I’ve learned a lot about myself during this extensive month of decluttering. The most important lesson is that holding onto stuff doesnt add value to my life–it actually is the complete opposite. On a daily basis, extra stuff drains my life. With a large family and everyone’s “things” that get shuffled around daily, I can definitely say that keeping the non-essentials around means I’m spending hours a week shuffling. Hours that could be spent doing real things–real living instead of feeling overwhelmed from clutter and piles looking for places to put things.
The things I’ve held onto over time just because I don’t want to make the decision whether I should keep it or rid of it just means I’ll be faced with those exact items and the same decision years from now when I’m decluttering again. I’ve learned to face the decision now and look into the future when I ask the question: Do I really want to hold onto this for another few years or get rid of it now? Is it really adding value to my life?
From my month of decluttering, here are some of the things I’ve learned.
1. Declutter with a Deadline:
I had been slowly decluttering kitchen cupboards and such since last fall. It was nice when I’d complete a task but the whole project was dragging on and daunting. With the new year and a strong sense of living a happier life if I could just finish the house’s decluttering, I set out to declutter the entire house in one month, January.
That goal (as real goals should be) excited me and scared me. Setting a short deadline meant two things: 1) I’d have to handle decluttering like my life depended upon it and 2) I’d have to break up the house into smaller, manageable bites.
And so I did. With all of my other tasks and January goals I knew that decluttering the entire house was January’s most important project. It came before most other hobbies. It came before other extracurricular activities. It would have to become my most important task each week, not only for me but for my family. Each week, I’d determine a handful of jobs I would accomplish that week. That list would then be plugged into my weekly calendar. Sometimes it would be plugged into the time slot that half of my girl would be in ballet classes, other times it was scheduled into bits here and there–before breakfast, after the kids were in bed, etc. If a job wasn’t completed by the next day, I’d immediately find another time slot in the week to fill it in.
Week by week I worked. Some weeks were more successful than others based on our daily activities and my energy level. Even when I had time set aside to work on a task and I wasn’t looking forward to it, I’d find a simple reward for myself after I completed that task in that moment, like turning on some good music to dance to afterwards or eating lunch when a task was completed. I was constantly reminding myself that if I could bare to get through the unfun piles and clutter for an hour, one day, when the house was all organized and decluttered, I’d live with more peace and joy in a more functional house. That idea pushed me to dig in over and over again.
Decluttering with a deadline also was quite successful with smaller deadlines I’d place on myself. For example, the dreaded basement that used to be organized and also served as a playroom/sewing room had, for months, become an unused wreck. I had been avoiding decluttering the basement and for good reason. It was absolutely overwhelming! To push myself to even get downstairs on one of the last weeks of the month (approaching my overall deadline), I consciously organized a play date with some of the girls little friends to take place right in the basement. I had one week to take the basement from an embarrassing wreck to something I’d be happy to enjoy with friends. Time was ticking and I had an immediate deadline.
So one really early morning with wool socks, a sweater, and something motivational to listen to, I tip toed down to the frigid basement to face my greatest fear. I was determined to work–without any interruptions–and work until it was completed.
And what magic! Just by facing the dreaded task and first thing in the morning, I gained more and more momentum minute by minute downstairs. I became more and more confident in my work and in my upcoming day. I began to make greater progress on the task at hand than I ever had expected to that day, just by facing it–no excuses. One by one as kids woke up and found me downstairs and saw our unused basement being transformed into a useful, functional space again, they jumped in and assisted. I will never forget the energy and excitement that morning. Everyone felt it.
That morning actually was so exciting that it led me to spend many more hours that week, of my own choosing, downstairs making the basement something I would eventually love. And happily, the play date came, space heaters warmed kids and adults, and our family has been enjoying our new “family room” in the basement every day since.
Kids and decluttering:
I’ve known over the years that keeping fewer, more creative toys for my kids was best. And this exercise in decluttering has only strengthened that idea. Asking the kids which stuffed animals they want to keep and letting them help in the decision process means they recognize that we as a family can’t keep everything, all the time. They value what does get to stay and understand that we are donating the other things to kids that may not have as much.
Now that bedrooms, closets, play areas, and the house is decluttered, continuing to train the kids (and adults) to be responsible with things they get out in the day by putting them away or in the trash/recycling becomes paramount. At the end of everyday, each of my girls oversees one room on the main floor of our house. They tidy and cleanup, remind their sisters that they should have put ___ away, and see the big picture, daily, of how it takes every person to keep up a home.
So here is what I envisioned for the house and worked on in the month in small, manageable tasks:
My Decluttered House Plan:
- Main living floor decluttered (kitchen, dining room, living room, kids’ art room):
- Unread kids’ books, worn out kids’ books, and unused toys–donated
- Adult books that have sat collecting dust that I sincerely will never read– donated
- College texts that I won’t ever refer to with my kids–donated
- Unused kitchen tools, random mugs, kids’ plates, tupperware, excess corningware and unused serving dishes–donated
- Cookbooks that I’ve never cooked from or I’m rarely drawn to–donated
- Art room supplies that we rarely use, kids’ activities that we are sick of, paper scraps, broken crayons, and some of the pile of my children’s art– donated or recycled
- Art and photos in frames switched out
- The most exciting and enticing series of books put out on the most popular shelf real estate
- The most used art supplies and tools made more accessible and in its own container
2. Bedrooms and closets decluttered:
- Kids’ rarely worn and exhausted clothes–donated
- Adult clothes that are too big or too small or that we rarely wore–donated
- Kids’ closets only holding ample hangers, some clothes, and a few personal activities and blankets on a shelf, and possibly a larger toy stored on the ground, like a doll house
- Our closet only holding our most worn clothes, a few hangers, and a few sweaters and pants folded up top. Regularly worn shoes organized below. Everything else cleared out.
- All dresser drawers contain only frequented clothing and accessories
- Less meaningful trinkets, unworn jewelry, etc, removed off of dressers
- Under beds cleaned out
- Random socks thrown away (the ones I’ve been holding onto forever in hopes of finding their match)
- Earrings missing their match thrown away, etc.
- Eliminate half of what is on every dresser top
Tomorrow I’ll reveal the new basement, my most prized decluttering project. And with that, I hope this post gives you a starting place for overcoming your decluttering fears, jumping in and turning your home into the space you’ve always wanted to be.
UPDATED: Here’s more on decluttering your basement– Decluttering: the Basement
the sleepy time gal