It’s January, and if you’re like everyone else on planet Earth, you want to make some changes in your life. You want to eat healthier, exercise more, be more organized, or stick to that budget you’ve ignored since last January. If you find yourself having difficulty getting started on these goals, it could be because your home or office is cluttered. When we are surrounded by disorder in the places we spend most of our time, we become paralyzed and unable to move forward and make changes in routines and habits. If you have ever found yourself sitting on your couch in the middle of a big mess eating chocolate chip cookies and staring at the wall, you know what I mean. There is just too much to do. It is overwhelming.
One of the first things I teach people when I begin coaching them is how to de-clutter their physical spaces. This is the first step in de-cluttering mentally and emotionally, and once the process is learned it can be applied to the process of de-cluttering the mind, managing oneself in time, and improving relationships with others. I want to share my 4-step plan for de-cluttering with you today.
Step one is to clear out a small space within a larger space. I usually start with a drawer or one shelf in a cupboard or closet. Take everything out and lay it out on an area of carpet or a table so you can see every item. Okay, maybe step one is to clear off an area of carpet or a table… You are going to evaluate each item you’ve been keeping in that space to decide if it still serves you – and if it belongs where you have been keeping it.
Step two is to sort the items in the space you have cleared into three piles. The first pile is for items that are of no use to anyone. These items must be thrown away – or recycled if possible. Don’t spend a lot of time wondering how that empty toilet-paper roll and the broken cat toy got in the drawer. Just throw them out. The second pile is for things that could be used by someone but that you don’t use or want any more. It may be harder to put things in this “give away” pile. You may have a sentimental attachment to some items, or you may feel guilty because you spent money on an item and never used it. It’s okay! You are going to give these things to someone you know who will use them, or you will give them to a charity so they can be sold. If you choose a good charity that helps those in need by providing jobs, you will be changing lives for the better with your donation – which should take away ALL the guilt you feel for getting rid of the flowered gravy boat Aunt Sally gave you thirteen years ago for your wedding. The third pile in the sorting process is the “keep” pile. Yes, you do get to keep some things. The rule for keeping an item is that it must either be useful or it must bring you joy when you look at it – or both. And I have to wonder at this point, if something in this drawer brings you joy when you look at it, why is it in the drawer where you can’t see it? But we will discuss that a bit later.
Step three is to throw away, give away, and put away the items in your three piles. Trash must be taken immediately to your outside-the-house garbage can. Items to be given away must be bagged, labeled, and taken immediately to your car for delivery to a good charity or to the friend or family member who wants, needs, and will use them. Items to be put away require a bit more thought at this point. Some items may belong in the space from which you removed them. Your spatula probably does belong in that drawer just to the right of your oven. But you could probably move the dental floss to the bathroom. Put the items you have decided to keep, but which belong elsewhere, in the room where they belong. They will be sorted into a “keep” pile for their proper place when you get to that room.
Step four is to clean the empty drawer or shelf and return the items that belong there to their proper place inside. If you feel you need an organizational tool, such as a drawer divider or a container, this is the time to purchase that item. If you’ve ever gone crazy in a container store buying stackable bins of all shapes and sizes before you knew what you were going to put in them, you know why I made this part of step four and not step one. Now look at your freshly de-cluttered space! Feel better?
If you will diligently work through these four steps for every small space in your home or office, you will feel stress melting away. You will feel a sense of accomplishment that you CAN be organized; you CAN make positive changes in your life. Your goal to drop twenty pounds, run a 5k, or save $5,000.00 for a dream vacation will seem less daunting now that you are not paralyzed by your clutter. Begin today!
Now, as promised, a word of advice about your memorabilia – the things that bring you joy when you look at them but which were hidden away in that drawer you just de-cluttered: put them where you can look at them! You can pick up a shadow box frame at a frame shop or craft store and put those baseball cards, photographs, baby’s first Christmas ornaments, and other special things inside and hang them on a wall. You can make a quilt from your child’s baby clothes or those souvenir T-shirts from your last vacation. If you love something, use it or display it!