Monday, July 18, 2016

De-Cluttering: The First Steps to Organization

~ Strategies & methods for de-cluttering
~ De-cluttering principles to keep in mind
~ Where to begin
~ How to be careful with others family member's spaces

Bob and I had an experience that transformed our ability to de-clutter our home effectively.  We have always been strong advocates of trying to clean-out things we no longer need, especially since we’ve always lived in small homes and we’ve desired all the space we could get.  But when we put our house on the market for sale several years ago, we became what we thought was temporary extreme de-clutterers (yes, I made up that word) through the use of a rental storage unit; but this actually transformed us in to master de-clutterers!  *chuckle*  Our home needed to look and be more spacious.   And by de-cluttering well, one can literally double the amount of space in a home.   Even the smallest of spaces can feel and look spacious if it’s not cluttered and is organized.  

We live in an 1,100 sq. ft. home that nicely fits our family of 11. If you'd like to see our home you may visit our Home Tour.  By sharing our strategies with you I hope to offer hope, encouragement, and vision.  *smile*  I encourage you to live life on purpose!  You’ll have more space for the children to play in, more space for homeschooling, more space for relaxation, more space for company, more space for more children – more space to live in!  

Strategies & methods for de-cluttering

Probably the biggest reason it’s so hard for people to stay organized, is that they have too much stuff.  People can spend enormous amounts of time managing stuff, which is overflowing and therefore can’t stay organized.  People then feel that their efforts are fruitless and pointless and they stop trying, or acquire great stress trying to keep up with it all, which affects something of far greater importance – relationships.  If we expend our life’s energy managing too much stuff, it takes away from the time that could be spent with our kids, our spouse, and our friends.  It’s so good to be able to open wide the doors of your home and invite people in!  Rather than living in fear that someone will come over.

When we were preparing to put our house on the market for sale, it was far easier for me to de-clutter when we thought we were taking things out temporarily.  We were putting things into boxes to go to storage, rather than getting rid of things permanently.  This made a huge difference in how willing we were to let go of things because we didn’t think it wasn’t going to be permanent.  Here’s what we did.  We put away everything that I wasn’t going to use within the next 6-8 months, and things that weren’t really necessary to have out:

- Bed & bath linens that were extras (we only really use our very favorite ones anyway, right?)  I kept 2 sets of bed sheets for our bed, cooler ones and warmer ones.
-  Kitchen items that were extras and duplicates (i.e. Tupperware, cookware, counter-top appliances, plastic sippy-cups…).  I only keep about a dozen Tupperware pieces of varying sizes.  Realistically I never use more than this.
- Decorations that sat around collecting dust or that cluttered up walls, shelves, and floors (except for my very favorite things).
- Books we hadn’t read in the last year, and that we never actually referenced , loaned, or re-read as intended (there's too much new material to read!)
- Extra picture frames.
- Extra office supplies and craft supplies we never used.
- Furniture that I liked, and hoped to have a better place for in a different house some day, but didn’t have room for now.
- Clothes, shoes & coats I never actually wore no matter how nice they were (again, I only wore my very favorites).
- Out-of-season clothes.
- Toys that weren’t played with much.
- I threw away things like McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, that aren’t really educational, and don’t get played with more than about 2 days after getting them.
- Everything that was stored behind doors or underneath furniture (unless it’s organized that way and out of view from the doorway, for example we keep all of our gift wrapping supplies under our bed in a box, and some seasonal clothes in boxes, too).
- We had been wanting to not have a TV in our home any longer, this was the perfect opportunity to sell the huge entertainment center that took up a lot of space (holding a TV, DVD player, VCR player, lots of VHS and DVD’s, and our stereo equipment).  We bought a smaller stereo cabinet, got rid of all of the VHS tapes, and when we watch a movie once-a-week we use the computer monitor in the family room and the stereo speakers.

De-cluttering principles to keep in mind:

- We personally don’t let the kids keep “garbage” to play with (toilet paper roles, food containers, cardboard boxes), as we just don’t have space for them in our small house.  I don’t keep anything around that doesn’t have a “home”, a place for that thing to be put away into, and I’m not willing to store garbage.

- We also now keep a cardboard file box, marked “Value Village”, in our garage to put items in to when they need to be given away.  When I come across that clothing item that no one wears, and stuffed animals that are always over flowing on to the floor and no one uses – items to be given away – they need a ‘home’, too.  When our box is full I put all of the items into a tall kitchen garbage bag and donate them, and the box is then empty again and available for more things to be put there.  (And I get a 20% off coupon from Value Village every time I donate, then use to shop for our family!)

- Before buying an item decide where it’s ‘home’ will be.  Sometimes in order to bring more in to our home we need to take something else out to make room.

- Don’t be afraid to throw things away!  Pitch it, toss it, get rid of it and free yourself from being buried by it!  Don’t let your stuff manage you.

- For us, piles equal disorder and clutter. 

- This may sound cold, but I would encourage you not to keep an item just because it was a gift to you (I used to be an elementary school teacher, and so received a lot of random trinket gifts from very generous, well-meaning parents during the holidays).  If you absolutely love it, and it has a ‘home’, keep it – otherwise don’t.  You’ll just have to manage it.

- If items don’t fit in to our home in an orderly way, then they don’t fit in to our home. 

- We began thinking to ourselves, If we haven’t worn it or used it within the last year then it goes.  This turned out to be an excellent way to determine what to keep or not; and we never regretted that cut-and-dry decision making plan.  It helped us make quick decisions about just about everything.

- It’s a good plan to de-clutter a space, wait 30 days, then go back to that area and re-evaluate things you kept and de-clutter again.  There is almost always even more that can be let go of, and once you’ve started you can get on a roll and build up enough courage to continue!

After our massive de-cluttering project we looked around our house and said, “Heeeyyy…this feels SO GOOD.”  The floors looked clean because there was no stuff underneath furniture or shoved in to corners.  There was nothing propped up behind doors.  We had lots of open wall space, revealing a nice wall color that is attractive and soothing.  The house smelled fresher with no dust-collecting decorations such as dried flowers on the walls or floors, and no piles on the floor that I vacuumed around because they were too much effort to constantly move, which meant dust in and behind those as well.  Linens in the linen closet were in smaller, straight piles because the piles weren’t so high that to remove any item caused the pile to topple; and I could see every item in the linen closet which meant it got used (or it was given away).  I was no longer wasting time re-stacking Tupperware or shoving it back in to the cupboard as it came falling out because we only kept the dozen or so pieces that we use all the time.  

When I looked in to our clothing closet I knew I could choose to wear anything that I saw, because all fit the current season, and I only kept my current size compared to the 5-sizes-worth I had before due to many back-to-back pregnancies and fluctuating weight.  This is our closet now, and it really always looks like this because it all fits into the space easily (and is hung up *wink*).

I no longer had the disappointment and frustration associated with looking in to a closet each morning full of items I could only actually wear a few of.  I was no longer picking up hundreds of miscellaneous toy pieces that our toddlers love to spread around the house, but which no one actually plays with…  We lived in this nice, new arrangement for a few months before we took our house off the market just before our 6th baby was to be born, and we thought we’d put it back on the market when baby was a few months old.  We ended up keeping everything in storage for a year before realizing that we were paying money to store things that we didn’t really need or miss!  We more enjoyed the spaciousness and ease of maintaining order, than we enjoyed those items.  When we cleared out the storage unit finally we kept only a few things (box fans for summer time, some of Bob’s tools, a stroller), sold the larger items, and gave the rest away.  Aaah.  *smile*  So, if you are now saying, “That sounds nice…But where do I start?...”  Here’s my suggestion.

Where To Begin

First, let me say that it’s important to get “buy in” from your husband before you start de-cluttering (more on this below).  Next, I encourage you to start with one, small room or space, and one that is primarily “yours.”  If you begin with the garage – probably the most massive space to be done in the entire house – you may give up, or you may plow through but it could totally fry you and you wouldn’t want to do any more of the house.  It’s more do-able to start with the master closet, or a linen closet perhaps.  If you start with one of these personal areas you’re also likely to not have others in the family adding to the space you’re trying to clean out.  You’ll have a sense of accomplishment and a success to enjoy. 

While sorting through items I encourage you to divide them in to four separate categories:  (1) things to throw away (have a garbage bag at your side), (2) things to give away or sell (another garbage bag at your side), (3) things to keep for immediate use, and (4) things you’re not sure you want to get rid of yet.  And know that most of the future-use items you probably don’t actually need to keep.  I had all kinds of ideas of how and when I would use sooo many items, but in reality I hadn’t used them in 12 years!  Ask yourself when was the last time you used that thing?  Again, our principle, if we haven’t worn it or used it within the last year – it goes.  For your items that you just can’t quite permanently get rid of yet, I’d put them in to a box, label it, and put it in to “storage” in your garage for 6 months.  Pretend your house is on the market and it needs to look spacious.  Then you have freedom to get those items back out if you really miss them after 6 months or a year.  I still do this periodically, when I haven’t actually used an item for ever but I really like it – my husband says, tongue-in-cheek, “Okay, just put it in the garage for a year then”, and usually I chuckle and pull up my courage to just let it go.  It’s actually very freeing.  *smile*  Now as you’re thinking through which areas of your house to tackle first, before you get over-zealous do consider the other members of the family, too.

How to be careful with other family member's spaces

Before you begin, consider who has had dominion over the space you’re thinking of de-cluttering.  It’s almost always easier to look at other people’s stuff first, before your own, and get aggressive with getting rid of things.  But consider, has the garage been your husband’s space?  Has a child’s bedroom been their own space, to be done with as they please as long as the door is closed?  How will your spouse or your son or daughter react to your becoming a whirlwind and changing everything in “their” space one afternoon without consulting them?  (Not that you ask your children for permission to organize your home, but I think it’s good that they be included in decisions when they’re old enough to do so, especially when that’s been the understanding thus far.)  There also needs to be submission to a husband’s desires for the home.  If he likes things the way they are but it is disorderly and cluttered, try agreeing on a direction towards more order; you could ask about compromise.  If the garage has been “his space”, consider dividing it in to two parts.  Leave his stuff as it is if he’d like, and ask if you may clean out the other areas.  It’s important to get “buy-in” by those other family members when appropriate.  You could give a time frame within which changes could be made.  You could invite them to watch what you do in “your” space (that which you’ve had sole dominion over, perhaps your desk, or your closet) and then invite them to join in with the new de-cluttering and organizational plans for other spaces.  But take responsibility for your own space first.  You can testify as to what and why you’re changing things, and then let them see the “fruit”!  *smile*  Also, training children to keep things in order and put things away really needs to begin after you’ve de-cluttered.  They can’t be expected to put things away if there is no known and established ‘home’ for those items.

After much practice, my husband and I have become very proficient de-clutterers!  *smile*  Yes, we organize, but that’s not so difficult once you’ve first de-cluttered.  I still donate a tall kitchen garbage bag full of give-away items about every other week to Value Village (I don’t know where the stuff comes from!).  Sometimes the kids’ spot items in the bag to be given away and they balk at the idea; but when I explain why I’m giving that item away (i.e. no one ever plays with it) then they’re fine.  They like a clutter-free home, too.  I’ve known some people to encourage their kids to periodically clean out their own toys and select items to give away on their own, say after Christmas or a birthday when gifts have been received and more things are coming in to the house.  Organization really is not such a mystery in a home when you are good at de-cluttering. 

By the way, for the items that you’ve decided assuredly to get rid of, de-cluttering in April (right now) is the perfect time to do this, just before garage-sale season in summer!  If you choose to have a garage sale, I encourage you to price things to be gone in 5 minutes.  Have in mind that all that stuff will go (either be purchased, or given away) and you’ll end up with some money for organizational projects.  Last summer we had a garage sale and we priced things to move on the first day, the morning of the second day we made everything 50% off, and then near the end  of that second day we mark everything FREE.  Make it walk away!  (And we still earned $850!)


I hope you have caught some vision for de-cluttering at home if you need to!  I would love to hear about your de-cluttering or organizational adventures!  For organizing newly de-cluttered spaces, see the links below!  *cheer!*

Blessings on your efforts,


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