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A beginner’s guide to decluttering.

Start With Your Vision

There is a reason that Vision work is included in almost every self-help book, be that a book about Time Management, Business, or Organising and that is because it is such a powerful tool. Knowing where you want to be is a strong motivator and usually the people who have the most successful decluttering journeys are those with the strongest vision.

Declutter First

Do not buy storage solutions until you have decluttered! I cannot stress this enough. Organising alone will never lead to an easy life, so never try to organise what you can discard. I have seen organisation systems worthy of a museum where either the items sit in stasis, never used, or (as is usually the case in children’s toys) the owner is driven nuts trying to maintain it. When I work with my clients in-home, by the end we usually have a stack of unused organising systems that we have unpacked and decluttered!

I often have people ask me how they can keep an area tidy and the answer is Declutter, Declutter, Declutter. The fewer things you have, the easier it is to keep them organised. If your space is still becoming untidy easily, then you still have too many things. Continue to declutter until it is easy to live in your home.

Choose Positively

Choose what to keep because you love it and it supports the life that you want to lead, rather than because you don’t know what to do with it. I see a lot of people keeping things, “just because” or “just in case” or “because someone gave it to me”. None of those are good reasons for keeping things. “Just in case” hardly ever happens and your everyday environment and living is more important than “some day”.

Decide what it is that you want to be surrounded with. Initially don’t get distracted by where you want your discards to go; just decide whether or not you want to keep them in your life. I’ll provide questions you can ask yourself to help you make those decisions.

Choosing positively what to keep rather than negatively what to discard drives an entire mindset shift. We cannot be happy by focusing on the things that we don’t like; we can only be happy when we focus on the good things. Things that will support you in the life that you want to lead.

Choose to keep things because you love them, or because they are used. When I start in people’s homes, we usually start with clothes as the easiest point and I get people to pick up one or two of their favourite items and tell me about them. They often smile and I see their hearts lift. These are the things that we are aiming to keep!

Now, of course, some things may not make your heart lift with their beauty, but practical objects definitely have a place in our homes too. The electricity bill may not make you happy when you receive it, but living in a home with electricity almost certainly will.

Go For The Easy Wins

Don’t worry about the harder decisions initially, especially not the sentimental ones. The more practised you become at letting things go, the easier it is. By the time you get to the harder decisions, they won’t feel so hard any more. Some people want to crack straight on with a high stress area. I am against that.

When we learn to swim, we don’t jump straight into the deep end and try to swim the Channel, because then we need rescuing, or at worst, we drown. Instead, we start by paddling in the shallow end. Finding our feet, learning how the water moves and how it will support us. As we get more confident, we learn to float and then to move ourselves, always with the back-up of being able to touch the bottom if we need to. By the time we hit the deep water, we’re confident in our ability to swim and can positively revel in our ability to turn somersaults and dive down to the bottom.

So it is with decluttering: don’t worry about what you’re going to do with the difficult decisions until you are well-practised with the easy ones. Don’t start by worrying about what to do with Great Aunt Betty’s tea set, instead start with something simple, like your sock drawer.

When you are decluttering and you come across a decision that is hard, put it to one side and move on to an easier decision. Do not allow yourself to get blocked by the harder decisions; come back to them later on, when you’ve had more practice, and you will find them easier to make.

Work In Categories

Working in categories really is the best way to make progress. Categories can be as large or as small as you want, but much easier to get all your notebooks together and go through them, than to try and do a shelf, keep a notebook because you need it, then keep another on another shelf. I once had a client who had 13 pairs of nail clippers and who had no idea that she had that many until we ferreted them all out.

As I said in the Introduction, sometimes it’s good to have a general pre-sort and declutter of anything obvious, but when you are making “proper” decisions, it definitely helps to work in categories. It prevents churning, which is the movement of things from one space to another when you can’t quite decide what to do with them.

Handle Everything

Often my clients look at me somewhat askance as I dive into yet another cupboard and pull the items out into the light, but I am doing nothing that I haven’t already done in my own home. It really is important to make sure that you handle everything. “I’ve been looking for that!” is one of the most uttered phrases that I hear when working with clients.

When I’m working with clothing, I’ll often have people say things like, “Oh no, I don’t need to do the socks, they are all fine”, but when I persuade them to do so, they let go of about half because they realise that those socks have holes, or are not in pairs, or are uncomfortable. Whilst it can feel like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic to go through a sock drawer when the rest of the home is in disarray, by doing one drawer and freeing up space, you’ll do another drawer and free up space, and before you know it, you’ve got loads of space.

Release with Thanks

It can be hard to let go. Even following all the rules here, easiest first, working in categories and so on, not every decision will be easy. People often have an issue with having spent money on something that hasn’t worked, or clothes they don’t like anymore, or with letting go of gifts that people have given them. In these situations, I encourage you to be grateful to the object for whatever it has done for you and you will often find that this makes it easier to release it.

For example, maybe you bought an expensive dress that has never quite fit right. You’re not going to get your money back on it if you leave it stuffed in your wardrobe. Be grateful for the lesson it has taught you: in this case that nothing should enter your home unless it ticks ALL of the boxes.

If someone has given you something as a gift, remember that the job of a gift is to show love and respect. It’s not very respectful of that love if you leave a gift stashed in a cupboard unused. Release an unwanted gift to be used by someone else, you’re only giving away the physical object, not the love that came with it.


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