By Mary Bart
Simply explained, clutter is anything that we have that does not bring us joy or does not add value to our lives. By decluttering, we free our lives of things that don’t matter for those that do. According to Donna Smallin, author of Clear the Clutter, the clutter in your physical surroundings also has the ability to clutter your mind and spirit. “Clutter can distract you, weigh you down, and invite chaos into your life. Clutter causes stress, and clutter is one of the main barriers of productivity. Clutter is anything that does not support a better you, even if it’s organized.”
Although decluttering is often a challenge, it is not impossible to do and the results can be very rewarding. Let’s meet a few people who will each share their top five decluttering tips with us.
Margaret has been a widow for going on eight years. She has learned to live alone in the home that she and her husband, Jean bought over 27 years ago. However, next year, Maggie, as her friends call her, wants to move into a nearby condo where it will be less work, closer to shops and within walking distance of the family doctor and pharmacy.
Not only is Maggie preparing emotionally to move on, she is now ready to start the process of decluttering her home and getting rid of things that her and Jean had accumulated over the years, some useful and some not. “My house is full of memories so I want to take my time and enjoy deciding what to do what all these things,” Margaret tells us. After much thought she was able to decides what her top downsizing priorities needed to be:
1) Establish realistic timelines and goals. As the old saying goes: “Plan your work and work your plan.” To feel a sense of accomplishment and progress quickly, try decluttering for 15 minutes each morning for seven consecutive days. Evaluate and, if you can, keep this pace or increase time spent to 30 minutes a day. Experts suggest that the key to making progress is tied to making decisions about your priorities. If you keep yourself focused on your chosen key tasks you’ll get the job done faster and more efficiently.
2) Tackle one area or one room at a time. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This same mind set should be used when attempting to declutter. It took time to acquire these items so it will likely take time to sort, properly re-organize, and toss. Decide what area or room will have your full attention until you are happy with the final result.
Start small, perhaps with a drawer or a shelf. If you work on too many areas at the same time, your sense of purpose and success will be lessened.
3) Purge duplicates. Have you ever asked yourself why you have three potato peelers, 10 spatulas and way too many flower vases? Perhaps it is because you could not find them easily or you simply forgot where you put them. As you sort through a room, make a pile of similar items. Then decide which ones you like the best and donate the rest.
4) Create a sorting system that suits you. Some people like the system of creating five categories: (1) Put Away (2) Donate (3) Mend /Fix (4) Recycle (5) Garbage. Using this method, you can more easily decide which items are useful, useless or meaningful. Others like the sorting system that puts all similar objects together. Think about a pile of frying pans, all your pairs of pants or all the red tops. Once the items are all grouped together, you can see clearly which are in the best shape, which are worn out, worth saving or simply not important to you any more.
The real key to developing a strategy is to think about what will help you move forward and what will work for you and your lifestyle
5) Free up surfaces. Furniture surfaces and countertops are catch-all magnets. Keeping them clear and clean is a big step forward. Ideally, they should house items you use every day: cutting board, toaster, kettle or the TV remote. By removing as much as possible from these surfaces, you show yourself (and the world) that everything is in order and has a place in your home.
Meet the Singh family
Robin and his wife Stefanie are busy raising two young teenagers and providing care for their aging parents. Their home seemed to be shrinking with each new hobby, sport or fashion trend and they began to worry that a) they wouldn’t have room if one of their parents needed to move in, and b) there was going to be an accident or a fire with the piles accumulating on the stairs, near the doorways and on kitchen counters. Each family member began to feel overcrowded and disorganized. The mess had started to take an emotional toll on everyone.
As Stefanie says: “This house is weighing me down, we have too much stuff and we don’t need or want it all.” Finally, after a serious discussions and a few productive conversions, they voted to re-claim the basement and garage as useful extra spaces for TV, working out and, in the case of the garage, storing new bikes, camping gear and garden tools.
It turned into quite the team effort to get rid of the piles of claptrap that had grown and spread out over years. Here are the five Singh family rules that helped them tackle their own house and that of their parents as well.
1) Make your storage spaces beautiful and practical. Gone are the days when we stored our items in cardboard boxes and rusty tins. Now there is a wide variety of storage containers that are not only pretty but practical. Some complement décor or offer see-through storage bins with labels. Others are made of cloth, plastic and woven materials.
Again, the family chose to look for similar items and pack them up all together. For example: cleaning products, winter coats and sports equipment can be put into easy-to-find zones. Seeing like items together can also stop you from buying more of the same thing. Looking at each space with a creative eye is wise. How could hooks, door-mounted shoe racks or hanging jewelry bags be used for a variety of purposes? If you think outside of the box, your storage solutions can be functional, fun and pretty fabulous.
2) Ask for fresh eyes. Letting go of items can be hard, so ask for help from family or trusted friends. What do they see? What is their first impression of your home and your rambling life? When decluttering becomes overwhelming or you are pressed by a deadline, think about hiring a professional organizer or downsizing expert. Guaranteed, if you can afford it, working with a professional will be less painful than tackling everything on your own.
3 Frequent tosser. Clutter often happens without us noticing it and without our approval. Suddenly things often get messy again. Accept that decluttering will never end and it will always be a constant battle to keep clutter to a minimum. Know that even after you have organized a room or area, it will get cluttered again. Pick bad weather days to tackle small areas as “mini-decluttering” opportunities.
4) Family heirlooms or not? What can you do with those special keepsakes or family heirlooms that have been given to you but don’t really fit your style and plans right now. How do you decide what to not keep—guilt free!
• How does the item make you feel? Do you expect to feel the same 1 year from now?
• Does it make you smile, give you a sense of connection or bring you peace?
• Do you have the space to store it?
• Would a family member, friend or charity want it or use it?
• Would it be worth selling to help solve a financial issue?
• Would the person who gave it to you be pleased that it will find a purpose in a new home?
If you decide to keep an item, find creative and fun ways to display it or store it properly. Try showcasing old war medals or a travel destination spoon collection in a wall mounted memory box. Digitally store and share old photos. Wedding dresses and religious outfits such as baptism dresses should be dry clean-ed and stored in either moth balls or cedar chests.
No matter what you decide to do, these special items usually require extra thought and consideration as you decide if you’re still willing to dust, clean and sort them year after year.
5) It sometimes takes two. Decluttering can be lonely, boring and slow going. Inject fun by taking before and after pictures and sharing on social media. For further motivation, find a buddy who is doing the same thing in their own home. Decide whether morning, afternoons or evenings are best for each of you and zoom while you work. Share some sorting tips and then celebrate online when the day’s job is done.
Remember: try to have a little fun on your clutter clearing journey. Be patient with yourself and others during the process and keep your eye on the end goal…. A bit more space and a whole lot more freedom. Not only is decluttering liberating in so many ways, it gives you back control and permission to explore, create new memories and enjoy new life experiences.
Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an internet-based charity that offers education and support to family caregivers.
Getting rid things that are no longer of value honours who we are today by reflecting our current interests, habits
and lifestyles. It also:
1)Brings us a sense of accomplishment and control.
2) Gives us space for things we value.
3) Saves us the stress, time and frustration of looking for things.
4) Allows us to see what we already have so we don’t waste money buying more of the same.
5) Confirms which items bring us joy and are worth keeping.
6) Makes our homes safer and healthier places to live.