Fourth Thursdays with Deb J ~ Sorting

Deb J

Deb J

You have decided to declutter and then get organized so living life is easier. You then ask, “Help, how am I supposed to go about this? “

Sorting is the answer. Sorting by how you use something, how often you use it, and whether you use it at all. So many times we start with a jumble of items in a drawer or on a shelf. How often does this jumble have no rhyme nor reason? It’s just stuff that has been thrown there as we are hurrying through life. How can we know if we have enough or too much if we have no organization of what we have?

The mother of a friend of mine was not very organized so tended to buy things when she needed them because she couldn’t find something she thought she had. This went on for years. The house became filled with clutter of all kinds. You would find things in the oddest places and living there was very trying for the family. One day my friend decided to tackle the issue. She asked me how to go about it because she had a limited time frame. She couldn’t even stand to visit her parents any more. While her parents were gone on a 2 week vacation with their two teenagers who still lived at home, my friend got permission to go in and clean things up. She promised to not get rid of anything. She would pack it all up and leave it for her Mom to go through on her return.

What did she do?

  1. She went through each room and removed everything that was on a surface. It was all placed in boxes marked for various rooms. Many things didn’t belong in the room she found them in. This included clothes.
  2. She went back through each room and looked in the drawers and closets she had permission to investigate. She removed everything from the drawers and closets that didn’t belong and put in the boxes. She then put the rest of the contents on the bed.
  3. She went through the contents on each bed looking for & boxing up soiled, worn or torn/broken items. These were set aside. She also looked for duplicates of those things you only need one of or those things that were the wrong size and set them aside. She made sure that each room only contained those items that belonged in that room based on the function of the room and the how the item was used.
  4. With the rooms now in fairly good order as far as appropriateness of contents she began to go through all of the boxes of items that had been set aside. If something was broken it was moved to a discard box. If the item was usable but there was a duplicate the most used item was put in a thrift/sell box. If there was no duplicate and the item was usable it was placed in a Decision box. The soiled clothes were washed and the torn but mendable ones set aside to be mended.

When the family returned from their trip every room was cleaned, organized and free of clutter. Each family member was to check their room for anything they considered no longer needed and this was also boxed according to probable distribution. The mother was then to spend time going through the boxes to decide what she thought needed to be done with the contents. Being a busy woman, the Mom found herself with little time to look at the boxes and make decisions. After several months, she decided that they must not need anything in those boxes because they were still unopened. She decided to give it all to the local thrift store. The mother is so happy that she can find everything and is still keeping things clutter free. She has also stopped buying duplicates. The entire family is happier in their home and has begun to entertain and enjoy it.

This is the story of how one woman helped her family make order out of chaos and get rid of the many things that had accumulated over the years. While she had a hard deadline that cause her work to go fast, this same set of steps can be done in a slower, more deliberate manner. Every day you can look for one clutter item and make a decision about it. Once you have made a decision about the surface clutter you can start on those things hidden in drawers and closets. Sorting through your possessions causes you to make decisions and helps you become more organized with what you have because you have put like items together in the area where they are used the most.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter an Obligation item ~ Something you only keep because you feel you should. Often something someone else gave you.

Eco Tip for the Day

Put a container outside on a rainy day to collect water for your indoor plants.

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

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

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Continue reading with these posts:

About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Deb J,
    Thanks for sharing this story. Makes me think I want to take 2 weeks and do the same thing. But, I will be going through surface clutter this weekend because the Salvation Army truck will be in our neighborhood next week and I told them I would have 4 boxes and 2 bags of goodies. So, need to finish with the boxes and fill up the bags. I can’t wait to move some of the things that reside on the floor in our bedroom off to someone who can use them. (This is my basket declutter I spoke about yesterday).

    • Maggie, wouldn’t it be nice to have 2-3 weeks and several helpers to just do this and get the majority of it over with? It’ doesn’t happen often. Just keeping the ideas in our heads and doing bits at a time still makes it work. I just love it when I can get another lot out the door and out of the way.

  2. Deb J – I can remember the bad old days when it was very common for me not to be able to find something and to go and buy a replacement and then at a later date find the original. I haven’t had that problem in a long time and I hadn’t even noticed.

    • Moni, don’t you love not having that problem any more. It is amazing how something will make you aware that you are progressing.

  3. That is such a great story! And what a good daughter your friend is (as are you Deb). Must admit, I’m a bit surprised that the house didn’t fall into disarray again, but obviously the family has a latent ‘neat gene’ which had the opportunity to come out:-)

    • Loretta, I think it wasn’t so much a “neat gene” but that with a place for everything they could easily develop new habits.

  4. That is such a good story–makes us all wish we could do that, too. I sort of used the sorting method to do my sewing stuff, except I wasn’t able to put everything together at one time, but somethings like zippers and trims I could, and was able to decide a minimum and donate the rest. Anyway progress is progress, and it is nice now to open a closet, and see some space on the shelves. So little by little works, too. And maybe we are learning patience, too, LOL.

    • Nana, My mom had the same problem with her sewing supplies. She had drawers full of stuff she hadn’t used in ages. When I mentioned going through them she acted like I was crazy. But, when she started through them she realized that she had small bits of this and that and they would no longer come close to finishing a project and would be impossible to match. She also found she had some things she would never use again because she is no longer interested in doing that type of work. In the end she got rid of about half of what she had and was glad to have done it.

  5. This is great, Deb. It was so nice that your friend was able to do this for her family. It certainly made them appreciate and enjoy their home more and makes it less stressful to live in, which I think happens to everyone once they starting letting go of things. One of the reasons that I started decluttering was that I did not like knowing that I had an item, but being unable to locate it and perhaps having to buy it a second time. In addition to that, knowing that I had things that I was not using, also led me to let go of things so that other people could benefit from those items.

    • Jen, just knowing there are things you are spending money on when you don’t need to if you could just find what you already have began to bug me like it did you. It made me realize that I was not being a good steward of the money God had given me.

  6. Great post, Deb. Moving is the perfect time to do this, too. I’ve suggested to my friends to ‘pretend like they’re moving’. Sometimes they take my advice; other times they look at me like I’m crazy.

    • Willow, I read an article about this woman who was very tired of her apartment. So she and a friend went looking for another one so she could move. After some time the friend realized that the problem wasn’t the apartment but that it was just a need for a change. So they packed everything up, pulled the furniture out and, with the permission of the management, painted and re-carpeted her apartment. Then as they put everything back they also weeded out all the things she no longer wanted or needed. When they were done she was very happy with the results and didn’t have to move to get it.

  7. Loved the story Deb J. As I read about allthe boxing up I thought “I bet that never gets sorted” and I was right but I didn’t expect the mother to then agree to get rid of it all! Fairy tale ending! How I’d love to do similar with certain relatives who self confess as hoarders! Actually my uncluttered self was unleashed this week to tidy clutter at two temporarily empty desks at work! The temp staff never know what’s valuable so keep everything and I got sick of the cluttered work spaces. Everything that was surplus like stationary and storage went back to the communal shelves. Duplicate and out of date manuals recycled, all electronics in one drawer etc. So rewarding even if my colleagues thought I was a little nuts

    • SarahN, I used to do this when we had an employee leave. I also would go around and get the desk set up for a new employee so that they would have the essentials when they got there. Good for you for doing that.

  8. Hi Deb J! Wonderful post! I am decluttering a lot lately due to major changes in my bedroom. It is freeing when you want something and can get it in a few minutes and know exactly where it is. It is also funny that when we have someone asking us if we really need something we tend to be more critical than when we are alone. Even if it is a virtual asking 😀 . Of course we have to want to get clutter out the door, because, as your tale shows all too well, the cleaning worked because, in the end, the family decluttered.

    • Andreia, I have met people who would be happy to pay someone to come in and declutter and organize as long as they don’t have to do it. Many times it works and some times it doesn’t. The thing I have found, like you said, is that we have to want to clutter out the door. I think it takes more than a massive declutter and organizing to have it last. People have to change their behaviors too.

  9. I loved this story. I however, have a question regarding the mini mission…I don’t have a problem with the decision to discard an obligation item, I have a problem with explaining that decision to the person who gave it to me. Particularly when that person is near and dear. How do you explain to them without offending them & still getting your message across so that hopefully you’ll only have to explain it to them once?

    • Oh, Angela, I am in the same situation you are and I don’t have the answer. Maybe we could just commiserate for a while? 😉

    • Wow! That’s a good question. I think a big part of it is having had enough discussions with them about your reasons for decluttering so that they have an understanding of why you are decluttering their gift. I know it made a huge difference in Mom’s reactions once I had been able to share my thinking as I was decluttering. Each person is different as to how they think about gifts. It helps to know whether they are giving the gift freely with no strings or giving it with strings.

    • I feel your pain here. What helped me was letting the person know that the item was given to ‘ME’ I am now the owner and it is my decision from now on where it goes, what I do with it, where I put it!!! I had several situations where I was getting rid of something because it no longer suited, fell out of love with it, just wanted it gone because it was no longer useful. The first few times that I did this I noticed that people remembered the item!!! What The!! Second thing, they would manage to make me feel guilty!! What The!!! It’s a Thing! In my House!! No longer Useful!!! My new statergy! “Here you go you can have it, take it home with you and dust it and wash it and house it and look at it’!!!! That was usually a way for them to see my point of view. hahaha. Also when it got to that stage of me wanting to get rid of things, I started using the “Do I Love It?” ticket. If I truely wanted to look at it day in day out, it stayed. If not ‘OUT’ it went. Whenever my birthday or Christmas was approaching, I would declare that if anyone wanted to get me anything then it should be a voucher so I can choose something I want, not something that someone else thinks I want!!!! It’s not rude to ask!! It’s rude to assume.!!!!

      Talking to the person about obligation stuff is difficult, but at the end of the day, who is going to be looking after the STUFF!! It’s your home and you want what YOU want in it, NOT, what someone else wants to see in it. Don’t feel guilty if you want to pass something on, just do it, and only explain to yourself why you’re doing it. You only have to read some archives here or google a few sites on this subject, to realise, you are not alone. Half of the community has dealt with ‘Obligation Clutter’. If the person persists, tell them you are not your stuff! Your stuff does not own you! Keeping something to make someone else happy is a recipe for your own unhappiness! If all else fails, maybe you could perch it on the edge of the counter and clean it and oohhh it slipped off the bench and shattered on the floor! oops!!! Hahahaha 🙂

      Good luck, Remember, “Don’t have anything in your home that You, don’t want, find useful or Love!!!!”

  10. What a great and inspiring story!

  11. Wow. What a story. I’m so glad that the mother and family maintained the home, rather than letting it fall back into disrepair. That in itself is a feat.

    • Cindy, you are right. It makes a difference whether they really want to declutter or not. In this case the daughter had talked a lot with her family about her own decluttering so they understand all the concepts.

  12. Fabulous story, am so impressed with the patience of the daughter and then that the family followed through. Thanks for sharing!

    • Your welcome, Fruitcake. I was thrilled with my friends patience with her family because their house really, really drove her nuts and had for a number of years. She has gradually educated them. Grin.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this case study. It is so insightful, and great to see the ideas in action, from someone else you know. I love the boxed up idea: removing it from your life for a time removes the attachment. This has worked so well for us.

    • Thanks Mark. Yes, boxing things up and putting them out of sight for a time can be very eye opening in many ways. It has worked we for us too.

  14. Hi Deb,

    So glad it all worked out. So happy for them. Obviously they were not so entrenched in their ways, because they managed to live without ‘Stuff’ and turf it easily. I sometimes think, some people just need that someone to do something!! It’s a kickstart that they couldn’t bring themselves to do. Love it and I hope they continue to love it!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Dizzy, I think my friend had been able to talk enough about her decluttering over the years to finally get them ready for it. You are right. I too think that some people just need someone else to do it. It isn’t the idea that puts them off but having to take action on the idea.