I’ve been sharing some of my favorite decluttering tips on social media lately, so I thought I would bring them all together in a blog post. These are techniques that have been effective in helping others get organized, and have been useful even in areas that require LOTS of decluttering. Over the last few months, many of us have spent extra time at home and by now our houses could really use some love. I hope one or even more of them might be just what you need.
An Easy System For Labeling Storage Bins
My favorite labeling system is very simple and works well for keeping track of what’s in my storage containers:
Place a category of items in a container.
List the general contents of the container on a sheet of paper. I don’t get too specific. Some of my contents are listed as “fragile antiques”, “candles”, “fall decorations” or “curtains”.
Assign a number to each container listed on your paper. This will be your container number.
Use a marker or pen to write the container number on a notecard or piece of paper and then tape it onto the front side of the corresponding container (you can use packing tape or a few drops of glue to make sure the numbers stick).
When you need an item simply go to the list and reference the container number, then look for the right container - by number. You don’t have to go through all the bins to search.
Using the paper list for reference is so much easier than searching inside containers, and is also much simpler than keeping track of the list right on the container. When you need to edit the list, it’s much easier to change it on a piece of paper than removing the label from the container to trying to edit it while it's still stuck on the container.
Here is a short video of me demonstrating how I do this:
Blame The Container
Every container has a certain capacity. You can only fit so much stuff into any storage bin, drawer, cupboard, closet, etc. You get that, right? But what to do with the overflow? Simple answer: There shouldn't be any overflow. We use containers for a reason. To hold things. When there is too much for the container, it can no longer hold the excess. My best advice is to choose the most important things to stay (your favorites, the most needed, the things you really use) and get rid of the rest. If you truly are keeping the BEST OF THE BEST, then you won't even miss the rest. Try it. It works!
Sometimes we just have to play games in our heads to get ourselves to do something. When you are deciding how much to hold onto, you might want to make some personal guidelines, some little rules you make for yourself, like playing a game. Let me explain. To keep "things" manageable, you could decide to use the “one-in-2-out” rule, or make a “1-in-and-3-out” rule for faster progress.
We could look at decluttering as a horrid chore... OR we can see it as a fun challenge, with lots of benefits. What game or rule will help you best to conquer your clutter?
Today, I decided to get rid of one thing from each cupboard in my laundry room. Plus, I made a trip to the basement and brought up 3 things from there. Here’s what’s going away: 1 old food scale (I have an electronic one so no longer need this); a pile of old newspapers and packing materials-saved but not used for packing boxes at one time); a plastic squirt bottle; a sample box of dog treats (I’ll give these to the dogs today); a pile of “dog towels” (we use to wipe the dogs down when they come in wet from outside - but had way more than we will use any time soon); 2 flower planters; an old plastic un-insulated ice bucket; and a glass hand soap dispenser. These will all go (except the packing papers, which will go to the recycling) to donate, as they are all perfectly good (Note:the "dog towels" were used but as of yet have NOT been used on dogs - therefore they are still “donate-able”)
Decision-Making Made Easier
There are lots of decisions involved in decluttering, so here are some questions that you can ask to make it easier (this is when it's ok to answer yourself). These are questions that I frequently ask clients when working with them, especially when they are having a hard time making a decision on a particular item:
1. Do you LOVE it?
2. Do you NEED it?
3. Do you USE it?
4. Would you PAY the full price for this if you didn't have it?
If an item passes any one of these questions with a strong “yes”, it’s usually ok to keep it, as it is valuable to them in some way. Make sure you are being honest with yourself. And make a note of this - The questions are NOT "Might I need or use this?" You need to ask yourself if you DO need or use it. Currently. If you find you’re still keeping most things, you may need to add in the word “really”. Like this: "Do I REALLY LOVE this?" "Do I REALLY NEED this?" "Do I REALLY USE this?" and "Would I REALLY PAY FULL PRICE again for this if I didn't have it?"
It’s All In The Name
If you have a room that contains lots of miscellaneous items, you will need to decide what you will use that room for - it's purpose. It's ok for you to use a room for more than one thing, but if a room doesn't have a primary purpose, or if it has too many purposes, then it is nothing more than a storage room. Make sure you give all your rooms a main purpose...unless you want a house full of storage rooms.
I find this one to be one of my most valuable moves for helping to decide what to keep and what to get rid of: COLLECT ALL LIKE ITEMS TOGETHER. That sounds just too simple, but it is SO powerful to see just how many of the same or similar items you have. Recently I was helping with a large decluttering project and after several sessions, this very concept came into play. The participants were stumped and kind of stuck...until I started pointing out how many of certain things they had. That day was the most productive day we had so far because they were able to see that they would never use 15 of this or 25 of that. Whether it is white shirts or half-empty spray paint cans, spatulas or hats, the power in decluttering is realizing that you can only use so many. Put them all together and take a look. This method is definitely a keeper.
Practice Makes Perfect
Keep practicing! There is nearly always something that can be purged. Now, I'm not at all advising you to become obsessed, but by always keeping an eye out for things you don't need to keep, your decluttering skills won't become rusty. There will always be decisions to make about what to keep and what to do with what you don't. And the more you practice this editing, the easier and more natural it becomes. When this kind of thinking becomes a habit, decluttering becomes so much easier.
A Small Barrage Of Small But Mighty Tips:
Beware those "just in case" thoughts. They can be dangerous to your purging process.
Make sure you have an end goal in mind for each project you start and keep it front and center until the end.
You are totally allowed to keep whatever you choose. If you can emotionally only edit a few things, you have still made progress.
If you are having a hard time editing your things, rate the items on a 1-10 scale, of how much you love, need, or use them. In the end, the items with the highest numbers are the ones to stay.
Decluttering is an evolving process that happens in layers. The first layer will be the most obvious and will probably include a lot of items that simply need to be put away in another part of the house. You will most likely discover more layers each time you revisit the area.
After finishing a decluttering project, it's best to make a plan for maintaining. This will prevent falling back into old habits and you can even make continued progress.
Were you able to put any of these ten-plus tips to use? I have used all of these techniques either in my own home or in my clients' homes. I hope they are just as valuable to you.