Decluttering Principles for the Chronically Disorganised

So this week I am going to begin a whole house declutter and spring clean. The spring sunshine is beaming in to the house showing up grimy corners, tired piles of paperwork, abandoned craft projects and trails of bobby pins. This is rather an ambitious project, and the kind of thing I generally start, then abandon due to the pressing siren calls of the spring garden or other vital necessities like reading the paper or talking to the cat. Hence publishing my intentions here, because I have found that you, lovely readers, are all immensely encouraging, and also good at nagging, and I would love to have you help me accomplish my mission. I of course, would also do the same for any of you:)

I have a few key principles that I follow when I declutter, because I know my weaknesses all too well. I get bored easily. I get distracted easily. And even if I manage to heroically stay on task I am invariably interrupted by some well-timed 'emergency'. These are my strategies:

Pick the low hanging fruit first: Clutter you can see is so much more satisfying to deal with than invisible clutter in cupboards. It is emergency clutter. If a room is cleared of all visual clutter, it looks lovely and is easy to live in. Clutter in cupboards can then be dealt with a shelf at a time. Which leads to..

Clear a small area at a time: It can take less than twenty minutes to clear away all the unnecessary detritus from a tabletop, desk, sideboard, bookshelf or single cupboard shelf. You can do it while you chat to your mum on the phone, or while your daughter tells you interminably about everything she has learned about sedimentary rocks that day at school.

Don't create more piles: Decluttering books will tell you to declutter with three boxes - one for donating, one for rubbish, one for keeping. If I did that I'd just have a bunch of random boxes of stuff sitting around, because I would never come back to it. If I am keeping something, I take it to its new home right away. If I can't find an exact home (maybe in a room that hasn't been sorted out yet) I put it with other similar objects somewhere so I can rehome them later. This takes longer and feels more inefficient, but it pays off when you get interrupted by suddenly needing to cook dinner or pick up children from hockey ('Good lord, is that the time?'), because everything is already put away. Rubbish can go straight in the bin or recycling, donation bag goes straight out to the car. And there is no evidence that you have ever been decluttering at all. Except for the lovely, lovely surfaces.

Do not let more stuff in the house: I find the fact that I have to continually declutter slightly immoral. All this 'stuff' that is leaving the house in bin bags is the product of somebody's imagination and labour, is made using precious and dwindling resources, and cost us time and money. Our life energy and our children's future is bound up in that shocking volume of 'stuff'. It is worth soul-searching and the exercising of considerable ingenuity to evaluate the genuine necessity of bringing more 'stuff' into the house in the first place.

Tell me your thoughts on decluttering - is it cathartic? Do you live a fairly minimalist lifestyle, or are you overwhelmed with too many possessions? Is it possible to live in a creative space with the stuff that you love, which is at the same time cosy and organised?

Here is a woman who has done just that, an artist who lives a simple life in a tiny space but hasn't sacrificed her creative spirit to bare-bones minimalism.

I am still juggling my ideas about stuff, about things that I love, things that I want, things that I need. I think that right now in this spring decluttering project, it is all about divesting my life of those things that I don't love, want or need, so I will more clearly be able to see my way forward with what is left..


As you know, I too am in decluttering mode. In fact, I'm taking a ten-minute break to restore my sanity.

I'm good with the piles method, because I keep my piles in places I like to be clear, so I'm motivated to get stuff out and away once I'm done piling. I should also say that I don't pile and pile and pile. Right now I bring a few boxes of stuff down from the attic, make my piles, and then deal with those piles before I bring down the next boxes. So piles work for me.

All this to say, I am a disciplined pile person. And now, back to the piles!

CJ said…
I absolutely love decluttering, I really must do a whole lot more of it. When the garden and the allotment are sort of tidy and put away for the winter I shall get to it. It really does give me such a good feeling. I shall look forward to hearing how you get on. CJ xx
Jo said…
Frances, you are clearly way more disciplined than I am, although I can see your point. If you bring your stuff right into your living room, there is a much higher chance of clearing it all away. I am enjoying following your decluttering diary. I will be following your footsteps come Monday!
CJ, you will have a head start, decluttering over winter. You will then be able to spend all of spring in the garden. Brilliant!
Anonymous said…
I don't think I am ready to cope with spring cleaning yet...I might wait to make it summer cleaning. Too busy digging holes and filling them up again for cleaning ;)
Jo said…
I know Fran, the garden, the garden! Why didn't I do this in winter?
Bek said…
Excellent and timely reminder for spring new beginnings - like a clean and clutter free house. My parents (i.e. my mum) is currently in the midst of a declutter as people are coming to stay and the spare room actually needs to house people, not "stuff".
I see all her work and have been thinking I really should do a clean out so I never get to that stage of clutter and it all feels too hard. Your post has been another reminder.
PS How's the crocheting going???
Jo said…
Ah now, Bek, the crocheting.. I have started a number of squares, but not finished any due to running out of all my dark wool. I can't finish a single square until I find some more... honest:)
And yes, the 'all too hard' stage of decluttering. I was there at one time. Don't want to go back. Hence this whole house spring clean.
Anonymous said…
Ooh, the agimitation levels are middlin' to high at mine. To the point that I am resentful that I now have to spend another weekend AWAY FROM THE HOUSE this weekend, even though the last two weekends in a row where I have been away from the house for more than 50% of the weekend have in fact been perfectly lovely and I wouldn't change them for the world, this weekend will involve manners and tongue biting and srsly, I would rather be sorting cupboards! (Secretly wondering if I can maybe have a pressing engagement on Saturday afternoon necessitating leaving and coming back?)

Jo said…
Agimitation is my new favourite word. I HATE being away from home. I am like Badger in Wind in the Willows. A grumpy homebody. I am loving emptying drawers this afternoon. SO cathartic:)
the worst thing about all this bright sunshine. shows up all the fluff under the kitchen benches. yikes, how long have they been there?!
but that is CLEANING not decluttering. hmmm.
but it is a dilemma, how to have beautiful things but not be swallowed up by them. when you crack that one, please let me know Jo.
Jo said…
Hi e, on it, will let you know how that goes:) I know what you mean about the dust. Today I am cleaning and de-cobwebbing. That is the trouble with spring isn't it? All that bright, low-angled sunshine. Can't escape from it.

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