Way back in the day, spring cleaning was the chance to disperse of wood stove leavings and soot, hang the braided rugs over the clothesline and beat the dust and dirt out of them and use vinegar and newspaper to clean windows. Experienced housewives knew to work in one room at a time so the whole house wasn't thrown into confusion and there certainly were homes that only had 1 or 2 rooms. Clutter didn't seem to be a problem in the 19th Century, but today, it's as daunting as the cleaning process itself and statistically, we live in bigger homes with a lot more stuff.
One of the most important aspects of decluttering is decision making. Clutter is usually the result of deferred decisions, not knowing what to do with something so it gets put down instead of put away. Trying to make too many decisions in a single decluttering session can bring on a case of "decision fatigue." The point where our brains are tired from deciding what should go where or even what something's purpose in our life is. Making constant decisions is one of the reasons that decluttering and organizing sessions are best when kept short. I usually work in blocks of about 4 hours with clients but for the amateur declutterer, it's best to keep work time to an hour or less or broken up into mini-sessions.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- The pioneer housewife had it right when she committed herself to one room at a time. You can use spare cardboard boxes, laundry baskets, empty bins as well as garbage bags and recycling bins for your sorting project but have a box that is dedicated to stuff that needs to be relocated to other rooms and at the end of the session, disperse the items to their proper homes. Every time you leave the room that you are working on is a chance to get distracted in other areas of your home.
- Besides having a box or bin for relocating, have a box or bag dedicated to donations, shredding if you're working with a lot of paperwork or a bin of items to send back to their original owner. You may also find things to sell or consign or list on Freecycle.org. Facebook usually has local Freecycle or generosity groups, a great way to keep usable goods out of landfills.
- Be ruthless about the stack of magazines you haven't read in over 6 months, the clothes you haven't worn in a year or the craft project that you started ages ago.
- If your kitchen cupboards don't reach the ceiling, you probably have do-dads, vases, knick knacks and what not up there collecting grease and dust. More vases than you'll ever need? Ask your local floral shop if they would like to have some back, I've had success with them taking my excess.
- Go for low hanging fruit first, look around a room and pretend you have guests who have just called and are coming over in 10 minutes. What do you try to hide first? Is it worth stashing or trashing? If it went away, would you be truly sorry to see it go? If you put it in a cupboard or drawer, would you remember where it was in a month's time?
- Avoid the perfection trap, you're not trying to doll up your space for an elaborate glossy magazine photo shoot. You're trying to edit out the items that you have chased around for years but have never really loved enough to give a permanent home. You don't have to buy expensive containers and you don't want to try to live in an unrealistic setting that might look great but isn't functional.
- Include the kids! Some children have trouble throwing away their toys, even if they are broken or unusable. For instance, bath tub squirt toys that take on black mold inside. Encourage your child to give the toy a little memorial as they place their loved one in the trash. "Thanks for sharing so many fun baths with me. I know you're moldy & unsafe now but I'll remember you as a great toy" or "I'm sorry you're broken but we had a lot of fun together, thanks for playing with me". Taking a picture of your child with the toy before the send off will supply them with a forever memory.
So open the windows for some fresh air, vacuum behind and underneath everything and send stuff that you don't use, don't need, or don't love packing!
Julie Ulmer is a professional organizer who founded Minding Your Manor in 2005. Minding Your Manor assists those needing help with decluttering, downsizing, organizing, moving/relocating, productivity and hoarding disorder. Julie is a member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, the Institute for Challenging Disorganization and the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce. Please visit: www.mindingyourmanor.com or call 518-821-4682.
Looking for more tips to get your home shipshape? Julie Ulmer is hosting three personal enrichment courses at Berkshire Community College this spring.
Decluttering and Organizing Basics: 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 20, Berkshire Community College, 1350 West St, Pittsfield. Melville Hall, rm 213.
Downsizing with Boomers and Seniors: 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, April 14, Berkshire Community College, 1350 West St. Pittsfield, Hawthorne Hall, rm 109
Calming the Chaos: 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 8, Berkshire Community College, 1350 West St. Pittsfield, Hawthorne Hall, rm 109
To Register: Classes are $35 a workshop. Visit shop.berkshirecc.edu/Get-Organized_c_118.html to register.