How To Run Your Own Declutter Project

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The following post was an article in a recent issue of the Get Organized newsletter. I received so much great feedback on the article that I thought I would reproduce it here. I hope you find it helpful!

Declutter-Fest 2011

There are people who love the process of cleaning, decluttering and organizing.

These are the Monica Gellers of the world. They’ll happily spend Saturday afternoon filing or cleaning the kitchen, and they might even write organizing books suggesting you do the same.

Then there are people who love the outcome of cleaning, decluttering and organizing. They crave order and delight in systems, but don’t enjoy the work it takes to get there.

(There are also people who have no interest in the process or outcome of decluttering, but I suspect they’re off reading the Chaos is Amazeballs newsletter.)

I’m definitely in the second category. In fact one of the reasons I have a website, products and blog devoted to personal organization is that I’ve become adept at finding ways to live an ordered life without having to do a lot of organizing work.

If you’re in the second category too, then this article is for you.

See, I recently did a massive declutter of my home and office space – I even gave it a name: Declutter-Fest Project 2011.

I’m not going to lie to you – it was not what I’d call fun. But the results are totally, unequivocally worth it. Every day I feel happier, calmer and more motivated.

So I thought I’d share with you the four strategies I found most useful in getting myself through the icky process to the wonderful outcome.

1. Have A Strong Why

It sounds obvious, but without a good reason for starting a declutter project, you won’t have the energy or motivation to see it though.

In my case, the previous 12 months had been kind of sucky, and I was coming up to my 44th birthday. I wanted to use a major declutter as a symbolic process, a leaving behind of the past and old energy and bad associations. This was very compelling for me. I strongly wanted to start my 45th year fresh and focused.

For you, the Strong Why could be anything that drives you, for instance:

Before you begin a declutter project, think about what it represents to you. Having a cleaner house is a great outcome, but you can find more motivation if you dig a little deeper.

2. Have A Simple How

One of the biggest obstacles to a sizeable declutter project is the sense of overwhelm that engulfs you before you can say, Where do I start?

The best solution to this overwhelm that I’ve found is to make a list, a simple plan for what you have to do.

I made a list of rooms, then main areas within each room. You can see my plan, which I wrote on my office whiteboard, in the image at the start of this article.

In writing your plan, break down your space into logical sub-spaces, then list these.

If you don’t want to make your own list, you can use a ready-made program like 52 Home Organizing Missions or 30-Day Organize-athon.

Having a Simple How plan alone will reduce the sense of overwhelm. You may even find yourself excited to get going on one of the sub-spaces in your plan. Small, achievable goals can be super-motivating!

3. Do It Fast

I wanted to complete my entire house and office declutter in one speedy, big block, because:

  • I don’t enjoy the process and wanted to get it over with as fast as possible
  • I didn’t know if I had the drive to come back to it once I’d taken a break.

So I allocated five days for my declutter project, and that’s pretty much all I did for those five days. (I was happy to skip gym classes – decluttering burns calories! – and to make up work time on available weekends.)

Knowing I had only five days kept me motivated to persevere when I got tired and helped me to make quick decisions. I really didn’t want to leave the project half-finished! The ticking clock also kept a lid on perfectionism.

Allocate as much time as you can to your declutter project – an afternoon, day, weekend, week – and free yourself of other commitments for this period. Then divide the available time over the tasks on your list and get rid of clutter!

It can also help to use a declutter mantra to keep yourself moving – I like: Move fast. Don’t overthink. Let it go.

If you do your declutter project in one big block of time, then the momentum will carry you through, and you’ll need far less energy and motivation than you’d need if you had to start and stop.

4. Check Off Your Successes As Your Go

When you look at my whiteboard list, do you wish you could cross off those items? Well, I did too!

The lure of checkboxes is powerful. I also put a line through completed areas, which made the list doubly motivating. Each day I would tick off and put a line through finished tasks, and post an updated picture of my whiteboard on Facebook.

Give yourself the pleasure of checking off and/or crossing off each mini-area as you complete it.

Most of us are kids at heart, and these little reinforcers work wonders.

Summary

If you want to run your own declutter project, here are my top strategies:

  1. Have a strong why
  2. Have a simple how
  3. Do it fast
  4. Check off your successes as you go.

I’d love to see your before and after photos – or just the after ones if you prefer – on Facebook. And let me know if my suggestions helped!

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Claudia says:

The “Overwhelmed” feeling…I find that I get this feeling after doing 5+ hours of cleaning yet still see no real progress. I find that going in with a plan tends to make it much easier. Using lists, tips and pictures help me stay focused. I recently used this great list on my last cleaning adventure:

http://www.skinnyscoop.com/list/eden/favorite-organizing-products-and-decluttering-tips

Enjoy and feel free to add tips of your own :)

@Steph: That sounds like a very smart, achievable plan. Please let me know how you go. And if it helps to motivate you, please feel free to post updates and/or before/after pics on my Facebook page. Happy decluttering in 2012!

StephVG says:

I’m planning a major declutter in 2012. If I were on my own, I’d do it just like you said – pick a week and just go to it. But I too have small children (1.5, 3.5) and just can’t do it the way I’m naturally geared to. So my plan is to get through one room a month (more if the room is already mostly free). I have a plan for each week of the month, and the expectation that I’ll have to work slowly while the kids are awake, but then I’ll give myself the full 2 hours of their nap time twice a week. I didn’t think of substations, so that’ll help even more! Thanks for such a great, motivating article!

@Jen: Actually I’m planning to create a list template for people to do their own version. Keep an eye on the blog and the Facebook page!

It’s such a pleasure, Omi! And thank YOU for your infectious enthusiasm! :)

jen in pa says:

thank you so much for this article! i would love to see your list (without all the crossouts) because i think that would help me organize myself best. going room by room and area within a room. too often, i just move things i’m unsure how to deal with from one room or pile to another and then i’m left still frustrated.

Omi Olson says:

How easy is that! Wow! Thanks! Very, very doable! I’ve been contemplating starting this project and now you give us a plan! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Hi there Laura.
If you’re going to tackle a big project like this then I suggest you ask a friend or neighbor with kids to join forces with you – they watch your kids while you do your declutter, and you do the same for them.
Alternatively, enlist a partner or babysitter while you work.
Good luck!
M :)

Laura says:

I definitely think your tips are spot on. Do you have any suggestions for stay at home moms with small children (mine are almost 2 and 5)? The “do it fast” part is nearly impossible! I have a toddler that will pull more out in one minute than I can put back in half an hour! I can’t seem to find the time in the day to work on a project like this!

You’re very kind, Desre! ♡♡♡

Desre says:

Michelle – you are an amazing woman and such an inspiration!