The Big Declutter – Lessons Learned So Far

The Big Declutter – Lessons Learned So Far

Decluttering. That word strikes fear into my heart. It’s time-consuming, frustrating and stressful, but it is a necessary evil whenever we get overwhelmed with stuff!

Sadly, the Frugalitude household has reached a point where we need another serious declutter. I know that I am not a hoarder, but when I take a good look around and open drawers, closets, cupboards, I still have to admit that we have Too Much Stuff!

So, I needed to put my “big girl pants” on and do some dedicated decluttering. Although I’m not yet finished with the “Big Declutter of 2018” (I’m not sure that you ever really finish!), I thought I would share with you some of the lessons I have learned so far.

Getting Started

For me, actually getting started was the hardest part. Faced with both a house and garage, I felt overwhelmed and wasn’t sure where to begin. Then I read a great suggestion on a Decluttering Facebook site:

Start by throwing out or recycling the stuff that is broken, damaged or no longer works.

Hooray, that got me started! It felt good to see at least a small pile of items that were on their way out of the door!

However, I still had a ton of stuff to get through. I knew from reading a number of books on this topic that there were two key points to keep in mind:

  • Try tackling one room or area at a time

  • Purge the less sentimental stuff first

My next step was to go around the house and make a list of the areas that needed to be cleaned out and organized. I then tried to break it down into manageable tasks which would take between 15 minutes and a couple of hours. Once I had my Decluttering Plan I could then schedule the next decluttering task, and when it would be done, starting with the easier, less sentimental areas.

Simple Decluttering Plan

Simple Decluttering Plan

However, I did need to readjust my Decluttering Plan thanks to a lesson I learned about the visibility, or rather lack of visibility, of my purging efforts. One afternoon I was decluttering the kitchen and I was so proud that I managed to clear 32 items. That pride lasted only a few minutes until I looked back at the kitchen and realized it looked exactly the same as before. Everything that I had removed had come from cupboards and drawers. It was dispiriting that my hard work was not visible. As a result, I rearranged my Decluttering Plan so that I intermingled working on visible areas with tidying up the cupboards, closets and drawers.

Keeping Going

Once I had started the Great Declutter, I knew that I would need to keep my motivation high to make sure I completed it. Having a plan was one thing that helped a great deal because I now had a finish line to aim for, and I could track my progress. I also found that taking on the areas that irritated me the most was what kept my momentum going. These “problem” areas often took longer, but it felt so good to get them finally organized.

Keeping track of how much I was purging was another way I kept on track. After reading The Year of Less a few months ago, I really liked how Cait Flanders tracked how much she got rid of, so I also kept a list of how much I threw out, recycled, gave to charity or sold. When clearing out our linen closet I was amazed that we had 28 pillow cases! So far 205 items have left the house:

  • Thrown out: 4 items

  • Recycled: 6 items

  • Sold: 74 items

  • Donated: 121 items

The Great Declutter of 2018 is still ongoing, so I’m expecting these totals to increase. Keeping track of what I’ve decluttered has been eye-opening, and I have been particularly amazed at how much has been sold. I’ll say more on the lessons I’ve learned about selling stuff in future posts.

Another motivational suggestion that I was given, but haven’t yet tried, is to take a before and after picture of the area to be decluttered. I’ve been meaning to try this, but I tend to forget about the before picture until I’m half-way through the cupboard or drawer. Have you tried this? If so, is it a good motivator to keep decluttering?

Other Decluttering Lessons

As well as the lessons I learned about getting started and staying motivated, I also discovered some general truths about decluttering:

  1. I consistently underestimate how long it will take me. I think my bad estimates are due to a mixture of optimism and indecisiveness. Sometimes even non-sentimental items can trip you up and you find yourself taking way too much time to decide on whether it stays or goes. I now add at least 50% extra time to any decluttering estimate.

  2. You may have to do multiple purging sessions on some areas. This is particularly true once you get into the more sentimental stuff. The first time you review an area you may only be able to purge 20% of what needs to go. Don’t despair because….

  3. Decluttering does seem to get easier the more you do it. The first time I decluttered our mug cupboard (yes, we had that many mugs that we had a whole cupboard for them!) I could only remove a few. You would think that mugs were not particularly sentimental, plus many were no longer being used. However, there were memories attached to them: Somebody had given us that one and we’d bought this other one on vacation, etc. The second time I attacked that cupboard was much more successful because I think my declutter “muscle” was stronger and it was easier to say goodbye to them.

  4. Decluttering can be hard work so don’t be afraid to ask for help or support from friends, family, Facebook groups, whomever. Even a little bit of assistance or encouragement can make a difference to you getting it all done.

  5. During the decluttering process you may experience more clutter than before you started. As you purge you’ll probably accumulate piles of stuff to sell or donate. Initially I found these piles of stuff to be hard to manage and they seemed to be everywhere! Organization was key. I did regular trips to donate stuff, and I stockpiled the items to be sold as much as possible in one area. It helped, but it was still tough to live with this extra clutter. I celebrated each sale we made – not just for the money but also it was one less thing taking up space.

  6. And last, but not least – the final lesson: after all of your hard work, try not to “reclutter”!

Below is a handy summary of the 9 lessons that I have learned so far from my decluttering efforts. What other lessons would you add?

Summary of the Lessons I’ve Learned from the Big Declutter of 2018

  • Start with an easy task like throwing out or recycling the stuff that is broken, damaged or no longer works.

  • Don’t try and do it all at once. Break it up and make a Decluttering Plan:

    • List all of the areas you want to tackle

    • Estimate how long each will take

    • Schedule the tasks taking into consideration:

      • Areas that annoy you and you really want to get organized

      • The visibility of the area

  • Decluttering is a marathon not a sprint, so you’ll need to have some strong motivation. Think about what you’ll need to stay motivated – for example:

    • Track your progress via your Decluttering Plan

    • Track how much stuff you are clearing

    • Take a before and after photo of the decluttered area

  • Decluttering takes more time than you think.

  • Be prepared to review an area multiple times before you finally declutter it – especially if it contains sentimental items.

  • Decluttering gets easier the more you do it.

  • Get help and support as needed from family, friends, etc.

  • Be prepared for extra clutter as you accumulate things to donate or sell.

  • Try your best not to “reclutter”!

The Big Declutter - Lessons from TED Talk Experts

The Big Declutter - Lessons from TED Talk Experts

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