5 Tips to Help You Declutter When You're Overwhelmed With Stuff | From Overwhelmed to Organized: 5 Tips to Help You Declutter When You're Overwhelmed With Stuff
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Thursday, February 19, 2015

5 Tips to Help You Declutter When You're Overwhelmed With Stuff





Do you feel overwhelmed when you think about decluttering?  Are some rooms in your home so messy and cluttered that you just don't know where to begin?  Do you wait until you have a large block of time available to declutter (and that large block never happens)?

Today I want to share a few tips to help you deal with these decluttering challenges so you can see progress and feel better about your home!


I use these tips when I declutter my own home, and I also help my organizing clients use these tips when I work with them.  As I share tips in this post, I'll share before and after pictures of a basement I decluttered and organized a few months ago.

The family used the basement as a play room for their kids, an entertainment area (Wii, xbox, movies, arcade games, etc.), an exercise room, a sports equipment storage zone, an overflow kitchen for storing items that aren't used regularly, an area for gift wrapping supplies and pre-bought gifts, and a general storage area for bulk items, seasonal items, overflow office items, etc. 

The basement was pretty cluttered and they weren't really able to use it for any of the purposes they'd intended because there was too much clutter.  It was overwhelming at first, but after a few days of decluttering they were able to have a basement that allowed them to have the storage they needed and a relaxing place to play and spend time together.

Here are a couple of general before and after pictures:






See all the clutter in the before pictures?  And see all the empty space in the after pictures?  Decluttering is worth it my friends!  Even the most cluttered spaces can become functional and enjoyable!

Don't believe me?  Try these 5 tips to help you declutter your home.

1.  Focus on 1 area of your home at a time


Does this sound familiar?  You're decluttering one room and you find items that belong in another room.  You bring them to that room but end up having to put some things away there to make room for the items you brought in.  And that leads to doing something else and pretty soon, you have to pick your kids up and you're out of time to declutter.  But you barely touched the initial room, and you feel like you have done nothing, even though you've been busy the whole time.  It's kind of like those "If you give a mouse a cookie" books. 

One of the hardest things to do when decluttering is to only focus on 1 area at a time.  But it makes the biggest difference!  You'll see more progress, which will help you feel less overwhelmed and more motivated to continue decluttering.

How do you do that?  Keep a "Relocate" basket or box nearby, and as you find things that don't belong in the room that you're decluttering, add them to that box.  Save a bit of time at the end of your decluttering time to return those items to the rooms they belong in or do it later in the day.  Don't worry about making those rooms perfect right now... just get the items to the right general area and at a later date you can deal with decluttering and organizing that room. 

For my client, we had a relocate box and as we came across items that belonged in the kids' bedrooms or other parts of the house, we put them in that box.  Then at the end of each session my client put those items back where they belonged.  In this case there weren't a lot of things, since it was the basement, and most of the items that were there actually belonged there.  But there were some mismatched DVD's or DSi games where part of it was in the basement and the other part was in a bedroom, for example.





Now that we'd cleared out more open space in the basement, the client was able to work out without tripping over boxes, and they were able to access their arcade game and table hockey game to play whenever they wanted.  {The client was going to move a few last boxes into the garage so the area is actually even more open than the after picture.}

2.  Commit to decluttering for 15 minutes



That's all.  Just start and work hard for 15 minutes.  Set your kitchen timer or use a timer on your phone.  It's kind of a psychological game but you've probably put off decluttering for so long that it feels like a bigger task than it is.  Once you start, you'll get into it and see that it's not that hard :)  If you want to do more after your 15 minutes then you can set your timer for another 15 minutes.  In the meantime you'll have gotten past that initial hump and it will be easier to get back to decluttering another day.

With my clients, I work with them for anywhere from 3 hours to 7 hours, but if they're feeling overwhelmed, we do everything in short bursts.  It helps them get going, and then the momentum keeps them going.  I often leave them with "homework" to do between sessions and encourage them to follow the same technique when they do that.  If you're working alone, and don't have the accountability of a professional organizer keeping you going, try the 15 minutes tip.  It really works!




3.  Start in one spot and keep working around the room from there



If you're staring into an overwhelming room, it can be hard to know where to start.  Don't worry about it.  Just start.  Just to the right of the door.  Or just to the left.  Or right at your feet by the door if that's where the clutter starts. It doesn't matter where you start.  But just start.  And stay with that spot until it's decluttered.  Then move to the next little area in that direction.  And then the next.  As you see the empty space you're seeing progress.  That's exciting and that's powerful!

With this client, the whole basement was cluttered, but their priority was the toy area.  So we started with the daughter's Barbies, dolls, etc.  They were spread throughout the room, and it was impossible for the son to play hockey.  The corner of the basement was not well used, so I moved everything out of the corner and moved all the daughter's toys to that corner.  That way they wouldn't be in the way for the son's hockey game and she wouldn't have to put everything away every time she played with it (which, let's face it, doesn't happen with dolls and Barbies!).  The client purged anything the daughter had outgrown, which made more space available for the things she really enjoyed now.





4.  Have 3 bags nearby for garbage, recycling, and donate



If you're working in a really cluttered room, you can have these bags out in the hallway.  I like to use green or black bags for garbage, blue bags for recycling, and clear bags for donations so I'm never confused about which bag to use for which item.  I've often lined them up in the hallway until there's more space in the room to set them.

Pick up each item and decide if it's garbage, recycling, or donate and put it in the appropriate bag.  If it belongs in another room, put it in your Relocate box (see step 1). And if you're keeping it and it belongs in the room you're working in, then just set it back where it was.  If you have space you can begin to group like items together, but if your room is very cluttered, then just set it back where it was.  You should see some empty space emerging as you clear out the garbage, recycling, donations, and items that need to be relocated. 

With this client, we threw out or recycled things like broken toys, games that were missing pieces, books that had pages missing, and unnecessary packaging from toys.  They gave away a toy kitchen and all the related accessories, and they donated several games, lots of "little" toys, and many outgrown books. As we decluttered I had more space to group like items, and then organize them on the shelves and in the toy bins. 






5.  Have a picture in your mind for what you want the space to look like and how you want it to function once it's all decluttered. 



As you make decisions along the way, ask yourself if the item in question will help you achieve your goal or not.  If yes, then keep it.  If not, then declutter it.

If the room you're decluttering is overflowing with stuff, and your goal is to be able to relax in that room, then you can't keep everything.  It's not relaxing to be tripping over things on the floor on your way to the couch.  It's not relaxing to be stressed when you're trying to find something and you have to move other stuff out of the way to search.  It's not relaxing if you walk into the room and feel overwhelmed by all the clutter.

You set the goal, and then use it as a tool for making decisions.


These tips will help you declutter any room in your home.  It can be a large area like this basement, or a small area like a pantry or linen closet.  Use the same techniques and you'll find you're much more successful at decluttering!  And that will motivate you to keep going on other areas of your home :)

One more look at the before and after pictures of this part of the basement {we haven't decluttered the rest of the storage areas yet}.




If you'd like more decluttering tips and inspiration, check out my Decluttering / Purging Tips & Ideas board! 


And stop back in tomorrow for the Spring Cleaning Bundle sale, which has several printables to help you with your decluttering!  [Update: the Spring Cleaning Bundle sale is over.]





  



Which of these tips do you find the most challenging when you're decluttering?  Do you have other tips you've found helpful when you're decluttering? 


Happy organizing!



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22 comments:

  1. Your before and after pics are SO inspiring!!! Love this. I'm in the midst of trying to make myself declutter and it's a battle!

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    1. Thanks Andrea! I love doing what I do and seeing the difference it makes :) Good job decluttering! Keep it up... it's worth the effort!

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  2. I NEEDED this post. I never know where to start and the idea of committing just 15 minutes to de-cluttering is AMAZING. Great post!

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    1. Glad to help Jessika! Yes, 15 minutes isn't threatening or overwhelming and your decluttering efforts really add up over time. Let me know how it goes for you!

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  3. YESSSS!!!! I SOOO needed this post. I suffer this daily. Right now I'm in the middle of packing for a move and I feel the same paralysis facing me as I pack! I don't know if the amount overwhelms me or the job itself.

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    1. Packing for a move is definitely a lot of work and can be very overwhelming. Try to declutter as much as you can before you pack so you're not packing, moving, and unpacking stuff you don't really need or use. And use the same strategies as in this post to help you pack. They really work! Best of luck to you!

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  4. Great tips! I use many of these myself. Maybe someday I will have my own clients. ;)

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    1. Being a professional organizer is a great career! Let me know if you have any questions about it :)

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  5. You did really awesome with this basement! I think the most important rule for me is #5 because when you can envision it then it will make you work that much harder to obtain your goal! Great tips! =)

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    1. Thanks Jessica! That's definitely a really important step when decluttering and organizing. Without it, it's harder to decide what to keep and what to purge and it's hard to stay motivated along the way.

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  6. That's good advice! I'm totally the "I want to get done EVERYTHING - but I don't have enough time" kind of person ;-) I will have to try the 15 minutes. Soon.
    You did an awesome job on that client's garage, wow!

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    1. Thanks Tamara... it was a lot of fun and I love seeing the difference it made for them! Good luck with the 15-minutes tips!

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  7. Great tips Hilda! We all needs reminders and a kick in the pants sometime.

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    1. Thanks Leanne! And yes, I need those kicks sometimes too!

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  8. Setting a timer to combat the overwhelm is a great tip! I use this myself all of the time. I usually find once the timer goes off that I still have some motivation to continue on.

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    1. It's amazing how much we can accomplish when we're racing against that timer isn't it Jamie? I also find I want to keep going once I get going too.

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  9. I love the before and after photos! Great job! I like to organize from the right to the left. For some reason that works for me. It keeps me focused on the project and not get overwhelmed.

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    1. Thanks Sabrina! I often work right to left too. It's a simple system that really helps.

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  10. Hilda, Great post! Funny how the advice can be used in other areas of your life as well, not just clutter. When people are overwhelmed by anything at all they can refer to your tips!

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    1. Thanks Erica! I never thought of it that way, but yes... these tips can help break any overwhelming task down to manageable tasks. Thanks for pointing that out!

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  11. Nice before and after photos! I like your point about picking a starting point in a room and working around from there. I find this really helps in preventing zig zagging.

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    1. Thanks Sarah! Yes, zig zagging can make it harder to stay focused and sometimes makes it seem like not as much progress is being made. Seeing empty space is very motivating and this system helps make that happen!

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I love hearing from my readers! This is a great place to ask questions, answer questions, and share your organizing tips. Thank you so much for commenting! I look forward to getting to know you better :)