Are you drowning in a sea of clutter and dreaming of getting organized once and for all? You’re not alone. A quick Google search for “clutter control” generates over 40 million results, and the demand for home organization products has grown by nearly 30 percent over the past decade.
Why is it so challenging to stay organized? The answer is two-fold: From a practical standpoint, sifting through our stuff is a huge task simply because of the sheer volume of things most of us have.
Additionally, “decluttering is very, very emotionally charged,” explains Tracy McCubbin, a professional organizer and author of Making Space, Clutter Free: The Last Book on Decluttering You’ll Ever Need. “We have taken all of our stuff and imbued attachment to it.” As a result, de-cluttering is an open invitation to overwhelm; especially when you buy into the idea that you can get it all done in one marathon weekend. (Just ask anyone who has unloaded their entire wardrobe onto their bed and then had to sleep on the couch for a week.)
The good news: Clutter control is possible. The key is to set yourself up for lasting success by breaking decluttering down into smaller tasks. Here are McCubbin’s top four tips for doing just that, so you can get organized…and stay that way:
1. Clear Your Mind
Disorganized thinking is at the root of most clutter. Imagine that all your clutter has suddenly disappeared: What negative or stressful thoughts come up? Do you feel uncertain without all your stuff around you? Are you worried that you’ll need something you can’t think of right now, but when you do need it, you’ll miss it? These counterproductive thoughts keep us from throwing anything away.
Now, ask yourself, are these thoughts really true? If not, replace each with a positive thought or affirmation. For example, “Just because I love my things, it doesn’t mean I need them. Being overwhelmed by clutter is not who I want to be.”
2. Start Small
Choose one shelf or drawer to begin with, McCubbins advises. “Don’t dump your whole linen closet on to your bed. You’ll take one look at the pile, lie down on it, and take a nap.”
You should also try to avoid any detours down memory lane at the start of your organization efforts. “I always tell my clients to begin with the stuff that’s the least emotionally loaded for them.” That means skip over the boxes of family photos and start with the pile of junk mail. It will make you less likely to go down a wormhole of feelings—and more likely to feel accomplished and ready to take on the next task.
3. Schedule It
McCubbin advises scheduling decluttering sessions on your calendar just like you would workout time or dinner with a friend and to keep those appointments short—only 20 to 45 minutes—to start. Reserving a half-hour on a Tuesday night and 45 minutes on a Saturday afternoon will help you see that this is doable and encourage you to stop waiting for the ‘right’ time.
Setting a timer will help you stay on task without overdoing it. “When you see how much you can get accomplished in that short amount of time, you will be motivated to tackle an even bigger pile of clutter the next time,” McCubbin says.
4. Acknowledge the Challenge
Whenever you hit a snag and start to feel like it’s too much stuff to deal with, remind yourself that what you’re undertaking is hard work. “It will help you be realistic about the time and stamina required to complete the task,” McCubbin says, so you don’t get discouraged and quit.