Decluttering is probably the most daunting part of the organising process. Many people, for various reasons, whether sentimental, aspirational, financial, or environmental, find it difficult to let go.
But decluttering is an essential part of the organising process. If you keep accumulating, your home will eventually turn into a storage unit rather than a living space. You’ll be spending time and energy taking care of stuff that has outlived its purpose. And it’ll affect your stress level.
Here are 6 essential decluttering tips to help you declutter and keep only what you need, use, and love. And fit into your closets…
BEFORE YOU START THE PHYSICAL DECLUTTERING
TIP 1: BE CLEAR ON YOUR WHY
First, ask yourself what it is that you’re really hoping to achieve by decluttering, because, in all likelihood, you won’t be decluttering just for the sake of it, right? Is it that you want to save time, or money, to feel less stressed, to improve your relationship with your spouse, to be a role model for your children?
Having clarity on your why will give you not only the motivation to get started but also, because decluttering takes time and it often gets worse before it gets better, the motivation to keep going when the going gets tough.
TIP 2: RESEARCH YOUR DISPOSAL OPTIONS
Knowing that there are avenues to responsibly dispose of your castaways – whether you want to make money out of an expensive dress you’ve never worn, bless your children’s toys to a less privileged family, or make sure old cables won’t end up in the landfill – will prevent you from holding onto things that have outlived their purpose.
Several of my clients were immediately able to let go of their wedding gowns when they learned about Angel Hearts, a charity that supports bereaved parents by, amongst other things, repurposing wedding gowns into angel baby gowns.
There’s no right or wrong in deciding what to do with your castaways. Do your research in your local community and select options that resonate most with you. For those of you based in Singapore, you can tap into Get Organised & Beyond free guide listing more than 50 avenues to donate, recycle, sell, or even swap various types of items.
Just some words of caution…
Make sure the items you are planning to donate are in good condition (charities don’t have the resources to fix your items) and are accepted by the charity of your choice (charities have been inundated with donations in the last few years and understandably are being selective on what they can take). Otherwise, your stuff is likely to end up in the landfill.
Similarly, with stuff you’re planning to give away to family or friends, ask them first whether they’d be interested in the item and give them the option to pass. You don’t want your stuff to become their clutter, create resentment, and be in the way of your relationships.
Selling is an extremely attractive option for many, but selling does take time and energy, regardless of whether you want to sell individual items online or organise a garage sale or open house. Make sure the item you’re planning to sell is worth the time you’re going to spend on selling it. Set a minimum amount below which it won’t be worth your time.
If you decide to swap (swapping is becoming increasingly popular for clothes and books in Singapore), be careful not to bring back home more than what you gave away. Be selective and trade in several items for a nicer one.
TIP 3: DEFINE RETENTION RULES
List a series of rules and/or questions specific to the type of items you’ll be decluttering to help you decide what to keep and what to let go of. By setting those rules and questions upfront, you separate the decision from the action, and you’ll be more efficient and detached when going through the physical purge.
Here are a few examples of what your rules could look like:
For clothes: let go of those that are damaged, that don’t fit, that don’t make you feel good, that you can’t pair with any other items in your wardrobe, that are too much work to take care of (require dry cleaning or hand wash) etc.
For make-up: let go of those that have expired (if you can’t find the manufacturing or expiry date, look for the following signs: weird smell, dry and clumpy texture, and discolouration), colours that don’t look good on you, etc.
For paper: In Singapore, tax returns form, receipts of tax-deductible items such as expenses, donation and relief, and proof of income derived from employment, investment, rent, sale of property, etc. need to be kept for 5 years. In case of doubt, it might be a good idea to speak to an accountant or a financial advisor to get familiar with legal retention requirements that apply to your situation. Establish your own guidelines depending on your tracking and reconciliation processes for those documents you are not bound to keep such as bank account and credit card statements, bills and credit card receipts, deposit slips and ATM receipts, investment statements, etc.
For recipe books: if you make 5 or more recipes from a book, keep it. Otherwise, scan or make a copy of the recipes you use and let go of the book.
And so on…
DURING THE PHYSICAL DECLUTTERING
TIP 4: CATEGORISE
If you pick up a random item and ask yourself whether to keep it or not, it’s going to be difficult to make a decision. Now if you look at this item together with similar items, then you’ll realise how much you have in this category and it will help you decide how many and which ones you should keep.
There’s no standard way to categorise. Categorising depends on your preferences and how you and your family use the items.
Clothes are typically sorted by type (pants, skirts, shorts, dresses, blouses, T-shirts, etc.), occasion (formal, work, casual, exercise, etc.), colour, or a combination of those.
For toys, it could be cars, trains, building blocks, musical instruments, figurines, soft toys, dolls, board games, puzzles, pretend play, arts & crafts etc.
For kitchenware: baking, cooking, daily dishes, food preparation, food serving, food storing etc.
TIP 5: SORT YOUR CASTAWAYS BY DISPOSAL OPTION
When you purge, just don’t create two piles, one for the keepers and one for the castaways. Instead separate systematically what needs to be donated, given away, recycled, sold, swapped, etc. otherwise you’ll have to go through your castaway pile at the end of the purge and try to remember how you wanted to dispose of each item.
Not only do you make the whole decluttering exercise longer than it could have been, but you also might not get to sorting through the castaway pile as you might feel physically and/or emotionally tired after the purge. The pile might stay there, untouched for a while. Random items might be added to the pile over time. And when you eventually get down to it (sometimes years later), you might start questioning the decisions you’ve made. Trust me, it’s a scenario I often witness.
AFTER THE PHYSICAL DECLUTTERING
TIP 6: SET DEADLINES
It’s only when your castaways are going to be out of your home that you’re going to really feel the weight of your clutter being lifted off your shoulders. So set deadlines in your diary for each of the disposal options you’ve selected.
If you were intending to sell something but there has not been any buyer by your deadline, donate it. Same if you wanted to give something away to a specific friend but you can’t seem to be able to meet in the near future. We all have the best intentions but not necessarily the time to make them happen. That’s ok! Find the next best option and move on!
I can guarantee you that the above decluttering tips will save you time and make the decisions easier, but they might not be enough for those who have a strong attachment to their belongings. So I’ll share in a separate blog post additional decluttering tips for when you really struggle to let go.
Now you don’t have to wait for my next blog post if the clutter is weighing you down. I can provide you with the hands-on help and emotional support you need right now. As Erica, one of my past clients said, “It’s so much easier to make the changes happen when someone is offering advice that comes without emotional attachment, but definitely with friendly support.” And you might be one of these people for whom one session with me might be enough to get you unstuck and move forward. So take the first step towards a clutter-free life and contact me now! I’d love to help you.