later. Might need it again someday? If you can visualize a practical foreseeable moment in time when that item will be put to use, great — if not, do yourself a favor and stop wasting your storage on pipe dreams and “maybes.” It was expensive? Well, let’s talk a little more about that.

Make Some Money While You’re At It

Hanging onto stuff you never use because it cost a lot of money back in the day (or you think it’s super valuable now) doesn’t recoup your lost cash — it just creates a higher class of clutter. But there’s no rule that says “cleaning out” has to mean “giving away.” One person’s impulse buy is another’s treasure — so why not try to sell some of those spendy discards? Put ‘em on Craigslist, or have a yard sale, or take them to a consignment store, or list them on Ebay — your wallet and storage spaces will thank you.

Pay It Forward

It’s easier to let go of clutter (especially the kind with sentimental attachments, historical value, family ties, or a sizable price tag) if you know someone else will benefit from your generosity. Ask around to see if family/friends would be interested in giving homes to some of those cherished-but-no-longer-essential-to-your-functioning-as-a-human-being belongings — if not, find a worthwhile charity, civic organization, or educational program that would be more than happy to take your clean-outs.

Remove The Biggest Thorn From Your Side First

Anytime you organize, you should start with the area of your life that currently causes you the greatest pain. Why? Because the end result will be more impactful than if you began with a storage space you rarely touch. What part of your home/office/life annoys you the most every day? What space gives you a headache every time you look at it? Dig in there — then list out the other areas you want to tackle in order of priority — with bullet-pointed organizational tasks and a completion deadline for each space.

Be Aware Of Clutter “Hot Spots”

We’ve all got them – places in our homes and offices that seem to magnetically attract clutter. (And no matter how many times you clean up, the piles ALWAYS come back!) Could be where you drop keys and mail in the front hall, where your jewelry and pocket contents party on a bedroom dresser, where homeless office supplies camp out on your desk — these “hot spots” are a red flag, letting you know that you need a better storage system in that area. These should be pretty darn near the top of your list.

Prioritizing And Patience

It took your life a good long while to get this cluttered — and those wrongs ain’t gonna right themselves overnight! Treat organizing like a process, not a destination. Breaking it into bite-sized chunks will go a long way toward keeping you on the right track, tackling one small space (drawer/cabinet/shelf) at a time will prevent overwhelm — while setting aside a block on your calendar each week for the next item on your list will help you maintain forward momentum. Just be patient and find the pace that suits you.

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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

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