Cleaning up the house is a hot topic these days. A quickie Google search for “decluttering” netted me 1,600,000 results! From blogs on consciously Minimalist lifestyles to reassuring guides for women on the go, “Stuff” and what to do with it are on everyone’s minds.
It’s hardly surprising. Every day, we’re surrounded by well-funded and well-crafted messages telling us to be dissatisfied with who we really are and what we do. And each one of those messages tells us to buy something to fix a made-up problem.
It’s easy to become lost in a sea of stuff. This doesn’t just take your money, it takes your time. Time you could spend enjoying yourself, or your home can disappear into maintenance of clutter.
So now what? How do you deal with the excess stuff? Professional organizers and writers would agree that clutter does not happen overnight. The only way to really undo the clutter and reclaim your life is to develop new and more effective habits for handling stuff.
Get Trash Out Ya House!
First of all, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and make small decisions first. Warm up and go on a trash blitz! Are there any empty paper cups, wrappers, old magazines, etc.? Out they go! Never mind if you don’t have to put the trash at the curb tonight, just get them out of the house! And barring emergencies, no placing them in “temporary” places – get it out ya house!
I’ve done this myself, and I like it for two reasons. One, it’s instant payoff. Trash and recycling that can be tossed right away gets out of your hair. Two, if you’re able to, it’s brisk physical activity that can burn a calorie or two. Exercise is a wonderful tonic!
What’s the geography of your clutter? Do you have any paths through it? Can you identify little “regions” of stuff? Getting intimate with the layout of the clutter helps to break down the giant “mess” into workable chunks. You can choose one chunk to work on at a time, and do it ‘till it’s done, leaving a trail of clean behind you.
Putting pen to paper can ground you in reality, in case you’re bogged down in the amount of clutter, or if you’re imagining yourself cleaning ALL THE THINGS!!1! at once.
As the saying goes, “paper is patient”, so use your list to consider what you want to accomplish today, and how much time you really have. Before you start picking up, consider how much time you have *right now* to clean. Got an hour? Pick little things to do. Got an afternoon? Then you can get a little fancier and add a couple more tasks. Accomplishing even small goals such as washing the dishes will encourage you further. Just be firm with yourself: do what you have on the list, then you are done for the day.
Getting Tough with stuff
Personally, I think this is the hardest one. Many of us, especially women, are socialized to never say no. We all have a dictionary-worth of evasive phrases and synonyms, but it’s so tough to simply say “no”. Thus, we may get more than we can handle, which certainly holds true in terms of stuff. How much of your clutter came from other people? What were the circumstances you acquired their stuff?
There’s another side to this, and that’s getting tough with ourselves. Sometimes we have trouble saying “no” to ourselves, and thus can take on all kinds of clutter. After a really tough day, I know I am more likely to ignore the wiser parts of my brain and do some retail therapy.
It’s hard to catch the self-care impulse and refuse the quick fix, but it is worth trying to develop the habit. This is not to say you can never treat yourself, but a treat has to be a treat, not a habit.
Sleeping on it
Unless we’re talking household staples or sentimental items, clutter needs to go on trial. You are the judge, you get to decide where it goes. This isn’t always easy to do in a flash. It’s ok to consider something, just don’t leave that period open-ended!
Do you even like this item? Does it have a genuine use? Will you use that at least once a year? And, most importantly, do you have a place for it that’s easy to get to? Give yourself a set amount of time to deliberate on the item, then bring that gavel down!
Get it out ya house. No, seriously.
Finally, most importantly, make sure the unwanted items leave the house. All the organizing in the world won’t help if you have far too much stuff to store. So get the excess to the curb the same day!
If you’re liberating large items or collections, make arrangements for disposal ASAP. Freecycle, for instance, is a great resource. My local group is pretty active, so I tend to have takers lined up within 24 hours. Look into it, and see what fun it can be! Disposal moves swiftly when you’re just donating rather than selling.
Personally, I prefer donation to selling, but in case you do have something valuable that should be sold, set up a deal right away. I have a one-week rule for selling, unless the salable item has a place to go in the meantime. If you’ve got enough clutter to need this article, you have too much clutter to let linger in the Ebay limbo for months on end.
Clearing clutter can be exhilarating and scary. You have to be honest with yourself, and critical (not harmful, but critical) of your reality. Where you are at the moment is really about all you can answer for, when you think about it.
Projects unfinished for years, or theoretically-nice hobbies that never quite get done get in the way of your present life, the one you’re trying to live. Beyond a certain point you can’t predict the future, and unless you’ve got a big blue box, you can’t alter the past.
Remember it takes time to re-learn habits and emotions about your surroundings. Be kind to yourself during this process, and you will find that maintaining an orderly home will become easier as time goes on!
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