Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ How to do a Big Declutter

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom

While we advocate slow and steady decluttering at 365lessthings, sometimes that’s just not what happens. Sometimes the Big Power Cleaning is in order. You have the help of your husband, friend, child, or you’re just sick and tired of being sick and tired. It is time to get it done! But how to best proceed?

  1. DO NOT BUY ANY CONTAINERS BEFORE YOU BEGIN. You do not start a decluttering process by bringing anything extra into your home.
  2. Get several large boxes or trash bags and label them: Trash, recycling, thrift store, sell (maybe), other (these will be things you find that belong to other people, the library, etc.), and elsewhere (in the house that is). Frankly, I just make a couple piles on the ground for these last two categories.
  3. Get your label maker or masking tape, a stack of post-it notes, a marker, dust rag, broom, dust pan, scrap paper, a marker and pen. Bring a drink with you and gloves if the job is in a dirty location. Do not bring your phone; that’s what answering machines are for.
  4. Get ready, get set, begin!
  5. Drawers – I usually unload these, but only one at a time. Shelves – I shove everything over to one side to begin and move the items to the other side as I proceed. Hanging clothes – I examine these one at a time without taking them out. But, my closet isn’t overly stuffed. If you can barely move your clothes, then pull them out and put them on the bed. If you have a really full warbrode, then maybe you should tackle your clothes one type at a time – pants, t-shirts, etc. Folded clothes – I unload the drawer onto the bed. A room full for junk, or a shed, garage, attic, or basement – Take the first box, stack, or item that you can reach. You’re going to have to process these things one at a time.
  6. Examine each item one at a time and decide what to do with it – keep, recycle, thrift store, Ebay, belongs to someone else, belongs somewhere else in the house. Put it in its appropriate stack. If necessary, label it (e.g. office). Do not leave the room; do not take anything away.
  7. If you have multiples of the same sort of items, put like with like.
  8. When you finish the first drawer, shelf or bin, think about whether keeping these items together and in this container is the best use of your storage and the best way to organize these items. Make a note (using the supplies you brought with you) about what you might need to buy or find to make this area work better for you – book ends, a container, more hangers, etc. Again, you will not be abandoning this project to rush to the store. Hopefully, by reducing your belongings and rearranging things, some of the storage devices that you need will be freed up.
  9. Dust the drawer or shelf. Sweep the floor.
  10. Go ahead and reload your items, dusting, neatly folding, etc. as you go. If you’re putting them into a closed container or drawer, label if necessary. When you come across duplicates, decide which you are keeping and which can go.
  11. Check the time. If you can, move onto the next section. You want to keep an eye on the clock so that you don’t end up with too many things out at once. You don’t want to abandon your project and leave a bigger mess than you started with.
  12. Repeat as many times as you are able but before you run out of energy or time, STOP. Your project isn’t done until everything you’ve pulled out, piled around, and labeled for elsewhere has been put away.
  13. Return the items in your home to their true locations. Don’t know where that is? Well today isn’t the day to declutter the new location, just put like with like and know that’s a project for another day.
  14. Decide where your selling items should be kept. I think there are two main strategies for this. The obvious one is having a pile somewhere. The less obvious strategy is to keep the item where it lived before (a toy on your child’s shelf, a handbag in the closet), and make yourself a list of what you want to sell. Be realistic: Will you really sell this, and is it really worth selling?
  15. Once the only piles left are the ones that have to leave the house, load your car. If you know that actually taking items to the thrift store is a weak area of yours, then do it now, as a last step of your project. If you have items that belong to other people, think about exactly how and when you will return these items. Should you just take them now? Maybe it would be best for you to make a circuit delivering items to their owners rather than trying to coordinate the delivery of each with a social visit.
  16. All done, all cleaned up, all finished. Take a good look at what you’ve done. Celebrate it on Facebook. Call your best friend to cheer. Aren’t you proud of yourself? You should be!

Today’s Declutter Item

I love the local bulk waste pick up days our local council puts on every six months or so. It is a great time to get rid of stuff that is just junk but too big to put in the wheelie bin. I also love that people come along and sort through the junk and sometimes take pieces to be recycled. This time around Liam cleaned out a bunch of his old art stuff from the garage.

Liam's junk on bulk collection day.

Something I Am Grateful For Today

I am grateful that the sun shone long enough yesterday to get my washing mostly dry. It started to get a little overcast as the afternoon wore on but it did it stayed dry and I only had to put a few things in the drying for a short tumble. 

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

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  1. I love to get rid of clutter. But I also notice that sometimes the act of emptying the drawer or shelf and putting it back neatly causes what seemed like way too much stuff for that space to actually fit, sometimes even with space left over, just because it is once again neat and orderly.
    Thanks for the post. I’m in my summer mode of major overhaul and seeing how much managed to sneak into my house when I wasn’t looking last year.

    • Hi Delores,
      the key to staying neat and orderly is to have a good organisation system in place in the first place. That doesn’t mean to spend lots of money on expensive containers it just means to find the best method of arranging things to suit your needs. Sometimes that takes a little tweaking to get just right or even thinking outside the box a little but it is worth the effort so you don’t have to constantly resort things. I have found that the less stuff I do have the easier it is to fit it in an organised fashion into my home. I find I rarely have rearrange things these days.

  2. Thank you for the very useful post. That’s my weakness: leaving the room to put an item away and then getting distracted on my way back… A few days ago, I went with my son through half of his entire bedroom closet – full of toys and junk – got everything out, sorted the items and had him, not me, run through the house to put some items where they belonged. The other half of his closet is scheduled for next week and I’ll remember to make piles instead. Thanks.

    • Hi Natalie,
      there is nothing like including a child in the task of decluttering if you want to teach them not to be a clutterer in the long run. If there is one thing I am sure a boy does not want to do is spend hours cleaning out his closet. I think you have not only had a handy little helper there but also taught him some valuable lessons. How was he with parting with things.

      As for getting distracted when walking away from a task, I am hopeless at that but it keeps me fit because I have an internal staircase. 😆

      • Hi Colleen,
        He had a lot of junk that he was actually happy to clear out: old homework, valentine cards, crayons, my stapler that went missing a few months ago, balls.. to name a few. I suspect that’s how he magically cleans up his bedroom in no time, by stuffing everything behind toys in his closet. Well, he is 10.
        I have been limiting toys for some time now so he did not have to part with much in this area.
        No stairs here, but he probably lost 400 kCal that day. Maybe I should have done it. 🙂

    • If you got your son involved, GOOD FOR YOU.

      Leaving the room can definitely cause a huge drop in momentum, although I imagine sending your child around the house is kind of fun.

  3. This is an excellent post, and should be very helpful to those who are just starting out and feeling overwhelmed.

    I especially like your tip about writing notes on a notepad about what you need to buy, where you need to return stuff, etc. That really cuts down on the distraction that’s so easy to fall into when you allow your focus to be directed to something else while decluttering.

    • Hi Mrs. B’s Cottage,
      like Cindy I keep my handy notebook close by at all times, especially when I have my housecleaning day each week. I know what my memory is like and am sure to forget things by the time I am finished what I am doing.

  4. I like the idea of the right way/place to store things. For example, I have countless hair clips (identical – mum bought some every shopping visit, cause once I ran out – she’s a stockpiler!). I tidied them into a ‘hair accessories’ drawer in my wardrobe. Which is ok, but I don’t do my hair at the wardrobe, or take it out there. So I have a shoe box in my bookcase which doubles as a bed head, and when I take my hair out at night, I clip it onto the box wall. In the morning, I know I’ll pull up my bed, and clip my hair up as I walk out the door. All in all, it works, the multiples makes it look cool, and it’s a logical place!

    Thank for the advice on the big clean up, it’s certainly I need to do in my bedroom. Determined to have less prior to buying a place and moving.

    • Hi Snosie,
      I agree the logical place is better than the usual place if that suits your needs best. Organise outside the box I always say.

      • Storing things at point-of-use is much more useful than storing them in the room where it seems they should go. One of my friends keeps a hairbrush and clips in the cabinet by her front door because that’s the last place the girls stop before they leave the house. Another friend has two sets of toothbrushes for the kids: one in their bathroom upstairs and one in the powder room of the kitchen. It’s easier to get them in and out of the first floor bathroom when they’re in a rush to school.

  5. Point 15. currently resonates with me the most. A few weeks ago I had left a comment on another post after realizing my biggest weakness was that the items just sat in the house after being designated for donation or charity shops. I had then decided I needed to change the tactics and now I make daily rounds if I have to, at lunch breaks if I have to, on my days off if I have to – basically *any* time as soon as I discover something to declutter. So far the approach works brilliantly and gives me even bigger spur to declutter further. There is something almost spiritual in emptying unneeded stuff from the boot of my car and my life.

    The post is also very timely for me as my approach has evolved into a mixture of big decluttering and Colleen’s one-thing-a-day tactics – I have found what works the best for me now is to declutter *at least* one thing a day every day. But if I come across the area that lends itself for bigger decluttering, that’s fine too and I do as much as I can in one go, so there is plenty of good advice to adopt from Cindy. My recent big conquers were piles of toys my son got for his birthday but we found unsuitable for him (age inappropriate, no educational value, not his interests) but the charity shop was happy to put on the shelves almost immediately; some baby items I gave to a friend who’s expecting; more toddler and craft items donated to my son’s nursery; the old clothes I planned to give to my nieces, but figured out it would take too much space in the suitcases when travelling to visit by plane; exotic spices I will never use in cooking but my work colleague will; plenty of DIY things we will never use ourselves and will hire help for – but freecycle gave them all new homes… the list is endless!

    Seeing it all written down makes me again feel a bit disheartened as I’m also going through the phase when the clutter doesn’t seem to subside at all once I had decided to tackle it for good. But, when I feel overwhelmed, I always remember the simple rule that I know will get me where I want to be: “one thing a day”. Thanks again for all the inspiration here 😉

    • Hi Ornela,
      you have a very good system working here combining both slow deliberate decluttering and the odd bigger purge. Do not be disheartened with your progress as every little thing that is removed is one step closer to a decluttered, tranquil life and home. I find it helps to write down the things that you know still need decluttering because it mentally rounds it up into one mind space so you know what is left to do even though it may be scattered in different areas in the home.

      Like you I have the odd thing that I would like to take to a family member but it is too awkward to stuff into a suitcase and besides how much do they need it anyway. You are finding some great new homes for the stuff you are decluttering. I was especially please that you even managed to give your exotic spices to a friend at work. Just remember if you ever need a small quantity of a spice you could always ask for a favour in return. And don’t you just love Freecycle.

      Have a great day and happy decluttering.

    • Ornela, You have gotten rid of a lot of things and moved them really great homes. I commend you and think you’ve doing fantastic. Do not be disheartened.

      You’re not the only person who has trouble with the very last step – actually getting the things to the thrift store. One commentor (perhaps you?) said that they seem to grow roots by the front door. I’m glad you’ve found a solution that works for you.

  6. Cindy, you’ve made a great summary and some points I hadn’t thought of which would be so useful (like making notes while working). I only wish I had a block of time to do this. But I will someday! Until then, it’s a thing at a time, I guess.