I’m halfway through my yearlong “Decluttering and Simplifying 2010” project, and I’ve made really nice progress. For the complete update on that, see last Saturday’s post.
This milestone got me thinking: What have I learned so far? Here are five things I learned along the way that might benefit you.
1. Go ahead — start with the easy stuff.
If you’re home is as cluttered as mine was, you can probably get out several sacks of obviously useless junk and trash pretty quickly. So go ahead. Start with things you know you don’t want anymore. Gather up the obvious bits of paper like receipts and junk mail that are messing the place up. Throw away the broken appliances and half-empty bottles of shampoos that don’t smell like you were expecting. Recycle or donate old magazines. Take a couple of loads of books to sell at your favorite used bookstore.
It’s fun and motivating to get off to a good start. Besides, you need these things out of your life so you can get down to the other things.
2. Try to handle things only once, but don’t get hung up.
The most efficient way to organize is to pick up an item and immediately take it to its home — either its established home or the new place you’ve cleared for it. So do that as often as you can. But don’t spend the afternoon trying to decide where something goes. Put it back down and move on, then figure out a home for it while you’re in the shower or watching TV. Or better yet, eliminate it from your life. You won’t miss it.
If you can’t decide where to put something because you don’t know where you usually need it, you probably don’t need it at all. Throw it away.
3. Unless you’re desperate or have something of extreme value, don’t sell your excess stuff, donate it.
Selling takes a lot of time, whether you’re listing on eBay or organizing a yard sale. Wouldn’t it be better to use that time decluttering instead? Or better yet, wouldn’t you rather enjoy a good book or a nice day out at a park instead? Listing on eBay is tedious work. I don’t enjoy it at all, and I have quite a lot of experience. Dragging all my junk into the front yard or someone else’s yard isn’t my idea of fun either. (Books are an obvious exception to the no-sell idea if you have a used bookstore nearby that will buy them from you. That’s as easy as donating.)
Of course, if you have items with big value, find a way to get back some of your money. Try selling these few valuable items on Craigslist or take advantage of a local paper’s free ads for small, personal sales, if available.
4. Eliminate or completely clean off large, flat surfaces.
Flat surfaces are made for collecting things. How many tables are in your living room? If you eat or drink in your living room, you probably want a small table near where you sit. But do you need a table of knickknacks (one of my favorite words to type) or a coffee table in the middle of the floor? If not, eliminate them.
You probably can’t eliminate your kitchen countertops because they’re necessary to cover up the cabinets, but you can make them totally clean — that is, leave nothing on them other than, perhaps, a microwave and, if you must, a toaster. Bathroom counters and end tables don’t attract clutter if make sure they’re totally clean. If you pass one of these surfaces at any time and see something on it, you know immediately it needs to be moved.
5. Tell people what you’re doing.
Don’t expect anyone to volunteer to come over and help, but you need to be held accountable. Blog about your decluttering journey if you like, but at least tell your friends. They’ll ask you in a few days or weeks how the project is going, and you’ll have to have something to tell them.
Accountability raises your chances of success, and you want to be successful with this and all your projects, right?
We’ll see what else I learn over the next six months. We might both be surprised.
Gip Plaster is a web content writer. Previously a journalist, online bookseller and even a corporate advertising guy, Gip now specialize in writing high-quality content for websites — his and other people’s. Learn more here.