Where to start decluttering? Do you have years of possessions that no longer “spark joy” (if they ever did) and that are holding you back from the life you want to live? Or are most of your work and living spaces relatively clutter-free but your electronic files are a mess? Perhaps you’re overwhelmed and don’t even know where to start. Or how. Or maybe you’re at that stage in your life where you are seriously thinking about downsizing. Having a clutter-free life is a journey, not a destination. And the time to begin is now.
Clutter Is a Symptom
When Maya(*) first met with me to talk about coaching, she knew exactly what she wanted. She needed to rid her home, her office, and her life of clutter. Maya wanted to progress in her job but she felt weighed down by all the things. It took so much time to find stuff, to organize stuff, and to clean stuff, she couldn’t devote what she felt was the proper amount of time to her job or to her family.
I knew where she was coming from and I agreed that the clutter of too much stuff, too many possessions, can have a major negative impact on our lives. But I also knew something else . . . the clutter is a symptom, it is not the real problem. It is relatively easy to deal with the clutter, but if you don’t address the root cause, clutter is likely to come back.
Maya thought about this and decided she wanted to work to address the clutter and the root causes.
Nice To Think About, Hard To Do
Many of us love to think about decluttering and organizing. The popularity of books such as Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is evidence of that.
But to actually begin, especially if we’re looking at years of accumulation, can feel overwhelming. [Locker] We don’t know where to start decluttering. Or we don’t know how we’ll find the time. Maybe we don’t want to have to think about or decide what to do with all that stuff.
And as Maya realized, addressing the underlying habits that caused the pile-ups to begin with, can be even more difficult.
Accumulation Over Time
If it has been a while, or if, like Maya, you’ve never decluttered and organized your possessions, you’ll likely find a large accumulation of items. These are just some of the things Maya had collected over the years: Books from college that were packed in boxes and which she had never taken out again. Toys her children had played with as toddlers . . . they were now six and nine. Three or four months of newspapers from her hometown (where she hadn’t lived in five years). Tools that had belonged to her ex-husband and which she never used. You get the picture.
Look around your space. Do you see things that have accumulated over the years? The older you get, the more coffee mugs, souvenirs, serving dishes, nails, screws, books, and other accessories seem to pile up. Not that you’re old of course but you probably see more things that have collected over the years than you realize.
Now we come to one of those underlying reasons for the accumulation of clutter. It can be hard to let it go. (Full disclosure: I still have a file folder filled with drawings that my now-grown children made in elementary school.)
We have emotional attachments to our possessions. Some carry pleasant memories. Some attach us to our past. We may believe an object has monetary value. This may be the time to put Marie Kondo’s famous question into play: “Is it useful or does it spark joy?”
Another obstacle we can run into is decision fatigue. After making many decisions, we become mentally exhausted. This makes it difficult to continue deciding and may lead to rash choices.
Emotional attachment to our clutter, having to decide what to keep and what to discard, and simply the weight of all that stuff makes it hard to let go.
Difficult or not, at some point, most of us realize we need to discard the clutter to be better organized. We just need to know where to start decluttering.
Do you know one of the biggest obstacles to decluttering? Not knowing where to start. This turned out to be Maya’s biggest issue. If you think about it, this may be what has kept you from being better organized. So where do you begin?
Begin where you are.
Seriously. Look at the space you’re in right now. Maybe there’s a coffee cup on the table from this morning’s breakfast. Or yesterday’s. Or last week’s!?! Pick it up and carry it to the sink or put it in the dishwasher.
Or maybe you’re looking at the table in the entryway that is covered with two weeks’ worth of mail. Pick up one piece. Do something with it (except put it back down). Is it junk mail? Toss it. Is it a magazine from last month? Toss it. Is it an overdue bill? Toss . . . um, go write the check. (And maybe sign up for online payments so you don’t get bills in the mail.)
Perhaps you’re reading this in the bedroom and you have piles of clothes on the floor. Pick up that shirt on top of the pile. Is it dirty? Put it in the laundry basket. Not dirty? Hang it up.
Did you do whatever you saw in front of you? Good. Now, do it again. Then again. Go ahead. We’ll wait for you.
. . . . .
Obviously, this exercise is to get you started on your decluttering journey. It won’t get you finished. But you’ll never reach the finish line until you begin. So begin where you are.
Now That You’ve Started
To help continue the journey now that you’ve begun, try the PLACE method. PLACE is an acronym for Purge, Like with like, Access, Contain, and Evaluate. You can read more about putting everything in its PLACE here.
And if you really want to get serious and make real progress, use The Organizing Excelerator. The Organizing Excelerator consists of ten areas where organization is beneficial: Home, Office, Personal, Financial, Paper, Time, Clutter, Storage Areas, Computer, and General. Each area has ten principles, strategies, and actions to help you become better organized in that area. You can download your free copy here.
I’ve heard downsizing called the “ultimate decluttering” tip. It doesn’t apply to all of us, but for those of us considering a move to a smaller place, it can really jump-start the process. For my family and me, it was a good time to get rid of things we no longer needed as well as items we never used. We did it through a huge yard sale, giving mementos to other family members, donating piles and piles to various charities, and throwing out even more piles.
If downsizing is something you’re thinking about for the near future, don’t wait to begin planning. The time to start is now, before you are ready to move. When the time to move arrives, getting rid of a lifetime of clutter may be overwhelming.
A Journey, Not a Destination
Where are you on your decluttering journey? You may be like me and most of your work and living spaces are relatively clutter-free but your electronic files are a mess. (I’m working on that!) Or you may be like Maya with years of possessions that no longer “spark joy” (if they ever did) and that are holding you back from the life you want to live. Perhaps you’re the person I was addressing above who doesn’t even know where to start. Or how. Or maybe you’re at that stage in your life where you are seriously thinking about downsizing.
Wherever you fit on the spectrum, remember that a decluttered life is a journey, not a destination. It isn’t a one-and-done operation. But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Once you decide where to start decluttering and begin your journey, you are on the way to becoming well-enough organized and able to find what you need when you need it. And
that, my friend, is one step in embracing your Excelerated Life™!
How could being well-enough organized benefit you in this stage of your life?
What area could use a little (or a lot!) of decluttering?
What step could you take today to get started?
Share your comments by leaving a post below.
Excelerated Organization™ — being clutter-free and well-enough organized (able to find what you need when you need it) — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.
[*] “Maya” is not her real name, of course. The name and other identifying information have been changed.
Christian, Rachel. “Downsizing For Retirement: A Step-by-Step Guide.” RetireGuide®. RetireGuide LLC, June 5, 2023. Web. August 12, 2023.
Locker, Melissa. “8 Easy Steps to a More Organized Home.” AARP. AARP, January 12, 2023. Web. August 12, 2023.