How to declutter

We have spoken about removing clutter from our homes, but not about how to declutter. Here, I'd like to delve a bit deeper into the topic of how to go about this process.

If you haven’t done so yet, it is a good idea to check out these two pages Declutter and Declutter house, as they also cover our topic of decluttering.

So how do we declutter? It is in line with what we did previously, with a stronger focus on grouping items together. Let’s look at our list from the Declutter page.

  1. Have all of your preparatory items ready
  2. Choose one area or set a goal
  3. Set a time limit
  4. Declutter by grouping similar items together
  5. Put away items
  6. Finish the task

I will briefly touch on Points 1, 2, 3, and 6, although there are full explanations for them on the Declutter page. Here in; how to declutter, our strongest focus is on Point 4, decluttering by grouping items together, as this is the basis for decluttering any space.

1. Have all preparation items ready

This one is pretty easy, and is covered on this page. It's a good idea to have a declutter kit, with sturdy garbage bags, good markers, and sticky notes (the kind that actually stick). Some sheets of white paper or a note book for jotting notes and ideas on how to declutter the next area, or on cleaning or organizing the area where you're currently working.

2. Pick one area or goal

When learning to declutter, it helps to narrow down your space and work, to start out with success on a small scale, rather than to start out with failure on a larger scale.

People go wrong when they say, "I will declutter the garage this weekend." If you are like most people, you will be furiously spinning your wheels, with lots of activity, moving, shuffling, and tossing. It is, however, highly likely that we'll end up short of time, among many piles of unidentified items. We then shove the piles of stuff back in the garage for the next declutter session (next week – maybe). And we're left worse off than when we started.

This is not how to declutter! A professional organizer will always come with a plan and a realistic time frame for tackling the area, with many small wins along the way. 

In our example, if you have the whole weekend, it's better to divide a large area, like a garage, into multiple manageable goals. For example, put all boxes to one side (which is one goal or task); pick out all of the large items that can be thrown away (second goal); sort one shelf at a time; then sort one corner of the garage at a time (this gives us a number of mini goals, all small areas).

3. Set time limits

For the garage, you could set two two-hour blocks to do the work. Most of my clients are exhausted after four hours.

When setting time limits, make sure you still have specific goals for what you want to achieve. Keep it realistic; you can start an area and maybe finish it. No clear goal could mean you might be aimlessly moving items for four hours, rather than actually decluttering. 

4. Declutter by grouping items together

This falls under how to declutter 101. It means that we have to ask ourselves numerous questions about each and every item we pick up. Be clear and make sure you make a decision on every item you pick up.

Ask the following questions: "What is the item?" "Does it belong to a group, such as Throw Away, Keep, Give Away?"

We can then ask, "Where will we put the item?" "When should we put it there?"

The image below shows the various questions we can ask ourselves when we learn how to declutter.

In a garage, you might end up with specific groups, such as electrical tools, screws, hammers, measuring items, woodworking implements, etc. The groups you end up with are up to you, as you will need to be able to locate the item later. Ask yourself, "If I need this item three months from now, where will I look for it?

For example, the hammer lives in the large toolbox, (the large toolbox will be right there to be the home of the hammer). In someone else's garage, the hammer might live under the bench top (also a good possible home). We are all different in the way we work and think of our possessions; your organization and decluttering efforts should reflect your way.

The secret to how to declutter; categorize

It is simple, but warrants repeating:

Categorize; group your items together

This is important for the items we decide to keep. When we sort through items, we make piles in boxes, bags, and/or on the floor. We group like items and place a sticky note with a (temporary) label somewhere on the pile. 

Questions to ask when you decide not to keep the item could be:

  • What do I need to throw away?
  • What do I need to give away? 

Then ask, "How will I go about this?" Both throwing away and giving away create additional decisions. You might need to plan when you'll take items to the second hand shop or bring items to the trash container, and so on.

5. Put items away

Place the items you want to keep into categories. Then ask:

  • Where will this item fit?
  • What is its place in the house? 
  • Does it belong to a group of like items?

If you want to keep the item in the spot you have just sorted, clean the spot and straighten the area. Put the item back in its place, with a little extra room. The actual organization of the space will happen later. If the items you have sorted and want to keep belong in another area of the house, move them to that area, but don’t get side tracked and declutter these new areas. If you begin in the craft room, stay there. Make sure you don’t find yourself decluttering the bathroom because you went in there with some items from your original area. We need to keep our decluttering to a single, clear, small area, and we need to keep it simple.

We can use our groups to put items away and finish our session. Not allowing for enough time to put items away is a basic decluttering mistake. Take into consideration that you still might need to walk to the trash container or the car, drive to the second hand shop, or call friends to whom you will give things (back). It might feel as if you're not decluttering when on the phone or driving through town, but you are, this is exactly how to declutter your spaces. Overtime you will see all of your combined efforts will pay off.

6. Finish the task

As explained on the Declutter page, this final step, the completion of your decluttering tasks and the conclusion of your session, is very important. If you start this process with a project and don’t finish it, your house is going to look worse. You won't feel good about it, and will never want to sort through your belongings again. You might be reasoning that sorting through things is clearly not working for you or is something that is too hard for you. This is simply not how to declutter.

If you change the way you work, if you do one small area at a time, if you do it well, and finish all of your To-Dos, as well as finish each separate session completely, you'll succeed over time and feel great every time you finish one area.

For more information, see the Decluttering page and our Declutter House game.

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