When I first started decluttering it felt great. I was getting things done. The rooms were looking great and I felt good. But within days or sometimes minutes the room would explode again. Toys, clothes, random projects, books. It would all be back out again.
I would end up defeated and still exhausted.
Then I realized. All I was doing was organizing the chaos. I wasn’t actually decluttering or minimizing my home.
I was still messy. My children were still fighting over toys and the rest of the house was suffering.
The solution? I had to get serious and not be lazy. I had to stop putting the same junk away to only have it pulled out so we could get to the good stuff. I needed to minimize and get things out of my home.
You see Decluttering started off to mean that I simply pick up the trash, obvious trash, and then put the clutter away. I tossed a lot of little things – broken toys, books, receipts. But it didn’t go any deeper. The rest of the room got a good straightening up. Not a clean out.
First: making a plan
For me, with four kids all under the age of 5, I had to visually plan out my minimizing strategy. Walking room to room, taking note of what toys actually got used for longer than three minutes.
Noticing where my husband was placing things out of habit, instead of in their “home”. And looking at myself, where I put my computer, my paper for drawing, the mail and so on.
Noticing what had a home and what was lost in the house. Why didn’t it have a home? Was it out because it was getting used or because it had no other place to be, so it just kept getting moved from room to room?
And our clothes. What was actually getting worn and washed vs what was taking up space? And if those clothes weren’t in the closet what could be?
The other major pain-point was the kitchen. With small children and us being home all the time the kitchen was always on the verge of imploding. Too many cups, plates, dirty dishes and cluttered cabinets.
Even the pantry was overwhelming, unorganized and full. Did we really need it all and if it was collecting dust (I’m looking at you black beans) then why was it in there?
Second: taking action
I first picked a spot that was quick and would give me instant feed back. I picked the kitchen. Might sound daunting at first but it was the room with the least sentiment and I loathed some of the things in it so much that I knew I wouldn’t have any hesitation getting rid of most of it.
The most fun I had was getting rid of toys. Not because I am the meanest mom in the whole world, but because I knew deep down my kids didn’t NEED any of it. I knew they would be ok with anything I decided to keep. My kids were to young to involve them completely in the decision making of what toys to keep. I know that may rub some people the wrong way, but it could have resulted in every toy being an “I love that one too” dilemma. This topic deserves a blog post of it’s own.
The real work came when I needed to tackle the clothes. I had to make a few concessions. The kids clothes and their ages meant they grow out of things fast (YAY!) but I would still need to hang on to them because baby brother and baby sister would be wearing them. So I picked the best articles. No stains or holes. And that it could be worn with multiple combinations of clothing. As the oldest Boy and Girl got new clothes I changed my strategy. Instead of buying the outfit combos – pants and tops – I started buying neutral bottoms. For the Girls – Black and gray leggings and blue jeans. For the Boys – Blue Jeans and black and gray athletic shorts. Now any top we grabbed would match. And the kids could dress themselves without having to help them pick out the right top/bottoms match up.
Our clothes – The grown ups – I had maternity mixed in with hopeful return to pre-maternity and things I loved the idea of yet I didn’t ever wear. And oh yeah, AND… The things I actually wore everyday.
My husband, like most men, had three “uniforms”. T-shirts, outdoors work wear, and dress up (work or date night). As we began shutting down the farm we lived on, the serious work clothes were easy to get rid of. The date night or meeting up with friends shirts, got paired down to absolute favorites and with a 3 year old fashion critic approved. And his T-shirts – oh the t-shirts – took me organizing them so that I could see what was getting worn and what wasn’t. After 2 months 30 shirts left our home.
Those huge clean outs, weekly donation drop offs and over stuffed trash cans made a huge difference. The laundry was taking a third of the time. Food shopping became easier and cheaper. Toy clean up was fast. And if anyone dropped by out of the blue, other than a few dishes from the last meal created, I was ready for guests.
Third: keeping up
This part has the added bonus of having your radar activated from the second stage. Now not only could I see what was out of place and easily fix it but I could also see how I could declutter, actually declutter, even more.
I set daily tasks, one task for each week. One day I would go through each room and get rid of anything that was broke or obvious trash. Just a walk through with a bag. The first time I did this the bag would end up almost full. By the 5th week I was hardly taking out any trash and only one or two destroyed toys from my crazy bunch.
And once a week I would go back through my closet and see if there was anything still perfectly folded that I hadn’t worn before putting clean clothes away. And the things I wasn’t willing to part with the week before found their way to the donation bag.
Each day had a way for me to stay on top of things. Keeping my home feeling clean and clear. Even my electronics and emails had a day for decluttering. Mind, body, home and social media all got a look over.
Fourth: being kind to yourself
Now for the other part. Your heart. Decluttering and minimizing the things you own and have in your home is not a fast process. There will be bumps. Things might even look worse before they start looking better. Trust yourself, trust the process and believe that you are doing the best that you can.