Is clutter costing you your dream?
Are you ready for the next big event in your life? Not surprisingly, opportunity and change comes after preparation. When we’re busy managing our stuff, we can often be distracted from seeing the possibility of new paths leading us to our dream.
Beginning the process of decluttering and downsizing can put you in the driver’s seat of your life. Decluttering and downsizing can help you answer the tough questions that can lead you to what you’ve always been looking for.
This article will help you with the following:
- How to get started
- The hidden cost of clutter
- The difference between decluttering and downsizing
- How to donate in the best way possible
- Tricks to keep up with your progress
- How to avoid storage mistakes with 10 ways to store better
HOW TO GET STARTED
Any motivational speaker will tell you that you need to know your “why”. Why have you decided that today is the day to start owning your space and your things? This will help you set a vision for your space. In other words, what do we want from the space and how do we want it to function. When we know where we are going we can start to eliminate the things that don’t help us get there.
What State of Life are you in?
We are all somewhere on a timeline of how our life is unfolding. Maybe you are starting a family (Addition). Maybe you are sending your kids off to school (Subtraction). Maybe you are looking to reinvent your surroundings in a new stage of life (Addition and Subtraction).
This is where setting a vision for your space is very helpful to keep your efforts on point.
Ask yourself, “What is the intention of this area?” “How do I want it to function?” Every time you add something new, quickly review those questions and see if they align with your vision.
The Hidden Cost of Clutter
People have upwards of 60,000 thoughts per day. Unfortunately, experts tell us that most of them are negative leaning. Clutter comes with a subliminal cost. When your space is not clean we add to the pile of negative thoughts about our life, our home, what we are capable of getting done in a day.
When your environment is a reflection of things you enjoy and you know how to keep your space functioning efficiently – it will bring you happiness. Positive thought patterns will automatically be created and you will be connected to what is possible. We are also more apt to invite new people and events into our lives when we have a clean environment. In addition, you are staging yourself for new opportunities, moving forward, implementing ideas quickly, and reaching higher levels of productivity.
This is all possible when you are not consumed with the management of clutter. Rather than being a servant of your space, you instead create a space that serves you.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DECLUTTERING AND DOWNSIZING
Decluttering = Removing from the space (cleaning)
Downsizing = Making the space smaller (deliberate living)
These two terms are different, yet work together. The place to start is decluttering. When you have a clean and clear area you can move forward to the most important aspects in your life.
Decluttering one small space at a time will lead to another and give you the skills to tackle bigger projects in the house. Here is an easy first step, using a funny acrostic called: T-I-D-Y
T – Throw away all trash
I – Inventory items. Take everything out of the drawer or off the counter. What works stays or gets relocated to its original home. What doesn’t work goes in the trash.
D – Dishes and dirty laundry…get those in the sink or laundry machine.
Y – Yuck. Disinfect, Dust or wipe down the area…it’s been a while. Make sure all the crumbs are out of the drawer and no dust, grime, or germs are on the surface of the counter.
As you declutter a major question to revisit is, “What is this area intended for?”
When you answer this simple question you realize a desk is for work. A nightstand is for a light and maybe holding a book. The kitchen table is for you to gather with the ones you love.
When decluttering gets hard…ask yourself, “What is this space intended for?”, and then start with the acrostic T-I-D-Y. It will lead to great habits!
When we move from one stage of life to another it is important to take it on as an opportunity to reinvent your wonderful life. If you are not ready to take on your new steps this way you could fall into the trap of being sad or slow to progressing into your next stage.
Downsizing, for whatever reason, is a chance to ask yourself what you want from your new stage. Is this the time to make a little nook to read or write? Is it time to throw away your industrial size mop because you don’t have to clean up after kids anymore? Is it an opportunity to buy really nice linens because you only have one bedroom to think about?
Downsizing is a rebirth! Time to reinvent! Time to be charitable with things you no longer need! Time to feel light hearted because you have time to create a new you. You are no longer managing your old responsibilities but can now be involved in creating something new!
Donating can be a big part of downsizing. Make sure you are doing it the best way possible. The IRS has set limits and guidelines for tax write-offs. You will also want to make sure the items you are donating are usable and in good condition. Another way to feel good about the things you are giving away is to give them to the right organization. As mentioned in different sections, formal clothes can be given to a local theater’s costume department or an organization that helps teens go to prom. Formal outfits for younger kids can be given to churches so children can get dressed up for formal sacraments.
One man’s trash is another’s treasure. You can go the old fashioned route and have a garage sale or you can jump into the jet stream of selling your things fast and usually at a higher value, online. By using things like Facebook Market Place, Craigslist, Frontdoor, and other platforms, you can manage your items from your phone and quickly see what you can sell from your growing mound of things that need to go. Remember good pictures are a big help here, so take a couple of extra minutes to showcase your items well. If you have multiple things that are similar, like dishes, kids toys, linens etc. consider selling them together in what is called a capsule or a lot.
EVERYTHING IN YOUR HOME HAS AN EMOTIONAL VALUE
When you look around your home, notice that everything in the space has an emotional value. It is either special through a memory (high emotional value), furniture that is broken or is in some disrepair (low emotional value), something that has been gifted to you (external emotional value) or it could even be important paperwork that needs to be addressed (taxing [pun intended] emotional value).
When you are looking to take ownership over your space it is best to go from the lowest emotional value to the highest. By addressing low emotional value items first you can gain motivation and confidence in making decisions quickly. This will create a snowball effect that will help you address higher emotional value items.
WHAT TO DO WITH IMPORTANT THINGS YOU NO LONGER NEED
Repurposing and/or reassigning are two powerful tools in your decluttering or downsizing efforts. This comes after you decide something is not trash and you don’t feel like a generic donation will do the trick.
If items have come from someone that would most likely want it back (like a family antique that’s irreplaceable) – by all means call them first. It’s better to have a slightly awkward conversation about how you are decluttering/downsizing (and need to get rid of the item) than for someone to ask where Grandma’s antique dressing table went. However, if this is not the case then dive right in.
When you repurpose you are using an item in a different way or using the material to make something entirely new. Usually repurposing still keeps the item in your possession.
A wonderful example of this is a first responder’s uniform being made into a bag that can be used frequently. Not only does it get rid of a uniform, collecting dust, but it immediately becomes a conversation piece connecting the owner to others that have similar history or interest.
You can use this idea with baby clothes being made into a blanket or grandma’s old dresses, scarves and fur shawl becoming a treasure chest of dress-up items for little kids.
You can also repurpose furniture by giving it a new task. A credenza in the hallway can store wrapping paper, or crafting materials. This will also set a natural limit on how many things can be accumulated.
The trap to avoid when repurposing is the inclination to keep items that no longer fit in your vision of the home. Having the courage to let some things go is very important for resetting the vision of a space.
Reassigning can sometimes be more challenging because you are removing them from your home. A way to positively frame this idea is to understand you are not donating to a generic cause but reassigning the item to someone that will get the most enjoyment from the item.
A couple, that was downsizing, was able to pass on their fine artwork (and find joy in the process – very important) by gifting the pieces to a local Ronald McDonald House. These locations around the US are centers that make a home environment for families with children, receiving critical treatment, in the hospital. Without the RMH the family would otherwise incur large costs for housing and meals. It is also an environment where others are experiencing similar things so there is naturally a built-in support network. In the spirit of making the RMH more like a home, the couple felt wonderful about reassigning their artwork to the rooms of RMH.
GET MORE OUT OF WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE
Not everyone can run out to the store and make an entirely new aesthetic for their home. The process of setting a vision and understanding the purpose of your space does not always need extra money to implement. By starting with emptying a space and cleaning it you may find you already have everything you need. If that is not the case, there are sure to be easy and affordable ways to make changes. Sometimes dressers just need some new paint and handles to breathe life into your room. Other times it’s about selling items to make a budget possible for different items. Whatever the case is – don’t let finances slow you down. Set a vision and make a list of things you would like to change. This way you can set your subconscious to work on how to get the vision complete. You will be surprised to find out how new ideas or opportunities will come your way when you know what you need versus not starting because you don’t think you can get it done.
TO STORE OR NOT TO STORE – AVOIDABLE MISTAKES
If you are downsizing but not ready to relinquish your items a storage unit might be right for you. Temporary job opportunities, military relocation, study abroad, staying with family for the short term or even going on a sabbatical trip (where you know your return date) are all fantastic reasons to store your things.
Here are a few ways to make sure you don’t pay more than you need.
- How much room do you need?
- Measuring your largest items is an easy way to see just how small you can go.
- Do your research.
- Storage is a growing industry. There are usually deals for long term rentals to retain your business. You might even find price breaks at a storage unit on the outskirts of town as their land prices are cheaper.
- Pods/Vaults vs. Traditional storage. Pods and Traditional storage units have individual pros. Pods can be delivered to your home and you can move at your own pace. You can visually see just how much room you have left to use and they are taken directly from your home and delivered when you need them. Traditional storage can be accessed at any time. There are usually more size variations and you can add to them at a later time.
- When do you think you will be coming back?
- If you are storing your items for more than a year – your life will most likely look different. You may not need to furnish the same size home. Clothing might be out of style. Paperwork and files might need to be digital so you can have access to it even when away. Decorative items may no longer be your aesthetic. These are all things to think about when packing your home away in storage.
- Evaluate large items.
- Is it worth spending money to store larger furniture items? If you have expensive furniture or antique items this will be easy to determine. However, if you have furniture that can be easily replaced you may want to evaluate the cost of storing vs selling and rebuying when the time comes. Putting the money earned from selling your things in a savings account will ensure you have the funds ready for you when you are ready.
- Know what you are storing.
- Create a document where you can quickly see what is in your storage unit. By numbering your boxes and referencing that number in your document you can see what is in each box. Put a general description and then list the items. For example you can put #36 Kitchen, White Dinner Plates, Salad Plates and bowls. This way if you need to just access one box you will know where your items are. Make sure to line your boxes up, in order, where you can access them. If they are behind large pieces of furniture your efforts will be in vain.
- This is the time to be very aggressive in getting rid of items. Clothing not only will get dated while you are away but you are probably keeping the things you enjoy wearing the most with you.
- There are several resellers of gently used clothing. In addition to this option you can also sell your items online. If one item seems to be more trouble than it’s worth, consider combining your items into a “capsule” or “lot” to sell for a higher price. Either way, this is the time to comb over your closet and make some hard choices.
- For the items you decide to keep in storage it is important to get large vacuum-sealed bags as most items will eventually have moth holes and be unwearable by the time you bring them out of storage.
- Create storage space in your home.
- Tape off a section of your room that is the size of the storage unit. This will give you an idea of how much space you have to work with.
- Set box limits for each room and each individual. This works nicely for kids so they know that they get to store the same amount as siblings and it gives them some control in a situation where they have no control.
- Make a few boxes and put them in the space so you know just how many boxes you are going to have room for and don’t end up paying for boxes you can’t use.
- Make an extra set of keys
- Having an extra set of keys with you for your storage unit is a good way to remember where they are.
- Give a set to a close friend or family member. That way they have access to something if you should need it while you are away. It’s also a backup plan if you lose yours.
HOW DO YOU HELP KIDS COPE WITH CHANGE
Some of the best childhood memories come from traditions. What do we do when our surroundings are changing to help kids understand what is happening. First, it is helpful to understand different stages of development so we meet kids where they are mentally and give them the right things to think about. It is also important to remember that our kids just want to be with their families. Reassuring them that no matter what happens it’s your family that makes a space a home.
The four cognitive stages of childhood development, as identified by Jean Piaget:
Sensorimotor Stage: Birth through about 2 years. During this stage, children learn about the world through their senses and the manipulation of objects.
Preoperational Stage: Ages 2 through 7. During this stage, children develop memory and imagination. They are also able to understand things symbolically and to understand the ideas of the past and future.
Concrete Operational Stage: Ages 7 through 11. During this stage, children become more aware of external events, and an awareness of feelings other than their own. They become less egocentric and begin to understand that not everyone shares their thoughts, beliefs, or feelings.
Formal Operational Stage: Ages 11 and older. During this stage, children are able to use logic to solve problems, view the world around them, and plan for the future.
Using these stages as a tool, we can see that before 2 we just need to be sure kids have their basic routine stable and continued love from their family.
From 2-7 we can make sure that we build on their fun imagination and talk about all the great things we are going to discover in our new environment.
From 7-11 we have young people on our team. By sharing how you are feeling and listening to their concerns your kids will want to participate in the changes around them. Giving them concrete things they have control over i.e. how many boxes they can fill with their things, what color they want their new room to be or what exciting new things you are going to be able to do in your new space or adventure, you will limit anxiety and stabilize a sense of comfort. If the changes are hard for your kids – remind them that change is hard for everyone but it is really the only way we can experience new things in our life. Figuring out how to deal with change is a mental muscle we have to exercise as it is part of growing up. We can also directly address “hang ups” they may be having about the change. For example: leaving friends, teachers, sports by figuring out how to keep in touch with important people and replace experiences and environments in our new adventures.
From 11 on we are able to tap into real reasoning and chat with our family as a whole unit about the future and what the changes have in store for us. It is also important to address the “dips.” Those are the times that the change is going to be hard. Create a plan with your (pre) teens so they have tools to use when they are facing these dips or set up an environment that will help them preempt them. For example: Making sure you have an opportunity to say goodbye to important people and a way to stay in touch. Create a pen pal kit with stickers and fun markers and give it to a special friend. Make a food as a goodbye gift with a recipe card and ask the friend to send you a recipe card so you can make something from their home in your new space. Create a positive playlist on their phone. When packing it is important to stay upbeat. Playing sad music does not help keep our mind focused on the positive. Have ideas for when you land in your new space. We are going to have a fancy dinner (or their favorite take-out) on the floor. Have topics ready to chat about when meeting new friends. Have an icebreaker phrase they can use quickly to talk to you about how they are feeling. This way emotions are addressed immediately before they fester and are overwhelming or placed in the wrong outlet. Finally, stay busy! A busy mind is a happy mind
Bottom line: Giving kids small things to have control over will help with the process.
SETTING APPOINTMENTS WITH YOUR SPACE
Keeping your space clean and on point can be challenging. However, if you move from the idea of “working” (decluttering) to the idea of “seasonal preparation” (getting ready for the fun things coming) you can stay on top of what you’ve created.
Seasonal Preparation takes on different “hot spots” in your home and addresses their needs when you are spending the most time in that space.
In the Summer we are outside (focus on the backyard, storage sheds and garage), in the Fall we are cooking indoors (kitchen), Winter we are decorating and entertaining (community spaces), Spring we are closing out an academic year or doing our taxes (individual rooms, closets, office desks and files).
This can also be done with your RV on a smaller scale. Creating two times of the year will help orientate your focus on what your rig needs. Spring & Summer – getting the rig outfitted on the inside. Fall & Winter – getting a punch list of repairs completed and decluttering the inside – in order to get the rig ready for the upcoming travel.
Figure out the zones in your home and place them in your own Season Preparation Guide
Kitchen, Entry Way, Mud Room, Bathrooms, Windows (glass, sills and coverings), Baseboards, Community Spaces (Living, Dining, Game, Family Rooms), Sleeping Rooms, Craft Space, Laundry, Linen Closets, Garage, Carport, Shed, Backyard, RV, Boat, Storage Unit.
Spring Examples (March – May):
Spring is like a rebirth. The kids get to ditch all their paper trails from school. You completed last year’s taxes, spring is in the air and summer fun is on the horizon! Spring is a bigger cleaning section because it includes sleeping rooms, closets, office space, desk surfaces and drawers as well as files. Remember each of these Season Preparation cleaning sessions are over three months…taking on a few tasks each week makes it more fun. Just imagine these months could be the most liberating all year!
- Take all winter clothes that were not worn this year and donate or consign at resale shops.
- Hang the hangers backwards so you see what was worn and what needs to be donated.
- Add a donation box in your closet next to the laundry. This will make sure you don’t keep washing items that need to be given away.
- Review your undergarments. This is a time to refresh what is in the drawer and only keep what is worn and not worn out.
- Take a look at your shoes and donate what you are no longer wearing.
- Look through your linen closet and see if there are blankets or mismatched sheets that no longer work for your home or you are no longer using. Donating these items is extremely helpful and will declutter your space fast because blankets etc. are usually very bulky.
- Organize complete sets of bed linens and place them, folded, in the matching pillowcase. This will make for easy changes the next time you are ready for a clean set.
- Make dish cloths out of old or dirty towels. Towels that are “just in case” are often pretty gross and you wouldn’t want to use them on a regular basis. Throwing them away can cause some anxiety, because why replace what you already have? Cutting them into smaller towels and using them as “bar rags” is a clever way to repurpose the towel and feel okay about tossing it once it’s lived a second life around the house. You can also create a bin for washing your car or truck with these towels along with supplies. That way they are out of your linen closet and in the location where they are needed.
- Remove all items from your side table.
- Dust and disinfect the area…including lamps, the switch and their shades
- Only put back your most needed items (i.e. one book you are currently reading and your light)
- Set a small tray or decorative bowl or basket for things like watches, hair ties or chargers. This way the area is not cluttered but remains tidy.
- This is a good time to remember the question, “What is the purpose for this area?” Answer it and then take all the extra things and put them back in their proper place, discard or donate.
- Dust your bed frame and pull the bed away from the wall to remove all debris and dust hiding in the back.
- Evaluate anything that is being stored under the bed. Can it be eliminated, relocated or paired down? Only store suitcases (or large items) under the bed P.S. when coming home from a trip, it is important to make sure all things have been removed from the bag and the bag has been sprayed with disinfectant. That way you are not introducing airport/road trip germs into your bedroom.
- Clean your comforter
- If your washing machine is not big enough, consider going to a public laundromat. Their washers and dryers are industrial size and will make quick work for you. They may also have an assistant there that is happy to have you drop it off. Tip: using quilts takes less space and are easy to wash and hang dry more frequently. However, some fabrics cannot be treated this way. If that is the case, going to a “pay first” dry cleaner will save you cash on this chore and complete your bed linens for spring cleaning.
Desks, Office Space and Paperwork
- This is a great place to use TIDY and ask, “What is the purpose of this space?” When your workspace is clear of all clutter and has room on the surface you will feel more likely to use it for its intended purpose.
- Can you scan and create digital files?
- Are your organizational tools working? Is it time to create a new workflow?
Summer Examples (June – August):
Summer is traditionally a time to be outside, eat fresh food and enjoy the warm climate. This is the perfect time to dig out all the treasures in your garage, storage shed and any outdoor living spaces. That way, when the first warm day hits you are ready to bask in the sun and not feel overwhelmed by the space.
- Spray off decks
- Restack firewood in a clean location
- Clean outdoor furniture (including cushions) and discard any decorations that didn’t storm the winter weather.
- Empty garage and sweep/spray out. This is the time to use Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Bonanza, eBid etc. to get rid of the items you have collected throughout the year. Having a bin in the garage for donations is a great idea to keep things moving out of your indoor space.
- Make zones. The summer will bring everyone outside, but at the end of the day it’s nice if kids and family know where to put things back. A simple bench or low stool next to a basket for balls, shoes or toys is helpful to show where you want things placed. For smaller kids, you can have them use sidewalk chalk to make a “parking space” in the garage for their bike or scooter. They can even design a sign to hang on the wall that designates their spot.
- Get your BBQ or smoker in working order. This will promote easy dinners and fun outside.
- Throw away pool toys that are falling apart. You don’t want pool noodles that are shedding in your pool.
- Create a schedule for yard work. That way it’s not such a drag…everyone in the house can take a turn.
- Schedule a party. There is nothing better than having guests over to help you fine tune your space. It gives you a deadline and a critical eye of what needs to be done.
Fall Examples (September – November):
This might be the biggest cooking season of all! It’s also a time when kids go back to school and the kitchen becomes a hub. Thanksgiving, school and work lunches along with backpacks, purses and incoming paperwork. Time to get this kitchen running smoothly.
- Clean junk drawer – we all have one…time to use TIDY to clean that space.
- Create a drop zone. When everyone comes in from their new fall schedule they will have things that need a place. Creating a basket system or otherwise so everyone knows where to put/sort their items will help create order in a busy area.
- Pull out all your pots and pans and clean the cupboard. Do you have duplicates that you no longer need?
- Pull out all your baking equipment and clean the cupboard. Remove items that you no longer need.
- Open all your drawers, clean out debris (now is a good time to line the drawers if they are not) Put back only what you need. Remove duplicates
- Holiday Inventory: What pans and platters will you be using for the holidays? Are they clogging your kitchen? Pack them up in a storage bin and relocate them to the garage or shed. If you end up needing them they are keepers, if not, it may be time to donate.
- Create zones in your fridge. That way the family knows just where to go for items and where to help put away things from the grocery store.
- Pretend your house is on AirBnB and create a kitchen that has exactly what you need (nothing more) exactly where you would reach for it.
Winter Examples (December – February):
This is a time where we are enjoying our community spaces the most. Your living, dining and family room are on display and you might even be hosting guests. Now is the time to focus on these hotspots and make them shine.
- Pull out all the furniture and vacuum and clean under them.
- Pull off all the cushions and find some treasures…make sure to clean while you are there.
- Replace or remove broken, worn out or torn items. It’s better to have fewer things than items that make you feel like your space is falling apart.
- Dust and then dust again. Remove everything from shelves and only put back what really deserves to be there.
- Use only the holiday decorations you love. The rest stay in the box. If you don’t feel the need to go and retrieve them during the season they need to be donated (or given to the next generation) immediately before you change your mind.
- Depending on the age of your family, this might be the year you move to collecting memories and not things. Going on a trip instead of stuffing stockings could be just what your family needs.
WAYS TO GET RID OF THINGS YOU DON’T NEED – SPEED ROUND
- A year in advance to downsizing, or otherwise…start to take on sections of your home. Reference Seasonal Preparation to get ideas.
- Turn all your hangers around to see what clothes you actually wear.
- Thin out your kitchen by taking out rarely used items. Box them and keep them in the garage. If you don’t go to use them you don’t need them.
- Create a time capsule. If you don’t know if you can get rid of something…put it in a box, tape it up and put a date on in. If you didn’t go in the box it can be dropped off at Goodwill or the likes of.
- Stage your house. This is a common practice when selling your home. Make it look clean and easy to move into. This will force you to look around and edit decorations, worn-out items and bulky things clogging your closets.
- Create seasonal storage in the garage or in a shed. If you don’t use the items that season – it goes! This works great at Christmas. If the ornaments/decorations don’t come out of the box they go to your favorite donation site.
- Timeshare your items. This is a lighthearted way of saying that multiple households can share certain items. For example, lawnmowers or other large equipment, specialty baking pans, age-appropriate toys…getting passed from one family and back to another, cribs and strollers, even large items like boats and RVs.
Having what we need, when we need it, in the place we want it – is the best tool to staying productive, with the time we have. Decluttering and/or downsizing helps refocus on what we have – giving a sense of gratitude. Decluttering a drawer or downsizing a house can be equally challenging…but starting somewhere is the most important step!