What is clutter?
I have seen many definitions of what clutter actually is, everything from “A collection of things lying around in an untidy mess” to “too much stuff for the physical space available.” My favourite definition comes from Karen Kingston’s book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. I LOVE this book (and I have read a lot about clutter control – you can see most of it cluttering up my books and computer bookmarks…).
Things you do not use or love
Things that are untidy or disorganised
Too many things in too small a space
You can read the excerpt of the book that outlines each of these areas in more detail HERE. But if you’d rather stick around here, I am going to talk about how each part of that definition affects me and how to deal with it.
- Things I do not use or love
I have PLENTY of items that come under this part of the definition. I’m thinking of the books that I have finished and will not read again, books I’ll never get around to reading, DVD’s I’ll never watch again, random kitchen things that I have gathered over the years, items I keep but I can’t remember why… We all have things that we keep around for no good reason. Sometimes these are things that leave a bad taste in our mouths for some reason, be it a bad memory or an abandoned dream.
Why do I have things that I do not use or love? I gathered my things over the course of years and feelings towards things sometimes changes. I am also deep down at my core fundamentally lazy so put things in cupboards, or make plans to get rid of things and then conveniently lose the ability to see the abandoned items.
- Things that are untidy or disorganised
Like I said above, fundamentally lazy! I’ve never really get around to tidying. I am a champion starter especially with things like an organising project but I’m not so good once the original flurry of excitement has worn off. I guess that is really what this whole website is about for me.
- Too many things in too small a space
Guilty as charged. I have a one bedroom flat. I have more then enough, way more than I need. I have this dream of all my belongings fitting in my car (minus the furniture). I am a long way from that. When my other half and I do our planned big move, do I really want to be paying to bring over boxes and boxes of stuff or paying to put things in storage? Not if I can prevent it. And in the short time, I am sick of cleaning around things or avoiding cleaning certain areas at all because of all the stuff I need to move to clean properly.
- Anything Unfinished
And this is where my old “project finish it!” came from. I definitely get an energy dip when I look at something that has been waiting to be finished for a long time. But there are also the energy zappers that you walk past everyday, they are so ingrained they blend into the walls and you don’t see them anymore.
How to Get Started Clearing Out Your Clutter
I have seen a few different clutter clearing philosophies and to be honest, over the years I have forgotten where they all come from, they have all sort of merged or which was which so I can only apologise for not adding specific links to this section. This is really only the beginning, getting started, continuing (for intermediates) and keeping it up (for the advanced) will come later.
To get started there are two things to think about, what area you will deal with first and how long you will spend doing it. For each of those to considerations there appears to be two conflicting methods. The two methods for the two considerations are interchangeable and any combination has the potential to work for you. You might have an instinct immediately as to what will work for you but if not try each until either one clicks, or one clicks close enough.
Which area to start your journey with –
Drawer Method verses Shelf Method
In all of the material I have read about clutter, it’s affects on you, why you should get rid of it and how I’d say about 70% of them recommend starting with just one drawer. I have called this “Drawer Method”. To start your clutter clearing journey this way you choose one drawer, any drawer, and you remove it from where it lives. Next you empty out the contents of the drawer onto a flat surface such as your bed. Then you take each item that has tumbled out and assess it individually and decide what to do with it. (There is a bit of debate about how many choices you should give yourself but more about that later)
This method has it’s benefits. The area can be taken and carried to somewhere it wouldn’t normally be so you can look with fresh eyes. It can be tossed back together if you get interrupted. Depending on the drawer it shouldn’t take too long. And that one drawer can give a great sense of achievement. However, it has one downside, when you are done and you put the drawer back, although things might run a bit smoother in any area of your life that drawer came into contact with, the room looks no different…
Enter “Shelf Method”. Someone who had decided to clear their clutter came along one day, followed all of the advice and then noticed that fatal flaw. Their change? Pick a visible surface as your starting point. A shelf, a coffee table, a desk, worktop, floor space something that you will see as soon as you walk into the room you have started with. The method is the same (although less self contained – one benefit of “drawer” over “shelf”) you empty everything off the surface, assess each item, clean the surface, and then put back what is meant to be there.
Either way can work can work for you, there are pros and cons to each. Personally? I start with something visible and then move onto drawers. The only exception I have made to the many times I have STARTED to clear my clutter and gone the other way is if I thought I might get interrupted, thinking it would be easier to dump everything back in the drawer than restock a shelf.
How much time to spend when getting started-
The Timer Method verses The Power Through Method
Many clutter advice recommends setting a timer for 5 minutes, or 15 minutes and seeing how much you can get done in this time. I call this “Timer Method”. This is said to be motivating because you know that the misery is for a finite period of time. When the timer goes off you are done, you can take a break, move on to something else or reset the timer and keep going.
Other advice is to pick an area like the drawer or shelf, or bigger areas like garage, loft etc and make sure you have enough time to “Power Through” until it is done. This way is harder, obviously. It takes planning, can you spare a full day to tackle the garage? And one thing to remember, however long you think it will take, double it, at least! Paring down your belongings is an emotional journey and you will need time to relive memories and be a little sentimental.
In spite of what I have said above, I prefer the second method. They don’t all have to be full day or weekend tasks but one task to completion is how I try to work. Personally, I prefer this to the timer method because the timer method to me gives a false high. You feel great because the timer went off, you did it! Yay! Oh… wait… I need to go back and finish this and now I know it isn’t fun. That to me doesn’t work. But for millions of others it does. Try both, find which you prefer. Or mix and match depending on the task in hand.
The decisions to make when assessing your belongings
Multiple box technique
The majority of the material written on clutter (and some on cleaning and minimalism) give this advice. “So, you’ve decided to clear a shelf/drawer/room you need three/four/five boxes/bin bags” delete multiple choice as appropriate. You have choices to make and the choices are actually a very personal decision. It is not as simple as “keep” or “toss”.
I use four choices. I use “keep”, “bin/shred”, “sell”, “donate/return to owner”. Many also have a “maybe” pile but I try my best to make a decision so I don’t need to keep making decisions on items over and over again. Some lump together “sell/donate/return” as one box but I don’t like that because I’d still need to separate it again later. I am trying to move towards handling each thing as few times as possible.
So there you have it. Choices for ways to get started on the clutter journey.
How I Have Started My Clutter Clearing?
I had many different ways I could start my journey. I started with one walk in cupboard. Those who have followed the blog have seen this before but for those who haven’t read or would like to read again I blogged the before pictures HERE, I talked about my progress HERE, more progress reports HERE and the after pictures HERE.