The Clutter Clearing Process

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Like I discussed in the first podcast, there’s more to clearing clutter than the physical act of getting rid of stuff. It’s very much about engaging your head + heart. I’m calling this a three-step “process” for lack of a better word, but really these are skills that you can strengthen the more you use them. In a nutshell, it’s about being honest and realistic, and then choosing with intention. Let’s break it down.

Step 1. Be Honest

The mental gymnastics we go through to convince ourselves to keep items we do not need or even really like never ceases to amaze me! Which is why I am asking you to begin by getting really honest with yourself.

How do you REALLY feel?

Being honest about your feelings does not have to mean you’re committed to keeping or giving away an item. In fact, I’ve come to realize that it’s our worries about making a permanent decision that can make us freeze up and refuse to admit our real feelings.

When you’re considering whether to keep something, here are a few thoughts that might run through your head:

  • I love this! Why did I ever stop using/wearing it?

  • I used to love this! I don’t feel the same way about it anymore, and that makes me feel a little guilty.

  • I don’t really like this, but just the thought of letting go of it makes me feel anxious and I’m not sure why.

  • I hate this, but it belongs to someone else in my household…and they love it.

  • This really isn’t my style, but it was a gift so I feel like I should keep it.

  • I don’t really care about this, but it was expensive and the thought of getting rid of it makes me feel anxious.

  • I don’t like this, but I have to keep it because I can’t afford to replace it.

  • I want to keep this, but it looks ratty/unstylish so I feel like I should get rid of it.

Give yourself permission to feel and think anything at all. If you find yourself having contradictory or confusing thoughts and feelings, don’t berate yourself — simply accept your feelings and move on.

Step 2. Be Realistic

Facing a mountain of clutter without knowing exactly how much of it you plan to keep is overwhelming, and frankly, is a recipe for disaster. So whether you are clearing out your clothes, books, toiletries, or pantry, it is essential to decide on a space limit. In my bedroom, for example, I have a rather petite vintage midcentury dresser with six drawers total, for myself and my husband. This means that the limit for my folded clothing is 3 drawers. 

Accept your space.

It is tempting to immediately think of buying new storage containers or furniture to house your stuff as a solution, but that would not be a solution. That would be adding more clutter to your home and not addressing the real issue at hand, which is too much stuff for the space you have available. Setting a physical limit makes it very clear how much stuff needs to go in order to have a comfortable, functional space. 

Get clear on your path.

Sometimes we hold onto things that made sense for the lives we were leading 5, 10 or 20 years ago, but that we simply don’t need anymore. Likewise, just because you’ve been living in a certain way, that doesn’t mean you must keep everything the same. If you’ve been craving a change, clearing clutter can be a wonderful opportunity to take a leap and try something new.

Step 3. Choose with Intention

After tapping into your own thoughts and feelings with honesty and taking a realistic look at your home and life as it currently stands, you will be well prepared to make thoughtful, intentionally considered decisions about what to keep.

You do you.

There are no “right” or “wrong” decisions when it comes to how much stuff you keep — the important thing is that you are choosing on purpose.

You may decide that you do want to keep 1,000 extra plastic forks, a ripped-up sweatshirt from college and ALL of the books, thank you very much.

Or you may decide to get rid of so much that you eventually need to downsize your home.

As long as you have honestly assessed your feelings and looked realistically at your home and life before intentionally deciding what to do with each item, it’s all good.

A Few More Things…

Before I send you off to your first project, there are a few more things you should know about sentimental items, making an exit strategy, and other people’s clutter.

What to do with sentimental items:

Trying to decide what to do with sentimental items can interrupt your clutter clearing momentum, and in the worst case, completely derail the clutter clearing process. What makes this especially hard is that sentimental items can turn up anywhere! From torn up college tee shirts to priceless love letters, you might be trucking right along with your clutter clearing work and then … BAM! This thing you haven’t seen or thought about in years is suddenly in your hands, and you get swept away thinking about where it came from, or the person who gave it to you, and pretty soon you’re not clearing clutter anymore. In fact, you’re maybe crying. 

Yep, I’ve totally been there.

So to preserve your forward momentum and keep you motivated, when you come across a sentimental item I recommend setting it aside until you reach Session 05. In that session I will share some helpful tools for tackling this challenging area — but for now, simply collect any sentimental items you come across in one area (perhaps a box or bin) and put it in an out of the way place.

Make an Exit Strategy: 

As for the items you decide to get rid of, most items can go to a few of these common places:

  • Charity shop: Assorted donations

  • Used bookstore: Books to sell

  • Library: Books to donate

  • Craigslist or online neighborhood group: Big-ticket items

  • Consignment boutique: Higher-end clothing and accessories

  • Homeless or women’s shelter: Bedding, towels, unopened toiletries

  • Animal shelter or veterinarian’s office: Old towels

Meaningful family items that you no longer want should be offered to other family members before giving away or selling, as someone may love to receive these items, and you won't know if you don't ask! If you have a lot of large items to get rid of, call your local charity shop to see if you can arrange a home pick up. 

Take a little time now to research 1-3 places locally where you can bring items you no longer want. Find out the hours and ask about any rules regarding what type of items they accept — having this information at your fingertips will make it much easier to actually get stuff out the door when the time comes!

Many people find it helpful to pencil in a standing weekly donation drop-off date for the duration of the course. Trust me, you do not want to “save up” everything until the end and then try to deal with it!

And finally, a quick note on other people’s clutter:

If you live with a significant other, it can be tempting to start clearing clutter from their belongings. Don't do it! Getting rid of someone else's things without their permission is a recipe for conflict. By all means encourage the other members of your household to join you, but if they resist, leave it be.