Beyond spring cleaning: 12 steps to clearing clutter that will change your life
As an avid clutter clearer, I always look forward to spring. I even give a talk on the topic! Although I love it, I know the process of cleaning clutter can be overwhelming for even the most organized among us, which is why it’s so easy to avoid.
Here I have condensed my Clutter Clearing talk into a 12-step process. The thing about clearing clutter is that it makes room for more ease and enjoyment in your home AND in your life. Just think what you might do with the extra time and energy that comes from efficient, organized flow.
12-Step De-Cluttering Program
1. List and rank.
Make a list of rooms, closets, drawers, or areas that need need come clutter-clearing attention and rank them in priority order. Starting with the first room/area on your priority list, write down everything that is driving you nuts or needs attention on a separate sheet of paper. Sitting in the space while you do this will help you be really clear and specific. When the list feels complete, rank each item or task in priority order.
Repeat this exercise for every room/space on your list and you will have created a clutter-clearing master plan.
Couples can create their lists together or work independently and regroup to prioritize and align. The important thing is that you align!
2. Get inspired.
Organizing in and of itself doesn’t sound all that exciting. But beautiful photos of cleverly or artfully organized spaces can serve as great inspiration to get and keep you focused.
Here’s an example of some beautiful organizing eye candy. The point is not to feel like you have to create magazine-worthy spaces, but rather to hone in on some images that help you visualize your own space and how you want it to feel.
3. Set yourself up for success.
Break spaces into smaller projects. A sense of completion at every phase provides necessary momentum to finish the whole project. For example, if you’re cleaning out a four-drawer file cabinet, focus on one drawer at a time.
Set a time limit. For most people, two hours is a reasonable max for focus and productivity. Clutter clearing often requires intense decision making, which can be mentally and emotionally taxing.
Reward yourself! Work for an hour, then sit with a magazine for 20 minutes or have a favorite treat. When you’re all done, take a bath, pour a glass of wine, or head to your favorite spot for dinner.
4. Enlist a partner and make it fun.
A personal trainer doesn’t lift the weights for you, but they do encourage and help you stay focused. The same goes for home organizing, which is often why people hire me. If you can’t afford a professional, consider enlisting a friend. Their objectivity can prove invaluable when it comes to making decisions on the spot. Turn on some great music, enjoy your beverage of choice, and get in the zone.
5. Start at the end.
Say what? I know, it sounds counter intuitive, but here’s what I mean.
If you’re tackling the entire house, start with the garage or basement or wherever you stash miscellaneous things. If you’re working on a single room, start with a closet. The point is to start with a single clutter-free zone that will help you organize the larger space as you go.
6. Start with a blank slate.
And by that I mean clear everything out of the space so you can get some perspective and a fresh start. Do some deep cleaning, if needed. Determine if you need any shelves, bins, or boxes to maximize the space.
7. Use the Four-Box Method for sorting.
Grab four bins, boxes, or garbage bags and label as follows: keep, toss/recycle, donate, relocate. As you go through all of your stuff, sort every item into one of these piles. And if you think you don’t need “relocate,” think again. The minute you walk away to put those shoes by the door or that book on the basement shelf, you lose focus that can cost you both time and energy. (If you’ve ever read the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, you know what I mean.)
8. Set some purge parameters.
Most of us like our stuff. We’re attached. Even if we don’t know what to do with it, it likely has a story, so deciding what to get rid of is usually the hardest part of the process.
Dig deep and ask if you really need it. Will your life be much better or different if you keep it? When it comes right down to it, we don’t need as much stuff as we think we do. Here’s a fun fun decision tree to help you set some of your own parameters.
9. The Great Clothing Clear-Out.
Most people wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time. Yep, that’s right. That means you don’t need half of what’s cluttering up your clothes closet. But how to decide?
You might want to try the hanger experiment. At the start of the season, turn all the hangers backward, so the hook faces you. After you wear something, hang it with the hook facing forward, or away from you. After several months, the pieces still facing backward may need to go.
I also recommend using all the same hangers to minimize clutter. My favorite are non-slip hangers, like these “huggable” hangers from The Container Store.
10. Deal with the junk drawer.
In order to maintain your newly organized space, you have to tackle the junk drawer. We all have them so there’s no reason to be ashamed, but they are also magnets for increased clutter elsewhere. Getting a grip on your junk drawer can create a kind of template for other spaces in your home.
In this blog post I outline steps to help you go from this….
11. Take the One-Year Box Challenge.
If you you’re really finding it hard to part with certain items, the One-Year Box Challenge may be for you. Simply pack a box with any items on which you are undecided or that you don’t think you can live without. Seal it and label with the date one year out. When that date comes, just get rid of it. Don’t even open it. If you didn’t miss whatever is inside, you don’t need it.
Clutter clearing is sort of like weight loss: the hardest part is the maintainence. As a kid, my family used to play a 5-minute quick, pick-up game. Once a day, set a timer for five minutes and have everyone in the family focus on putting their stuff away. Even the busiest households have five minutes to spare, and you’ll be delightfully surprised just how far those five minutes go toward keeping your home clean and clutter-free.
I know that was a lot of information, but I want you to know you are not alone. We are all in this campaign to clear clutter together! And remember, it’s not just clutter we’re talking about here. It’s the quality of clarity you want, and frankly deserve, in your life.
Sara Eizen is a Seattle-based interior designer and home organizer with a passion for helping busy families reclaim style and space in their homes on any budget. In a bi-weekly column for Seattle's Child, Sara shares creative, fun, affordable tips and tricks for clearing clutter, sprucing up rooms with minimal effort, creating systems that simplify family life, and much more.