With March here and spring just around the corner, many people start to think about cleaning, decluttering and getting organized so that they can enjoy the coming nice weather. If you're looking around your home and asking yourself "Where did all this come from?" then these five tips may help you wade through the clutter that you have accumulated.
Tip #1 — Get Organized Before We Start
Before we start to rummage through one closet, one drawer, or one old box of "treasures;" we need to make sure we have a few decluttering tools. Garbage bags, some manila file folders, a few magic markers, rubber bands, paper clips, stapler, bags for recycling, and some largish cardboard boxes. These will help us stay focused and make it more convenient to go through our old papers and belongings. We won't need to wander off to find "something to put this in" and then conveniently not return to the scene of the cleaning crime as we get distracted with the Internet, TV, phone calls or doing the dishes.
Make sure we have boxes/bags/designated spaces for trash, recycling, donations, gifts, things we are still keeping and a box for questionable items we're undecided on.
Also — right at the start — let's make a vow to get rid of more than we keep. This can be our mantra: "Let go. Let go. Let go."
Tip #2 — Set Up Specific Small Goals, Focus on One Room At A Time & Work Towards The Exit
If we're starting a big decluttering job that will probably last longer than one afternoon, then we have to make sure we set up some dates to tackle our task. We'll put them on our calendar and then keep those self-appointments. Next we pick a place to start — I suggest we start at the furthest point from our front door and work towards the exit. If we start in the front room, it's highly likely we'll lose steam before we get to the back areas of our home. (We tend to be motivated to clean the areas other people are most likely to see — even if we hardly ever have guests over. Let's call it "the just in case" mentality.)
We'll declutter one room at a time and move everything being trashed, recycled, moved, discarded, gifted and donated to the front room of the house. When we finish a room it should be 85-90% complete. And then we move on to another room. This way we leave a visible bread crumb trial of accomplishment. At some point in the decluttering process, the decluttering looks worse than the clutter! It's the moment we look up and everything is displaced and seemingly disorganized. It's a disheartening moment for sure! However, the one thing about decluttering is that once we round the bend, the finishing up seems to happen quite quickly. The couch gets pushed back, a bag is taken to the dumpster and suddenly we look around and say "Oh my, we're almost done!"
And where do we start in the room? If we have the time and are going to be working on the entire room, then anywhere. Otherwise, it's probably best to start with the closets.
And if you have a hard time being motivated to keep those decluttering dates, then invite a friend over to talk with you while you do the work. They don't have to stay the entire time, but just for the first thirty minutes until you get into a groove. It's like working out with a friend tends to motivate people to keep their workout schedule. In this case, telling a friend that you will be decluttering and want them to stop by to make sure you actually are decluttering, is a way of psyching out your inner procrastinator. Of course, if your friend is a procrastinator or you are happy to have them find you lounging on the couch reading a book, then maybe you need to up the ante. Try telling them that if you aren't already started when they arrive, then you'll give them $20 as your punishment for not being on top of your task. Money usually talks.
Tip #3 — If You Haven't Used It In Over One Year — Let It Go!
The goal here is to hit every corner and go over every area actively looking for things to discard. We're not just organizing our belongings — we're actively creating more space by discarding unneeded, unnecessary stuff! If we haven't read that newspaper we saved in 2000 or we haven't worn that orange and gold sweater since 1995; chances are we're never going to read the paper or wear the sweater ever again. So don't keep them. Let them go. The more old tasks we hang on to that never get done (like reading a pile of old newspapers) — or the more old clothes we keep — these things just hold us back from who we are right now. The irrelevant stuff we keep from yesterday, just weighs us down today.
What I like to tell clients is to envision that we have gold threads of energy coming out of the tops of our heads and these threads connect to EVERY item we have in our possession. Every fork, spoon, sock, book, magazine, power saw, car, guitar pick and even every computer file. We choose to keep these things in our lives through maintaining an emotional connection with the item (represented by the gold thread of energy). Now envision wherever we go we energetically carry all that stuff with us. We drag it behind ourselves via the connecting gold thread of emotional energy. How much stuff are you dragging? If we eliminate a quarter of our stuff, how much lighter will we feel? And let's be honest most of us can let go of a quarter of our belongings and not even miss what we discarded.
So think of this decluttering effort not as a way of getting organized — which tends to turn into a contest to see how much more stuff we can squeeze into a limited space and feel like we know where it all is because it's neat and tidy. Instead, think of this endeavor as a way to get rid of as much stuff as possible.
Tip #4 — Don't Disney-fy Things With Personas
Since birth we have all been exposed to wonderful animated feature films where deer talk, toys have emotions and trees dance and sing at the drop of a hat. Thus there is an odd reflex action within each us to give inanimate objects personalities and feelings. Many a hoarder will justify buying something with "I just want this little thing to have a home." But the reality is the old wastepaper basket we haven't used in five years is not a kitten looking for a tender, loving child to care for it. It's a faux bamboo, circular file we bought at Target with a couple of dents and a tiny hole in the bottom. Which is why we stopped using it in the first place.
Remember: The spoons don't sing when we close the door and turn out the lights. The paper clutter doesn't break into song and dance when we leave the room. It's inanimate objects without feelings or intelligence.
So we're not to start feeling guilty for wanting to get rid of our extra odds and ends. The more space (physical, emotional, symbolic, metaphysical, etc.) we open up; the more space we have to move about and create in. We feel freer with space. In reality we're not letting go so much as "opening up" to new experiences and opportunities. Thus decluttering is a huge hello to Life. Besides that, much of our old clutter will become someone else's new treasures. Think of it as furniture reincarnation and don't get sucked into a declutterer's guilt remorse.
Tip #5 — Get Rid Of It!
As we accumulate our discards, we put it all in an inconvenient, annoying spot near our front door. Why? Because if we place our pile of discards and donations in an out of the way corner "for when we have time" to get rid of it all, the likelihood is we may never get around to discarding it. Trust me, people can go for an entire year with a pile of stuff in a spare room waiting to be taken to the Goodwill.
And even worse, we'll start harvesting things back into our home! We'll walk by and say "Oh wait, maybe I'll need that thingamabob someday…" and put it back on a top shelf of a closet.
So place the entire pile near the front door (but don't block the door). Just make it inconvenient and unattractive so we will take immediate action. Then set up a day and time — within five days — that the entire pile will be gone. That includes everything — all the trash is removed, the donations are dropped off, the Freecycle stuff is picked up and the gifts for other people are handed out. And anything that isn't picked up or given away to individuals is placed in the donation pile and sent to a charity or thrown in the trash.
That's it! Now we enjoy our new sense of space, organization and feeling of renewed energy! And I promise you, we will feel more energized and lighter.