March is spring cleaning month – though with the polar vortex owning much of the country, we suspect that many of you will not be putting on your head scarves, getting out the vinegar and scrubbing down the house until well into April or May if then. Whether you’re hoping that spring cleaning will be the answer to your issue with clutter or whether you didn’t realize until just now when you read this sentence that you had a clutter issue, we’re celebrating de-cluttering this spring at Postconsumers. We’ve got fifty (yes, fifty!) tips on how to defeat clutter. What’s the key? It’s understanding that clutter isn’t just a pile of “stuff” in your house. It’s a complex relationship between mental and emotional factors as well as media and society. What’s a great way to get started? Pick just two or three items from this list and use them. From there, you can expand until eventually you reach your own point of satisfaction and comfort with clutter (or lack thereof).
1. A Little Can Go a Long Way: Clean One Small Space Per Day.
Part of what’s challenging for many people when they begin the process of de-cluttering is that they’ve allowed the clutter to “take over.” That may mean different things for different people. One person may not get overwhelmed until they’re reached the stage where they could easily be on an episode of Hoarders. Another person may feel overwhelmed at levels where many people wouldn’t feel cluttered at all. No matter where your line is, part of how your clutter built up is by your feeling overwhelmed by it. Trying to tackle it all in one step is going to feel even more overwhelming. So start small. Just pick one space. It can be a counter top, a drawer, a corner of a room or even a shelf. Clean that one space. The next day, clean another small space. You’ll build up steam and eventually find that what’s left to de-clutter isn’t as intimidating.
2. Or, Go Big with The Master Purge.
On the other hand, part of tackling your clutter is about understanding who you are and what will work best for you. Some people honestly have to do things in big, huge steps. Part of what holds those people back from picking up clutter daily is the lack of fulfillment they get from smaller projects, and that’s a perfectly valid personality type to have. If that’s the case, you’re setting yourself up for failure if you try to tackle your de-clutter project in smaller steps. Schedule a little “staycation” for yourself one weekend in which you “go big.” De-clutter and clean your entire home. We’d recommend you read the rest of this list before you do so that you can learn ways to maximize your effort. For some people, a master purge and starting with a clean slate of a perfectly uncluttered home is the jumpstart they need to stay clutter free moving forward.
3. Put It Down on Paper – Make a List.
De-cluttering by default will make you more organized, but it also helps if you go into things organized to begin with. Take a day before you begin to declutter (whether it’s in small doses or large steps) and inventory everything you have in the house. Yes, we mean everything. For some of you, we’re sure that will take more than a day! Then, put everything into a category: keep, trash, donate, gift, sell, store. (Many de-clutter advocates don’t encourage putting things in storage, and to be honest it’s not the greatest long-term idea. However, it may be a necessary step in your journey, so we’re leaving it open.) You may find that if you go through the list more than once, your initial instincts may change. Not only will this give you a chance to get a handle on what you have and what you should do with it, but your actual purge will be quicker and more efficient. Plus, you’ll have a visual. Consider using color coding. If at the end of making your list, you see too much of the color you used for “keep,” it’s time to revisit the list!
4. Hold Onto Memories. Make a Photo Archive.
We’ll address the complicated relationship between “stuff”, memories and emotions a bit later. For now, let’s agree that even if the relationship doesn’t exist in the way that you may believe that it does, your feelings are very real and you want to preserve the token or memento of your emotional memory. The good news is that in 2014 that doesn’t mean that you have to hold on to the actual item itself! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to hold on to some items that remind you of extremely special moments, but do you need every knick knack from every vacation or every plate that your children ever ate on? You really don’t. Here’s a trick. Take photographs of the items you feel an emotional attachment to and make a beautiful scrapbook. The truth of the matter is that you’ll get to relive your memories more often by looking at a photo album than by keeping old clutter items packed away in a box.
5. Clutter In Your Mind Leads to Physical Clutter. Create Quiet Time.
Clutter isn’t just about “stuff.” It’s also about the emotional and mental state that leads you to building up that state of stuff. A busy mind is a good thing. An overly-noisy mind is not. Too much noise in your brain isn’t just bad for your desire to de-clutter your life, it creates stress and it’s ultimately bad for your health as well. You may be surprised how much of your relationship with “stuff” is simply a response to an undercurrent of stress that you may be feeling without even knowing it. Here’s a simple fix that can really show large results. Give yourself fifteen minutes of quiet time per day. It can be sitting with a cup of tea, soaking in a bathtub (or taking a shower) or just shutting the bedroom door and locking it for fifteen minutes. Take your quiet time. Driving home on your commute doesn’t count because your brain is active and stressed about driving! And quiet time means quiet! No radio, no TV, no smartphone turned on. Quiet! It may even feel uncomfortable and awkward at first! In addition to your fifteen minutes of quiet time, if you sleep with the television on you should turn it off. The impact on your brain is very, very loud.
6. Consistency is Key. Stick to a Schedule.
Here’s what is not likely to work for you. You get rid of all your clutter, either in one big weekend or slowly over time and then you sit back and say, “Problem solved!” It’s not. You will, without a doubt, build up clutter over time again if you don’t make lifestyle changes to avoid it. When it comes to de-cluttering, consistency is the key. Set up a schedule for yourself. The schedule should include smaller daily tasks (find fifteen minutes of quiet time, clean off one small surface), larger weekly tasks (clean kitchen, clean out car trunk) and even one or two big projects for the month (clean out garage). If scheduling isn’t your strong point, this is your opportunity to get better at it! It’s time for tough love: your de-cluttering effort won’t get very far without goals and a schedule.
7. Speaking of Schedules, Don’t Overschedule Yourself!
Overscheduling and overcommitting is almost chronic in America these days. Social commitments, work commitments, commuting time, it all adds up. Somehow, we’ve begun to believe that if we’re not scheduled from the time that we wake up until the time we fall asleep, utterly exhausted, we haven’t been productive. This type of scheduling works against your effort to de-clutter in two ways. Firstly, you need time to keep your home organized and clean. This is absolutely as important as any other commitment that you’re making. An organized space leads to a calmer mind. If you can’t step away from the scheduling, then make sure that you’re allowing time for de-cluttering initiatives in it and taking them seriously. Secondly, as we mentioned above, a stressed out mind leads to a cluttered existence. Decrease stress and you’ll find yourself naturally decreasing clutter.
8. Expand Your Repertoire of Quiet Time.
The more quiet time you can work into your life, the more uncluttered your mind will become and the more you’ll find yourself naturally de-cluttering the rest of your life. Turn off the radio in the car. Don’t leave the television on “in the background.” Go an hour or two a day with your cell phone turned off and locked away (yes, it is possible!). You may be surprised when you really break down some of the causes of noise in your life. The busy nature of most web pages can create visual noise in your life, so consider toning down your screen time. Wearing earbuds to drown out annoying distraction noises? Consider tuning them to a nice, relaxing white noise station. Take an inventory of all of the “background noise” in your life. Then think about how to decrease it.
9. The Secret Clutter: Revisit the Holiday Decorations.
A friend of Postconsumers recently said, “Holiday decorations are the enemy of empty space.” How true that is! We certainly don’t want to imply that you shouldn’t have holiday decorations or enjoy the festive spirit that they bring, but it may be time to step back and evaluate your existing collection of holiday decorations and your relationship with buying more. Are you a person who runs out after Christmas each year and buys more clearance decorations, adding more and more to your holiday clutter? Do you have decorations stored that you don’t even use any more but that have sentimental value? Do you actually have holiday decorations that you don’t even take out of the box anymore? Identify the difference between an heirloom and just “old decorations.” Then get your purge on. This can be tricky with holiday decorations since holidays often come loaded with emotion and memories, but trust us, you’ll feel better the next time a holiday rolls around.
10. Don’t Be Afraid to Purchase Storage Options.
As you know, purchasing can at times and in some ways be at odds with the goal of postconsumerism – moving beyond society’s addictive consumerism. But buying things isn’t by default evil! In fact, we believe strongly that every person needs to find his or her own comfort level with the role of retail and where it fits into sustainability, budgeting and more. One instance where you may want to consider the value of purchasing is in creating storage spaces that work for you. Vertical shelving, clear containers, plastic bins, even silverware organizers can all help you to get a handle on your clutter. We don’t pretend to be home organization experts, but we do know that an organized home with a space designated for everything reduces the amount of excess that goes into it. The internet isn’t always evil either, and about thirty minutes of research can often yield great tips and ideas on how to implement storage space in your own home.
Those are our first ten tips on how to de-clutter your entire life, but we have forty more! Continue on, and if you think we missed one be sure to share it with us on:
Photo Credit: PracticalOwl via Flickr