Unclutter Your Life

Is clutter creating chaos for you? Learn simple ways to declutter your home.

Is your abode as fit as your abs? Whether you live in a tiny apartment or a spacious house, maintaining a clutter-free home is a lot like keeping your body in shape. Both require an ongoing commitment to staying streamlined, as well as an effective maintenance program.

If you’re not used to getting rid of clutter, it may seem like an uncomfortable process at first. But once you start seeing positive results, that will change. Living in an uncluttered environment can improve your fitness career and your personal life, so you’ll be motivated to stay clutter-free.

Take Time for Decluttering

The process of getting uncluttered, as opposed to maintaining an uncluttered environment, is like the difference between losing excess weight and staying trim. Getting there and staying there each take a different kind of commitment, effort and time. In fact, when it comes to decluttering and getting organized, there are two types of time.

Project time is what you spend to get out from under your existing accumulations.

Maintenance time is the time you need to invest on a daily or weekly basis to maintain your clutter-free state. Maintenance time is a concept that many people resist. There’s a childlike belief that once a closet is cleared out or a desktop is decluttered, it should magically stay that way. Of course it won’t, any more than a body will stay fit without regular exercise once a desired weight is achieved.

Neglecting maintenance time actually creates the need for more project time, because when things aren’t maintained they eventually cease to function and/or become an unsightly mess. You could say your clutter actually represents a visible manifestation of uninvested maintenance time. So which do you prefer: devoting a few minutes each day to dealing with incoming clutter (think “8 Minutes in the Morning for Daily Decluttering”) or spending days burrowing through your backlog?

Perhaps you’re at a point where you need to do both. If your living space has become overloaded with too much stuff, it’s like an overweight client: You need to help your “heavy” home lose weight, but in a healthy way. As with crash dieting, massive clutter purging may show temporary dramatic results—like those you see on makeover TV shows; however, in the long run it’s often more effective to follow a carefully thought-out plan to change your clutter-causing habits.

Adopt a Clutter-Free Mindset

The good news is, if you already have the self-discipline to keep your body fit and strong, you probably also have what it takes to achieve a clutter-free mindset and an uncluttered life. Here are 10 key ways you can use both your physical and mental muscles to get—and keep—your living space in shape.

1. Take Time to Make Time. Daily, make it a part of your routine to schedule brief blocks of time for processing household paperwork (including bill paying, correspondence and filing) and putting things in order. Weekly (or more often), sit down with your calendar or time management system and your “to do” lists and allocate time for the projects you want to accomplish over the next week.

2. Set Up a Workspace. Choose an area that’s comfortable for working on ongoing projects and maintenance. If your space is very limited, you can create a portable home office setup with a lap desk and a file box. They can be used in conjunction with the kitchen or dining room table, which in many homes are the most popular places to do paperwork.

3. Make It Easy. Put frequently used items in convenient places. Instead of storing supplies only where they fit best, locate them close to where they are most often used. Get rid of things that don’t work well and replace them with products that are easy to maintain and a pleasure to use. Set up a simple paper flow system to give you an easy place for temporary storage of active papers. It’s also important to make it easy to discard things quickly, so treat your wastebaskets like babies—keep them within close reach at all times, feed them frequently and “change” them often.

4. Practice Making Decisions. Exercise your decision-making muscles as often as possible instead of putting off decisions “’til later.” For example, whenever you pick up a piece of paper, decide how you’re going to deal with it while it’s in your hand instead of putting it in a pile. When you remove an article of clothing, decide to put it where it belongs instead of leaving it somewhere else.

5. Establish an “In-Out Inventory Rule.” For each item that comes into your home (such as books, videos, CDs/ DVDs, clothing), another item of equal type should go out (to charity or resale). If you can get in the habit of following this maintenance rule for even one of your clutter categories, your stuff will be less likely to reach the stage of critical mass (or critical mess, as the case may be!).

6. Let Go of Clutter Daily. Each day, make a conscious effort to let go of at least one unit of clutter. The “unit” can be one item or one container-full; as long as you do it consistently, you’ll see results—just like with exercise. Remind yourself that the more stuff you choose to let go of, the less time you’ll need to spend on maintenance.

7. Fuel Motivation With Visible Results. Motivate yourself to get rid of clutter by creating noticeable results quickly: Begin by decluttering the easiest and most visible cluttered area or segment of your home. Seeing a positive change is energizing and can make you want to keep going.

8. Keep the Best; Let Go of the Rest. Clothing and accessories become easier to part with when you apply this rule: Only keep items that make you look good and feel good. So if it looks good but makes you feel uncomfortable, get rid of it; if it’s comfortable but makes you look bad, let it go.

9. Keep the Positive; Let Go of the Negative. If your clutter includes sentimental objects, here’s a rule to remember: Let go of anything that doesn’t touch you in a positive or poignant way. Don’t keep anything that makes you feel stressed or upset (unless you’re legally required to keep it).

10. Turn Can’t Into Can. The most important piece of clutter to let go of is the ’t on the end of the word can’t. When you catch yourself saying, “I can’t get rid of . . . ,” change it to “I can!”

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Harriet Schechter

IDEA Author/Presenter
Harriet Schechter is an internationally acclaimed organizing expert and the author of three books... more less
February 2005

© 2005 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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