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Okay, I'm not going to preach this time.  All I'm saying is, if you're anything like me, you probably have this same problem, too.  So, first I'm going to tell you what I've learned, then I'm going to tell you what I'm doing and what is working for me.  Like dieting, different ways work for different people, so please don't think of me as any kind of a professional organizer.  Your mileage may vary.

First, here's what I've learned.

Step one is realizing that your living space is cluttered.  Some of us have troubles with what some call "Hoarding", which basically means when you get stuff, you have trouble getting rid of it.  If that's your problem, you may need to get counseling or, if you can't afford it, sometimes it helps to have a friend to come over and help out.

Step two is looking at your environment.  Make a floor plan of your living space.  I don't know about you, but this is helping me because it jump-starts my imagination into planning what my place will look like when it's decluttered.  Sometimes, though, you can use it to plan your attack (okay, I'm going to tackle the living room first).  If you are going to do that, you can draw a line around each space (inside and out) and put numbers into each circle.  One source, suggests starting with the entryway)

Step three is making a commitment.  There are lots of ways to do this.  You can write about your plans in a journal or an online blog (provided, of course, that you don't mind telling the whole world about your messy home).  You can write out a personal contract and sign it.  You can even make signs to hang around the house and on the front door that let people know you are decluttering (this last may be necessary if you have young children, so that people know that your house is only temporarily messy).  My favorite of these say, "Under Construction:  Please pardon our mess."  Most important, though, in this step is talking with any other people that you are living with.  Let them know that you're planning on decluttering, that there's a good chance that things are going to get worse before they get better.  Definitely ask for their cooperation.  The whole point, though, is to do whatever you need to do to impress it on yourself that this is actually going to happen.

Step four is to do one thing at a time.  I don't know about you, but I am easily overwhelmed if I try to look at the whole picture, especially if that picture is a messy, deeply cluttered one.  So the best advice I've had is to handle things a room at a time.  In short, if you're working in the living room, don't suddenly move to the kitchen or the office or the bedroom, no matter how much easier or worse those rooms might be, until you are finished with the living room.  If you find that just looking at the living room makes you breathless, divide that into zones and just tackle one zone at a time.  The point is that you didn't get cluttered up in a day, so don't expect to be able to get uncluttered in a day either.  Give yourself time to get it done and also time to rest between bouts of cleaning.  Don't rest for too long, though.  That's my biggest problem.  Set yourself a timer for how long you can rest and then set to on another section of your home.  Don't stop to rest again until you are finished with the section you're currently working on.  Once again, if the section you're working on is so large that you begin to feel overwhelmed, don't be afraid to divide it up into subsections.

Step five is to start with the part of your space where, when you go there and it's clean, you feel like there's hope for the rest of the place. Lots of cleaning gurus suggest that.  One person, calling herself the Fly Lady, suggests starting with your kitchen sink, but other people have said that they preferred to start out with other areas of their house.  One of these sources refers to this part of your home as your "Home Base Zone" or HBZ.  Wherever your HBZ happens to be, go there and strip out everything,  Then clean it as completely as you can.  Sort the items you stripped out and only keep the things that make you feel good when they are there.  In the instance of a sink, you might want a colorful painting or other decoration, scrubby sponges and brushes, hand washing and dish soap and, of course, a dishtowel.  The point is to clean it so that it is so clean and well-organized that, whenever you go there, you feel better.  Once it's clean enough to suit you, make a commitment to keep it that way, because this is the place you'll go back to when you are feeling overwhelmed by the rest of the job, plus, hopefully, keeping this place clean will making keeping up with the rest of it easier.

Step six is to clean. My favorite source suggests using a number of boxes, baskets and cups while you do this.  She suggests two clean garbage cans, one lined with a black plastic garbage bag for garbage and one with white for donations.  She says that the moment one of these becomes full, you should immediately take it to a place where it will be taken care of.  Garbage goes wherever garbage goes, Donations go in the trunk of your car and when the trunk gets full you take it to your chosen donation center RIGHT THEN.  Personally, I think you should add another set of cans or boxes for recycling and, as with the other two, when they are full they get recycled immediately.  You can't let yourself procrastinate with things like this and the cans will keep you from it.  Next, according to my source, you need a laundry basket for things that don't belong in the area that they are currently in.  As with the cans, when it's full, take and sort it out and put the things in it away where they belong.  Next, according to my source, you need a series of boxes with the tabs cut off.  You can label these any way you want, by items (books, clothing, tools etc) or by rooms (kitchen, bedroom, attic, etc.)  Finally, you need a series of disposable plastic cups in a shallow cardboard box.  You'll use this for your tinies (nails, buttons, screws, miniature toys etc).  This is one thing that you don't deal with until after things are clean and organized.  Finally, you need a series of boxes with lids or with the tabs still intact.  These are for the things that you know you should get rid of but you're not sure you want to yet.  These things go into the box, which, when it's full, get marked with the word "Maybe" and a date six months into the future and stored in the attic or the basement or whatever storage space you have at hand,  Then, when you reach the inscribed date, if you haven't opened the box to get whatever is in it, you dispose of the whole box unopened (if you open it, there's a good chance that you won't be able to get rid of it).  However, if it helps, you can keep a running list of what goes into your Maybe boxes and tape it to the top of each box so that you know what's in there without having to open them up.

Step seven is to organize.  The source I'm using suggests analyzing your mess beforehand and noticing what kind of mess accumulates in each area and why and then adjust your environment to take what you found into account.  The point is to take your own perso
nality into account when you organize.  Don't go out and buy expensive organization equipment until you've already used what you have and even then you should measure the area you want to put the item in and get something that will fit as exactly as possible,  The reason for this is that so often things we buy that are suppose to help us organize our lives usually end up making the mess worse.  Go through your books and organize them which ever way suits you best.  One idea my source has is to go through your cookbooks and tear out the pages of the recipes you use most often and put them into a notebook that will serve for all or most of your cookbooks.  Personally, I don't like the idea of tearing pages out of books, but that doesn't preclude copying the recipes I like, either by typing them into the computer and printing them out or by photocopying them.  This way I don't deface any books and I can sell or donate the complete books to whatever concern I like and I still get to keep the recipes I like, which I can organize any way I want.  Of course, in my instance, since my husband helps out with the cooking, I would need to collaborate with him about which recipes were worth keeping and how they should be organized.  Paper wise, set yourself up with a system that works for you, the only requirement.  Don't use someone else's system unless you know it will work for you.

Step eight is maintenance.  Make yourself a set of rules for keeping the clutter down.  For example, if you like to collect certain items, make yourself a rule that says they have a specific spot, hopefully for display.  In the case of things like books, say, or shoes or clothing.  Promise yourself that, for every thing that you bring into the house, a similar thing will then go out for donation or whatever.  Fix yourself with a schedule for when things get done and then commit to keeping it done.  If you have recycle bins or a laundry hamper, commit to emptying them as soon as they are full.  The same goes for garbage or dishes or whatever you have that tends to pile up.  The rule I like best for dishes is that they don't pile up in the sink.  They go into the dishwasher, which is run, full or not, at the end of the day and anything that doesn't fit is washed by hand and put away and all of this must take place before I begin to wind down and go to bed.  This way, once things are organized, your daily routine should be fairly minimal.

Okay, I promised, at this point, to tell you what I was doing, now that you know what I've learned.  Thus far, I've gotten through step two.  I'm in the middle of step three.  I've talked it over with my family and I'm seriously considering making signs that indicate as clearly as possible that restructuring is taking place.  I wish I could tell you I'd gotten further than that, but I haven't.  Any other suggestions you have, or even commiseration with my attempts to get my house in order, are both welcomed and appreciated.