TO DO WITH THE EXTRA STUFF:
One of the major
elements in downsizing usually is dealing with clutter.
Certainly, if you have it, you'll have to deal with it when
you move; and you'll be forced to deal with it if you shift things so
that you have less storage space than before.
Those who say "don't sweat the details" certainly aren't
helping those who suddenly have clutter or who are chronic clutterers
(of course, the "don't sweaters" may very well be clutterers).
in the details... because every single item you add in builds up and becomes clutter. Psychologists say that we equate
clutter with disorder, which makes us anxious - and we can all benefit
from less anxiety!
just about getting rid of things. It's also about organizing
what's left (because really, most clutter is useful stuff).
Without the step of thinking about how to better handle the
incoming items, the cluttering is extremely likely to resume.
There are a lot
of interesting books on the subject of clutter and how to get rid of
it. Here's one of my
Timely Tips for Clutter Control - also with
tips and help on decision-making, home selling, and holding garage
sales. I was impressed with How to Be Organized in Spite of Yourself, because it pays homage to people's different personal styles. A popular help website is FlyLady.net (of "C.H.A.O.S." fame:
Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome :^).
We'll get to some
ideas for ways to handle all your "stuff"... But
there's a prelude
really ought not to be overlooked:
Perhaps the first
step in attacking clutter is to give serious thought to why you've been
allowing it into your life. Whether you're moving or
downsizing where you are, you don't want the process of clutter
accumulation to start up again!
Here are some of
the big picture elements common to the cluttering phenomenon:
- Trouble making decisions
- Organizing expert Ellen Damaschino says, "Clutter is deferred
decision-making" - and to a great extent, I think that is true. But
there's more to it than that... In any case, maybe you have the will
to make decisions but don't see the way
(in which case a little more delving into why
you have trouble making decisions is probably in order). Perfectionism is often a major block to decision-making, if
you're waiting to absolutely know the perfect choice.
decent choice is the best place to begin (knowing that you can keep
seeking better ways all the time) - because you've got to begin in order to
- Thinking too big - Neglecting to
take into consideration the size of your rooms/storage
space (and neglecting to keep your simplification goals in mind) may be
leading you to take in more than you can handle. (This is the
same kind of neglectful thinking - or not thinking - that
leads people to put too much food on their plates at potlucks.
But if it's all good, should we really take it all?)
- Procrastinating -
Allowing yourself too much leeway in attending to the small steps
(which you may be thinking of as "chores") that will prevent a lot of
clutter from taking shape, such as putting clothing or shopping away,
sorting through mail, picking up the detritus from craft projects, etc.
- Poor time management
- Even if you don't procrastinate, you may lack time management skills
that would free up time for attending to clutter. Part of
this is bound to be related to allowing time-wasters to eat up your
free time. Part of it is probably a matter of not seeing ways
to double up on tasks (such as sorting or cleaning things while you're
on the phone or watching TV). Mostly, poor time management is
just a matter of not paying attention to how you spend your time.
If you become aware
of it, and decluttering is a priority, you'll find ways to divert your
energies more effectively.
- Not having systems for dealing
with different types of clutter - Devising a method for sorting
the mail, or setting up a place
to put dirty clothes, or deciding on how and when to
view the things you decide to keep, may make all the difference in
giving you the
relief of using the system (and in allowing you the freedom from having
to constantly be making those decisions over and over again).
- Hesitating to take control of
your life - Your clutter problem may be a metaphor for
your not being in the driver's seat in other aspects of your life (again, why?)...
But the good news is that dealing with the clutter can help
to empower you in general.
- Being unclear about who you
really are - Are you your past? - no; are you who others
think you should be? - no... But the things you hang onto may
show you an error in thinking - may, in fact, be like a cloak that you
needlessly wrap yourself in.
- Confusing mementos with memories
- Feeling a need to keep things you don't actually use or like, just
because they belonged to a cherished person now gone, can be at war
with your desire to recover space in your home. You won't be
letting go of the memories of shared experiences and love if you let go
of the object. Maybe giving it where it will actually be
appreciated would be a good solution. (Besides, maybe a photo
of the item would do?)
- Being too focused on materiality
- If the material goods of the world are too much in the fore of your
life, perhaps they're too much in the fore of your thinking (and again,
asking why is probably in order). Maybe it's because of...
- Having no trust in the abundance
of the universe - Hoarding is symptomatic of a belief that
you aren't going to have what you need and want unless you provide it
for yourself in advance. This can lead to an actual belief in
(the opposite of a belief in abundance, that you will be given
access to what you need when you need it). The trouble with
hoarding isn't in not having enough room - the trouble is in the
thinking (and in not
thinking - that is, letting it simply be a subconscious urge).
- Allowing yourself to believe in
"needs" that are really just wants - If you are committed
to giving yourself overabundance,
you might ask yourself what lack it is that you think you're able to
make up for with a plethora of things.
If you don't want to give up pampering yourself, perhaps you
can pamper yourself in a less cluttering way! - try services instead of
goods... or more expensive food?, which will at least be eaten up!
(just don't store
tons of it).
Deep stuff, eh?
Probably you're not going to resolve long-held beliefs and
quirks overnight; but just looking at the psychology behind your
cluttering habits can cause a big shift. And you might need
that shift to accept
the ideas that will lead you to "cleaner living".
caveats about decluttering
If you're drowning
you'd think that anything you could do to subtract clutter from your
life would give you relief. Actually, though, there are some
cautions that may save you trouble later on...
Don't be so
ruthless as to hurt yourself. If you savagely throw things
away just to clear a space, you'll likely regret not having some of it
later (and then feel savagely toward yourself for not taking the time
to sort intelligently). If you have to spend scarce resources
to get later what you've thrown out, that's a silly waste.
If you're moving,
and there really isn't time to do much in the way of decluttering, so
be it. Just make sure to sort as you go, as much as you can,
while you pack - and then prepare to sort some more when you unpack.
You have to handle everything twice when you move, so it's a
huge energy savings to declutter at one point, anyway.
Hopefully you'll have given thought to how to store things in
the new house...
It's possible to
confuse "stashing something away" with organizing and decluttering.
clearing off a counter leads to messing up one or more drawers,
shelves, or closets, does that really amount to decluttering? - no.
That's like the Cat in the Hat's pink bathtub ring that
simply got wiped onto the next surface it touched! (At least
when the stuff's on the counter, you can probably find it. :^)
clutter isn't decluttering.
You can also over-organize with
the effect of not being able to find what you need when you need it -
or not being able to easily get at it, even if you know where it is.
A little planning is in order! - including ease of access.
"stuff" may take some special handling. As Susan Wright says
Clutter from Your Life,
children's "possessions become
invested with meaning that parents may not know about or understand."
I know that some parents delete young kids' possessions
without their knowledge, but thinking back to my childhood
viewpoint would keep me from doing that. Attachment is a
complex issue (and after all, we're talking about your attachment to
things when we talk clutter)... We'll look at some ways of
approaching it - but know that your child might not be as ready to
declutter as you are. (And if you're moving, keep in
mind that a child's - or a pet's - "stuff" will be one of the only
obvious constants in their lives during the transition.)
Also, start out
with the intent to be kind to yourself, and to give the process of
decluttering some time to work miracles. Yes, every step you
take will be to the good - but it may take awhile from Step One to a
perfectly uncluttered and reorganized home. Just as with my
writing this page from many pages of short notes, not everything will
fall into place all at once. You may develop better plans as
you go along, so be prepared to flex and revise a bit in your storage
and even your throw-away decisions - no big deal. You'll get
it will be wonderful!
Not every person
will want to go about decluttering in the same way. (Some
people take everything
out of a room and put back only what they want to keep!) Do
what you can, when you can, and find the best way for you.
helpful to start
with some goals
Just as with
downsizing of possessions in general, it's important to keep your goals
in mind - and so, you'll have to have
some goals to keep in mind. This simply amounts to some
proactive thinking. What are your goals?
Some might be:
developing a system for dealing with the mail; clearing off
kitchen counters; turning a junk room into a guest room; making space
in the garage for the car; coming home to a clear hallway and living
room. You get the picture... Ensure that your goals
are do-able; don't overwhelm yourself with the goal "to have a
perfectly uncluttered lifestyle". Ask yourself, what would
that look like? - the goals will essentially describe how to get from
here to what you see in your mind's eye.
Make a list of
your own goals - and then tackle jobs that move you in that direction.
A good place to begin is with the easiest things;
also with the tasks that seem the most enjoyable.
As you make progress, you might come up with other goals,
perhaps deeper ones (relating to the "whys" above, perhaps).
Need a break
before you begin in earnest? ...Go on a trip with as little luggage as
possible - it will get you in the mood for less! (Or would
that be a trip with too
general principles to follow
For better peace
of mind, keep these things
in mind as you go:
Start small - If
it's daunting, start with just a minor (maybe a very minor)
project. The good feeling you get from doing it will give you
a taste for more! Maybe you'll want to go on to an area that
really pushes your buttons. But remember that all the little bits
that you can do will get you forward - even if you can only spare 15
minutes at a shot.
Break up the big stuff - If you
have a big ol', multi-faceted mess, keep on small...
If there are different types of problems in one room, tackle
only one type at a time. Or tackle only one area of the room at
a time. Or look for one category of junk to get rid of all
over the house. (If you're involving kids in a decluttering
process, it's especially important to keep to small do-able tasks.)
"Doing the kitchen" may well be too big; doing the right side
of the pantry shelves, or one junk drawer instead of all the drawers, is
far more do-able. But, as you go through individual tasks,
remember to pay
attention to the room as a whole - and note ideas for
improvements (better lighting, storage solutions, etc.).
- Make it entertaining -
Any way you can lighten up your tasks will raise your mood and keep you
committed to the decluttering process overall. Some
possibilities: putting on some great music while you work;
sorting in front of the TV; giving yourself a treat after a session;
doing it with a friend (maybe
you trade off whose house you work in); make up stories about the stuff
you're handling; keep a photo record of the befores and afters - the
afters will make you feel so good! Have fun - it's mostly a
decision, you know.
- Store related items together
- If they fall into a similar category, you'll probably be happier if
they're stored together (unless you need them in different places and
want to get at them easily in each place). If they're used together, find
a way to store them together. (And look for ways to make the
using of them easier - you know, like carriers for cleaning supplies.)
- Consider convenience
- How will
you use or enjoy the items you're keeping? - that should affect where
and how you store them. (If you grab your camera every time
you go for a walk, you won't want to keep it in a down-the-hall closet.
Even if you use games in the family room, you might actually
want to store them out of the way if you only use them once or twice a
year.) As above, do you need the things in a central place,
or do you really need duplicates in more than one spot? What
sort of container should house them, something stationary or a
- Do you use it? - If you don't
use it, perhaps you can bring yourself to get rid of it. If
you truly wish to keep it anyway, you can surely store it out of the
way - or start
using it! If it's something you'd use if it were different (such as
an uncomfortable piece of furniture), trade it out and replace it with
something that matches your needs. (If it's furniture, now's
the time to think in terms of a)
something smaller, or a fold-away
type, and/or b)
a piece with storage capacity.) If you've been keeping
appliances that need to be fixed, will
they ever get fixed?
- Look around with fresh eyes
- When you're used to it, clutter can pass through your mental filters.
You probably dislike it, but you still might have trouble
seeing it for what it is if you've been trying to block it from your
consciousness. Ask a friend or two to help you see things
- Leave "breathing space"
- Like white space on a page of print, "breathing space" around a room
will make it feel
less cluttered. Let some wall and floor space show.
It's amazing what an effect setting aside one shelf in a
bookcase for showcasing just a few art objects can do to change your
perception of that part of a room - it just feels freer. (Do you really
refrigerator covered with papers and magnets? - try taking them off and
see if it changes how you feel.) Glass shelves and doors can also
give the feel of more space (if they don't allow you to see clutter!).
- What can you respace? - Often you
can get more usable space in the same old places just by moving things
around, and by setting up dividers, adding shelves, stacking boxes,
etc. Closets are especially amenable to this - but you can
likely also "find more room" by rearranging the contents of drawers in
the kitchen, or adding containers to existing garage shelves and the
- Map the space - This
is particularly critical when you're moving, but it's a useful idea any
time: draw a to-size map of your room/s on graph paper, and
make little to-size cutouts of your pieces of furniture
(current or ideal) to get a handle on how everything can (or can't)
fit. (You can also use an autocad computer program for
this.) Brainstorm on storage solutions while you rearrange
- Lending and borrowing as options
- If you lend out your space-consuming possession, it isn't clutter any
more for you. If you rent or borrow large items only when you
need them (such as for big gatherings held only rarely, or for yard
reworking), they aren't taking up precious storage space at your house.
Perhaps you could start a swap club with friends and/or
neighbors, so that each of you has to house only one major item and
can borrow the others when needed.
- Consider going virtual... or not
at all -
Ask to be removed from
catalog mailings - if you don't want access, or if it's available
online. Ask to be removed from junk mail lists (in the U.S.,
Marketing Associaion, Mail Preference Service, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY,
10512 - or
for opting out of credit card offers). Don't forget to hold
your mail when you go out of town!
up a system for sorting as you go
you work through your Stuff, you'll want to have some boxes, bags, or
bins set aside (well, piles,
anyway) for different categories of items - and when you decide on what
do to with each thing you handle, put it in the right container.
for yourself what categories you'll need... Here are some
suggestions: KEEP, TOSS, DONATE, RECYCLE, SELL, PASS ON.
("Keep" items might be subdivided, if you're keeping them for
different purposes - or to put them in different places.
"Pass On"s might be subdivided into family heirlooms
to give away and gifts to save for Christmas, for instance.
You might want to donate some stuff to a book sale or church
bazaar, other stuff to a rummage store.)
and organizational ideas
- Build a closet or
storage cabinet in a room with an overabundance of space - or add an
armoire against the wall. Build
a bow window with a storage bench. Build a storage or
sleeping loft above ceiling level. Look for opportunities to
create alcoves underneath staircases, between-stud shelving in
other spaces. Tilt-out bins, even if shallow, can add useful storage space built into a wall.
- Create a niche in
the corner of a large room by using a bookcase or cabinet as a divider (or even a gaming table, if that's your taste).
- Containers - Nesting
food containers and pots save space in the kitchen, stacking boxes,
crates, and buckets in the garage. Nest pieces of luggage for
storage - or use them for storing other things. Consider
using various types of containers for things other than what
you're used to using them for (I keep paint brushes in a vase, paper
clips in a silver sugar bowl, CDs in a beautiful basket - eliminating
the need for other containers and allowing me to keep/use what
you really like) - what about tins, tureens, old teapots, flower pots,
- Shapes and sizes matter
- Switching from round to square/rectangular containers (or to fabric
pouches, or ziplock bags) could give you that much more space in the
corners (or pouchy-out places). Get rid of giant containers
that purchases come in (do you really
need the computer boxes?); if the purchase consists of a quantity of
things, consider dividing the stuff into smaller, easier to store
containers. This even applies to paint! - or CDs, put into an
album of plastic sleeves.
- Digitize to downsize -
Transfer your photos and music to digital formats, if you're willing to
jettison the hard copies (or store them away).
- Use the ceiling and upper walls?
Suspended cabinets can add useful space to a room.
Various types of suspended nets or brackets or pulley systems can come
in handy for storing things out of the way in the garage (e.g., paper
products, lumber, bicycles). Pots and pans can be hung in the
kitchen. Even televisions can be suspended from an upper
wall. Then there's pegboard to hang things from - in the
garage, in a crafts room, even in a pantry or on a cupboard door,
perhaps. Or just plain hooks (many specialty hooks are made
to hang yard equipment, bikes, lawn furniture and such from).
- Other wall-hung ideas
- Simple clipboards on the wall can easily organize many small bits of
paper, keys (add a cup hook), even kids' drawings. You can hang a
baking rack (for cooling cookies) on cup hooks in the wall, and use S
hooks to hang objects from it (not necessarily kitchen items!).
Hanging files are great for organizing papers, magazines, and
other smaller objects.
- Back-of-door containers
can hold all kinds of things: toys in a child's room; kitchen
implements in the pantry; shoes or scarves or socks (etc.) in a bedroom
or closet; smaller stuff in a cupboard. Then there are towel
holders that fit onto a door hinge
behind the door.
- Inside closets -
Hooks on the back wall for hanging small objects (e.g., cameras,
shopping bags, belts). Multi-garment hangers for clothes,
ties, belts, etc. Rolling bins are great for the floor, so stuff doesn't get lost underneath your clothes.
- Shelving - Can be
tall and narrow, in the corner, high, low, airy or massive.
Stackable wooden cubes as shelving. Over-the-toilet
shelving units. Store rarely used items up high or down low
to save wear and tear on backs; keep heavy items at about torso level.
Add shelf organizers. Suspend bags from hooks under
higher shelves. Put shelves over doorways or windows (a nice place for
decorative stuff, perhaps). Oh, and you can double your book
or CD storage by placing a back row on a board (so the top part of the
spines can be read above the front row). Rolling shelving units can save
space if you tuck them away, or move multiples of them close together,
while not in use (think garage?).
- Under shelving - Suspend
things under cabinets (especially useful in the kitchen - toaster oven,
spice rack, paper towels, etc.; also possibly in the garage).
Or use under-the-shelf wire baskets, if there's room below.
- Cupboards and drawers
- Lazy susans in hard-to-get-at corners. Double up on small
items in fatter drawers by using two layers of organizing trays
- Papers - Susan
Clutter from Your Life)
suggests a "Life RAFT" system for sorting papers: Refer,
Action, File, or Throw Away. (Or perhaps you'd prefer "Read"
to "Refer", if you don't see yourself passing things on to others.)
- Labeling - Use
photos of contents as box labels (or magazine pictures). What
about color-coding boxes for different people's stuff? And if
you have rows of containers that are difficult to label accurately, you
could always mark them "A" through "Z" (!) and keep a sheet handy that
describes the contents in detail.
for various objects/categories
- Collections - Hang
it on a wall or ceiling (i.e., decorate with it). Keep only part of it out at
any given time. Store
it away and bring it out to pore over only periodically.
Store it away for a year or more, then pull it out and see if
you're still attached to it - maybe you'll be able to part with
Or maybe you can keep just one or two of your favorites from
- Gifts - It is the thought that
counts... and you do not
have an obligation to someone else to keep something you don't like,
want, or need. Be creative about unwanted gifts (pass them
on; use them differently?;
them somehow?) - and be proactive for the future: Ask for
types of gifts that can't
turn into clutter (edibles, gift cards or cash, tickets, services, or
donations on your behalf to others). And turn some of your
gifts? (Have a white elephant exchange party!)
- Indoor plants - Hang
them from the ceiling.
- Laundry room items
- Stacking washer
Built-in ironing boards can fit between wall studs (yes, they
do still make them). Or hang one on the back of a door.
Can you use a central laundry chute instead of individual
- The bathroom
- Wall-recessed shelving nooks or cabinets other than the typical
mirrored medicine chest. If the mirror doesn't cover up a
medicine cabinet, add crown molding at the botton of it to form a
useful shelf. (Maybe you'd like to put a work of art on the
medicine cabinet door!) Hotel-style tubular towel shelves for the
upper wall. Tall corner racks. If you're changing out a
sink, consider covering the plumbing with a bumped-out section of wall
(wainscoted?) that creates a ledge at chest-height. Put the
sink/faucet in the corner? Consider a cabinet in a half-wall
concealing the toilet or tub from view. Make the room feel bigger
by using glass shower doors, or perhaps replacing a small window with a
big one (or a small mirror with a big one!).
- Electronics - Use
equipment instead of a separate printer, fax machine, copier, scanner -
or a separate phone and answering machine.
- Furniture -
Nesting tables. Pull-out and fold-out furniture (e.g.,
gate-leg tables; murphy beds, hide-a-beds, and trundle
sewing stations and the like) can save a lot of space - though you have
to reserve the floor room if you're going to use the item
Choose double-use furniture, like using file cabinets for end tables,
storage benches for seats, fold-fronted secretary desks to also hold
glassware or books in the shelves above. Raise your bed on
put drawers or storage boxes underneath; or build a platform bed atop
cabinets, an office area, or a play area in a child's room.
How are you going
uncluttered after you've invested time and energy in decluttering and
reorganizing your home? Well, you've no doubt picked up some
really good habits during the process. But...
You might want to
put a "clutter review" on your calendar at some convenient point in the
future (when you're likely to have the time, or the will? - New Year's
comes to mind as logical for that). Maybe make a date with a
friend to review both
Other than that, a
dilemma might be that you
have decluttered, but other household members aren't so sure they know
where things are now, or don't get and so can't participate in the
systems you've devised for dealing with Stuff. Maybe you'll
want to take photos of rooms (or draw diagrams) and label them as to
where things are so others can remember where to put things.
And maybe you'll want to have demonstrations of systems (like fire
drills ;^), or even celebrations to inaugurate them.
something to celebrate! May you find yourself feeling freer
and more empowered this time next year, with much effective
reorganization behind you.