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The ‘Clutter Series’, Part 1 – What is clutter?

THE CLUTTER SERIES

The ‘Clutter Series’ discusses important aspects of the clutter in our homes and minds, including the close relationship between clutter and our general wellbeing.

Click here to read a summary of the main insights of this series.

What is clutter? – Why is your clutter different to mine?

The definition of ‘clutter’ can be tricky.

I struggled for some time to truly understand and to explain the meaning of ‘clutter’ to my clients.

As I wanted to help them make confident decisions about the clutter in their homes, I needed a definition of ‘clutter’ that was comprehensive and broadly applicable but also clear and simple.  

Studying numerous organising and decluttering books and the approaches of several renowned experts in this area helped me to have closer look at ‘clutter’ from different angles. 

Discussing the issue with other professional organisers and with my clients brought interesting insights but not the one and only explanation of clutter that everyone could agree on.

It seems that we all have our own ideas about the meaning of clutter!

And that’s exactly, I now believe, the answer to the clutter question:

There is no one final definition because we all define clutter in a very personal and unique way.

Clutter is in the eye of the beholder.

If you decide that something you have in your home/life is clutter, it’s clutter. If you decide something isn’t clutter, it’s no clutter. No matter what someone else thinks.

Our personal situation and our individual values, beliefs and perceptions determine what clutter is – it can mean something different for each of us.

Clutter can be anything that we keep in our life although it doesn’t serve us.

Clutter is not restricted to physical stuff. 

Any area of our life can get cluttered.

Clutter can show up as

    • Stuff in our home that we don’t need, use, love.
    • Thoughts in our mind that don’t serve us.
    • Feelings in our heart that disturb our wellbeing.
    • Actions in our daily life that draw us away from where we want to go.
    • Results in our life that keep us stuck.

The most damaging category of clutter is the clutter in our mind.

This type of clutter – all the self-limiting thoughts and unsupportive beliefs – is so powerful because the mind-clutter causes all the other types of clutter in our life

The ‘Mind-Decluttering Series’ is all about how we can get the mind-clutter sorted out.

Clutter Report Australia – Do you fit into the picture?

Clutter Report Australia  

As a clutterfree life coach, I am, of course, very interested in any study or report that focuses on clutter.

However, that type of information is not so easy to find. The Choosi Clutter Report 2017 is one of the rare successes of my ongoing research.

The report has been published by Choosi (an insurance-comparison company) and summarises the results of a survey done by CoreData (a global market research consultancy).

CoreData surveyed 1,000 ‘typical Australians’ across the nation in October 2017 in order to explore the financial value of clutter in Australian homes.

I am not sure how representative the survey’s findings are, however, some of the research results are quite interesting.

These are some of the key findings of the clutter report:

Clutter occupies quite a lot of physical space of our homes, and the amount of our clutter has increased over the past years.
    • 54% of the survey participants estimate that they can fill half of a room or more with clutter,
    • and more than 25% say their home is more cluttered compared to five years ago.
Clutter is impacting on our health, wellbeing and relationships.
    • 25% of participants say that clutter creates stress or anxiety in their lives
    • and about 20% feel discouraged from inviting friends or family to their home because of the clutter.
    • Nearly 12% claim that clutter-related issues have even led to separation or divorce.
Proactively clearing clutter from our homes has positive impacts on our emotions.
    • The survey participants estimate that they get rid of approximately 6.8 large bin bags each year.
    • Key reasons for decluttering include feeling refreshed (49%) and happier (44%).

What are your answers to the survey’s clutter-questions?

When I was reading the report for the first time, I soon started to think about what my answers would have been to the survey questions – an interesting and self-awareness-increasing exercise.

Take a few minutes to consider your answers to these questions before you then have a look at the survey results below:

    • How much clutter do you currently have in your house? How much of a typically sized room could you most likely fill?
    • What is the total financial value of the clutter currently in your home (i.e. considering the cost of purchasing these things in the first place)?
    • How strong is the emotional/sentimental value of the clutter in your home?
    • What’s the most cluttered space currently in your home?
    • What impact does clutter have on your life?
    • What do you feel are the greatest reasons for clutter in your household?
    • What are the greatest barriers to decluttering your home?
    • What is your most valued household item?
    • How strongly do you currently desire to  declutter your home?
    • How does clearing the clutter in your home make your feel?

Now have a look at the survey results – where do you fit into the picture? ?

How much clutter do you have in your home


What is the total financial value of the clutter in your home


How strong is the sentimental value of the clutter in your home


What is the most cluttered space in your home


What impact does clutter have on your life


What are the greatest reasons for your clutter


What are your greatest barriers to decluttering


Choose Clutter Report - what is your most valued household item


How strong is your desire to declutter


How does clearing the clutter make you feel


How to make decluttering easier – Experimenting with less

The purpose of daily-life experimentation

Experimentation – “the action or process of trying out new ideas, methods, or activities” (online dictionary) – can be very helpful if we wish to learn more about ourselves.

Creating and conducting daily-life experiments is a playful way to develop greater self-awareness and to try out new ways of behaviour or testing the effects of new ways to solve problems.

Experimenting with less

‘Living-with-less’ experiments can be very helpful when we wish to declutter our stuff but struggle to make decisions about what to keep and what to let go.

Shopping bans – Experimenting with buying less

Shopping bans, for example, are a way of temporarily experimenting with drastically changed shopping behaviours.

Do you have any experience with shopping bans?

Some time ago I imposed a 3-months-shopping-ban on myself – no spending on books and clothes for 3 months.

This is what my shopping-ban exercise taught me:

    • I appreciate more what I have and I use it with more care and attention if – for a while – nothing new is coming in.
    • A lot of my buying behaviour is directed by spontaneous shopping decisions.
    • I can break this circle of ‘automatic’ money spending if I postpone the decision for some days.
    • Often, I no longer want to have the desired item and don’t buy it, without any regret.
    • And if I decide to buy it after some days of consideration, I appreciate it more consciously and gratefully. 

The ‘Project 333’ – Experimenting with having less clothes

An even greater challenge is experimenting with a combination of ‘no shopping’ and strict ‘using less rules.

Courtney Carver introduced the minimalist fashion challenge ‘Project 333’ in 2010.

Since then, thousands of people around the world have experimented with dressing with 33 items or less for 3 months.

Click here to learn more about the ‘Project 333’: https://bemorewithless.com/project-333/

These are the rules:

    • Limit your closet to only 33 articles of clothing. All clothing, accessories, jewellery, outerwear and shoes count towards your number.
    • Exceptions include your wedding ring, underwear, sleep wear, and workout clothing.

This is the process:

    • First you get all your clothes, shoes, accessories and jewellery out.
    • Then you sort everything into the following piles: Love, Maybe, Donate, Trash.
    • Bag up the items to donate and throw out the trash.
    • Finally choose the 33 items you want to restrict yourself to for the coming 3 months.
    • Box the remaining items up and store them somewhere else in your home.

What do you think about this living-with-less experiment?

Do you think it’s an eccentric or even stupid idea to restrict ourselves in this way? Do you feel it’s impossible to dress with only 33 items? Or do you consider to give it a try?

I conducted this experiment once, and I found it so useful and ‘enlightening’ that I assume I will do it again at some time in the future.  

And this is what my ‘Project 333’ taught me:

    • During the first days of the experiment, I enjoyed having a reduced range of items to choose from. It made it much easier to get dressed in the morning. 
    • However, after some days I realised that I had included 3 t-shirts in my selection which I actually didn’t like much. Now I had to wear them. ☹
    • I first missed my little weekend shopping trips a bit but then started to appreciate the extra time I gained for other things I like to do in my leisure time.

The ongoing effect of the experiment is that I learned to appreciate more what I have and I now use what I own with more care and gratitude.

I now know from experience that I need less than I thought in the past.

And I know better what I need and what I don’t need, what I like and what I don’t like. This also helps when I go shopping (which I do much less) – it now happens very rarely that I buy something I don’t need or like.

Yes, I think I’ll do this experiment again.

What about you?

I recommend you give it a try, especially if you are struggling with decluttering your wardrobe.

Downsizing – A great opportunity to ‘downsize’ the household paperwork

Downsizing – moving from a bigger to a smaller place – is a huge life transition.

It’s also a great opportunity to create a simpler and easier paperwork-organising system.


This is the third in a series of 3 posts.

Read No.1 here: Downsizing – Why we should declutter BEFORE we move’ and here No. 2: ‘Downsizing – Why we shouldn’t rush while making let-go decisions.


During the next 4 weeks, Ellen made huge steps in her declutter, organise, and change journey.

With the help of her friend, she managed to sort through all her clothes and shoes. She decluttered a lot.

When we met again, she told me that she now was best friends with the people in the charity shops in her area. Four times she had dropped off boxes and bags of well-preserved clothes.

Books were ‘the heroes’ of Ellen’s second success story.

Ellen had invested the time to take each of her more than 220 books in her hands and to make a deliberate ‘keep-or-give-away’ decision. She kept only 25 books!

Luckily, she found new homes for all the books that had to leave: Half of them went into the little library in her retirement village, and the other half she delivered to the local community library.

It had been a good decision not to rush through the decluttering process.

Working slowly through her clothes, books, and other belongings, making hundreds of little ‘yes-or-no’  decisions, had helped Ellen to regain clarity about what she really valued and liked, and what not – or no longer. And she now was perfectly organised: she knew exactly every item she owned and where she could find it.

Taking enough time for the sorting process had also helped Ellen to change her mind about a decision she probably would have regretted later.

Some weeks earlier, when she had felt in such a hurry to sort things out, she had been sure that she no longer loved cooking and entertaining people at her place. She had wanted to discard all her cooking and recipe books, most of her cutlery and crockery, and many of the kitchen appliances.

Now she had changed her mind. She had become friends with some of her new neighbours and wanted to revive her qualities as a host, regularly arranging dinner parties and Sunday breakfasts in her apartment. This was something she really was excited about!

The last decluttering task: The Paperwork

Ellen was not so much excited about her paperwork – this was the last area she still needed a helping hand with.

She said that she had never been a ‘paper-person’ and that this hadn’t been a problem during all the years of her marriage when her husband had taken care of any paperwork.

Since his death 7 years ago, no piece of paper had been filed away in Ellen’s household. Yes, she dutifully opened her mail every day, and she immediately paid the bills, but that was it.

I now understood why she had 21 archive boxes with paperwork from the old house stored in the garage – filled with binders (compiled by her late husband), magazines, journals, photo albums, and masses of loose pieces of paper.

And since her move into the new apartment about 7 weeks ago, Ellen had started to gather a new pile of paperwork, sitting on her kitchen counter.

The paperwork-management system should ‘respect’ the organiser’s personality.

We talked about different approaches to paperwork management but quickly agreed that to make it work for Ellen we had to find a clear and very simple way to get – and keep – the papers organised.  

In total, it took us three 4-hour sessions to clear up all the paperwork that had accumulated in Ellen’s life.

We started with the fresh paper pile in the kitchen and all the boxes from the garage which contained the loose papers collected during the past years. Then we continued with the archive boxes – until the very last one was empty.

This was our paper-clearing procedure:

Sitting next to each other at the table, we worked hand-in-hand. I took one piece of paper and passed it to Ellen. She had a look at it and then we made a decision.

Sometimes this took a while because Ellen had a little story to tell about an event or experience related to a paper.

The slow sorting process was actually a kind of ‘therapy’ for Ellen:

By remembering all these stories she deliberately appreciated them one last time and then she felt free to let the piece of paper – and the related memory – go.

Yes, we found a few still important documents but most of the stuff could go. And it did go: We compiled a huge amount of bags for the recycling bin and some smaller bags for the shredder.

A personalised filing system makes it easy to find a home for the documents we have/want to keep.

Finally, we took the pile with the to-keep papers and went through it a last time.

We assigned each piece of paper to a sub-pile on the table, and labelled those with Post-it notes, for example: car (registration, insurance, repairs), utilities (electricity/water, Telstra), legal (passport, birth and death certificates, etc.), financial (tax, paid bills, investments, life insurance), health (insurance, medical records), traveling (bookings, tickets, etc).  

In the end, we knew how much storage space we needed and were able to file everything into three binders, using dividers to separate different sections.

We used one thin folder to keep all important contact details (family, friends, estate manager, neighbours, doctors, etc.) in one place.

Ellen’s new paper-flow system consisted of only 3 parts: a ‘Today tray’, a ‘Friday tray’, and the three binders.

This simple system can only work out for Ellen because she is a very disciplined person and hates to postpone any tasks.

This is the workflow plan:

  • Every day Ellen gets the mail in and places it in the ‘Today tray’.
  • On the same day, always before dinner, she works on her ‘today’ stuff:
  • She sorts out anything useless / not interesting and puts it in the recycle bin.
  • She completes any to-do tasks such as paying bills, confirming bookings or invitations.
  • Then she places the finished paperwork into the ‘Friday tray’.
  • Anything she can’t do/finish on that day, she also puts in the ‘Friday tray.
  • Every Friday, she sits down and gets the pile in the ‘Friday tray’ done – in most cases just filing the paperwork into the binders.
  • At the end of the year, she goes through the three binders and sorts out anything that is no longer relevant.

As I said, this simple system doesn’t work for every household/person but for Ellen it does.

I met her recently at a networking event and she said she has made an incredible personality change: She now is ‘a paper person

Downsizing – Why we shouldn’t rush while making let-go decisions

Downsizing – moving from a bigger to a smaller place – is a huge life transition.

That’s why we need time to decide what to keep and what to let go.  


This is the second in a series of 3 postsClick here to read No 1 ‘Downsizing – Why we should declutter BEFORE we move’.


CLIENT STORY

When we met again 2 weeks later, Ellen appeared to be a younger and more confident version of herself.

She said she liked the suburb, and the area around her new place, the park and the small shopping mall close by. She had also made contact with her new neighbours and had already been out for coffee twice.

However, Ellen said she didn’t feel good about herself.

She felt ashamed that in the past she had put so much attention and care into her belongings – instead of focusing on her values and interests and the people around and important to her.

She hadn’t opened any boxes in the garage and only missed a few things, particularly some clothes.

However, she had worked on her ‘stuff’: She had kept her thoughts in the journal and had developed some ideas about new activities she wanted to try out in the future.

She was also very determined about some past interests she no longer felt excited about. She, for example, no longer wanted to entertain friends in her place as she no longer enjoyed cooking.

Ellen said she now wanted to get rid of the boxes and the pieces of furniture we had stored in the garage, all of them, as soon as possible.

She felt able to arrange this on her own because she believed there were no big decisions to be made.

The only area she didn’t feel confident to manage was the paperwork. She asked me to help her sort out all the boxes filled with papers and documents.

We had a longer conversation.

I felt happy for Ellen, of course, and it was great to experience her excitement and the energy she radiated. However, I also felt that her mind and attitude shifts were quite radical, and sudden.

I suggested she should take some time to consider all the options she had in this phase of her life and to deepen her understanding of herself and of what was now important to her.

It wouldn’t be good for her to hurry through important decisions, just to get things done, risking she might regret some of them later.

Ellen thought about this and then agreed – yes, she would be patient and give herself some more time before making final decisions about her belongings.

We went down to the garage and picked up the numerous boxes with her books, and some boxes with clothes and shoes and brought them up to her apartment.

Ellen wanted to sort through the books and keep only as many as would fit into the shelves in the living room. And she wanted to ask her friend to help her get a clearer picture of her personal fashion style so that she could get rid of some of her clothes, with confidence.

We arranged to continue working on the many remaining boxes in the garage 4 weeks later. We also decided to sort out her paperwork at that time. 

When we met again 4 weeks later, … (This is the second in a series of 3 posts – to be continued. Click here to read No 3)

Downsizing – Why we should declutter BEFORE we move

Downsizing – moving from a bigger to a smaller place – is a huge life transition.

That’s why you need time – and courage – to prepare the move carefully. 


CLIENT STORY

When Ellen called me, she was desperate.

In fact, I got quite confused and even worried during the first 3 to 5 minutes of our phone conversation – Ellen was crying so heavily that she couldn’t talk.

She then managed to calm down, and she introduced herself and described her problem:

It was her removal day: that morning she had moved out of her 3-bedroom-house into her new home, a 1-bedroom-apartment in a retirement village.

The removalists had just left her, in the middle of a ‘terrible chaos’ as she said. As she continued to explain her situation I started to understand her distress, and I agreed to meet her at her new place 2 hours later.

Ellen waited at the entrance gate of the retirement village when I arrived at the address she had given to me. She was still very upset, she said she feared she had made a huge mistake, and that she didn’t know what to do, and that she felt help- and hopeless. She started crying again.

When we entered her new apartment, I took a deep breath.

It was so full! It was understandable that Ellen felt like being in the wrong place!

The apartment was so fully packed with furniture and removal boxes that it was difficult to walk inside and around.

There were no empty surfaces and all around stuff was stacked up to the ceiling. Even the bathroom was not usable, cluttered with containers and lose items. The bedroom and the kitchen – the same.  

We couldn’t sit anywhere and finally walked outside and sat down on a bench in front of the building. I have to admit that I felt very angry with the removalists who had left Ellen – alone – in such a mess. However, it was not their fault, of course.  

The cause of the problem was that Ellen hadn’t been able to let go of any of her personal belongings, she had hoped that they ‘somehow’ would fit into the build-in wardrobes, and into the storage area that belonged to the apartment.

Yes, she had sorted out a lot before the move, particularly several pieces of furniture, such as the large dinner table, some chairs and arm chairs, the huge desk, some bigger paintings, and the outdoor furniture.

However, she had kept everything else, everything that had been stored inside the discarded furniture and built-in cupboards. And had now ended up with all these belongings in a place that had to offer just one quarter of the space that she had had before.

The underlying reason for this seemingly ‘irrational’ behaviour was that Ellen had been so afraid and anxious about the big changes coming up with the move – the new place, the new neighbours, the new life – that she had kept all her belongings as a kind of ‘safety net’. She had thought she would feel o.k. if she had all the things around her that had been with her in the old life.

Also, she didn’t have any plan or idea of what her new life would look like, thus she felt unable to decide what she might no longer need.

It was late in the afternoon, and we couldn’t do much on that day, but we created an ‘emergency plan’ to help Ellen through the near future and to finally get her problem sorted out.

I didn’t have a client appointment the next day which was followed by a weekend, thus we had 3 days to create a temporary solution – an apartment that was sufficiently cleared up and safe to live in.

These were our short term actions:

  • Ellen called a friend who offered her a bed for the next 2 to 3 nights.
  • We talked with the retirement village manager and Ellen was able to rent 2 additional parking spaces in the garage for the next 2 to 3 months.  
  • We made a list of all belongings that Ellen needed to manage her daily life during the next weeks: all the furniture and things required in the kitchen to prepare her meals, all the personal belongings she needed in the bathroom and in the bedroom, the furniture she wanted to place in the living room.
  • We carried all furniture and other lose/bigger items that were not on the list downstairs, and stored them in Ellen’s 3 parking spots in the garage.
  • We cleared the kitchen table to get a free surface for our unpacking and sorting activities.
  • We opened every removal box and took out only what was related to our list of needed items.
  • We started an inventory and kept notes about all boxes with currently not needed content before we stored those boxes in the garage.
  • We organised all the things which were to be kept in the apartment in the available build-in wardrobes, cupboards and shelves.

On the first morning of our 3 working days, I was a bit worried about how Ellen would cope. But she actually managed very well.

I assume it helped her to know that all the belongings leaving the apartment didn’t disappear forever, that they just moved downstairs into the garage.

Ellen also said that it felt good to get active and to do something, she felt no longer so desperate and more in control.

At the end of the 3 days, Ellen could finally move into her now clear and spacious apartment. She had all she needed for her daily life easily accessible and close to her, and anything else safely stored in boxes in the garage.

I had arrangements with other clients for the next 2 weeks, and Ellen decided to use the time to get to know her new living area and her neighbours.

She also agreed to keep a journal and to think about what was really important to her and how she wanted to live now, in this not only new place but also new phase of her life.

She also decided to take notes in her journal whenever she missed anything of the stored away stuff.

When we met again 2 weeks later, … (This is the first in a series of 3 posts Click here to read post No 2)

Life-decluttering after divorce – Let go of the past and move on with life

A divorce not only affects the two people directly involved.

Often, it’s a huge life-change challenge for other family members, too. A bold decluttering project can help to redefine relationships within the family.


CLIENT STORY

For many years, Stephanie had been very good at organising her busy life.

As one of three senior partners in a law firm, she was used to working not only full-time but extremely long hours every day.  Until recently it hadn’t been a problem that she had had only the weekends to spend time with her family. Her husband had managed the daily family life and taken care of their two teenage girls.

However, life had changed for everyone in the family 6 months ago when her husband moved out. They had both suffered in their unhappy marriage for some years and had decided to get divorced.

Now Stephanie struggled to find her way into her new role as a single mom.

Keeping the household running and taking care of her daughters’ daily needs was very demanding.

And her relationship with the girls had changed and become difficult after the divorce.  She had endless discussions with them about the separation and why it had been the right decision (or, in her daughters’ opinion, the wrong decision).

Stephanie felt lonely and overwhelmed, and her daughters felt angry and wanted their father back.

When I met Stephanie for the first time in her house, she told me that she wanted to make bigger changes in her home which – she hoped – would make life easier again.

Stephanie wanted to declutter, massively, and as quickly as possible.

When she took me on a tour through her home, I understood: The kitchen, the living room, and especially the home office and the basement were really ‘stuffed’, up to the ceiling.

Stephanie wanted to ‘get rid of everything’ and asked me to order a skip and ‘just’ get the house cleared.

But then we had a longer conversation, and she changed her mind.

She began to see that the decluttering process could become a ‘healing’ process for herself, and hopefully also for her relationship with her daughters.

She now wanted to get the girls involved and asked me to organise the decluttering activities as a ‘team project’.

We decided that I would take the role of the ‘neutral’ organising expert who would treat Stephanie and her daughters as three ‘housemates’ with equal rights.

We invited her daughters to our next meeting.

When we all were sitting around the dinner table, I presented the plan:

  • The main goal was to create a home in which each of them could feel relaxed and happy.
  • The basic requirement for achieving this goal was that each of them felt responsible for the creation and maintenance of the new order.
  • The bathroom, kitchen, and living room were declared as ‘shared spaces’ and the design, furnishings, decorations and contents of these rooms would be discussed between all of them. Everyone should make suggestions but also be willing to make compromises, if necessary.
  • The girls’ rooms were completely their responsibility. They were free to re-arrange their rooms if they wanted and they both got a budget to be used for any desired changes or renovations.
  • The basement was full of stuff nobody any longer wanted to keep and would be decluttered and organised together, over a long weekend.
  • An action plan and a time schedule had to be agreed on.

At the end of my presentation, nobody said anything and I got a bit nervous.

The success of this project depended completely on the willingness and motivation of the two girls to be part of the team. We didn’t have a plan B. Stephanie also looked nervous.

However, suddenly the girls both started to talk, at the same time. And they were as excited as we had hoped they would be! Yes, they wanted to be part of the decluttering/organising team!

We could get started!

Of course, during the decluttering process – which finally took 3 months – it wasn’t all ‘rainbows and daisies’ all the time.

We could only work on weekend days and in the very beginning it couldn’t go fast enough for Stephanie’s daughters.

After some working sessions, however, everyone’s motivation levels went down and we needed more frequent breaks with ice cream and burgers.

Also, the girls would have wanted to work on the redesign of their rooms first but the action plan determined that the basement and the shared spaces had priority. They didn’t like that.

It was actually a lot of fun for them to clear out the basement – most of the stuff ended up in a skip we had organised. But we took the time to sort everything with care and carried a lot of still useful items to a charity shop. The girls also collected some of the things that had belonged to their father in 2 boxes and took them along to him. (Which he very much appreciated.)

However, the decluttering and reorganisation especially of the kitchen and the living room required many – sometimes very heated – discussions and arguments. Yes, and some difficult-to-digest compromises.

The biggest fun came up, of course, when everyone started to declutter and re-arrange their rooms.

Stephanie, too, enjoyed this part. Yes, she shed some tears when she cleared up the master bedroom. But she took all the time she needed to find out what was really important to her now and how she wanted to feel in this – her! – room in the future.

She felt excited when she then started to design the room completely according to her very personal ideas and needs.

We all agreed that the ‘after-divorce-decluttering project’ was a success:

We had achieved the main goal: The house was clutterfree and freshly organised, with open spaces and clearly defined activity areas.

However, even more important was that Stephanie and her daughters had successfully ‘decluttered’ their relationship, too.

Everyone had been part of the team and had contributed to its success. Stephanie and her daughters were more aware now of their respective strengths and weaknesses, and they all felt responsible for what happened in their home.

Stephanie no longer felt lonely – she felt closely connected to her daughters.

Small-steps decluttering – The benefits of 20 minutes sessions – And how to organise them

Is your decluttering task too big? Overwhelming?

If we own a lot of stuff and if most or all areas of our home are cluttered with too many things, the ideal solution would be to conduct a massive decluttering project, clearing up our home completely, and at once.

The idea that we have to do it all in one go can become the reason why we don’t start at all!

    • If we are in an extremely busy phase of our life we might just not have the time for a decluttering project that will take several days or even weeks to get completed.
    • It could also be that we feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the decluttering task – we don’t feel able to plan and organise the work, have no idea how and where to get started. Thus, we procrastinate and postpone the project-start again and again.
    • There might be other reasons why we don’t feel physically or mentally able to go through a complex energy- and effort-demanding project.
    • Or we don’t have enough space for a big decluttering project: If our home is very small or fully packed with stuff, we might not be able to arrange the free flat working areas necessary for the sorting and organising processes.

The solution could be to give up the idea to sort it all out in one go.

We can decide to commit ourselves to conduct a series of shorter decluttering sessions over a period of weeks or even months.

The benefits of the small-steps decluttering approach

    • The small-steps decluttering approach allows you to achieve fast and visible results.
    • It’s easy to integrate the decluttering sessions into your daily life because they are short and have a clearly defined duration.
    • Scheduling the sessions as appointments in your calendar helps you to take them seriously and to develop a regular decluttering routine.
    • Regular decluttering sessions have a similar effect as regular exercises: you practice your decluttering skills and build up ‘I-can-do-it’ confidence.
    • At the end of your decluttering journey your home is – Clutterfree and Organised

How to get organised for the decluttering sessions

    • Determine the duration of the daily decluttering session. (20 minutes? Or 30?)
    • Schedule the declutter sessions as important appointments with yourself in your calendar.
    • Create a list of the rooms/areas in your home you wish to declutter and organise. (Click Here for ideas/suggestions)
    • Decide in which room/area of your home to start the decluttering.

How to do the decluttering sessions

Get started

    • Go to the small area that’s your first session’s focus. (See below for suggestions)
    • Take photos of the cluttered area.
    • Switch the timer on (for the duration you’ve determined for your sessions).
    • Take everything out from the chosen area and distribute all items on a flat surface (the floor, a bed, a table).

Sort and declutter

    • Sort out what’s broken or no longer usable and put it in the rubbish bin.
    • Sort what’s left into categories of like items.  (If applicable. This might not make sense when you, for example, declutter the counter top in the kitchen. It is necessary, however, if you, for example, declutter the cleaning stuff under the kitchen sink, or the underwear drawer.)
    • Sort out unnecessary duplicates.  (Directly into the rubbish bin or donation box.)
    • Sort out what no longer serves you

This is the tough part. Take everything that’s left into your hands and ask yourself: ‘Does this really serve me? Do I need, use or love it?’

If you can’t answer with a clear ‘yes’ it might be time to say goodbye to that item. Let it go. Into the rubbish bin or donation box.

    • Sort out what belongs into another room. And get it there.

Organise

    • Clean the decluttered empty space.
    • Take everything you decided to keep and place it back where it belongs.

You might wish to organise what belongs together in suitable space-dividers, such as little boxes, containers, baskets.

    • Clean your working area, get the rubbish/donations out.
    • Take photos of the decluttered area.

Final steps:

    • Celebrate the completion of this decluttering session!
    • And look forward to/plan the next session.

P.S.

CLICK HERE to learn from an example decluttering project:

I used the small-steps decluttering approach to declutter and organise the drawer that I use to keep my office supplies organised.

Death Cleaning – It’s never too early to get our stuff sorted

Why we should prepare and keep easy-to-find instructions with our sentimental belongings

Some time ago, I wrote about Margareta Magnusson’s book ‘The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning‘ and about my personal experience with ‘death cleaning’ after my mother’s death.

Sorting through the belongings of a loved one is always tough and emotionally challenging.

My mother was very well organised and this made the unwanted decluttering task easier for us. 

However, there was one category of my mother’s belongings that we struggled to make decisions about.

We found a  collection of the letters my mother and my father had exchanged before they got married. And my mother hadn’t left any instructions or hints about what she expected us to do with the letters.

Had she kept the letters just for herself, so that she could read them again whenever she felt like doing so? Or had she wanted to share the letters with us, expecting us to read them now?

My sisters and I finally agreed on the assumption that she had kept the letters for herself, not for us, – and we burnt them.

But even today, I still feel not completely comfortable about it – because we’ll never know for sure whether this really was what she’d have wanted us to do.

My personal set of ‘Death Cleaning’ guidelines

Based on my theoretical (Margareta’s book) and practical (sorting my mother’s belongings) learning experiences, I now follow

My new personal organising rules:

    • I take my yearly decluttering sessions even more seriously because I don’t want to burden someone else with clearing unnecessary clutter after my death.
    • I keep permanently updated folders, one physical and one digital folder, that contain all our (my husband’s and mine) important documents and personal information.
    • I have reduced the number of photos, sentimental items, and memorabilia. And I keep them all in two boxes. On top of these boxes, I placed a note: “Sentimental stuff, just important to me, you (whoever it is who has to sort out my stuff) can throw it away, without any feelings of regret or guilt”.

I think it is very human that most of us don’t like – and therefore try to avoid – considering the fact that our lives will end at some point in time.

However,

I do believe that we should feel responsible for the future and take care of our loved ones: We should make sure that they don’t have to ‘death clean’ for us.

I also believe that we should feel responsible for the present and take care of ourselvesRegularly sorting through our stuff can be hard work but consider the benefits for your life:

‘Death Cleaning’ (= Decluttering) can be a very intentional and productive experience:

    • It’s an opportunity to learn about ourselves and our very personal values.
    • It helps us to re-focus our attention and energy towards our future and our goals.
    • It clears our space and our mind.

Do you feel inspired now to do some ‘Death Cleaning’?

Death Cleaning – Why we should do it before we die

Take responsibility for your belongings today. Don’t leave them as a burden to family and friends. And enjoy the process of putting your things in order!

A few years ago, Margareta Magnusson, the Swedish lady aged “between 80 and 100”, published her book ‘The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning:

How to make your loved ones’ lives easier and your own life more pleasant’

I am interested in any book that has to do with decluttering. However, I remember that I was a bit hesitant to buy this one when I saw it in the bookshop. ‘Death Cleaning‘?! The title sounds really weird, doesn’t it? But I bought it, – and very much enjoyed reading it.

And I learned a lot about decluttering again, this time from a new and refreshing perspective.

This book is not about someone who’s all her life struggled to keep the house organised, and now presents the perfect and the only solution.

Instead, it’s the story of someone approaching the end of life, sharing what she learned by clearing up after family members’ deaths, and why it’s useful to get our things in order before we die.

“I’ve death cleaned so many times for others, I’ll be damned if someone has to death clean for me,” Margareta Magnusson writes.

‘Death cleaning’ is not only useful for older people.

Clearing out unnecessary belongings can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner than later – before others have to do it for us.

It is not sad at all,” Margareta says. “I’ve discovered that it is rewarding to spend time with these objects one last time and then dispose of them.”

Make the lives of your loved ones easier, sort out your belongings now.

Some weeks after I’d read the book, my mother passed away, unexpectedly.

Clearing out her home was a very sad and upsetting process for my sisters and me. Only many months later, I was able to think about that process in a less emotional way.

I realised that my mother in most regards had followed Margareta’s recommendations – without knowing her book!

My mother’s paperwork was orderly sorted and all kept in one place.

Yes, she had taken thousands of photographs during the course of her life and her travels, but they were all well-sorted in albums and photo books.

She loved decorating her place and regularly rearranged the interior design of her house. However, she left only one cupboard with no-longer-used decorative items she had collected over the years and not managed to dispose of.

She was a great entertainer and often invited people to her place. But she had only kept the amount of crockery, cutlery, glasses, and kitchenware that was necessary to prepare and organise the meals and parties for her family and friends.

She enjoyed reading in the evenings but had kept only those books she planned to read again and again.

Sorting through the belongings of a loved one is always tough and emotionally challenging.

However, my mother had successfully managed to make this unwanted task as easy as possible for us.

There was only one category of my mother’s belongings that we struggled to make decisions about. Read more …

Home organisation – Easy ways to improve your daily life – Re-arrange your home & your routines

Change the purpose of a room to open up new opportunities.  –  And setting up new ‘rational’ routines & rules can help you to create a healthier lifestyle.

CLIENT STORY

Dr. Baker had been a successful dentist for many years but now he enjoyed his retirement.

He was happy because now – finally – he could focus on his hobby: Stamp collecting/sorting/sharing. Over time, his collections had grown to an amazing size. It was time to get them sorted! And now he had the time!

However, his daughter hated his stamps. It was not because she wouldn’t grant her father his excitement about his hobby, as she told me during our first phone conversation. She hated his ‘preoccupation’ with stamps. It took so much of his attention that he didn’t care much about himself.

Dr. Baker spent hours and hours upstairs in his little dark office. He forgot about everything while studying the history of a special stamp. Or exchanging letters with other stamp collectors.

Most of the time he was so concentrated on his work that he didn’t realize the time of the day. He forgot to drink and eat, and sometimes he even fell asleep at his desk.

How change gets easier if the benefits are clear and attractive

My first meeting with Dr. Baker didn’t have an easy start. His daughter wanted him to change his lifestyle and to re-organise things in his home. However, he didn’t want to change anything.

Things became easier when I asked Dr. Baker about his daily life, and how he organised his stamp collection and kept it sorted.

He then explained his ‘dream conditions’ of working with the stamp collection. He said he’d love to have more light when studying the stamps with his magnifying glasses. Also, a bigger working table would allow him to spread the stamps out and sort them into sub-categories.

We started talking about how he could get more light and space for his stamps. And we discussed how he also could also put more attention into organising himself and his days in a healthier way.

This is how Dr. Baker finally got his stamps and himself ‘sorted out’:

How redefining the purpose of a room can make life easier

The living room with its many large windows and huge dining table became his new office:

First, we cleared it up completely and took out everything that was kept in the many cupboards. We arranged some items from the cupboards onto the kitchen shelves, but Dr. Busy Hobby transferred most of the dishes, cutlery, table linens, vases, etc., and also some of the furniture to his daughter. (She agreed to take everything we sorted out because she so much liked the upcoming changes in her father’s house.)

Finally, we moved all the many boxes with his stamp collection and his books downstairs, and all the files and letters and directories which we placed in the now empty cupboards and shelves.

Dr. Baker was so happy about the changes that he’d have loved to sit down at his new desk to try out studying a stamp in bright daylight.

How setting up new routines can support a healthier lifestyle

But first, we had to go through the second part of our ‘organising agreement’:

We sat down and created a list of new rules and time schedules which we thought would help him better organise his daily life.

The weekly timetable was designed to remind him on which days he planned to do the grocery shopping (we also compiled shopping lists), on which days to do the washing (we created washing lists, too), on which days to put the rubbish out, and so on.

An alarm clock and an everyday schedule worked together to structure his days: breakfast time, lunchtime, dinner time, and in-between reminders for having some water or coffee. And, the most important new rule: no working on the stamps after dinner!

Another person might have struggled to hold to our ‘organising agreement’ and the detailed and strict schedules and rules.

Dr. Baker, however, had all his professional life used organising-structures and -systems, he accepted them as being ‘tools of a rational mind’, and he also was a man who always kept his agreements.

Decluttering and organising together with your partner – It can intensify your relationship

Decluttering & organising together can be an exciting (and useful) way to learn more about each other, and about the goals and dreams you wish to share.

CLIENT STORY

Moving in with someone else is a big life change:

We not only transfer our furniture and belongings into the new joint home, but we also bring along our unique personalities, values and beliefs, personal habits, and lifestyle expectations.

Consider decluttering together before you start living together.

Kevin and Claudia had been living together in their new apartment for about 6 months when I first met them there.

I immediately understood why they had decided to get the support of a professional organiser. Their tiny space was fully packed and cluttered with stuff.

However, this was a problem that could easily be solved. Thus, I didn’t understand why they both seemed to be so extremely stressed and sad.

During our conversation, I soon started to understand better.

Claudia and Kevin were disappointed and confused. They both said they still felt in love with each other but they now feared that they were not able to live with each other.

They both didn’t feel at home in their apartment because it was so cluttered, untidy and disorganised.

  • They never could find what they were looking for and they didn’t know where to put away what they’d just used.
  • Getting dressed in the morning took much too long, having a shower in the cramped bathroom was an uncomfortable exercise,
  • and cooking together in the evening was no fun because the kitchen counters were covered by stuff that didn’t fit into the cabinets.

They hadn’t talked about this with anyone else so far because they felt so unhappy and also ashamed. They felt they should be happy all day.

Instead, they had started fighting about actually unimportant issues. And they no longer looked forward to coming home and meeting their loved one and having time together.

I remember that I was very impressed. And absolutely optimistic about the outcome of this ‘organising’ project.

  • I was impressed by the bold decision of these two young people to ask an outsider for help, and about their willingness to try to get to the root of their problem.
  • And I was optimistic because their problem – although it seemed to be a very tough one to them – was nothing unusual or untypical. They were experiencing what we all encounter when we move in with someone we haven’t lived with before.
    • We have to get to know each other in a new and very private environment,
    • we have to know and openly discuss our values and expectations,
    • and we have to be willing to cooperate and compromise,
    • and to coordinate our individual ways of organising our lives.

It took us only two sessions to get them on the right track.

From there on they could easily continue organising together without any further outside support.

The first step is to discover and understand the different organising styles.

Keven is a keeper, he doesn’t like to sort things out and wants to store everything in case he might need it in the future. Claudia doesn’t have a problem to give away what she doesn’t use. However, she never comes to that point because she has no interest in getting her stuff sorted, so she actually doesn’t know what she has and what she needs.

For Kevin, the most difficult part of the organising task was to sort and declutter their belongings in the kitchen and living room. When they had moved together, they had just combined all their possessions. The consequence was that they had many duplicates: two coffee machines, two toasters, several pans and pots, too many dishes and cutleries, vases, tablecloths, bed linen, etc.

The second step is to find out together what each partner likes and needs.

As soon as we had taken everything out of the cabinets, dressers, and drawers, Kevin and Claudia could clearly see that they had too much of nearly everything. Now the seemingly tough part began: They took up every household item, discussed its necessity and usefulness, and then they had to decide whether to keep it or toss it. This quickly became an exciting process. They realised that

Sorting and decluttering together is a great ‘relationship-improvement-opportunity’.

It helps

  • to get to know our partner better,
  • to understand how and what he/she thinks,
  • and to discover what’s truly important to him/her.

Kevin and Claudia barely noticed when I left them at the end of our session – both still sitting in the middle of chaos on the floor of their living room and discussing things.

When I arrived two weeks later for our last organising session, the apartment had changed its outlook significantly. The kitchen looked neat and tidy (only one coffee machine and one toaster on the countertop!), the little bathroom was perfectly organised, and the living room had become an inviting spacious and comfortable space.

The bedroom was the only problem area we still had to work on. This time, Claudia felt she had a tougher job. Her clothes and shoes occupied much more than two-thirds of the wardrobe and additionally covered the dresser and two chairs.

Again, it was not as tough as assumed.

We took out all her clothes and accessories and sorted them into categories. This helped Claudia to see what she had – much too much. And as a natural declutterer, she had no difficulties to sort out more than half of her possessions. Kevin packed them into bags and got them to the local charity.

Don’t do it just once. Sort out your stuff on a regular basis to keep your relationship clutter-free.

Claudia and Kevin know now for sure that they definitely can live together. But they also know that they have to continue to declutter and re-organise their belongings from time to time, and that they need to do it together.

However, that’s no threatening task any longer, because they know each other so much better, and how to work with their weaknesses and combine their strengths to make their organising projects successful. And fun.