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Decluttering: “I don’t know where to start!”

A complaint I hear all the time from my organizing clients and prospective clients is, “I don’t know where to start!” People look at the decluttering to be done and become immobilized by the magnitude of the tasks in front of them. Here are some ideas to help you get unstuck when the project seems too large and you don’t know where to start.

Kitchen timer as organizing tool
Use a kitchen timer to limit the scope of an intimidating organizing task.

Break down your organizing project into finite, measurable chunks. Let’s say you have a room that’s spilling over with junk. Instead of setting a goal of clearing out the whole space, break off a manageable piece. For example, take a garbage bag and wander through your space picking up 10 things that you’re willing to throw away. Put the bag in the garbage can. Pat yourself on the back for making a start!

Or grab an empty cardboard box, and gather 10 items that you’re ready to donate to a thrift store or put in a garage sale. If you’re making a donation, take the box straight to the car so you can drop it off the next time you run errands. If you’re planning a garage sale, place the box in the space you’ve set aside for storing items until the day of the sale arrives. You’ve made progress! And maybe you can fill another box tomorrow, or the day after that.

Here’s another trick for those of you who find organizing work intimidating: use a kitchen timer to limit the scope of your organizing task. This tip comes from a friend whose motto is, “I can stand to do anything for 25 minutes!” Set the timer—preferably one that makes an audible tick to remind you that you’re working against a deadline—and then get to work on the task. You can gather the mail into one place for sorting, pick up all the toys off the floor of the kids’ room, or work on whatever job is demanding your attention. You’ll be surprised how quickly the time goes by. When you hear the chime that sets you free, stop and be proud of what you’ve accomplished!

If 25 minutes is more than you can handle, pick a threshold that works for you. Try 10 minutes, or five, or two. If you get through that time okay today, try adding a few more minutes tomorrow. You’ll be astonished by how much you can get done in those few minutes each day. You’ll be even more surprised to find yourself cultivating an organizing habit along the way. And your reward for sticking to it? Your space will be a lot less cluttered than it was when you started out. 


This article was featured in our June 2010 e-mail newsletter. To subscribe to our newsletter, please use the “Subscribe” form, above right.

The Clutter Fairy is available for one-on-one organizing sessions tailored to your needs. We’ll visit your home or office to perform a free assessment of your space and its potential. Call 713‑816‑9505 or send e-mail to schedule an appointment.

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