“What on earth is that smell?”
Hubby and I were sitting in the family room watching TV and I can remember it like it was yesterday. This odor, like burning sugar and plastic, was drifting in. We sat there and just made this awful face and stared at each other. Do you know that deer in the headlights look? Yep, that was us. Both of us.
Finally, I got up to investigate when we both decided there was no way to write it off as a neighbor burning outside.
Off to the kitchen, I went only to be greeted by smoke coming out of the oven.
I ran over to shut it off yelling at the guilty party who had to still be in the house somewhere.
“Who on earth turned the oven on!”
Out my 17-year-old came running with his friend patting the air with his hands in a “calm down mother…you are scaring my friend” manner.
“We were just going to make a pizza,” he said.
The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.
“You know we never EVER turn on the oven without emptying it first!”
Let’s back up for just a minute. This flashback is from my clutter-bug heyday when it was just easier to hide dirty dishes in the oven so I didn’t have to look at them. On this occasion, there was more than a few dirty dishes. There was also a leftover birthday cake in its plastic container. I can’t even begin to tell you what a mess that was to clean up.
Not a proud moment and unfortunately not a rock bottom moment either.
I was a closet clutter-bug.
It looked like my house was neat and tidy on the outside but behind the closet doors, under the beds and yes in the oven was a hidden world. My “hide it so I don’t have to ever deal with it” clutter problem.
It’s not that I was okay with the mess, I wasn’t. The problem was I had no idea how to deal with it. To me, there was so much stuff, so many piles of things and junk that I couldn’t get the energy or the motivation to even mentally deal with it let alone physically.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I learned the secret about clutter and when I did, it changed everything for me.
What you think is clutter isn’t always clutter.
Let me explain.
More often than not the clutter you actually need to deal with is buried. Hiding under things that are not clutter. Things like trash, recyclables, or items that simply need to be put away. And if you would just take the time to uncover the actual clutter there may just be only a fraction of what you originally thought.
3 Steps to take Before you Declutter
First, Gather up the Trash
I am sure you have heard this before but starting with the trash is by far the very best way to get rid of the stuff. But have you ever actually been told why?
The reason is simple.
That trash can do a lot to camouflage the clutter so much so that we are paralyzed by the size of what we have to go through. By removing the easy stuff, the trash, we can begin to uncover what is our actual clutter and we just might find our problem isn’t quite as intimidating as we thought.
To remove the trash we are going to break things down even further into super-simple steps.
1. Arm yourself with a large trash bag.
2. Take a walk around your home. Gather up anything obvious that you can throw away. Empty food containers, napkins, crumpled tissues, bags, junk mail, newspapers. Look at this as if you are taking a stroll and just casually walk in and out of every room filling up your bag with trash.
3. If your house is in really bad shape you may need to do this a few times. Remember the more you remove today the less you will have to deal with later.
4. Be relentless here. Collecting trash is simple, easy, so don’t make it any harder than it needs to be. If it’s trash pick it up, put it into one of your bags, and move on.
Second, gather up any recyclables.
1. Just like you did in the previous step, arm yourself with a bag.
2. Take a stroll around your home. This time you are looking for any materials that can be recycled. Newspapers, plastic bottles, magazines, cardboard, glass, etc. Be sure to follow your county guidelines and bundle up items in the appropriate way.
3. Don’t be tempted to keep it “just in case”. You are in full clutter jumpstart mode and for that reason, you need to be hyperfocused. If it’s trash and recyclable get it out of your home. End of story.
Gather up Anything that Simply Needs to Be Put Away.
When our rooms are cluttered more often than not mixed in with that clutter are things that simply need to be put away. And sometimes it can be hard to see those things when there is chaos scattered about. Unless you are specifically looking for it you just might mistake your things for clutter and lump that into the insurmountable task you believe you are faced with.
We are going to take another clutter walk but this time instead of being armed with a set of trash bags you are going to have a nice sturdy clothes basket. I love to use clothes baskets because they are not only easy to carry but can hold a surprising amount of misshapen items.
1. Take a walk around your home and gather up anything that needs to be put away. What you are looking for are.
- Clothes – Put dirty in the laundry room and clean in the rooms where they belong.
- Dishes – Gather up any dishes you find and put them into the sink or dishwasher.
- Shoes – Put shoes where you normally keep them. In a bedroom or mudroom or entryway.
- Bills – Gather up any papers that need your attention. Bills, statements, receipts. etc. Put them all into one location to go through later on when you have time. If you have an office I would put a clothes basket there to add to over the next few days. As you find any papers just toss them in the basket. Make a date to sit on the couch or at the table and deal with each paper one at a time.
- Office supplies – If you have a desk or other area where you keep office supplies set up a box or basket for these items. As you come across any office supplies, take them to this box and add them to your collection. When you are finished keep the best and donate or toss the rest.
- Books – If you are a reader and have a bookcase or other area dedicated for your books then this is where you will want to put any that you find scattered around your home. If you, as you are doing this, notice a title or two you no longer want, put them into a donation bag. When this bag is full take it to a nursing home, school, or library to donate for others to enjoy.
- Toys – For this task, I would enlist the kids to help. Give them a small basket and help them to gather up any toys you may find. Take them to where your family keeps toys either in a playroom or a toy box.
- Tools – It always amazes me how my Husband’s tools end up all over the house. If your home is anything like mine then you will want to take a tool walk. Look for not only tools but other items such as paint, hardware, tape, gloves, string, batteries, zip ties. Take these items to where you keep tools such as a workshop or garage.
Just because my list ends with tools does not mean yours has too. Remember no two homes are exactly alike and the items you have in your home will be different than what is found in mine. Keep going until everything that has a home is in it’s home.
D/M Pro Tip: When you are finished with this step, to do another trash walk. Or you can do it AS you are gathering up items that have homes. The more you remove the more you uncover so if you see trash as you are doing this step pick it up and throw it away.
What if I Don’t Know if it’s Clutter?
I get it, this is new. A brand new approach to how you view your things and the purpose of your home. And maybe as you are going through these steps you are quite sure what is trash, recyclable, and things that just need to be put away.
Just remember, if it is clutter then it is something that does not have a home. A place where we keep it. So, the overall purpose here is to find a home for our things. And once we designate a home for our clutter we can then put it away and once it’s away it’s no longer clutter.
Oiy, it’s like a tongue twister and a nursery rhyme all rolled into one.
So, how do we designate a home? I mean what if we have no idea where to PUT something?
You will need to ask yourself a simple question. If I was to look for this item, where would that be? And whatever the answer is, that is the new home.
Yep, it really is that simple.
Let’s put this into an example and see if this helps.
You are in the family room and you remove the trash, the recyclables, and all things that have homes. What you are left with is a small pile of random items. Most of these things you can tell right off you no longer need so they can go right into a donation box. (Which, by the way, is the new “home” for those items!)
But other things in that pile. The things you DO want to keep. That is where you are going to focus.
Maybe you are looking at a large and rather intimidating pile of stuff and suddenly you see in that pile a packet of scrapbooking stamps and card stock that you bought for making cards. You can’t think of a home because you do not have a place to make cards. (Well, actually you do. It is wherever you feel like it at the time.)
You remember that you have a pretty plastic basket you found yesterday buried under some old newspapers. You go and grab that basket and fill it up with the stickers, card stock, and the markers you just found. You then set that basket next to your rocking chair in the family room and just like that you have a home for all of your card making supplies.
Simple when you see it in action, right?
Find the things you want to keep and find a home for those things or CREATE one. Either way, your goal is to put away all the things you want to keep and donate all the things you do not.
Now that you’ve learned the 3 steps to take before you declutter, what’s next? Head on over to the blog and dive right into your first decluttering project. Take it slowly, yet be determined and remember to celebrate your progress. Even the smallest step is still a step in the right direction so be sure to acknowledge all of your wins.
If you are stuck please leave a comment below and I will do my best to help.