If one of your goals is to ring in the New Year by making a clean sweep through your space, you are in luck! We’ve assembled some tips for making the process fun, easy, and doable! And for those of you who just read those last two sentences and groaned, there is a good bit of research and antidotal evidence that shows that living with clutter can zap your productivity and your joy. And since we can all use more energy and joy, why not join us!
I grew up with a mom who intuitively knew how to make a house a happy place to be and I wanted to pass that love on to others. Always the consummate researcher, I looked for “evidence” that clean organized houses make for happier people. I was surprised to find both psychological research and ancient systems backing up what mom had always known. I developed a practice I called my give-back work. I didn’t charge much, if anything, for helping people clear the physical and emotional clutter from their space and their lives. My reward came from helping people live joyfully in their homes. After working with hundreds of clients, I found the biggest obstacles people had to living happy lives was clutter. Clearing the clutter had amazing results – children performed better in school, marriages were happier, work seemed easier. I told my students and clients to try it. It sure couldn’t hurt and they might be amazed by the difference it made in their lives.
When I talked about clutter in my classes, I would ask students to imagine their house as a plexiglass box. I would have them fill their imaginary houses about a third of the way full with packing peanuts. That one-third represents all the stuff that we need, use, and wear on a regular basis. Now, let’s drop in a ping-pong ball for every member of your family. On one side of your imaginary house/box, there is a tube through which we can pump pure air into the house. The air we pump in represents our energy. When the house is only one-third full, the ping-pong balls can move freely around the house. The packing peanuts swirl out of the way, the balls bounce around the box and the energy flows.
Now, add second third of packing peanuts to the house. That second third of packing peanuts represents your clutter – the things you don’t use, no longer need, and the clothes you don’t wear but hang in your closet, are crammed in your drawers or piled up in your room. What happens to the ping-pong balls? They become stuck, stagnant and no longer move. That is what clutter does to us. It saps our energy and stops us in our tracks.
Our homes are supposed to be a sanctuary from life, a respite, and a place of joy. When we fill them with clutter, they become everything but! We look around and want to make a change but when our energy is low, it feels nearly impossible to get started. When the clutter feels overwhelming and we don’t know where to begin.
Here are a few tricks to help you get the process moving:
1. Start small. Don’t tell yourself and your family you are going to spend the entire weekend clearing the clutter in your home from top to bottom. For many people saying, “We are going to clear out all the clutter from this house!” feels like a daunting task that will never get accomplished. And, your help will run for the exits. Pick one small task in one area of the house and stick with it. Choose something like the drawer in the kitchen that you are always rummaging through but can’t ever find anything in or the top of your daughter’s dresser that you can accomplish in a set amount of time.
2. Make an appointment with yourself. Tell your family and friends. Write it on your calendar. Plan an appropriate amount of time for the task and stick with it until it is finished. Turn off your phone and put on music so you can stay on task.
3. Take what you need with you and don’t leave the area you are decluttering until you are done! You will need a trash can, a box for items that go in other areas of the house and a box for things that you are moving on. When you find something that doesn’t belong in the area you are working on put it in one of the boxes or the trash. Do NOT leave the area, thinking I’ll just go put this away and come back. You won’t. You will get distracted and start cleaning another room, decide you need a cookie or a sandwich or your kids will decide THEY need a sandwich or a cookie and your decluttering efforts will be derailed again
4. Take everything out of the drawer, off the shelf, or off the top of the dresser you are working on. As you put each item back ask yourself these three questions:
Do you love it?
Do you need it?
Do you use it?
If the item serves a purpose in your life, if it is useful, or it fills you with joy, keep it. If you can’t answer yes to one of those questions, if you are working for the item instead of it working for you, then it is time to move it on.
5. Put things that don’t go in the drawer, on the shelf, or on top of the dresser you are clearing in the other place box. Put things you are moving on in the Moving On box and anything broken, empty, or done goes into the trash.
6. If you need to, think about ways that you can make the space work more efficiently. Do you need drawer dividers? Is this the best place to keep certain items or would they make more sense somewhere else? Employ the zip code rule. In our house, we keep everything that belongs together in the same “zip code.” For example, tools belong in the garage. We don’t keep tools in the bathroom, the family room, the kitchen and the garage. We might use them in those places but when we’ve finished a task or a project the tools we use go back to their zip code. Find the best place for the things you use most often, tell everyone what zip code they belong in and make sure they get back there after they are not longer needed.
7. When you are completely finished with the small space you started on, take the Other Room box and put everything in it away, in the place it belongs. Take the Move On box out to the garage and put it in a designated area for things you are going to move on when you have accumulated enough for a trip to Salvation Army. And take the trash to the trash.
8. Now reward yourself with a treat that goes away! Do not go buy more stuff! Go get a cup of your favorite coffee. Call a friend and tell them how good it feels to finally have that drawer cleaned out. Make a date with yourself to do the next space.
The process is simple. Keep tidying space until every room, closet, drawer and surface gives you an feeling of peace and joy when you look at it.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
Google “professional organizers"
”Believe it or not there are people who love to help others organize their space.If you’re overwhelmed and need help getting your clutter under control, there are people who can help.