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A Discussion About De-cluttering

There are several different skills involved in creating an organized, uncluttered, functional space.

Sorting= grouping items in logical categories

Organizing= putting items away in an orderly fashion

De-cluttering= getting rid of things you don't need, clearing surfaces of extra items

You may be good at one of these skills without being good at the others. It's very possible to have your items sorted without them being organized, or organized without being sorted. It's also possible to have all your things well sorted and organized, but still have many things you don't need or much more than you need.

When you're attempting to organize and de-clutter, it helps to realize that there are different steps that use each of these skills.


Before discussing organizing/de-cluttering, it's a good idea to look at the roadblocks that are in our way. What keeps us from being organized or de-cluttered?

-feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the clutter problem

-not knowing how to organize items in a helpful way

-not having enough space for all the things we want to do

-not having much time to work on it

-not really wanting to organize/de-clutter at all

All these roadblocks are valid- and can be difficult. But if you've really made up your mind that you want or need to organize/de-clutter, these roadblocks can be overcome. Before we talk about method, however, let's consider some other things.

Emotional ties to our stuff

One of the hardest parts of organizing/de-cluttering can be the emotional ties we have to our stuff. It's hard to get rid of things for a number of reasons.

-feeling like we may need the items some day

-feeling that we might need it to help someone else

-items are associated with a hobby/activity you want to start some day

-items have sentimental value

-someone might get mad at you if you get rid of it

-items would cost a lot to replace if you ever needed them

All of these are valid concerns. All of them! All are good reasons. If we had unlimited space/funds, we could keep anything we wanted for all of these very good reasons. But unfortunately, we don't have unlimited space or money.

We are forced to work with a 'good, better, best' concept. The good, better, best concept simply is that we recognize that we don't have room/resources for everything- even all the 'good' things. Even all the 'better' things. Because of limitations of time, space, and money, we have to choose the 'best' things to keep in our homes.

It's the same thing when we think of how we spend our time. The time we have is limited. We don't have time to do all the things we'd like to. We have to choose the 'best' things to spend our time one. Likewise with our stuff- and these choices about our stuff are often linked to how much time we have to spend on a particular activity.

We acquire the things we have because they help us out, save us time/money, entertain us, and bring beauty into our lives. However, our possessions also require resources from us. It costs us money to house them, and time and emotional energy to manage them. If we have too much stuff- or if it's all unorganized, good as it is, our stuff can take an emotional toll on us!

Pretty much everything we have in our houses could be categorized in at least the 'good' category. They are good things to have- all of them! Unfortunately, we usually don't reasonably have room for even all the 'good' items.

It helps to realize it's not bad to want to keep any of our stuff. It's all probably at least in the 'good' category. It's just that we have to choose because of limited resources. Once we realize that, it's easier to start letting go of some things.

Another Definition

Minimalism= living your life using less stuff- as few things as possible


There's a balance between minimalism and practicality/ being prepared. An extreme minimalist lifestyle is very freeing in some ways, but if say, your car breaks down, and you don't have the tools to fix it, you'll have to pay someone else to do it.

On the other hand, if you try to be prepared for every possible contingency, pretty soon, you'll need a warehouse to contain all of your possessions. We have to strike a balance between the extremes based on our personal circumstances.


You will decide how much space, money, time, and energy you have to give when you look at your possessions. You can recognize which roadblocks you need to overcome, and which emotional ties to your stuff you have the time, money, space, and emotional energy to accommodate.

Realize also that these constraints may change over the course of your life. So also will change what you have in your home and how you have it organized. Nothing is set in stone.

Organizing/de-cluttering can and should often be done in small chunks over time. We don't acquire all our stuff at once, and organizing it will take time. That said, you can accomplish an amazing amount in just 2-3 days if you have a good system, and maybe some help.

So how do you start? What do you do?

The Process

Pick an area you want to start with. Depending on how much time/help you have, it could range from one drawer to one room. Please do NOT try to do the whole house at once. The largest area of concentration we recommend is one room. Have the following available:

* box/bag for trash
* box/bag for recycling
* box for give away
* box for selling
*boxes for things you're keeping

Coarse sorting and De-cluttering

1. Find any trash and put it in your trash bag/box

If your area of concentration is a large area or a room, start with the floor. Once the floor is clear, do horizontal surfaces. Once those are done, you can work on what's in the furniture.

2. Put each item you want to keep into a category box. This time around, it will be a 'coarse sorting' into general categories. For example: craft items, tools, books, papers, kitchen items, cleaning items, office items, etc. Keep going until your area of concentration is all emptied out. Add more category boxes as you run into new categories. Labeling the boxes with their categories written on post it notes can be helpful.

Don't worry if things look messy and chaotic right now. It will often look worse before it gets better, but it will get better!

3. If you know you don't want it, put it in either the trash/recycling or into a give away or sell box.

If you have trouble deciding, you can ask yourself these questions:

1. Is it broken?
2. Do I use it? If so, how often?
3. Could someone else use it more than I could?
4. Do I have the time and resources to house this item?

As you sort, when a trash bag gets full, take it out! When a give away box gets full, put it in your car! When a 'for sale' box is full, set a date to actually sell those things, or put it in your car immediately to take to a consignment store.

When a category box for keep items is full, set it aside and start a new box for that category if necessary.

Fine Sorting

Once you are finished with your area of concentration, then you look at your category boxes and do a finer sort. The first sorting was a 'coarse sorting'. The second is a 'finer sorting'- into sub categories.

For example: 'books' can be sorted into cookbooks, magazines, textbooks, novels, etc. 'Office items' can be sorted into paper, notebooks, pens/pencils, staples, tacks, memo pads, etc. 'Decorative Items' can be sorted into wall hangings, knick knacks, flags, flowers, etc.

Feel free to weed out more stuff as you do your fine sorting. You may realize as you do this sort that you have multiples of the same item, and you don't need them all. Or you may realize that you don't use an item and can get rid of it. Put these items into your trash/recycling bag/box or into your give away or sell box.


Once you have done your coarse sorting and your fine sorting, decide which categories will remain in your area of concentration. Take the category boxes that will NOT remain in your area of concentration to the other place in your home where you think you will keep them.

Now it's much easier to start organizing. For one thing, you have less to organize. Second, you already have your things sorted. It is easier to see how much space you will need and what containers/furniture you might need to put your things in

Look at the categories that will remain in your area of concentration. Look at the furniture and space you have available and decide how to put away the items in a way that makes sense to you.

You may decide to get more furniture or storage containers as you look at your categories and think about how to put them away. Do not hesitate to let the categories sit in their boxes while you get furniture or permanent storage containers. It will keep your items organized into categories while you come up with a workable, permanent solution to put them away, and the boxes will be a spur to help you get the furniture or containers you need.

As you decide where to put everything, you can ask yourself:

1. Where do I use this?
2. How often do I use this?
3. Where do I have some space that might work for this?

Another helpful concept is the idea of A, B, C, D storage.

A= items you use every day. These items get to be stored at the fronts of drawers, cupboards, and shelves where they are easy to access.
B= items you use every week. These items should still be easy to find, but can be a little harder to get to.
C= items you don't use every week. These can be stored in harder to get to places- where you have to use a chair to get to them, in the attic, etc.
D= items you rarely if ever use. These items can be gotten rid of!

When you are trying to figure out where to put something or some category, you can decide if it's an A, B, C, or D item. That will help you know where to place it.

There are a whole host of products out there to help you organize, even in small spaces. We won't go into specifics here because every person's house will need different solutions!

If you have a limited budget, keep in mind that the organizing solutions you use do not have to be expensive solutions. You can find many things second hand or even for free, or use your own materials. If it doesn't have to be pretty, you have even more freedom to use what you have. Cardboard boxes, concrete blocks and boards for shelves, stacking books to maximize shelf space, etc.

Repeat the whole process with another area of concentration till you're done!

Get Help

If you know you're not good at organizing, but you know someone who is, call in a friend or family member to help. Get ideas from them and decide which will be useful and make sense to you. You don't have to do this alone!

Giving Away or Selling Items

Treasures should be given to someone who will continue the love. It doesn't have to go in a box to Goodwill." Pat Farra

If we're having trouble letting go of some of our stuff, it really helps us get rid of these 'good' items and even the 'better' items if we know they're going to someone who will really appreciate and use them. It makes us feel good, and it makes sense- our stuff is going to get fully utilized- not just sit around our house collecting dust. It's much easier to let go of something if you know it's going to someone who loves it and can really use it!

When we are getting rid of stuff, we can check with family, friends, or donate the item to a worthy cause. Online searches for 'donate ___________ (name of item)' can come up with a wealth of results for places you could send your stuff where it could really be used.

We can also sell our items- there is nothing wrong with getting some money for the item you don't have the space or time/energy to keep, but that will be very useful to someone else. If you're not realistically going to get around to selling it though, give it away. You will end up happier in the long run!

You could really make someone's day while freeing up valuable space and giving yourself peace and contentment in your own home.

Other ideas:

You can take a picture of the item if it's something you want to remember. Especially with digital photos- you can take picture of your children's artwork, that heirloom you don't have room for any more, your beautiful collection of porcelain rabbits, etc. It's a way to still have a record of those things without having to find a place for them.

Digital photo screens can be wonderful things to cycle through a collection of family and sentimental photos and enjoy the images instead of having the items themselves shoved in a box or up in the attic.


Let's talk a little about downsizing. Everyone will at some point likely need to downsize. Downsizing involves all of the skills we've already talked about- sorting, de-cluttering, and organizing- plus major life changes. When you downsize, you are getting into the emotional realm again because downsizing means giving up parts of your life that you formerly had.

Say you're moving into a condo because you can't keep up with the yard work and such a large house any more. You may be largely giving up gardening- or your workshop- or camping -or a former at home business. These are big things to sacrifice- and are about more than just stuff. Giving up those gardening tools means giving up a big part of your life that you loved and enjoyed. That is not going to be easy or painless.

First: we have to go back to the good, better, best concept again. We have limited space, energy, and physical ability. We have to decide which are the 'best' things to bring with us- which are the best tings for us to be spending our limited resources on.

Second: if we have to give up an activity that was meaningful in our lives, we HAVE to find something to replace it. Maybe instead of a whole yard of plants and flowers, we start a new hobby with bonsai trees or orchids. Instead of keeping 300 books at home, maybe we join a revolving book club where we borrow and give back books once they're read and discuss them with friends. We have to replace the hole in our lives with something, or it's gong to be very difficult to make the downsizing decisions or even to be happy once the decisions are made and we are moved.


In conclusion, we want to say that any of us can get our stuff under control. We can all learn a way to sort, organize, and de-clutter that works for us. There's not just one way to do things, and it's definitely worth the effort! When you get your stuff under control, you get your space back, you have more money, you can find things, and you regain peace of mind in your own home. You can do it!

Soon to be posted:

How to KEEP your house organized/de-cluttered

How to work with your natural habits when organizing

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