Steps to Declutter

An 8 Step Process That Can Be Applied to Pretty Much Any Decluttering Project

The steps to declutter outlined here are designed to help you get organized and stay organized. 

Step One: Decide

The hardest step in the decluttering process is the first one: deciding to do it!

Why is deciding the hardest of the steps to declutter?

It all comes down to that dreaded 'p' word: procrastination. Most of us want to get organized, but we often spend more time thinking of reasons why we can't do it right now than on deciding and doing.

Chances are, if you're reading this page you've already made the important decision to declutter. If so, good for you! You'll be glad you did.

Step Two: Set a Date

As with any goal, setting a date will keep you on task and motivated. Someday rarely ever comes, so it's easy to avoid things scheduled to be completed at this nebulous point in time.

Look ahead to upcoming events and let them serve as your motivation to put things in order.

Do you have guests coming to stay with you in a couple of months? Now's the perfect time to put together that guest room you've been dreaming of. Is your neighborhood hosting a garage sale in a few weeks? Start preparing now to take advantage of this opportunity to clear away the clutter.

If nothing obvious presents itself, create your own motivator. Plan a party or family gathering! It can serve as the inspiration you need to keep you moving through the steps to declutter as well as a celebration of your success!

Step Three: Start with the Big Picture

Planning is one of the most important of the steps to declutter. Start by grabbing something to write with and something to write on. Then take a tour of the space you're planning to tackle. Think about your lifestyle and the room's ideal use, keeping in mind that you're ideal use may differ from the room's current use. That's OK. You're looking at the big picture right now and that means not only seeing the space as it is, but as you'd like it to be.

Try not to limit yourself with labels such as dining room or office. Rooms can, and often do, serve multiple purposes. The best way to utilize your space is to look for creative ways to maximize its potential. Have you always wanted a designated craft space? Now's the time to identify your ideals and look for ways to achieve them.

One of the main contributors to clutter is storing things where they don't belong. Often people put things where they think they should go rather than where they use them. This means that in order to use an item you have to go get the item from where it's stored, bring it to where you intend to use it, and then take it back to where it belongs when you're finished.

The problem is things frequently don't make it back to where they belong. Instead, they end up littering the space where they were used. Why? Because transporting them back to their 'proper' home is a pain.

For instance, if the dining room table is your family's favorite spot for playing board games, then the basement family room or your child's upstairs bedroom are not good places for storing the board games. Where is the best place? The dining room, of course, because that is where you use them.

It may take a little reprogramming to wrap your head around the concept of storing non-dining related items in the dining room, but you'll soon see the wisdom of this method (known as point of use or ease of use storage).

When the place where an item is used and the place where said item is stored are located within a few easy steps of each other things are far more likely to be put away.

By determining the desired function of a room and identifying what 'things' support that function, you can prevent clutter before it even happens! Which leads us to the next of our steps to declutter...

Step Four: Get Rid of the Stragglers

Now that you've determined how you will use the space, it's time to eliminate everything that does not support the room's function. This is perhaps the easiest of the steps to declutter.

Let's use the master bedroom as an example. If your ideal functions for this room are sleeping, dressing/grooming, and reading then any items not related to those three functions should be relocated to a new home. They'll be happier in a room better suited to their purpose, and you'll be happier in a decluttered space.

Step Five: Assess What's Left

The next step in the steps to declutter is to look at the things that remain in the room and determine how best to store them in order to maximize their functionality and minimize clutter. Make a list of the different storage areas within the room (drawers, closets, cupboards, etc.) as well as a list of the things (jewelry collection, CD's, and so forth) that need organizing.

Step Six: Work in Chunks

It's easy to get overwhelmed or frustrated if you try to tackle too much at one time. You're more likely to see progress, and thereby feel encouraged, if you break big jobs into smaller, more manageable tasks. You don't have to sort through an entire room in one afternoon.

Instead, set a goal to clear out your dresser. Every time you open a newly arranged drawer you'll be inspired by its pristine order. Let that inspiration motivate you to tackle the next part of the project a few days later.

Start with the problem spots, those areas in the room that cause the most irritation or stress, and gradually work your way through the various segments of the space. Before you know it, the entire room will be clutter-free and functional.

Step Seven: Celebrate Your Success!

Take pictures of your newly ordered space. Reward yourself with a rare treat such as lunch out with friends, a date with your sweetheart, a manicure, or a massage...whatever makes you feel special. Congratulations! You've earned it. :)

Step Eight: Maintain

The last step is perhaps the most important of all the steps to declutter.

Once you've successfully arranged you're space using these steps to declutter, there's just one thing left to do - keep it that way! More on that concept later...

When it comes to getting your home in order a systematic approach will give you the information you need to make inspired decisions about what to store as well as where to store it. 

Efforts to clear away the clutter that do not take these factors into consideration really do little more than tidy up the space. As we all know, things get untidy all too quickly! 

Take the time to think through these simple but effective steps to decluttering as you tackle your organizing projects and you're sure to succeed!

Additional Tips:

  • Set a timer - It's easy to get caught up in an organizing project. Before you know it hours have passed and you've got stuff strewn all over the place. You don't want to quit, but you're too tired to continue. Instead, try setting a pocket timer for one hour. Knowing your time is limited will keep you on task.

Working in small increments will help you keep things in perspective and avoid overdoing it.

  • Declutter with a buddy - Working with a partner can provide support and also make the job more fun, but be sure to pick the right partner. Choose someone you know you can trust to be firm but understanding, someone who will be honest with you and help you make the sometimes difficult decisions about what to keep and what to part with.

  • Utilize down time - Take advantage of opportunities to organize, while you're waiting on hold on the telephone or watching TV for instance. These are perfect times to sort through the contents of a drawer or tackle some other quick and easy task. A few minutes a day goes a long way. Make the most of your minutes.
  • Minimize distractions - Choose your one hour blocks of time when you know you won't be interrupted and then limit outside distractions such as phone and family.

Recommended Reading

For more information on the basics of decluttering, check out the following:

Keep these important steps in mind as you begin setting goals for decluttering and continue to review them in order to maintain the order you create.

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