Whether it’s a new year or a new week, the thought of tackling problem areas in our homes can be overwhelming and nerve-wracking. It might even make some want to run for the hills and do anything but sort it out.
When feeling overwhelmed, for whatever reason, our brains go into fight or flight mode.
For some, it kickstarts the brain to just get up and get on. For others, it means flight – do anything you can accept what is bothering you.
With spending more and more time in our home environments due to changes to our working weeks, our homes are now also our offices, our meeting rooms as well as the place we live.
Our lives have become a get-it-quick and throw-it-away just as easily society with items available at the click of a button. It’s quantity vs quality and despite the economic crisis and cost of living going up we still keep acquiring things.
So what happens when our focus is on our working lives and families…naturally there is a build up of ‘stuff’, an accumulation of ‘things’.
Then come the reasons why you can’t sort them out: You don’t have time to sort out the spare room, aka ‘dumping ground’. That cupboard with things in that you’ll never use because a) you’ve forgotten you had it, b) you know it’s there but just can’t get to it or c) have given up even thinking about it because it puts the fear into you will never get sorted. You’re too busy keeping your family alive, trying to have a social life and just getting by on a day by day basis to be able to even think about enjoying the house.
What’s worse is that the more time we spend in our homes, the more those little niggles become big niggles and those big niggles (can) become real problems.
So how do you get around it? How do you get some order in your life and can you really go from chaos to calm and keep it that way?
The answer is Yes!
While it helps to understand a bit about your own personality and traits in order to do so, there are steps everyone can take to having a clearer and calmer home environment.
Where to start?
Knowing where to start can be difficult and the feeling of overwhelm can easily take over stopping the whole process. The trick is not to look at it as one big problem. Write a plan of what you want to get organised. Order it in preference of most bother to you but easy to fix, to least bother to you and harder to fix.
Start on the easy, big wins that give you the feel-good factor and makes you want to continue. As you grow more confident and in control, you can then work on the harder but not so worrying areas.
It can be easy to get distracted. When you’re decluttering or organising a specific area – it could be a pile of random items that have built up or a cupboard or drawers – work only in that area and organise while there until finished. Create four piles: items to be given away/sold, items to be put back in their rightful homes elsewhere in the home, items to go back into that space and those that are no longer fit for purpose (can be given away but may end up in landfill). Once you’ve gone through the whole area, put back those items that live there first and then work on the other piles. Don’t be tempted to put back items around the rest of the home while you’re still organising it as you can then be distracted with other jobs.
Declutter before you Buy.
It's easy to get bamboozled by all the lovely things that can make your house look and feel like the images you see in magazines and online (& it can look that way by the way if you want it to). Save those pictures for when you’re ready and declutter the items you don’t need or want first.
Once decluttered you can then start to see what needs a home and the kind of storage (or other items) you actually need verses the items you think you need. It saves you a whole lot of money and frustration when you can actually buy the items that will fit right the first time.
It’s about making quick decisions, not rash ones. Is it a keep, charity/give away or bin. If you’re unsure as soon as you pick it up, put it down, move on and come back to it later. You can easily get lost in deliberating over whether something should stay or go. Perhaps it was an item that was given to you or you think it might be of use. Decluttering quite often is hindered when a person picks up an item and is unsure what to do about it. It leads to hesitation, questioning and a feeling of unease that can halt the whole process. It’s ok if you’re not sure but don’t dwell on it, just come back to it at a later date.
Like for like.
Organise items with like for like: tools, tins, dried goods, towels, bedding etc. Once you have them all together, not only does it help you keep on top of what you have but you can easily see what you no longer need/needs to be changed and you can actually use it. Occasionally you might need to split items that are used in more than one room, that’s ok too so long as it’s organised and kept together.
If you struggle to remember where things should live or have others in the house that need it made easy, label. Label where the lightbulbs are kept, the tools, the washing power/liquid, the tins, dried goods etc. Labels are a great way of helping you and the rest of the household keep on top of what you have. Once you all know where they belong, you can take the labels away if you want to but it’s a great way to keep things organised.
Location, location, location.
It’s all about making it easy for you going forward. Give items a home in areas where they are easily found/most needed. It’s ok to have a pen pot in each living space if you regularly need them there but it’s not great to have to walk through the house from one side to the other to put your coat away when you come home. Likewise, don’t overcrowd an area with too much – you don’t need all of your extra toiletries crammed into the bathroom, it’ll just make it feel messy, disorganised (if not contained) and full. Just keep what you’re using available and have spares in another cupboard nearby or cut down on the extras you’re housing if you don’t have the space.
Small and often.
Don’t get overwhelmed by focusing on a big area all at once (unless you’re fully prepared with time, energy and an understanding of what it may take). Start with a drawer and time yourself for 20 minutes to see how far you get. If you find that was easy, work on a slightly bigger area (again for 20 minutes) and see how far you get. You’ll start to know how long it takes you to get through a space/type of item which in turn will help when planning to declutter an area.
Use what you have.
Before rushing out to buy more furniture or storage solutions, look around your home and use what you already have. Sometimes it’s just a matter of rearranging a piece of furniture to work better for you. Other times it’s using an old box to test out a new home for something before buying something that may be more aesthetically pleasing.
Once organised, easy to organise.
Easier said than done right but once you have a system in place, it’s much easier to keep on top of it and then makes the whole process a lot faster and easier to manage going forward.
Do as you go.
If you really want to make life easy for yourself and keep on top of your space. Adopt a new routine of every time you leave a room, take something with you that doesn’t belong there and put it in its rightful place. If you get into this routine of doing, you’ll find there isn’t a build up of items that need to be organised on a regular basis giving you back time to be able to focus on more exciting things!
Quick top tips on decluttering and keeping in control of that clutter going forward:
- Always declutter before you buy storage.
- Little and often helps keep clutter at bay.
- Change your routine – it’s a conscious decision you have to make but moving furniture or changing where something lives, however small, can make a big difference to your space and how you use it.
- Don’t get sucked into buying something because the marketing is soo good it makes you believe you need it. Create a list of items you need and why. Then stick to it, crossing off the items as and when you replace/get them!
- It will always look worse before it looks better – no matter how big or little an area you’re working on.
- Take before/afters to remind yourself what it was like to start with – you can quickly forget once done.
- Get help – ask a friend you can trust, a family member or bring in a professional to help you work on an area and keep focused.
- Remember - it’s not about perfection, it’s about practicality and process first. (The aesthetics can come later!)
Additionally don't forget that life is a constant cycle of change, as is your home. It has to adapt as you change and grow but it's important for it to work for you in the now.
Author Sian Pelleschi founded Sorted! – a decluttering and organising service – in 2016. Located in Stockport, she covers the North West of England in person and the world virtually. She takes a firm but fair approach to help those who are struggling with their space – both physically and mentally – and believes that decluttering is not just about throwing ‘stuff’ away or creating beautiful surroundings, but about providing practical, long-lived processes that can support a person going forward.
In addition to running Sorted!, Sian is President for the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers (APDO). She is in demand as a media spokesperson – having been featured in Cheshire Life and ‘Expert’s Corner’ on talkRADIO, as well as other broadcast, print and online news outlets.
Sian’s goal is to inspire, motivate and declutter as many lives and businesses as possible.