Thursday, March 3, 2011

Decluttering for Dummies

“Help! I don’t even know where to begin organizing!” To quote a well-known song, “When you read, you begin with A, B, C; when you sing you begin with do, re, mi.” When you organize, you begin by decluttering.

My handy-dandy spellchecker is trying to tell me that decluttering is not a word. Let’s decode the word and you’ll see that it really is a legitimate word. Clutter is basically “a crowded or confused mass or collection” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary). The prefix de- means to reduce or remove, so to declutter means to reduce or remove extraneous collections. I can already hear the gasps and see the heart attacks. Relax; it’s really not that painful, I promise!

Basically, before we can organize, we need to get rid of things that are not currently useful. If an item in your closet hasn’t been worn in the past year or so, it’s time to pitch or donate it (unless you’re pregnant). Same thing with your kids. If you’re saving clothes for the next child, put the nicest ones in a labeled box or Rubbermaid container and store it in the attic, basement, or garage. If you’re never going to read a particular book again, put it on Paperback Swap, sell it, or bless someone else with it. All of those papers you think you just have to save? Chances are, you don’t. Sort your mail over a trash can, shred financial documents over seven years old (and don’t bother keeping statements), and file the rest regularly.

Let’s talk about the sentimental items now. You know, the broken ornaments your grandfather gave to your grandmother; the three teapots that came from your great-aunt; the stained, hand-embroidered napkins; the too-small sweater knitted by your mom; and the list goes on. First of all, go through and throw away everything broken and stained. Next, go through and choose one or two items to display. Ask your children if they would like one special item to keep for themselves.

Here’s a non-cluttered approach to dealing with your other sentimental things: Take a picture of the stuff. If you’re not into scrapbooking, store your pictures in a labeled shoebox. Journal about the memories. After all, that’s what we’re really trying to preserve by letting stuff take up real estate in our homes, right?

What about collections of saltshakers, thimbles, mugs, teapots, dolls, shells, etc? I’m not against collections, really, but only if you have room for them. One idea is to rotate a few items at a time on display (or for usage) with the rest being kept in a box in storage. If you don’t have room to display, use, or store these collections, it’s time to let them go. Choose a few of the most meaningful items and bless somebody else with the rest.

In addition, I always keep two bags/boxes handy in the back of a closet: one of stuff to donate, and one of stuff to sell. Easy in, easy out.

By decluttering, we are making room for living life right now. We’re making room for making more memories. And, we’re making room for organization, peace, and harmony in our homes.

This post is featured over at Heart of the Matter Online today. Check out the rest of their great offerings!

Q4U: What's your best decluttering tip?