DECLUTTER: free your space, calendar, & brain

Using Awareness & Mindfulness to Declutter

In our last couple of months, we've talked about mindfulness and awareness. Now, it's time to put some of that into practice by applying it to our goal of getting organized.

Organizing Steps

Getting organized is a journey, not a destination. However, if you're working to organize your life after years of not maintaining organization, there are a number of steps involved, such as: sorting, decluttering, creating space, putting items in containers, labeling, etc.

This month, let's start with decluttering. To declutter is to purge, delete, or edit excess items from our space, our calendar, or our minds. At Minding Your Matters®, we like to use the word "delete" because it does not limit you to a specific way you are removing it from your space. You might delete things by recycling them, shredding them, donating them, or hitting the "delete" button a keyboard.

What is clutter?

We say "excess items." This clutter may have once had a use. Now, you either don't use it, don't want it, or you simply have too much of it. Instead of those items bringing you joy and finding purpose, they are clutter.

Here is another way to look at it: Gardeners will tell you that what we call weeds are plants. They are just plants we don't want in our garden or yard. You might think about your clutter like that. To make sure the things you want in your life have room, we must first remove the weeds.

The Things We Declutter

We often first think about decluttering our spaces. But we can also declutter other areas of our lives. Here are some examples of things you might declutter:

  • Space - Closet, bedroom, office, cabinet, garage, attic.
  • Calendar/Time - Removing extra volunteer commitments, choosing not to take that class this semester or sign your child up for tumbling, choosing to eat out one night a week to save time spent cooking and cleaning.
  • Brain - Letting go of things in the past or future that are holding us back from the now. Learning to focus on the current task instead of multi-tasking. Taking some time for self-care.

We'll go over the specific steps to decluttering space in Article Two. First, let's apply what you've learned about awareness:

Becoming aware of yourself and your habits will help you make changes. For example:

  • You are aware of the clothes in your closet you actually wear and those you do not, even if you like owning them.
  • You are aware that you enjoy shopping when you are feeling blue and buy more things if they are on sale. This awareness relates to being aware of the items coming into and leaving your space. Learn more about Stuff-Flow®.
  • You are aware that your commute of one hour each way to work impedes upon the time you could spend doing other things.
  • You are aware that saying "yes" to that committee means subtracting that time you might have spent elsewhere.
  • You are aware that you are worried about tomorrow and that worry prevents you from focusing.
  • You are aware that you are trying to do three things at once and it's not productive.

Declutter: free your space, calendar, & brain_Minding Your Matters_organizing-productivtyAre you aware of your habits? Are you aware of what else you are doing right now as you read this?

Why This Matters

People often fail to "get organized" and wonder why it didn't work. There may be many reasons. And one we often find is that people say they want to get organized but aren't aware of the habits that cause them to become disorganized. Because they cannot see how their behavior connects to general organization, nothing changes.

So this month, schedule some time to declutter a space, keeping in mind what you have learned about awareness and mindfulness.

We want to hear your questions, frustrations, and success stories as you work toward organization. Share with us via Twitter and Facebook. Or, keep up with organizing ideas on our Pinterest boards.


How to Declutter a Space in Six Steps

Ready to purge some items in your space? Here's how:

Before you begin decluttering, start by taking a minute or two to be mindful. Be present. Recognize what you are going to do. You might do this by meditating, or just taking a few deep breaths and focusing on your goal. This will help you start the project with fresh eyes.

Step #1: Gather supplies. You'll need a trash can, recycling bin, and at least one box/bin for items you plan to donate. If you're organizing a space with papers, you might want a shredder. You may want another box for items that "go somewhere else" outside the space you're decluttering. That way you don't have to leave and get distracted. Scissors sometimes come in handy, depending.

  • Optional: You might find a dust cloth comes in handy during this process for some cleaning as you go. You might also want a marker and tape or sticky notes to distinguish between bins/bags.

Step #2: Create a plan. You have a bin or box for items to donate, but do you know where those will go? What will you do with that box when you are done? Ideas are:

  • Donate it to Goodwill or similar organization such as the Raleigh Rescue Mission's store.
  • Have more than one box so that each box has a destination, such as a box of items your sister will use, a box of office supplies your child's teacher will find useful, and a box to give to Goodwill. 

Step #3: Start decluttering. People often struggle to declutter because it means making decisions. Some of those decisions are difficult. For example, you have an item someone gave to you as a gift. It's hard to let go of it, but you have never used it, not once. Maybe the item is still in its box or has tags on it. That's a good item to donate. Think about how someone else can use it. Maybe the item is something useful. For example, every six months the dentist gives me a new toothbrush all wrapped in its package. My husband and I use electronic toothbrushes, so we end up accumulating four per year. These are wonderful items to donate to a women's shelter, homeless shelter, or nursing home.

Get more ideas on how to start decluttering.

Or, learn more about decluttering and decision making:

Organizing Efforts Impacted by All or Nothing Thinking

The Stealth of Stuff

The Unclutter Decision

How Churning Creates Disorganization

Clutter: Like Baggage on a Train

Freedom from Clutter

How Anxiety Impacts Organization

Indecision & Organizing

Step #4: Keep going! The mental process of making these decisions can feel tiring. Try to keep going for either a set amount of time or to finish a particular space, such as one shelf. I love to listen to music while I declutter and organize because it turns the process into a game. (Yes, like Mary Poppins!) If you're stuck on one item for a long time:

Ask yourself what's bothering you about the decision. Be sure to go through questions we mention in the blog post links above such as "Under what specific circumstances will I use this?"

If you're still stuck, set it aside and come back to it later.

Step #5: All done! But not yet. Next, schedule time to drop off your boxes. In Raleigh and Cary, the city will pick up most recycling curbside, but you may have gathered a pile of white styrofoam or an old fan to drop off at Anything with a Plug. When will you do that this week? Schedule a specific time. Where will you keep the box in the meantime? The same goes for your other donate boxes. Speak to your sister or make a plan to get that box to your child's teacher on Monday. Otherwise, you're likely to have these boxes just sitting around.

Step #6: Finally, you'll probably have to do some straightening now that you've decluttered. You may not want to organize what's left, and that's OK. But you'll probably have piles all over the space, so take a moment and move things back into some order so that life can continue for the week.



Make Decluttering Your Space a Breeze by Conquering Internal Clutter

In Step 3 above, we talked about the difficulty we all have sometimes when making decisions about our stuff. We call this internal clutter. It's the voice in your head that says, "I am going to fix that" or "I might use it someday" or "I feel guilty getting rid of it."

As we mentioned earlier, becoming more aware yourself and your habits will help you as you strive to get organized. For example, you may become aware that you love the idea of fixing that old lamp, but that you haven't done it and two years has passed. Maybe you realize you just aren't going to do anything about it. Now, you find it easier to recycle the item instead of keeping that clutter.

We have more resources to help you conquer internal clutter here, including a video and examples of what to say when you hear that voice inside.