Later is the best friend of clutter… – Peter Walsh
Clutter articles range from judgmental, hoarding horror stories to useless, vague suggestions to advertorials for decorative organizational bins. Regardless, the peaceful state they all promote is both much-sought-after and mysterious to attain. Such was my struggle when I dumped my bags into my first apartment, a 400-square foot bungalow in South Florida.
As I compiled a long list of DIY projects and purchases, I also started absorbing artifacts from my parents, castoffs of caring friends, and unsolicited housewarming gifts. I just took everything with a “Thank-you” and added it to the pile. Very quickly, my apartment took a form that did not reflect who I was or how I wanted to use the space. So, I started thinking back to my missteps over the years. I remembered my hard-to-clean, impossible-to-organize childhood, teen, and college rooms. Those habits grew into a similarly unchecked living situation. So, determined to take ownership for my home, I began research.
The stories that impacted me most where ones that focused on the journey of the person writing the article. They imagined a specific life and sought that state of being. For example, The Minimalists lifestyle was inspired by a desire to break with the corporate world and the related consumerism. Below are ten websites that I would recommend.
- The Minimalists
- 356 Less Things
- My Unhoarded Life (archive)
- Organized Castle
- Reading My Tea Leaves
- Not My Hoarding Mother
Each of these stories contrasted my awkward, messy world. I wanted to be able to focus at the end of the day. I wanted to sit in peace on the weekends. I wanted to spend less time cleaning, and I wanted that cleaning to be quick. So, I decided to make a list to break down what could stay and what needed to go.
Make a list
My first place was very full and very dysfunctional. I had a plethora of cheap tools, knick-knacks, and bobbles with nowhere to store or display them. Buying a host of organizational systems wasn’t the solution. Figuring out exactly how much room I had in my place set the benchmark for curating my stuff.
- Consider how many things you actually own. How many boxes would you need to pack up and move? How much time do you need to spend cleaning your stuff? Find a meaningful way to measure your belongings. For me, I measured each existing surface and cabinet to estimate how much stuff the apartment could hold without buying furniture. Then, I placed the existing furniture in a pleasing arrangement, discarding anything that didn’t fit. This left me with a specific amount of space to fill, both for storage and decoration. This was my limit.
- Document your belongings in list or photo form. You’ll begin to realize there are so many things that you don’t want to acknowledge or curate. However, that is what you’re doing by owning them. You are committing to caring and keeping those items- passively every day. You’ll use these later when you decide to sell your stuff.
- Look at lists of people who live smaller lifestyles. Capsule Wardrobe and Minimalist bloggers can give some perspective on how many items you can reasonably use.
- Write down the tips that challenged you most. Post there somewhere that you’re regularly reference.
- Restrict your consumption until you understand exactly how much room you have and how much you want to one. Nothing new should come into your space until you finish the decluttering process.
Cut the Easy things
- Expired body product and makeup must go.
- Manuals and guides usually have digital versions. Bookmark those pages and recycle the paper ones.
- Bottles, jars and cans should be recycled if you aren’t using them.
- Cardboard boxes can be recycled.
- Go through your games and look for the broken or missing parts. Swap with someone who has the same game. One of you will end up with a complete set.
- Look through your Tupperware and recycle the most scraggly pieces.
- Old candles and potpourri that have lost their scent, lose a place in your home.
- Expired food should be composted or disposed.
- Samples that you’ve never used should be thrown out.
- Old medications can be turned in to an appropriate station.
- Excess wire or plastic hangers can be donated to thrift stores.
- Ditch that smelly sponge.
- Swap your old air filter.
- Trash your oldest, broken shoes.
- Donate old Halloween costumes and props.
- Trash full coloring books, after you frame your favorite pages.
- Socks that don’t have a mate, should be cut up for rags.
- Old spices that have lost their flavor must go.
- Swap your old toothbrush for a fresh one.
- Cards, mail and papers that have no meaning can be recycled with paper.
- Old calendars can be recycled.
- Sell any movies that you don’t want and don’t watch.
- Cookbooks usually contain only a few good recipes. Copy them and donate the book.
- Takeout menus are meaningless in the digital age.
- Takeout condiments fill up little nooks. Clean them out.
- Old prescription glasses can be donated and recycled
- Random business cards can be turned into digital files and tossed
- Check your cables. Recycle any that don’t match a device.
- Old paint doesn’t get better with age. Donate or recycle depending on the condition.
- Digitize and file receipts. Most paper copies aren’t needed.
- Pick through your paperbacks. You will probably find some that you don’t want to read again.
- Curtains from a previous living space can be sold or donated.
- Remove any body products that make you itch or breakout.
- Recycle any old containers for empty products.
- Infrequently-used kitchen appliances can be donated or sold.
- Clothes that are the wrong size should be donated.
- Shoes that are worn out, should be tossed.
- Pet toys that your furbaby won’t play with should be donated to a shelter.
- Magazines, all of them, should be recycled.
- Leftover supplies for craft kits and hobbies should be donated.
- Mismatched sheets and pillowcases, should be donated.
- Extra, or old blankets and pillows should be donated.
- Broken decorative items should be repaired or discarded.
- Your button collection can be donated to a sewing enthusiast or crafter.
- Old, unworn jewelry can be gifted or loaned to family members.
- CDs should be donated or recycled.
- Junk Mail should be recycled.
- Old, expired cleaning supplies should be disposed of per label directions.
- Duplicate tools should be sold or donated.
- Stained or soiled clothing should be recycled or tossed.
Take a Count
Next, you must match your belongings to your actual lifestyle. The examples below can help guide you to determine what you need for how you like to live.
- Count your seating and compare it to how much you actually host. You may find you don’t need any many chairs. If you have two people and never host large dinners, you can probably do with a small kitchen table and two chairs.
- Sort your pillowcases. You only need 2 sets for each bed. 1 on the bed and 1 in the wash.
- Sort your bedsheets. You may find you only need a warm and cool set.
- Look through your towels. 2 towels per person will work if you do your laundry every week.
- Sort your blankets. You only need 1 per person for an extra snuggle. Extra, pilled ones can go to an animal shelter.
- Consider your tablecloths. If you only pull out those linens a few times a year, you may find you need 1 nice tablecloth total.
- Look through your mugs. These collect over time from gifts and events. 1 or 2 mugs per person is plenty and will cut down on the dirty dishes.
- Think about your tableware strategically. If you aren’t much of a host, you may be better served by 1 durable, plain set of dishes than several fancy sets you don’t use.
- Make sure you don’t have duplicate utensils or unitaskers. You only have 1 kitchen and two hands. Keep that in mind while you’re sorting items.
- Make a list of your actual hobbies that you actually did this month. Sell all the supplies and tools that don’t match that list
- Check your recreational items. Whether it’s sporting equipment, outdoor furnishings, board games, or musical instruments, you may not be using every piece. These items are usually easy to sell.
- Measure your bookshelf. If the average book is about 1-2 inches thick, you can divide the length of your bookshelves by 2 to figure out how many books you can actually store.
- Measure your closet and clothing storage space. There is a finite amount of clothing that you can keep in your home. Limit your wardrobe to that number.
- Work through your wallspace. Photos or art should be displayed and will be limited by those dimensions.
- Do a time study exercise. Seeing how you spend your time reveals what kind of stuff you actually use. For example, you may not need many kitchen gadgets if you rarely cook. Or that aspirational yoga mat may actually sit in your closet for months.
- Count your collections and do the math on their value. If you enjoy collecting as a hobby, think about how you can limit the grouping to your favorite and most valuable pieces. If you are trying to collect to build a profit, make sure you turn the inventory regularly. Regardless, the amount you keep should be limited to the available space.
- Count the number of boxes that work in your deep storage spaces. Once shelving is installed, you will be able to calculate the number of bins that can fit. Heirlooms and seasonal items shouldn’t exceed these limits.
- Tally the time you spend cleaning and organizing your things. Consider how you want to spend your time and make sure your possessions remain proportional.
Then work in a circle
- Make a list of all the rooms in your space in a spreadsheet. Then, make a list of all the storage areas in each room. This will give you a list to work on weekend by weekend when you’re clearing out your space.
- As you’re working through the list, just take one storage area at a time. Pull everything out of the space. Get rid of any trash or broken items. Move anything that is out of place. Then, see if the rest will fit back in the space. If it doesn’t, challenge yourself to remove items until they fit the space in an organized manner.
- With the remaining, “Don’t fit” items, toss them all in a laundry basket. As you work, you’ll keep adding your second tier stuff to that basket.
- Second Tier items are anything you feel doesn’t quite belong in that space. You may not love it. You may have a better version worth keeping. It may just not fit and needs a new home.
- Moving from space to space and room to room, keep tossing the trash and delegating second tier items to the laundry basket.
- Once you loop through your space, make sure all the trash is tossed.
- Then, poke through the second tier stuff. For whatever reason, you felt like it didn’t belong in that space. Try selling all of it, for reasonable prices, at a yard sale. Don’t think twice- Just do it.
- With the remaining items, think about anyone less fortunate than you. If you know anyone that might be able to use that extra stuff, just give it to them. Don’t think twice- Just do it.
- Look through your space again and enjoy the openness. It’s different right?
- Make a plan to regularly go through this loop.
Plan for the Future
- Most ascribe to the “One in one out” rule. Hold yourself to this.
- Practice polite phrases for kindly rejecting new clutter. People won’t understand and you will be asked to explain often.
- Map out habits and hot spots that contribute to disorganization. Plan to tidy those regularly.
- Build new hobbies and habits to replace consumption. For example, walking in the park with a friend can replace social shopping.
- Moderate your access to new stuff. This can be anything from unsubscribing to brand emails to avoiding your favorite bargain basement.
Although the decluttering process remains highly personal, my favorite tips can shift the way you think. Ownership requires time and energy. Consider how you want to use yours before you bring something into your space.