Today I wish to use one of my own decluttering projects to demonstrate how you can successfully move through a little series of systematic steps to get a category of belongings cleared up.
This is an excerpt from my personal decluttering journal – the notes and photos I took when I decluttered my fabric painting stuff some months ago:
Margot’s Decluttering Journal
My fabric painting supplies have become a clutter-problem for me. I know that I have too much stuff, and it’s not properly sorted.
This has been annoying for a while, and I’ve decided that now is time to become active and to clear the mess.
Decluttering and Organising one category of belongings – Step by Step
Step 1 – Gaining awareness
Part 1 – Background of the problem, my thoughts and plans
A good preparation is the foundation of the success of any decluttering / organising project.
A big part of the preparation is gaining deeper awareness.
We need to understand the problem and its causes before we can decide on our final goal and develop plans how to get there.
Asking ourselves questions and giving honest answers ensures that we exactly know where we are, why we want to make changes, where we want to go and how to get there.
These are my questions and answers:
Where am I now?
My fabric painting supplies are taking a lot of storage space in our guest room and in the utility room. The stuff occupies many shelves and fills boxes, bags and drawers.
Whenever I feel like starting a new project, I procrastinate and postpone, just because I know that I no longer can say where everything is and because I hate having to dig through piles of materials and tools.
How did I get there? Why?
Some time ago, I was a very active fabric painter. As a non-fiction writer I published how-to-do books for fabric-painting beginners.
I took lots of photographs to help my readers understand the techniques and processes I talked about in my books. To do so, I always stored a broad set of different painting materials and tools which I could use for different projects.
Where do I wish to go? Why?
I no longer publish fabric painting books. I now use fabric painting as an enjoyable method to relax over the weekend.
I want my fabric-painting supplies to be well organised and I want to keep and store only those materials and tools I still like and intend to use regularly. And I wish to free up space which is currently occupied by painting stuff.
How will I get where I want to be?
I’ll now decide which fabric painting techniques I wish to apply in future, and which types of paints and tools I want to use, and also which colours I like most. Based on these decisions it will be easier to choose what I want to keep.
It is hard to sort out materials I spent so much money on, and to make it easier I want to make sure to give the out-sorted items to someone who is happy to use them.
I plan to invest about 2 hours into the decluttering process. And I want to assign all my painting stuff to one of three categories – ‘Rubbish’, ‘Friend’, and ‘Keep”- to make the sorting process easy.
Step 1 – Gaining Awareness
Part 2 – Taking inventory and sorting into categories
We take out what we have to get a comprehensive overview of our possessions and then we sort everything into categories.
This is an important step because often we actually don’t know exactly what we own.
Getting everything out and seeing it in bright daylight may not feel comfortable but is necessary.
And sorting things into categories helps us not only uncover the duplicates but also makes us understand where our personal weak points are. (‘Why do I own 10 pieces in this category if I use only one?’)
I walk around the house and carry everything that has to do with fabric painting to a big enough working area – the floor in the living room.
Now I start to sort everything into categories.
The first category contains all types of paints. I take all paints and carry them to another area on the floor, where I assign them to sub-categories such as fabric painting markers, spray paints, etc.
Step 2 – Making (decluttering) decisions
Based on our increased awareness (Step 1) we can now start to make decisions about what we want to keep (‘What do I need, use, love?’) and what we no longer need and want to let go of (‘What doesn’t serve me any longer?’).
Making lots and lots of decisions can be exhausting but it helps that we now know what’s important to us and what’s not.
Taking everything in our hands, we make a clear decision and assign it to one of several piles. Suitable piles could be: Donate, Trash, Sell, Keep, etc.
Before I make decisions about what I want to keep, I check all my paints and sort those out that have dried up or got otherwise damaged and are no longer usable. These get transferred to my ‘rubbish’-labelled pile.
As I will only conduct fabric painting projects to create something for myself in future, I decide to keep only those colours that I personally like.
This helps a lot, as I can immediately assign, for example, all yellow and orange paints to the pile of supplies I’ll pass on to my friend. She is a primary school teacher and has happily agreed to take anything I want to give away.
I realise that decluttering what I no longer want to use is much easier than I thought. In fact, I enjoy it to realise that I do have preferences and that I’m now able to restrict my paints selection to what I like.
Step 3 – Taking action
Part 1 – Organising the ‘keepers’, discarding the rest
Now it’s time to get out of the house what has to go, transferring things to the bin or the local charity. Or organsing the sale. This creates a lot of new space already. And usually feelings of relief.
Then we assign a place to everything we decided to keep (or to every category of like items) so that we can easily find and access what we have whenever we want to use it.
My first idea is to place the paints directly on the shelves which will hold all my fabric painting supplies in future.
But I know that whenever I’m working on a project, I like to have a broad selection of paint colours close to me, on the working table, so that I can easily switch from one colour to another.
Thus, I want to keep all paints of one type (e.g., all spray paints) together in one container, which I can carry wherever I wish to do a project.
I don’t need to buy new storage items because I have enough suitable containers and boxes at home.
It’s a great feeling to see everything nicely arranged and then to place the containers on the shelves!
I don’t think I have to label them: I’m the only one who uses the stuff and I (now) know what I have and where it is. And the containers don’t have a lid, I can easily pull them out and look inside.
After having decluttered and organised my fabric paints, I need a break. It took longer than I thought and I feel exhausted.
A cup of coffee later, I continue to apply the three steps – sort, declutter, organise – to the other categories of my fabric painting supplies (stamps and stencils).
The following images show, for example, how I get all my stamps sorted:
Finally, I get the stencils sorted. (No photos.)
And then – DONE!
This is my ‘after’ photo:
Step 3 – Taking Action
Part 2 – Maintaining the order
Maintaining the order is obviously very important because we don’t want the sorted area to become messy again.
Creating and adhering to new ‘tidy’ routines and rules helps.
We also should ‘be on guard’ and evaluate regularly what works, and what doesn’t work and has to be adjusted.
In my case, I believe/hope that maintenance is not a big issue.
The very reduced assortment of fabric painting supplies should be easily to handle and keep in control.
But there is one rule I definitely have to adhere to: ‘Don’t buy new stuff!’ I promise myself to use up what I have and to buy, for example, new paint only when a special paint colour has been depleted.
I am very happy about the results of my project. Yes, it took longer than thought (4 hours instead of 2) and was a bit exhausting.
But now I can look forward to starting a new fabric-painting project again!