Accept the limitations of the space you have, and declutter enough that your stuff fits comfortably in that space.

Dana White, Decluttering at the Speed of Life
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What is decluttering?

A large part of homemaking is simply managing the stuff a family needs to grow and fulfill their responsibilities. 

Decluttering is one vital part of managing stuff. But what is clutter? Sometimes we use “clutter” as a generic insult for stuff we don’t want to deal with. However, clutter refers to things that are not where they belong, or they are in a place they don’t belong. When we’re looking in a closet, in a cupboard, in a drawer, in a whole room, and we say, “It’s cluttered,” what we mean is that it’s full of stuff that does not belong there.

What is clutter?

  • Clutter is not a synonym for junk.
  • A thing that is clutter in one place might not be clutter another place.
  • Whether junk or treasure, it’s clutter if it’s not put away.
  • In order to not be clutter, a thing needs a home.
  • In order to not be clutter, a thing needs to be in its home.

Decluttering means going through the space and removing what does not belong.

Organizing the space then is putting the things away well, strategically, smartly, in the place they do belong. Decluttering must come before organizing.

You can’t organize a space that has not been decluttered because if the space has stuff that doesn’t belong there, it can’t be organized there. It needs to be removed so that the things that do belong can then be ordered.

Give everything a home.

A Place for Everything and
Everything in Its Place

It sounds so simple, but it’s oh-so-hard.

The real problem that trips us up in the chaos of our home is not that we own stuff or use stuff or even have stuff out. 

The difficulty is that so much of the stuff has no home – so it’s not just that it’s out, but rather that it has no place to go other than some other spot a little less in the way.

Let’s address the real issue, then, and give our stuff true homes.

What needs a home? What counts as a home?

There are 3 things to take into consideration as you look to give the stuff inside of your home an intentional place to be.

First: Is this worth giving a home?

If you’d rather get rid of it than reserve space for it, do so. 

If it’s only in your house temporarily, either let it be or set up a place for temporary items. Later, it will go to its home, whether that’s the garbage, the store you’ll return it to, the friend to whom it belongs, or the thrift store where it will be donated.

If you aren’t going to give it a place to belong, you need to get rid of it. There’s no other option.

Second: How often do you need it?

The more often you use a thing, the more convenient a home it should be given. If you use something less often than twice a year, find it a home outside your high traffic spaces.

Think about those times you do use it. When you want it, where would you look for it? Choose a home that makes sense to you and your use of it, not a home that looks cute or that Martha Stewart would approve of.

Third: What space do you have?

You have to have space before it can go into a space.

Decluttering, tidying, and organizing is always a dance between stuff and space. If there’s no space, the stuff has to go. If there’s stuff, it will occupy space, so it must be given intentional space to occupy. 

There’s an odd juggle that happens when we try to clean, declutter, and organize our homes and our stuff.

Much of the space we do have in unavailable because it is poorly used. Much of the stuff we have is simply out wherever it may be because there is no room for it where it ought to belong. And sometimes we don’t know where it ought to belong because there appears to be a domino of decisions – and actions – needing to happen before it can actually be put there. So we never even start.

But start, we must.

Giving things a home is a long-term project.

Decluttering is not the work of a weekend. It’s more likely the work of a year or three. 

The truth is that you will get started with some good ideas, declutter, make room, give things homes, and then, as you live and observe and do, you’ll find some of those decisions need to be reassessed, adjusted, and done over. 

The temptation at that point is to think it’s all a waste, pointless and unending.

It might be unending, but that doesn’t mean it a waste.

It’s all a part of the process. As we use our stuff and our space, we learn what works and we learn how we work. Our job isn’t to set things up and then conform ourselves to the stuff and the space, but to use the stuff and the space to enable us to work more effectively. How we work and what we do shifts and changes, and our understanding of what works for us also develops over time, so that means that the homes that make sense will also change and adapt – as they should – to stay effective.

So start not with the back corner, or the easiest closet. Start where you work most. Make sure the items you use most, need most, and see most have deliberate, intentional, effective homes. Move out the things that get in the way. Clear the spaces that you need to have cleared. Use easily accessible cupboard and closet space for those items you use often. Move items you use rarely to the hard-to-reach places. 

Homes don’t have to be labeled, containered, or look impressive. A home is simply a deliberately chosen space the thing occupies for now. When it’s in that space, it is “put away.” When it is not in that space, it is not “put away.” 

But until items have homes, they cannot be put away – they can only be moved out of the way. 

So before tidying up can happen, we must give things homes, recognizing that it will take time, observation, and decision-making for orderliness and tidying to spread. 

More than simply “decluttering,” we need to work on “homing” things. Yes, we do need to get rid of junk we don’t need or use. But how do we know how much to declutter? How do we know when we’re done?

The answer comes from evaluating the space we have, evaluating what we use and how often, and giving each item in our house a real place to belong. It’s a long process, and one that needs to be repeated as more stuff comes in and goes out and life changes.

But it’s the practical first step in real “organizing” – not labeling or buying new containers, but simply making a conscious decision about what goes where.

How to declutter.

Organizing starts with decluttering, but decluttering is actually a much bigger job than simply clearing out closets.

Decluttering is one of those processes that is often worse before it’s better. It’s moving stuff around and sorting and deciding. It’s easy to stall and get lost in the details and decisions. 

The decluttering process, regardless of what you’re decluttering, consists of the same steps:

Empty the space completely. If you’re decluttering a closet, pull everything out. If you’re decluttering your head, spill it all out onto paper. If you’re decluttering a drawer, empty it. If you’re decluttering your schedule, start with a clean slate. Even if something you pull out is something you know will go back in, you’ll have better results if you start with an empty space.

Put each item back intentionally. Only put back in the empty space what you want to live there.

Discard whatever you can. As you go, always toss whatever you can – decluttering is getting rid of the excess and the accumulated junk. Crayon bits, plastic bits, whatever bits – as you find them, toss them. Also have a bag at hand to collect things to donate to Goodwill, so you can discard what you don’t need without throwing away items that still have life in them.

It is a process. Don’t fret if it takes weeks to go through even one space. Don’t be discouraged if you end up with an inbox – a literal box – full of stuff that now have no home when you’re done.

Keep moving through the home, decluttering and rearranging and adjusting and making new homes. It’s a process, and it will bring more peace and calm with every step forward, even before it’s a completely finished project.

Step #1: Brain Dump

Before beginning, spend some time thinking about your particular needs and situation. Then, when it comes time to make decisions while decluttering, you’ll be prepared and ready.

Set a timer and spend 10 minutes – and only 10 minutes – writing down whatever comes to mind as you consider these prompts:

What areas in your home bug you most? What about it bothers you?

What spaces in your home can be used for storage? What would help you use the space for effectively?

Where in your home does having too much clutter trip you up and slow you down?

Step #2: Try a decluttering session

Prepare your containers and categories: 1) a trash can  2) a donate bag  3) a box for things you need to postpone making a decision on.

Start with the most obvious spot. Choose one area in a main living area that seems to attract random piles and visibly or practically drives you crazy. Spend 15-30 minutes decluttering it every day until it only holds what truly belongs there.

Throw away as much trash as you can. It’s easiest to spot and easiest to put where it belongs. Making a visible difference quickly and easily will give your decluttering session momentum. Put away the items you find that have known homes elsewhere.

Third, move other stuff that doesn’t belong there but whose true home is unknown to a container of some sort. Yes, this is procrastination, but it’s still progress. We’re spreading order slowly, but surely, and the order will come to this container in its own time. Finally, arrange what belongs in the space in an orderly fashion.

Continue spending 5-10 minutes daily for a few days or weeks, just maintaining your decluttering foothold in this one space. 

The procrastination box is key. Clutter is stuff that isn’t in its home or doesn’t have a home. Giving things a home takes time.

To make progress on clearing surfaces, your clutter needs a temporary holding home so that you don’t procrastinate all decluttering because of the number of decisions to make. Yes, you might need many boxes. Yes, you might need an entire room to become the holding space – but that’s better than having it everywhere.

Slowly, you will learn to live in clear space and that will motivate you to clear unnecessary items when you tackle your temporary boxes (or room). It’s a process that will take time. The procrastination box allows you to take the time you need.

Make decluttering a part of your regular rhythm. 15 minutes 3-5 days a week will help you make noticeable progress without it becoming an all-encompassing, obsessive project. 

Decluttering never ends.

Keep decluttering – all the time. Despite what others might tell you, decluttering never ends, especially in a house with children. There will always be more stuff coming in, needs changing, and situations shifting. We need to be willing to be continually adapting, not looking for the static state of stuff perfection.

Especially when we are raising families, what we need and what we have is in constant flux. When the children are growing and changing all the time, so are the needs we have to meet and so are the demands on our time and space.

Decluttering the home is not a once-and-done sort of project – it’s a necessary strategy for dealing with the ever-incoming stuff of life.

The good news: we get better at it with practice.

Slowly, gradually, add more areas to your decluttering project. First, begin with a quick EHAP (Everything Has a Place – so put it there) tidy time and clear the spaces you’ve already decluttered.

Then, put some time in the next place, always prioritizing the spaces that drive you crazy. When you feel progress in areas you care about, the momentum is more likely to pick up speed and continue. So instead of going clockwise or room by room, but from one small area that drives you crazy to the next.

Step #3: Start with a baby step

Decluttering needs to be added to our routines. It’s not something done once and for all.

Add 5-10 minutes of decluttering to your routines 3 times a week. Use a timer and don’t get bogged down by feeling like you have to be “finished” before moving on.

Designate a temporary catch-all place as you work through the house. Choose a bin and add the random things you need to postpone decisions about into it. As you work through your home systematically, what room is last on the list? Store your random bit bins there.

Yes, that last room will be a doozy of a job to work through when you get to it, but by that time you will have experienced the calm that comes from having a home for everything and your motivation will increase.

You will also have a better idea for what spaces you have left, whether or not you actually need or want the thing, and how storage best works for you and your house. Plus, a little time and space allows us to make better decisions about those peripheral items.

Give it a try!

I was really skeptical about decluttering for only 10 minutes at a time, but I found that it does work!

I am able to get more done in 10 minutes than when I try to do it all at one time. I am also motivated to keep the decluttered spaces clean and little by little we have worked our way through our house.
Kate Casanova,
Simply Convivial Member

A daily decluttering habit

 I’ve also been learning to approach decluttering as a daily habit rather than a giant project. For years I thought I needed a week with no kids at home to make progress, but that’s never happened!  But it’s been a huge blessing realizing the power of a small, daily habit.
Laura Bell,
Simply Convivial Member

Keeping up

Most of the time, it actually does work best to work in short chunks of time when decluttering, as long as I put things away as I go and start with already-decluttered areas to maintain them.
Kristin Ching,
Simply Convivial Member

Step #4: Iterate for progress

Though it will take a long time, map out a plan for what it will take in your current life and home to give all the things a designated, decided home.

Start with the most-used areas of your home and systematically go through the storage and holding places, one by one. It might take a year or even two to make it through the entire house, but you will be steadily seeing progress and building the habit of “homing” things as you go.

Empty the storage places, shelf by shelf. When you start organizing an area, empty the space, one shelf or one section at a time. Then only put back on the shelf what will belong there.

As you are moving through your house giving things homes, declutter by getting rid of the things you don’t need or don’t use. When you must make a “home” decision for each item, handling it and being deliberate, you will make better decisions about what to keep and where to keep it.

Declutter as you go.

I’m now decluttering as I go – if I can’t find something in the area where it goes, I spend a few minutes decluttering. Sometimes I find it, sometimes I don’t – but that little area is always improved!
Karen Cronin,
Simply Convivial Member

Growth necessitates decluttering.

I like to think of decluttering as the first step in growth, making space for growing, changing, and improvement. Just as kids outgrow their clothes and shoes (and have growing pains too), we need to pass along the old and make room for the new. Adding more without clearing out is frustrating because things get mixed up and messy. I am always amazed how much nicer it is to clean out the refrigerator before I go to the grocery store. Growth and change are inevitable, so taking time to clear some space makes it easier on the whole.
Abby Wahl,
Simply Convivial Leadership Team

Repent. Rejoice. Repeat.

Decluttering is not some ideal, perfect state we can achieve if we just work hard enough. Instead, decluttering is a habit we need to build and practice.

Related Seminars & Meetups:

Read or listen to the lesson.
Spend 5-10 minutes answering the brain dump prompts.
Complete one 10 minute decluttering session.
Set yourself up for regular decluttering.