Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Decluttering: A How-To

Decluttering physical items is actually a simple process. We, the do'ers, are what make it difficult.

Always Start In 3D
Define your area -- a drawer, a closet, a 1 ft space in a room, etc. (zoom in on your target to help from being overwhelmed by whatever else may be nearby or that will detract your focus from your defined area, i.e. more clutter, an area that you don't like for other specific reasons, etc.)

Determine categories to use for sorting the things stored in that area (a specific use that makes sense in the area, memorabilia/keepsake, homeless object that didn't belong in that area, etc.) and create a gathering spot for items in that category (i.e. a box or basket, a clean spot on the floor, a shelf, etc.)

Decide which category each piece in your defined area belongs into & sort the items accordingly by placing them in the gathering spot. (Deciding comes from a position of feeling/being powerful over your stuff, instead of being overpowered by it.)

A fantastic bit of advice that I have incorporated into my own life came from Alex Fayle at Someday Syndrome, in the Unclutter guest post Instructions for decluttering your home (in less than 500 words).

"Use the sorting time to reminisce about the objects — don’t make any decisions at this point. Allow the emotions to come up and clear themselves out so that when it comes to the streamlining stage you are free from the emotional ties and can make more objective decisions about them."

The final step in decluttering is Action, instead of Reaction.

Many of the reactions we encounter when decluttering relate to negative feelings...(feeling) that money was wasted, (feeling) guilt about the item, (feeling) unhappiness about our home & personal belongings, (feeling) overwhelmed by it all in general, etc.

To gain power over your stuff, instead of being owned by it, we need to focus on equating decluttering with Action instead, and positive Action at that.

So, what positive Action are you going to take regarding these objects?

Ask yourself the basic decluttering questions.

Do I want this?

Do I use it?

Do I love this?

Do I need it?

If you can’t say yes to any of them, then you have your answer: it is clutter to you. As Alex says in the above article, "Life is too short to fill out our spaces with things we’re indifferent to."

Once all items have been put into a category, it's time to get everything to its home.

Gather those items and take them from your working area first thing; preferably all the way to the trash can.

Donation Worthy Goods
Put all items together in a box or bag and put them in your car. The next time you are out and about, plan a stop at the local donation center of your choice.

Items to Keep
Now that there are less items in the area, the items you are keeping can be better organized and stored/used. Make it so.

Or, quite possibly, where the item was before was not the best home for it. Was it "homeless" and not stored with other like items? Was it there just because it always has been?

There are many questions I could pose such as these, but I hope that during this process you are learning to formulate your own questions in your mind. The Action will come from your answers.

It's Just An Object
Always remind yourself, especially in the beginning of any decluttering project, that you want to discontinue reacting to your stuff.

Deciding on your Action, and taking it, will empower you in ways that lead to a much more positive role in your own life. A side benefit is that each action fires up your Motivation Meter as well, and that also creates a positive effect in your life. The accumulation of positive Action will create balance in your life, including ownership over your stuff.

I encourage to begin to examine your life in terms of Reaction vs. Action. You may be surprised to realize the effects reach farther than just clutter!


  1. Today, my decluttering zone is going to be the stairs, which has become a drop zone for all things junk and otherwise!

  2. @Steve Borgman: Great've defined your area! Starting in 3D will really help you with your 365 Days of Decluttering Challenge and to further your plan of creating order in your life for 2010.

  3. Regarding the "feelings" about objects that prevent you from getting rid of them. A friend of mine worked out a solution that has done well for him. He takes digital photos of the items that he gives to Goodwill or throws away. The photos are stored on his computer or are burned to CD. That way he doesn't need to keep the physical object because he still has a representation of it. He hasn't even actually looked at any of the photos but he knows he has them, should he ever want them.

  4. Thanks for sharing the idea Becca. That's one of the simplest ways to keep the memory without having to keep the thing.

  5. Have you heard of freecycle? Its like Ebay but without money where you can post what items you want to get rid of and people will reply and come around and pick them up off you. Not sure if it is in all areas and countries but I find it great as it takes almost no effort.

    Freecycle is one of my Decluttering Principles that I recently wrote about.

    Brenton Russell
    "The Simple Things in Life"

  6. @Brenton Hello Brenton, welcome!

    Yes I have heard of and utilized Freecycle as a means of getting things I no longer wanted or needed to someone who would like them.

    It was many years ago and, at that time and in my area, it became more of a burden than a blessing. Some of those who responded were so rude and inconsiderate of my time and efforts that it became a negative to me. So, instead, I now just take everything to a charity.

    I miss seeing someone's delighted face and hearing their appreciation about receiving something that they are thankful to receive. They are the people I was truly trying to reach.


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