I’m a minimalist when it comes to “stuff” in my home. I don’t hang a print or set out a decoration that is not imbued with sentimental value and that doesn’t add to the room. As you can imagine, my home is not traditionally cluttered. I don’t collect treasures; I collect memories. Instead of shelves full of trinkets, you’ll find albums full of family photos.
The same discipline applies to the way I amass and organize everyday stuff. My house is not perfectly clean all of the time, nor is every drawer tidy and every closet lined with crisp, immaculately ironed clothes.
Recently, I spring-cleaned, decluttered, and donated unused items. At its core, this practice involves organization. If, unlike me, you don’t get warm and fuzzy at that word, this post offers a general guide on how to begin.
Keep, Trash, or Donate
Start by designating a huge box for donations, and maybe an equally spacious garbage bag or
two four. Pause each time you come across an item that you forgot you owned or that you haven’t touched in a year. If the emotional attachment or practical usefulness does not justify the space and effort to store it, donate or throw away.
Don’t designate a “garage sale” box unless you can commit to making the sale happen in the foreseeable future (like, this month). Never hold onto anything for its perceived monetary value. I can almost guarantee your unused kitchen gadget hasn’t appreciated in value. If you aren’t regularly using it, the time has come to give it away.
Start Big, Work Small
Taking on the whole house as one huge cleaning project can overwhelm even the most organized mind. Instead, by dividing up your home into zones (office, kitchen/living room, garage, kids’ rooms, etc.), you create spaces to conquer at a reasonable pace.
Pick a zone for the week and start to look for specific projects as you go about your day. You may be amazed by what you notice (like that misplaced pair of pliers or that blouse with the loose button). Imagine the doubling effect of working two related zones at once!
I decided to start with the laundry room and office when I recently cleaned house. (The doors to each are separated by a short walk, and the contents can be interchangeable.) I wanted to take advantage of unused shelf space in my laundry room.
For a day or two, I gathered a bunch of stuff that didn’t seem at home anywhere else in the house (batteries, lightbulbs, several kinds of tape, a spare light switch plate), and dumped everything on top of my washing machine. This was easily done while following my daughter around and between play times and mealtimes. I bought a few plastic bins while on a grocery run.
Then one afternoon during her nap, I divvied everything up into related categories and slapped labels on the bins. I sorted laundry detergents, the iron, and accessories onto remaining shelves. In the span of a day, I was left with several minor projects and the appropriate tools — conveniently labeled and accessible — to knock them out when I have a spare few minutes. And best of all, it didn’t feel like a ton of work, or like I’d sacrificed time with my family to get it done.
Give yourself some time. Solicit help from your spouse or kids with the zones they inhabit. If someone else spends more time than you do with the power tools, in the garage or shed, seek his or her input on how things should be stored. Make sure the other person feels permitted — and empowered — to make the final decision on what stays, and where.
The key to the zone method is to declutter small areas at a time, and to work efficiently to make the most of your labor and keep those areas organized. Note: I did not say “clean.” I believe in moderate, organized clutter. I know the exact contents of the short stack of papers on my kitchen counter and small pile of toys on my living room floor. It would take moments to put everything away — but I don’t worry too much. My house is lived in.
We can be so hard on ourselves at the smallest hint of clutter or the first stray item in our freshly organized space. As long as you maintain a broader, intuitive, organizational scheme, you’ll find there is a place for everything, even if everything is not constantly in its place. Once you work through all the zones, the occasional buildup of clutter or forgotten drawer of chaos is an easy follow-up on your established theme.
Happy cleaning! You’ve got this!
Who else needs to declutter this spring? What’s your organization method?