Kick-Start Your Decluttering

Goodwill has opened a fantastic store close to my house, so now one of our reasons for not decluttering has been erased. They have a fabulous drive-thru that has made it too convenient for drop-off. Now, we are gathering our courage to attack the piles and boxes that have accumulated in our attic, closets, and garage.

I was very encouraged by a podcast on NPR interviewing a professional organizer about how to create systems that work for you because, as she said, “organizing is not a one-and-done task; it is a continual process.” The organizer is Star Hansen, who calls herself the Clutter Whisperer. She teaches classes on home organization and has a very useful online series on the subject.

Kick-Start Your Decluttering

Here are some of Star’s decluttering strategies and her philosophy on decluttering, which I found highly useful as we start this journey over the summer:

Understand Your Clutter:

Hansen says everyone’s clutter tells a personal story. Ask yourself: “What’s making this hard to get rid of?” she says. “Often, the trip-up is from holding on to the past or wanting a different reality than the one we live in.”

Star explained that understanding the reasons behind your clutter can make it easier to know what to keep and what to let go of. She used the example of that blazer that hasn’t fit for years, and maybe it reveals a yearning for your former profession or workplace. How about the stockpiling of clothes that no longer fit while hoping you will get back to that size? I am probably never going to be a size 3 again, yet I still have a stash of those very cute pants that I can’t seem to let go of. Hope springs eternal because people will be optimistic and think something better is coming. Decluttering requires us to be more realistic if we wish to have a better life right now.

Start Small:

Here’s a big one for many of us with ADHD – starting small is not something we do well. And the fact that we underestimate the amount of time something will take is a contributing factor. My idea to declutter the garage on a weekend was really laughable when I was about two hours into the job. Once I got a feel for how humongous that project actually was, I was looking for anything else to do except that garage (working on my taxes would be an exception to the garage).

My grandparents always said don’t bite off more than you can chew, so it was fun to see Star Hansen say the same and use the garage as an example of too big a bite. She said to start with something less challenging, like a single drawer or a bag. The more complicated projects like tax paperwork (at least I got that one right), the garage, and sentimental items should be reserved for when your decluttering muscle has been built up.

She also suggested breaking the time you have – say, an hour – to declutter into 20-minute intervals. Start with 20 minutes of looking for trash items, then 20 minutes of donatable items, and the last 20 minutes of putting items back where they belong.

Having realistic goals broken down into manageable chunks will bring you small wins and keep you striving through the process.

Take The Emotions Out of It:

Once you decide on the area of decluttering to work on, take a full inventory of that space, which means pulling everything out to organize into piles, and combining the duplicates. The hard part comes when deciding what items are no longer needed. You can feel some sentimentality around an object that represents something from your past, and yet it not be worthy any more of the space it will take. That’s where she suggests you try to view it through “neutral eyes,” like perhaps a friend might, since none of this stuff has any deep meaning to them. This kind of attitude can help you unhook from things you feel sentimental about that you no longer need.

Ditch the Fancy Storage Boxes:

You don’t need to invest in all the fancy boxes when you can probably find adequate storage boxes in your clutter. Hansen said to get creative with those shoeboxes, Tupperware, and iPhone boxes. And, of course, at some point, when you start decluttering more in-depth, those boxes you reused will not be so hard to let go of when you let the items inside go to a good home.

Make It Easy to Stay Organized:

Star elaborated that the key to staying organized is to create easily maintained practices. There will be times when you are exhausted or under duress, and your system needs to be easy to do even then. For example, she said to label your item on all four sides for easy identification and put your most used items in easily accessible areas.

Most importantly, though, celebrate your progress by telling your friends or spouse about your wins and maybe even documenting your progress with before-and-after pictures. When you feel the satisfaction of your hard work, you will want to continue on the next leg of the journey.

There may be some days you feel more inspired to declutter than others, but even if you don’t feel like it, do your best to try and toss one thing every day. It can be small, but just make sure you do it. After a while, your home will be transformed, and you will have built up a valuable habit of removing what no longer serves you.

If you are having trouble getting motivated, try to tap into a good before-and-after picture so you can see the results of your work and feel motivated to keep grinding.

Katherine Jahnke

Katherine Jahnke

ADHD Coach | Center For Living Well with ADHD, LLC

Would you like to get our blog posts delivered right to your inbox each week?

Add your name and email to subscribe here: