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 ain’t that 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 (outlining exactly what to keep/toss) — as well as a more efficient way of storing everything that’s left.
A Plan Of Attack
- start with the end result in mind — that means knowing what you want from your storage before you begin sorting and purging
- is your intention to maximize space? see everything you own? cut down on cleaning? reduce lost-item-driven stress? — make sure each storage decision puts you at least one step closer to this goal
- start with the area that causes you the greatest ongoing pain — what part of your home/office/life annoys you the most every day?
- write down those projects you want to work on in order of priority, from most to least important — with a list of organizational tasks and a completion deadline for each space
- set aside time each week to work on a different space/task — it doesn’t have to be days at a time (even just a few minutes here and there can make a big difference in the long run)
- try to tackle one small bite-sized space at a time — a drawer, a cabinet, a shelf
- move systematically through your home/office, completely finishing one area before beginning another (‘cuz the only thing worse than a bunch of totally disorganized rooms is a bunch of half-organized rooms!)
Before You Start
- find the organizing style and pace that suit you — you can go as slow or fast as you want, work for hours on end or tame your chaos in fits and starts (we ain’t got no set rules ’round here!)
- if you’ve chomped off more than you can chew on your own, recruit some organizing “assistants” — free labor is best, so try to con some friends, family, or neighbors into hauling junk for beer and pizza
- hire a professional organizer to help if you’re having a hard time staying motivated, knowing what step to take next, or figuring out the right systems for your particular clutter peculiarities
- gather up everything that needs to be stored together BEFORE digging in — few experiences derail an organizing spree like getting all of your shoes perfectly situated on shelves in your closet, then discovering a dozen more temporarily-forgotten pairs scattered around the house
- inventory your storage areas and figure out how much room you have available — this will help you determine what stuff will best fit in which closets, cabinets, drawers, etc.
- do a quick sweep of your spaces, cleaning out the obviously worthless junk first — it’s much easier to sort and categorize when you’re not wasting time organizing trash
Asking The Hard Questions
- When was the last time you used it?
- When will you (realistically) need it again?
- Why would you need it again?
- What would you need it for?
- Is it easily replaceable?
- What’s the worst thing that would happen if you got rid of it?
- Is it beautiful, useful or loved?
Sorting Through It All
- set up several boxes/totes/bags as receptacles you can carry from room to room
- label the first set of containers “keep,” for items you love and use — then sort your keeps into different repositories for each room/area so they’re ready to put away when you’re done
- label the second set of bins “get rid of,” for items you don’t use, don’t need, and don’t want — throw anything that can’t be repaired, salvaged, or re-purposed in the trash/recycle — put valuable items in a “sell” stack to consign, yard sale, or hock online — anything else that has life left in it (but little monetary value) can go in a “give away” pile
- label another set of boxes “not sure,” for things you’re uncertain if you want but aren’t yet ready to let go of — tape those suckers up, label them with the date and contents, put ’em in the garage/attic/basement, then make a note in your calendar to check back in 6-12 months — if you haven’t needed, missed, or even thought about an item in that time, get rid of it!
- label one tub “to buy,” for items you would use if it weren’t for the missing parts — label another “to repair,” for things that require some work before they can be functional — label a third “to return,” for stuff that doesn’t belong to you and really should go back to ye olde rightful owner
Letting Go Of Clutter Excuses
- Excuse — “I might need it someday.”
- Reality — if you haven’t used it in the past year, will you really (and I mean really REALLY) use it in the next 12 months?
- Excuse — “It was a present.”
- Reality — once you receive a gift, it’s yours to do with as you wish (yes, that includes getting rid of it)
- Excuse — “It was expensive and I can’t let it go to waste.”
- Reality — if you don’t use it, it’s still being wasted (besides, keeping it doesn’t recoup any of your hard-earned-now-lost money — the only way to accomplish that goal is to sell it)
The Right Organizing Paraphernalia
- use see-through containers, unless your specific goal is to hide what you own — it’s so much easier to keep track of what’s stored where (especially shoes — I tell you this from personal experience!)
- label every bin, tub, box, bag, and miscellaneous receptacle — so you know who’s living inside without having to open it, and there’s never any question about what goes back where
- use trays, racks, baskets, and shelves to subdivide larger spaces — honestly, most closets, cabinets, and drawers will just turn into gigantic dumping grounds without a little modification
- utilize that hanging space on walls/doors with hooks, pegs, and racks — particularly awesome for wardrobe accessories, long-handled tools, pots/pans, bags of toys, and sports equipment
- make use of low space under furniture and on the floor of closets with shorter boxes/bins — fantastico for shoes, memorabilia, playthings, magazines, and even extra office supplies
- choose modular components that can be reconfigured as needs change — even a spendy adjustable organizer will save money in the long run (versus 10 other paraphernalia purchases down the road)
- create a set home for every single thing you own — no halfway spots or any of this “I’ll just put it here for now” nonsense allowed!
- keep like items together according to purpose — sporting goods in one spot, bakeware together, writing implements living in harmony
- don’t forget accessories and related accoutrements — travel alarm, A/C adapter, pocket translator, “damn-you-TSA” security checkpoint slippers, inflatable airplane pillow (from back when Skymall existed), and toiletry bag stored conveniently with the luggage
- locate items nearest the point where they’re used regularly — you don’t want to have to go more than a few steps to grab your favorite get-at-them-all-the-time doohickeys
- what you put your hands on most often should occupy easily-accessible spaces (between shoulder and knee height) — things you find yourself needing less often can go in other more bendy-stretchy-reachy areas (top of your closet, under the bed, back of a deep cabinet)
- pay attention to climate — there’s nothing worse than finding out that heat, cold, moisture, and insects have ruined your organizing efforts (as well as your most precious belongings)
- don’t store anything delicate or easily damaged in an attic/garage — unless these areas are adequately insulated from the elements, your stuff is in for a world of hurt
- you know you’re going to get “more,” so leave 15% of your storage free for future additions — if you’re worried about filling that space too quickly, setting a one-in/one-out rule will help keep things in check (when you acquire a new item, something else must go out the door)
- as life changes, your stuff changes — organization is not a static state of being, but an ongoing process requiring of occasional re-evaluation — so plan to go through your spaces once a year to purge anything that’s mysteriously transformed from “keep” to “extraneous and unnecessary”
- have a good reason for assigning an item to a certain location — your storage should make sense to YOU (not your friend or your mother-in-law, not the latest episode of Mission Organization or that bestselling book on clutter you just read — YOU)
(this article has been edited/expanded for the web — click here to download the original PDF as published by Getting Organized Magazine)
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Copyright 2015 RamonaCreel.com
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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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