"Declutter" is a very big topic in itself. As with the other broad topics covered in this website, I will give you the basic rundown about the topic and then provide more narrowed and specific page links from this page (as, of course, even the website needs to be well organized ;-))

In order to be organized, I suggest that you first declutter, and then clean. Once that's done, you can organize. It might not always work in this order, but it could be an overall default order.

The Definition of Decluttering

Just recently someone asked me if there is any difference between decluttering and organizing? The question never occurred to me. Of course there is a difference, and a big one at that.

I would define decluttering as the removal of items you no longer need and want.

Declutter the removal of items you no longer need or want.

The extent to which you declutter can be placed on a scale with two extremes. For example, I have clients who get rid of most of their worldly possessions, which is rather extreme. There are also those who declutter very subtly (e.g., reducing the book collection from 150 books to 120).

Decluttering has different levels and at different stages of life you will declutter to a lesser or greater extent, depending on what your needs are. Organizing, on the other hand, is finding or creating a clear, uncluttered, easy (organized) place where you keep the belongings you decide to hold onto.

We all have a certain amount of space for our possessions in our homes; we need to work within the boundaries we have. Getting more and more storage boxes, a larger house, and so on, will not solve the problem. Life can only flow; things come into our lives and flow out of our lives. If we hold on to more things than we let go, we will eventually have a problem, and that is shortage of space. This is regardless of whether we have a one-bedroom house or a five-bedroom mansion.

The Golden Rules of Decluttering

Please go through these rules. There are only very few of them, but as the title suggests, following them could be very helpful.

If we go about this process without some guidelines and benchmarks, the process of decluttering can be very tiring, stressful, unproductive and generally something that you won't want to do again. We want to prevent that from happening.

So what do you need prior to even starting to declutter?

  • Create a kit and keep it stocked and ready
  • Pick one area or set a clear goal
  • Set a time limit
  • Finish or complete the task for this session

Your preparation kit/list:
Set yourself up, before you start

You don’t need much, but a few items will make the whole process go much more smoothly.

Please gather:

  • A garbage bag (or several), maybe a large box for recycling; this will be your throw-away pile.
  • A give-away box (fairly large); this will go to the second hand shop.
  • A not-sure box: I allow this, but not all organizers agree. My argument is that sometimes, you just don’t know if you want to keep an item, or what the item is in the first place. This will be a "resting place" for not-sure items, and will eventually be decluttered, as well.
  • Some Post-It notes, blue tags, and a marker (for when you start to see groups of things appear)
  • Boxes for items that need to go to other parts of the house or to other people.
  • Cleaning Cloths (damp with a bit of spray if you like): This leads us automatically into cleaning, which is sometimes best done as you are dislodging your clutter.
  • Lastly, having a vacuum cleaner handy is nice, as well, especially if you will return your items to the area you are working on. 

Pick one area, one goal, and set a time limit

Set a time limit that depends on whether you are new to decluttering and how dense your subject matter is. You can even start with a few minutes. If it is a taxing task, or a dense area to declutter, stick to a shorter time frame. For example, this is good when doing paperwork or when you find it really hard to get started and get motivated. Just set a timer for 15 minutes. 

Larger areas, like a living room, a kitchen, or bedroom can be done in blocks of one or two hours, to allow a bit more time. I try not to work for more than 2 hours without a break, even with clients, as there is a risk of burning out. If you burn yourself out, you will not go back to decluttering anytime soon. We want to have many small successes, rather than one massive decluttering effort, which is hard to maintain anyway, as we won’t change our habits in a short time frame.

Create a buffer at the beginning and end of each session, in order to complete the task properly. So, a 15-minute decluttering session could really take one hour, and a two-hour session could take three hours from start to finish. It is akin to a hidden cost that accompanies decluttering and organizing. 

Finishing the task 

It is clear that you know how to declutter when, at task's end, you can't really tell that you have decluttered. This means that, even though you might still need to give items to friends, all of them are neatly packed and in an allocated spot. All of your throw-away and give-away-to-the-second-hand-shop items are out of the area; they might already be in the car, ready for drop-off. Things might still be in motion, but from a practical perspective, you can function as usual.

It is like a building site on which contractors are in the process of creating a new building; even as a novice, you can see when they have finished their task on a particular day. However, the next day, they know how and where they can continue with a clean slate for their next task or goal. Decluttering and organizing is very similar to this; it is a big project that simply won’t get done in a day.

Learning how to declutter is a big process. Do it regularly, experimenting with different techniques to see which ones suit you.

Also realize that when we learn how to declutter, it will most likely get worse before it gets better, especially at the very beginning. Even if you finish one day's task properly, things might still clearly not be finished (for example, decluttering your whole house), but you'll know that at least your task for that particular day is.

I hope that these steps give you some good background on decluttering, a frame of reference, and some guiding principles. Be sure to check out the How to Declutter page for a more step-by-step approach and the Declutter House page for an easy way to get started.

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