Breaking it down

When we think of big decluttering tasks we often get deterred before we even begin. But the truth is just about every decluttering task can be broken down into smaller tasks. Below are some suggestions as to how you might break a bigger task down into manageable and less daunting segments. These are just suggestions you, however, can tweak them to suit your circumstances or method of storing/arranging things.

Instead of thinking about decluttering…

  • …a closet ~ consider breaking it down to decluttering one shelf at a time, one section of a hanging rail or one area of the floor.
  • …the Garden shed ~ one day remove any stuff you can see that needs throwing in the trash. Next day sort through the big gardening tools. Next day the pots etc.
  • …the kitchen ~ commit to decluttering one shelf or drawer a day until the task is complete.
  • …the linen closet ~ One day sort through the bath towels, the next day the sheets, the next day the face cloths and hand towels and so on until you are done.
  • … the living room ~ first sort through the DVDs, then the coffee table, then one shelf in the china cabinet… until all is done.
  • …the garage ~ break it down to sporting equipment, car related stuff, separate sections of tools, paint cans, hardware supplies and so on. Or simply divide the area into quickly manageable section. For instance if you have a double garage whose floor comprises eight concrete slabs use those as your sections.
  • …a bookcase ~ one shelf at a time, one author, one subject, a dozen books at a time using a marker to indicate where you left off. A ruler is good for this.
  • …a desk ~ clear one drawer at a time and then the top or divide the top into sections depending or how big of messy it is.
  • …filing cabinet ~ choose one hanging file at a time and declutter its contents. Leave a post-it note or similar marker to indicate which file you are up to, so the next time you have time you continue the task where you left off.

Be sure to not leave too much time between sessions or you may get confused as to where you are up to, or clutter things up again before you complete the task. Hopefully recluttering won’t be a problem because you will have learned by now not to reclutter while you declutter. This is best achieved by not bringing new stuff in.

So if you find a task too daunting just break it down and celebrate each section you complete.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. It seems like this should be easy to remember, but I don’t – so it’s good to read this and get reminded. Also, I’m thinking if a job seems too big even after breaking it down, it can probably be broken down further.

  2. Yes, yes, yes – This totally works! I had a ugly brown metal 4-drawer file cabinet for years. Before I started reading this blog it did not occur to me to tackle one drawer at a time. I was an all-or-nothin’ type of thinker.

    In the last couple weeks, I went through the first drawer and culled 14 pounds of paper to shred and I filled the paper recycle bin. And so on. Everything left will now fit into one portable file bin. And I was delighted to cart the old metal cabinet to the thrift store.

  3. Hi! I was thinking about breaking tasks down because that is how I got a big progress. However, in some circumstances I don’t feel one thing a time is working. My office could be used as an example of what not to do. The more I deal with stuff the more it seems to come out. There is also a place where documents are kept and, sometimes, I feel I should keep stuff (papers/documents) that in reality I should not. I will set a box system so I can deal with everything separately. Maybe I will deal with a file a day. It might work.

  4. I think this is the best way to tackle anything big that has to be done. I have done this so many times over the years and I try to get others to do this. I tell them if they stop looking at the big picture and instead look at the little steps it isn’t so overwhelming.

  5. Breaking ANYTHING down into chunks…whether it is a habit or learning something new…is a great way of going about things. Great article, and totally in line with how humans do things well!

  6. Got the big corner of the kitchen counter done. Took everything off after supper dishes done. Next day cleaned and decluttered removing about half of the items. Been fine tuning since. Looks so much better and is so much handier. This had been mental baggage. Also started altering some blouses, cutting sleeves to length I like. Last night I turned the hems up and have them ready for sewing on the machine. May be a day or two before they are finished, but off to a good start–these have also been mental baggage.

  7. I find that if I just plan to spend 5 minutes, it gets me up and running and then I usually spend much more time than that!

  8. Totally. Sometimes we tend to see the whole big mess that could be our home, we get discouraged and we end up doing nothing. When we do all at once, we often end up to square. By beginning with small tasks, decluttering little things, we can go far. Plus, by doing tiny steps, tiny progress, we feel more the change within us, and it chases, by the same time, negative thoughts that we might have kept for so long. Tiny things (can) have so much power/essence, whether negative or positive of course.

  9. It is great to be reminded of the importance of breaking it down, in order to remove that overwhelm.