10 Decluttering Tips

February 8, 2016
Another organizing hero, Julie Morgenstern. See link at end to another article to help you declutter
Another organizing hero, Julie Morgenstern. See link at end to another article to help you declutter


I confess:  I love love love to declutter and downsize and rearrange and find a better way to organize it all!  (Okay, I'll calm down.)


I get deep satisfaction from creating more clear space, having better functioning space, and especially from having less to manage and clean.  The more I have pared back, the more I have learned what’s most important to me, which has been truly valuable on all levels.  The process of examining what you own - what owns you, really - is illuminating and can be life-changing (to quote the now famous book by Marie Kondo,  “the life changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing”.)  


Here’s a list of strategies to help you experience how decluttering can make your life easier, if not transformed.  


  1. A simple way to start that is usually low-risk emotionally: Get rid of anything not functioning, that’s ripped, broken, chipped, stained, dulled, out of date, or not used in more than a year.  It’s sometimes sad to throw things out, but things do have a lifespan and it’s okay to let them go despite the emotions we may have attached to them.  It’s worse to have them take up precious space in your mind and in your home/workspace (or worse, if you are like I used to be and paying monthly storage unit fees unnecessarily)!  

  2. Sometimes a good place to start decluttering is with small spaces, especially with our Portable Clutter like handbags, gym bags, wallets, commuting/work bags.  Having the least amount of stuff in them and having a system for each of these bags helps you find things quickly in these important spaces we carry with us.  Keep keys in one/the same pocket only, do the same with pens, or your water bottle, or whatever - always put things in the same place when not in use.  Really important bonus tip:  Clean them out completely once a week, meaning upside-down/inside out-and shake-out-the-debris empty.  It will make a big difference in how they feel, trust me.

  3. Touch every object you own - every single object - and ask these questions:  Does this bring me joy?  (This is straight out of Marie Kondo’s book and system mentioned above.)  I add the questions is it used regularly, does it work well, is it really worth the cost and space of storing it for “some day”?  Learn to be ruthless and don't keep things that amount to emotional and literal baggage.

  4. Everything needs a place:  A big part of the problem of clutter is not having a clearly designated place for every single thing in your home to be stored when not in use.  Everything needs a permanent home, no matter how small, regardless of frequency of use.  This saves you a lot of time, which I hear virtually everyone I know wish they had more of.

  5. Related to the last item, think in categories:  Having multiple places for one category of things creates confusion, and unnecessary duplication.  Keep all tools in one spot, handbags in one spot, clothes in one area (this is big:  are your clothes in the bedroom, bathroom, and laundry room?  Think about how much time you lose simply looking for what you need).  Consider keeping cleaning supplies in a bucket you can move from room to room:  Having a set for each separate room clutters your mind when it comes to shopping (do I have X) and you end up with multiples or the wrong thing.  Or, if you only have Y in one room, but you’re cleaning in another room and suddenly need Y, you lose time going to find it, etc.

  6. If you have a desk at work or at home, clear it off every night:  Put things in an inbox, a pending file or however your filing system works (what, you don't have a filing system?  Let's talk, soon!), put away pens, paper clips, etc., and dust it or wipe it off. This opens us up for a fresh start and more creativity and brain space each day.  

  7. Related to the last item and taking it further, embrace the idea of Clear Surfaces:  This is something I learned from the awe-inspiring Master Coach Anna Kunnecke (if you want to take a really deep dive into decluttering and making your whole world more organized and beautiful, take her Queen Sweep course!  [I get no compensation for recommending this]). Look around your space and find at least one spot that you can clear relatively easily, and stake the claim as a clutter-free zone. This could be a small area of kitchen counter, or the top of a bookcase, or a side table of some sort. Take everything off this space, clean it, and then maybe add one single item that brings you joy and peace simply by looking at it; leaving it completely clear may feel more liberating.  We need this order, beauty and openness in our spaces to help our creativity, breathing, sense of time and space.  
  8. Get rid of the junk room, but keep one - and only one - small junk drawer.  We need this little bit of rebellion, and it’s fun to go through it every few months.  (Note:  Bills and keys and anything time-sensitive or money-related do not go here.)  Reclaiming an entire room for something you really need it for (art studio, yoga room, meditation room, actual guest room, library, music room) can transform your home and open up neglected areas of your life to once again blossom.

  9. Create a Limbo Carton:  I got this from my mentor, the one and only Martha Beck:  Put items you’re not using or haven’t used in a long time into a designated container and label it "Limbo".  Once full, give your Limbo Carton to a loved one who is not afraid to declutter. Together, choose a date six months in the future: If you have not asked for anything in the carton during those six months, your friend will then take everything to a donation center without even mentioning it to you.  We don’t have to do this by ourselves.  

  10. If you have a fairly large clutter problem, work up a written plan, and make it achievable:  
    1. Make tasks really small which makes them much more do-able.  
    2. Think about the steps involved and put them in the order that will make it easiest to get it done.  
    3. Put a realistic time estimate on each step.  We are all time-optimists, and think things will take less time than they do, and we frequently quit out of overwhelm.  
    4. Write it down in a place that will have some accountability for you/your housemates if you’re including them in the process, like your calendar or put it in your phone with an alert on it.

I know people who have very cluttered desks or areas of their home or workspace because they like the creativity and chaos of it.  I say great, if your system works for you and you don't feel it's holding you back in any way - getting things done, finding things, it doesn't negatively impact relationships or basic life functioning, then don't change a thing.  I still suggest decluttering and organizing as a great regular activity in making sure your life is working well for you as it relates to your possessions, resources, and time.  You may be surprised at what you can do without, and what clear space will provide for you. 


Resource:  Julie Morgenstern, New York Times article.


If you like what you heard and would like me to speak to your group or team about decluttering and organizing, please contact me.  It's one of my most popular seminars.  If you are overwhelmed by clutter and would like some personalized help with getting started or in-person support for the process, I welcome the opportunity to help you.


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