Decluttering 101: Finding a place to start
Hey, girlfriend. Ever notice how when there’s a bunch of mess or clutter around, it saps the life right out of you? There’s SO MUCH to deal with, and it’s so hard to figure out where to start. And who has the time and energy to fix it all? And why bother, when you can’t possibly fix it all? Easier to give up or not bother, but then that stuff will still be there, reminding you to start playing some of your favorite songs.
No, not actual songs on CDs or Spotify, but the internal monologue of scathing self-criticism, with a soupçon of self-pity. You know the ones. Greatest hits include “You’re Such a Loser”, “Why Can’t You Get Your Shit Together”, and “Why Me?”, though of course you may have other favorites.
Here’s the thing: with minor exceptions (for things like a kid coming home from camp or college and dumping all their crap all over the downstairs of your home), those messes, and that clutter, didn’t get there in a day. It is therefore not only unlikely, but also unreasonable, to expect to get it sorted and put away in short order. But I’m here to tell you that you can actually fix this.
I know this drill suuuuper well. Let me tell you what happened with me at my old house. I bought it in 1999, and set it up just how I wanted it for me and my two kids. In early 2002, while planning my second wedding, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. By that summer, I was a stressed-out wreck experiencing a massive RA flare, and I left work and went on disability. This did not magically fix anything, by the way, but it meant I was home instead of outside the house.
The first five years or so of my second marriage were pretty good. I began writing poetry and books for children and our house filled up with books and with things that the girls brought home and with things that my husband brought home, but mostly things were in good shape. The last four years of my second marriage were a roller coaster that mostly went downhill. Things went off the rails in our relationship, and I considered divorce, but that went out the window when my ex received a cancer diagnosis.
He was depressed. I was likely a bit depressed as well. To quote W.B. Yeats, “Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.” Stuff started to pile up quite literally in the living, dining, and family room. In the kids’ bedrooms. In the basement. You don’t even want to know about the attic. I took to retreating to my bedroom to read and to write things: poems, manuscripts, blog posts. I still did laundry and cleaned house (sort of) and did the cooking and shopping, but I was pretty checked out of the marriage, and my approach to household stuff reflected that.
By the time we decided to call things quits in early 2011, the house was a mess. That’s not meant as a metaphor, although I can see how it actually functions as one anyhow. Once we’d decided to divorce, I found myself somewhat numbly trying to figure out what to do about all the clutter in my house. This was before Marie Kondo came along with her Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, so I figured things out myself.
And what I found was that once I dealt with my clutter, I not only had neater surroundings, but I also had more physical energy, less stress, more peace of mind, greater happiness, and a sense of satisfaction. Turns out that decluttering is GREAT for reducing your stress and sense of overwhelm. And it also allows positive energy to start moving around in your space. It is, in my opinion, an often overlooked form of self-care.
If this resonates with you, let me tell you a little bit about how I got started.
First step? Clear the largest surface in each room and keep it clear. The theory behind this practice is that this gives your eye a place to rest inside that space, which helps to reduce the amount of overwhelm you feel. And guess what? It works.
In the bedroom, this means clearing the bed. So remove any laundry, books, dishes, or other items that you might have piled up there and return them to where they go (or even pile them in the corner). Make that bed. Walk out of the room and look in from the doorway and what do you see? A made bed. A large, clear surface. All that mess around the edges recedes just a bit. Sure, there may be piles and boxes and STUFF everywhere else, including on the floor, any chairs, the dressers, etc., but hey—there’s a nice big clear space in your room.
In the dining room, this means clearing the table. Again, take all the stuff off of it. You can put things in the rooms where they go, or just stack it in a box, a bag, or in the corner. Once the table is clear, dust it or wipe it down. You can put a few things back, if you like, but they should be the sorts of things that enhance a dining room table. You know the type—candle sticks, or a big decorative bowl or centerpiece. Piles of mail, stacks of filing, groceries that haven’t been put away, and all the rest of the stuff that accumulates on the table is not decorative, but I don’t really have to tell you that. Step out and look at the room: doesn’t it look better? Even if there’s stuff everywhere else, don’t you feel relieved? OF COURSE you do!
Do the same thing in other rooms (the sofa or a coffee table in the living room, an island or table or stretch of counter in your kitchen, the desk top in your office, etc.,). Make it your mission to keep those cleared spaces calm and clear, and you should notice that you don’t feel entirely overwhelmed all the time.
This is, I should say, not a technique you will find in Marie Kondo’s book, but on the off-chance you haven’t read it yet and would like a copy, there’s a link to the book on Amazon at the bottom of the post. And I have some other thoughts on decluttering, some of which I shared in my post at tiny buddha. And I will be sharing some more decluttering tips later this month. Of course, if you’ve got any questions about it, feel free to hit me up here!