This will come as a huge shock to any of my readers who have known me a while – I recently became certified as a Professional Organizer. I know, it’s completely out of character for me (in that not-at-all, saw-this-coming-a-mile-away, it’s-probably-about-time, sort of way), but in my defense, I think it makes sense for those of us with OCD to put it to good use.
Something I’ve noticed through my training, and we’ve probably all seen in ourselves if we’re being honest, is that when we’re going through the process of getting organized, or decluttering, the overwhelming feeling that it’s all just too much is very real. Not only the sense of, “how much time is this going to take?” and immediately feeling exhausted, but also, “where do I even begin?”
Everyone’s take on this is different. My perspective is that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Some people do great tackling their entire house in a weekend. Some people do better breaking it down into bite-sized tasks they can do in shorter periods of time. I’d venture a guess that most people are likely to have more success with the latter, given our limited and busy schedules.
The Zone Approach
I’ve found that a simpler way to tackle clutter is to break it down into zones, and to work each zone individually. You can do just one at a time, or you can choose to do more than one zone in a day. Using this “zone” approach will make the process smoother, simpler, and most importantly, you’re more likely to actually get it done.
Here are the five zones I recommend working within, one at a time, until your entire house is decluttered:
- Wardrobe & Cosmetics
- Home Maintenance
Let’s take a look at some things to tackle within each zone.
Wardrobe & Cosmetics
- Clothing – Anything too big, too small, faded, uncomfortable, worn out, or that you just have too many of, let go of it. One of the biggest temptations is to justify getting back into a certain size or believing an occasion will arise where you’ll really need something. I recently let go of a suit I hadn’t worn since the George W. Bush administration, when I was a size I haven’t been since said administration. Truth be told, should I need a suit right now, I would have to buy a new one. Why did I still have this suit???
- Socks – Have never found the match? That ship has sailed.
- Hangers – For the love of all things holy, do not take the hangers from the store when you guy something, and if you do, get rid of them. We only need enough hangers for the clothes we’ve got.
- Jewelry & Accessories – I’m not sure why, but it seems that we tend to hang on to jewelry, even if it’s broken. Go through all of your jewelry – if it’s broken and you love it, make a plan immediately for getting it fixed. If it’s broken and you don’t love it, it goes. If it’s valuable but you don’t love it, who might? Can you sell it? Any accessories that are unmatched (missing earrings), out of date, you don’t love, or are faded or worn, need to go. Even something you thought you’d love, like a scarf you thought was beautiful in a store, but never found the right outfit to pair it with, is taking up space. Take a look at all of your belts, scarves, and hats and be honest about when you’re going to be excited to wear them.
- Bras and Underwear – Ladies, this should go without saying, but treat yourself better than to have janky old undies.
- Shoes – If they’re uncomfortable, out of style, or you have no use for them, you’re done with them.
- Beauty Products – Any makeup that is expired, you never liked, nail polish that’s half goopy, samples from 2007 you haven’t tried, old make-up bags and brushes, half-used travel bottles, hair products that didn’t work out, dump it. No one else can use it, and it’s taking up space. Once you pare down to only what you’re actually using regularly, you’ll be surprised at how much space you have, and how much easier your morning routine is.
- Perfume – It goes bad after a while. If you haven’t used it in years, chances are, it doesn’t smell like it should. Also, if you haven’t used it in years, chances are you never liked it in the first place, or never found a good enough reason to want to wear it.
- Hair Ties – Stretched out? Nasty? Garbage.
- Sunglasses – I’m so guilty of this one. If they’re scratched or out of date, you’re not wearing them.
- Hand Bags and Wallets – This is a guilty pleasure for many. Take a look at what you’re actually using, and what you’ll probably never reach for again. If you have valuable bags, try to sell them, but don’t hang on to them just because you paid a lot for them.
- Medication – Because we often keep this in our bathroom with our cosmetics, I’m including it here, but it could just as easily be in your kitchen cabinets, too. Get rid of expired medications, supplements or vitamins you no longer need. Ask your local pharmacy for help with throwing away old prescriptions.
- Used up Office Supplies – Dried out pens, markers, highlighters, things that tend to end up in the junk drawer rather than the trash. Get them in the trash.
- Expired Coupons – I love coupons all day, but the unused ones expire. Try moving to a digital coupon format where you can, and when you’re using paper, periodically purge those that have expired. Always keep your coupons in one central location, organized by type (groceries, pizza, retail) so that you have a simple process you can keep clean.
- Old Receipts – For the big things like cars and home appliances, you need to hang on to receipts, but for the jeans you bought three years ago and have worn down to threads, not so much.
- Books – I like to keep copies of classics, or books that are on my all-time favorite list. I also like to keep those that I’ll refer back to, or re-read again in their entirety. But if you’re sure it was a murder-mystery/thriller you’re done with, donate it. Same goes for school textbooks you know you’ll never look at again.
- Magazines – Once you’ve read them, recycle or find someone who wants them. Consider moving to a digital format for your magazines (unless you prefer analog, which I totally get!).
- Old Papers – Any paperwork that is worth saving deserves its own file in a filing cabinet or drawer. Otherwise it’s ready to be tossed or shredded. Same goes for notebooks from classes you took years ago.
- Greeting Cards – Do you think that your friends and family are hanging on to cards you gave them 15 years ago? No one is offended that you recycle them after a little while. It’s no less appreciated just because you don’t keep it for years to come.
- Junk Drawer – This can be a tough space in our homes. It seems everyone in the house has a different idea of what belongs in there and pretty soon it’s filled with Legos and old cell phones. Go through this drawer for just a few minutes and pull out things that are actually trash, and gather up what belongs in another area of the home and put it in its respective space.
- Wrapping Paper – Any wrapping paper, gift bags, bows and boxes that are in great shape and you’re honestly using, belongs in its own well-organized space. Anything that is truly scraps of wrapping paper, used bows you thought you might re-use, or dated (or plain ugly and you won’t actually use it), needs to go.
- Random Mail – It’s junk mail. It’s for no one specific in the house, so no one is dealing with it. Toss.
- Rewards Cards – I hate these things. Keep only those that you really use (hello, Starbucks – and hey, that one’s online!) and that aren’t digital (the majority of stores allow you to use your phone number or have a smart phone app), and purge the rest.
- Gift Cards – If your gift card has a substantial balance on it, obviously you’ll want to keep it if you know you’re going to use it, but if you’re still hanging on to .29 cents on a card from 8 years ago…
- DVD’s/Movies – Don’t do this room by room. Take every DVD and CD in your entire house and put them in a pile. Keep what you love and will watch or listen to, and donate the rest. Consider moving to a digital platform to save even more space.
- Power Cords – You may have gotten rid of the device, but still have the cord. Reconcile all of your cords with what you actually use.
- Small Electronics – Old phones, devices, appliances that are out-of-date, not functioning properly, or you’ve already replaced, don’t need to be taking up space. See what you can sell. Be sure to wipe them clean of any personal or sensitive information.
- eClutter – I wrote a post about this recently. This includes books, movies, apps, photos, anything digital you don’t need anymore.
- Take-Out Packets and Menus – No one in the house is going to use those ketchup packets. Unless you use them immediately, they’re going to sit there until you move out or die. Also, stop designating a space for take-out menus. It’s unnecessary clutter when you can get restaurant menus online.
- Food Storage Containers – No matching lid? You don’t need it.
- Chipped Dishes – Replace chipped dishes. If most of your dishes are chipped, it may be time for a new set.
- Baking Supplies – Do you have an odd baking pan you bought with the intention of making something fabulous but never did? Or, do you still have sprinkles from 2001?
- Expired Food – Goes without saying. Also, here’s some information specifically on purging spices.
- Too Much of the Same – Unless you’re hosting insanely large groups of people on the regular, if you’ve got more serving pieces than you can use at one time, you can scale back
*For more on organizing your kitchen pantry, check out this recent post .
- Old Paint – It’s a great idea to hold on to paint for touch-ups, but after a while, your walls have faded, and that paint won’t be of much help to you. Also, check that you’re not still hanging on to paint that’s actually dried out.
- Abandoned Projects – It’s so disheartening when we’ve had the best of intentions, but the truth is, every time you look at that abandoned project, it just makes you feel bad. Probably best to part ways.
- Memorabilia – I hate clutter, but even I like to keep some memorabilia. A full life is one in which we can look back and enjoy some great memories. Just be careful not to let this get out of control, and have a designated space, box, shelf of some kind to keep it contained.
- Old Bedding – Often we keep things like old pillows, sheets, towels and comforters for guests. But when guests come, we think they’re too old and we don’t use them (the sheets, not the guests). Why are we keeping them?
- Boxes – I’m guilty of this one. Amazon delivers something in an awesome box and you think, “I could probably use that at some point”. Which is great, until you have 45 Amazon boxes and you aren’t moving anytime soon.
- Home Decor – Any out of date decor, or decor you’re just tired of but put away in the basement or attic or a hall closet, actually belongs in a garage sale or a donation bin.
- Shopping Bags – They’re handy as anything (especially for pet owners), but we can only use so many.
Hopefully, breaking down your decluttering into five more manageable zones will help diminish the overwhelm of tackling this project. Let me know if you try this method and you find it helpful, I love hearing from you!