When I started out decluttering/minimizing, I tried many methods, as you have probably seen if you’ve been following my progress on social media. I did a little of this and a little of that, and finally, as I’m finishing my entire home declutter, I’ve figured out my own method! So here’s the thing. What works for me may not work for you, or maybe parts of it resonate and the rest doesn’t. Great! Just like I’ve done with all of the methods I’ve tried, and what one of my good friends says to me all the time, “take the best and leave the rest”.
First things first. Figure out where to start! Marie Kondo starts with clothes. Joshua Becker starts with the easiest shared living space in your home. I say start with what gives you the most trouble on a regular basis.
For example, when you open your cupboard for a coffee mug first thing in the morning, do you find yourself muttering complaints under your breath about the cabinet being jammed full with a ridiculous amount of mugs? Or worse, does opening the cabinet start a chain of projectile Tupperware that somehow ends with you spilling your coffee, something breaking, and then stubbing your toe? Yes, I have been there. And maybe that cabinet is a great place to start for you, too!
Or maybe it’s your clothes closet. Or pantry. Or dining room table. Or mudroom? I personally think you should attack the area that will give you the most relief right away. Enjoy your newfound space in an area you use regularly, and get that boost of confidence to continue to declutter the rest of your home.
Ok, so we’ve picked our starting point. Now what do we do? This is what I have just figured out to be the easiest and quickest way to sort a space, and I’m excited to share it with you! Gather bins, boxes, laundry baskets, tubs… anything that can temporarily contain your things for sorting. Take a quick inventory of the space you’re about to declutter, and make a label for each bin! I’ve seen this done before and have used this method in the past, where you have a bin for keep, donate, recycle, etc. but this is a little different.
Let’s use the example of the coffee mug/Tupperware cabinet. One bin would be mugs. One bin could be plastic Tupperware (and lids). Another could be glass jars. And then Pyrex containers. You can be as specific as you want! Remember. This is just a temporary way to quickly sort and edit your things. The reason I like the bins instead of just emptying the cabinet out onto the counter (or floor) in piles, is that it is a foolproof way to keep like things together. It also creates a boundary for you, and allows you to see exactly how many mix-matched mugs you actually have, for example. I mean, if you fill up more than one bin or basket of mugs and there’s three coffee drinkers in the house, you might have more coffee mugs than you need to keep in that cabinet. Yes, I’m speaking from experience! On the other hand, if you’re constantly running out of Tupperware, you may find that you only have a few matching pieces and lots of missing lids. You’ve made it easy to see what you actually have, and not what you think you have.
How long will this take?
Good question. Each task is different, and it really depends on your energy level, both mental and physical. I have days I can knock out an entire closet or room, feel amazing, drop off all of my donations, take the sold stuff to the post office, and come back and do more! Other days I am overwhelmed by it all, and am lucky if I get through one drawer. So here’s my tip on time. Always set a timer for 20 minutes. You can adjust as needed for what works for you, of course, but 20 minutes is a sweet spot for me. Anything shorter doesn’t seem to give me enough momentum, and anything longer makes me feel overwhelmed and I burn out quickly.
Sometimes I pick a project I can complete in that time, and other times I use that 20 minutes to dive into an entire room declutter. What often happens is that because I’ve allowed myself to stop after 20 minutes, I get a lot done, feel pumped, and I hit repeat timer on my phone and keep going! Not every time though. Sometimes I get through a small drawer in 20 minutes, give myself permission to stop at the timer, and come back to it when I feel more energetic or motivated to do more. But I usually try to do *something* most days, even if it’s just clearing off my nightstand, for example.
So that didn’t really answer the question of how long it will take you, or how much time you should commit to this. But both of those things are going to be different for everyone and for every space. I highly encourage you to set goals for completing projects, but also be flexible. I have grossly underestimated the time it would take me to complete my whole home declutter, but it’s fine! I’m still going. I’ve made so many positive changes, and am feeling the benefits even more with each decluttering session. I’m also getting much, much better at it and plan to redo each area once I’m finished with this round.
What do I keep?
Whatever you want. Nope. That’s not a trick. Truly. Go through your things. Keep what you want to keep, and get rid of the rest. There are various schools of thought on this, but that’s my take on it. Love your elephant collection because it reminds you of your grandma and dad? Cool. Keep it all. Get frustrated every time you try to get a filing system down, and want to get rid of your filing cabinet for good? Cool. Get rid of it.
Yes, those are both examples of my stuff I’ve recently gone through. Yours will be different, of course. But you get the idea. Keep what makes you happy. Keep what you actually use. Display your memories in a way that makes you smile. Get rid of anything that doesn’t have a purpose in your home or life (like the broken mop, or platform shoes that you haven’t worn in 3 years). Get rid of things that don’t make you smile (you know the cheap decoration you bought in the Target dollar section on a whim)? Or even more so, if something causes you pain or guilt or has anything negative attached to it, let it go!
I’ll let you decide. This is your stuff, not mine. And while I’m on that subject, remember to only declutter your own things. Your family will hopefully see how amazing the house looks and feels and will start to follow your lead. You’ll have to help your young kids, of course. But leave your husband’s stuff alone (unless you’re doing laundry and come across his holy socks. I think those are fair game).
How do I organize it?
I don’t know. Ask The Home Edit! I’m definitely not an expert, but the one thing I’ve found to be a steady system for me is to contain your items. Create a boundary, and stick to it. So let’s go back to the bins in your kitchen with your coffee mugs and Tupperware. Now look at your empty cupboard. Figure out where you want your mugs to go, put only what fits there, and let go of the rest. Same goes for everything else. Find a good spot for your Tupperware and lids, and make sure it is enough to store things nicely without overcrowding. Then that’s your boundary. Don’t buy more if it doesn’t fit there.
Setting boundaries and keeping them are I think the simplest way to maintain our lifestyle of living with just what we need. I recently redid my capsule wardrobe and now I have exactly 27 hangers. I won’t add any pieces to it unless I take something away. I do have clothing in a bin that’s not in season and or not in my current capsule theme, but I’ve also created a boundary there and won’t add more than the current bin allows.
As for how to actually organize it? Also up to you. I do like Marie Kondo’s folding method for some things. And I like the clear bins for fridge and pantry storage like they use on The Home Edit. But ultimately I don’t think this matters much. If you have less stuff, you’ll need less storage solutions. If you like to keep things in boxes and baskets, cool. If you would rather just use your drawer or shelf as is, cool. I promise you that you will think you’ve found your perfect method and you will probably change it multiple times. It’s fine! It’s a process. Try to have fun with it.
What do I do with the discards?
I’ve struggled with this a lot. And here’s what it comes down to for me. If you have the time and patience to sell it, go for it. You can do this on fb marketplace, Poshmark, eBay, and various other places online. I’ve done all three of these, and there are definitely pluses and minuses for them all.
If you would rather donate your things, find a place in your area that aligns with your values. Covid has made this tough. At this point in my journey, I am giving away most things on fb or dropping at Goodwill. For clothing, I actually started a local swap, and we send anything that doesn’t get claimed off to ThredUP. You just create an account, print a label, and schedule a USPS pick up. The other benefit of this is that it’s an online consignment shop. I may get a few bucks here and there in store credit, but if the items don’t sell, they donate them, and if they can’t be donated, they recycle the items responsibly.
Let’s break it down…
- Start where you need it the most.
- Gather baskets/bins and label them temporarily for sorting these items.
- Set a timer for 20 minutes and start sorting into bins.
- Repeat until you’re done with this space.
- Keep what you want, get rid of the rest.
- Return what you keep to it’s new home, leaving space for future items.
- Stick to your boundaries.
- Re-home the discards ASAP. Don’t keep them in your home very long!
- Pick your next space and start from the top!