“My kids will just have to deal with it when I’m gone.”
That’s the response often heard when people suggest to others (parents, neighbors, friends, siblings, etc.) that they should consider downsizing. Many follow that up with “feet first” comment: “I’ve lived here 40 years and raised my family in this house. I’m leaving here feet first and don’t care if I leave a mess.”
Staying put is appealing. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. It’s HOME. But it’s often the case that people stay in their homes so long that they eventually fall and suffer injuries that result in hospitalizations and, perhaps, even lead to a stint in a rehabilitation facility. What happens to all that stuff in the event that they are never able to return?
For the sake of their children, and to be considerate of those who will be responsible for cleaning up and clearing out their homes after they’re gone, many people are turning to professional organizers. “Decluttering” and “organizing” are easier said than done, of course.
Decluttering and organizing are the first steps to a simpler life.
No matter where they are in their lives, most people recognize they have too much stuff: several sets of dinnerware, loads of sports gear, dozens of mismatched coffee mugs, souvenirs they’ve collected through the years, clothes they don’t wear, too many photo frames and family mementos, and, in general, too much of everything. Whether the end-game is to downsize to a smaller space or just feel more comfortable in an existing space, decluttering is an essential element in a peaceful life.
Organizing professionals like C. Lee Cawley of Simplify You do almost everything related to decluttering, from creating an overall plan and buying storage bins and shelves to doing the physical labor required for a home organizing project.
Many people are not inclined to hire a professional because of budget constraints or because they’re not 100% ready and committed, then they might consider going it alone. Keeping in mind the list of “DOs and DON’Ts” that follows, they’ll be able to control the process of streamlining their lives. Cynthia Ewer, author of Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Organized, has some helpful tips on what to DO during a decluttering and organizing process. And Washington, D.C. professional organizer Nicole Anzia of Neatnik weighed in on what people should NOT DO, in an article on Apartment Therapy.
What TO DO During Decluttering:
Step 1: Take Small Steps
Instead of looking at the entire house or condo, look at that shelf in the closet that’s been a sore spot for months, or the shelves in the living room. Declutter one cabinet in the bathroom. Organize the pantry, get rid of clothes that haven’t been worn in years. Just start. Somewhere. How streamlining a closet? Get rid of sweaters and jeans that are stained or torn or haven’tbeen worn in years. Same with shoes. Be happy with yourself for starting the process, then start thinking about the next small success you can strive for.
Step 2: Take Stock of the Progress
Understand that it’s going to take time. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Just as it takes time to train for a marathon, it will take time to train for decluttering. Just because so much progress was made in January doesn’t mean the same amount of progress must be made in February.
“Just as clutter arises gradually, over time, so it must be fought gradually and over time. Beating clutter requires building new habits, applying new organizational methods, and creating new household routines. The clutter cure takes time, and can’t be short-cut.”
Step 3: Put Declutter Sessions on Your Calendar
Schedule an hour or two every Saturday morning, for example, to focus on tossing what isn’t frequently used and isn’t in working condition, and organizing what’s still useful. Or if you work from home, schedule 20 minutes every day right after lunch. Commit to a schedule and the practice becomes routine. successful attack on clutter requires time, energy and motivation. There is no such thing as a declutter fairy, who works while you sleep!
Step 4. Start with Personal Stuff and Personal Goals
It’s not wise to act like the decluttering police. Some family members may not be in tune with the desire to declutter. In family settings, clutter accumulates for myriad reasons. Instead, setting a great example helps build credibility. Staying on track to achieve personal decluttering goals will help motivate others. And keep in mind that humor and energy attracts people and inspires them to do like-minded activities.
What NOT TO DO During Decluttering:
Don’t Buy Storage Containers Before Organizing Stuff
First toss or donate as much as you can to clear a space for where the storage bins are going to go. Measure the space under the bed, under the sink, on that shelf in the closet to decide what size containers need to be purchased at The Container Store or The Home Depot. Buy a few bins at a time.
Don’t Think It’s Going to Happen Without Angst
Few people are totally detached from their stuff. No matter how trivial it might seem, that salt and pepper shaker from Grandma has sentimental value (even if it’s cracked). And it’s hard to donate that dress that looked so stylish but no longer fits. But it’s important to devote a couple of hours whenever the mood hits to clear out the items that are no longer useful, despite that pang of sentimentality, and revel in the feeling you’ll get from the looking at the organized shelves and streamlined cabinets.
Don’t Fail to Follow Through on Plans to Sell, Toss or Donate
Things need to be categorized into piles (toss, give to friends, donate to charity, etc.) Once a decision is made to toss a pile of old magazines or that box of tennis shoes that have been in the garage too long, follow through and toss them. Use the trunk of the car to store items that are going to be donated, to get the out of the garage.
Don’t Expect the Place to Remain Clutter-free
Once you’ve organized your space, don’t expect that it will remain clutter-free. It’s like losing 20 pounds by eating right and working out. You need to keep at the good eating-and-exercising habits to keep the weight off. If your cabinets and bookshelves become a cluttered mess again, don’t despair. Jump back into “declutter” mode and you’ll be back on track. There WILL be regular upkeep, just as there are “re-set” buttons if you fall off the healthy-eating-and-exercising wagon.
Don’t Strive for Perfection
Perfection is impossible. It doesn’t exist. A few sayings to keep in mind when going through the decluttering process: “Done is better than perfect.” (Meaning, focus on improving the look and feel of your space.) “Less is more.” (Meaning, having less clutter and fewer items to dust makes people feel calmer and more grounded.) “Don’t keep things beyond their useful life.” (Meaning, if you bought a wall hanging at Crate & Barrel just to have something for over that dresser but it looks tacky now, toss it.) You space may never look like a photo shoot for Architectural Digest or an ad for Restoration Hardware, but it WILL be better than it was. And that’s just fine.