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Decluttering 101: The ultimate guide

Learn how to save time, save money and save yourself stress by using these three simple steps to declutter your home. Download your free printable worksheet and get started straight away.

So what is clutter? The dictionary defines clutter as ‘An untidy collection of things.’ Ok, so we know that. So where can we see examples of this in our homes and why should we concern ourselves with decluttering? Perhaps it’s a simple as the second drawer in the kitchen being so chock full of stuff you can never find the potato peeler, or it might be that your bedroom wardrobe is bursting at the seems and you can’t pull together an outfit for the day. It may even be that your inbox is so full of random emails that you can’t find the car insurance bill to make the payment.  Then of course things may have gotten really out of hand and you find yourself surrounded by clutter no matter where you step.

Some people state that they are happy living with their things in disarray and perhaps they are. Or maybe it’s just easier to live within the status quo than it is to contemplate making a change. I can understand that. Change is difficult, change requires thought and action and we often believe that we don’t have the time or the energy  for either.

decluttering

Why does clutter matter?

Why does it matter whether or not the things in our lives are untidy? Well, there are some distinct advantages of living in an environment without clutter.

1) Save time
2) Save stress
3) Build positive relationships
4) Save money
5) Ensure safety
6) Create mental space
7) Make cleaning easier

How being clutter free saves time

How much easier would it be to find that elusive document or your favourite pair of earrings if you have a place for everything and everything is in its place? What is the alternative? It’s hunting all over the house for the item, looking in the pile next to the television, in the box under the bed and in the hall cupboard and often failing to come up with the item you require. Not only does this waste a large amount of time, usually at a moment when time is in short supply, it can lead to a huge amount of stress.

How being clutter free saves stress

When we have a job to do and can’t find an item that we need, our stress levels rise considerably. You know how it feels, you start to get hot, tense and snappy at those around you. This is not a time when you need another family member to come to you for assistance with something and inevitably it’s exactly when someone will need your attention. Your interraction with them is likely to be short, sharp and unpleasant because of the worry you have and the need to just find the damn thing.

We recently needed to take our passports to the bank as evidence of identity in order to sign some documents. It had been a while since we had used them and I have to admit that I didn’t immediately know exactly where they were. I had a couple of ideas about where to start which was good, but knowing exactly where they were would have been better. Whilst I didn’t panic, a little part of my brain was wondering what on earth I would do if I couldn’t actually find them. We had an appointment that we needed to make and the added stress of being limited by time would have been significant. Happily I found them in the second spot I looked but you can be sure that I have put them in a sensible place now so I won’t have that problem again.

I suppose one of the lessons to learn from something like this is that it’s OK for something to go wrong. It’s when we allow things to go wrong over and over again and we fail to do something about them, that there is a problem.

How being clutter free builds positive relationships

Clutter can affect our ability to enjoy social situations in our own homes. I know for me that I am reluctant to have friends over when the house is looking terrible. This happens at really busy times when we let the laundry pile up, neglect the growing pile of mail in the corner and allow the children to pull out all of the toys they own without packing any of them away when finished. It can be embarrassing to have even close friends over when the house looks like that. Happily, once you have completed a good declutter and have systems in place to stop it getting out of control again, a few short minutes of tidying will get the house ready to receive company at any time. I am not an advocate of the house looking like a display home at all times, I think that is unattainable and only creates stress which of course is something we are trying to avoid. What we are trying to achieve is a home that is easy to live in that only takes a couple of quick minutes to make ‘company ready’

How being clutter free saves money

Clutter can also be such a money waster. Anyone who does crafts for example, knows how quickly supplies build up and unless there is a system to store them it can be almost impossible to put your hands on just the thing you require at the time you need it. There was a time when I would have to go out and rebuy something that I knew was in the cupboard somewhere but just would not be found, only to have it turn up as soon as the project was finished. Of course this does not just apply to craft, work tools in the shed, the top that matches perfectly with those pants, any number of things can hide from us in clutter if we allow it to build up. What we want is to know what we already have and be able to put our finger on it easily when we need it.

How being clutter free keeps the family safe

It may seem silly but clutter can also be a safety hazard. Think about Great Nanna trying to navigate past a pile of old newspapers or magazines to make her way to the bathroom or a young child finding some small item on the floor and putting it into their mouths. When the house is tidy and there are no obstacles or dangerous items lying around, the chance of unexpected accidents occurring is a lot lower. Of course, there will always be times when things are out of place but if most of the house is clutter free, we can see those items that need to be managed when special visitors come over and can quickly take steps to reduce any risks.

How being clutter free creates mental space

Another advantage of a neat and tidy space is that it often frees up our minds and gives us greater capacity to think. A (very difficult to read) study here proves this to be true. In practice, a friend finds it very difficult to concentrate on anything in her work if the office is crowded with stuff. She spends a short time each day setting things right and finds herself so much more efficient for the rest of the day and able to complete her work without distractions.  It’s just like trying to concentrate on a book, movie or piece of work when someone else is talking to you at the same time. It’s distracting and you are not able to give either thing your full attention.

How being clutter free makes it easier to clean

Lastly, it’s so much easier to keep any house clean if you don’t have to tidy it first. A quick wipe down of the kitchen bench can turn into a marathon task if you can’t actually find the bench because it is covered with random objects. When my children were small it seemed like a never ending task trying to vacuum and wash the floor. By the time I had picked everything up and vacuumed, I was worn out. I had no energy left to actually wash the floor and by the time I got around to it it was inevitably covered with things again. This may have simply been a byproduct of having very energetic children in the house and may not have been possible to avoid but at the time I certainly didn’t have any system in place to make it easier for myself.

How do we solve a clutter problem once we know we have it?

There are a number of ways to tackle accumulated clutter in the house and which one you choose will probably depend upon your personality type and the level of the problem. Some people suggest an all at once approach where everything is pulled out onto the floor and gone through in one mammoth effort.  If this is your style, you might like to check out The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising by Marie Kondo.


Other people recommend a method where you do a little bit each day, attacking one area at a time until the whole house has been covered. If this sounds like you, you might like to check out  www.flylady.net  Don’t be put off by the influx of emails when you join.  She teaches you how to manage those as you go along.

Not sure which category you fall into? Then Mimi Tanner’s e-book ‘Declutter Fast: How to get your home in order almost immediately’ might just be the fit for you. She discusses the way clutter affects people, the various methods of decluttering and an alternative to the four box/pile method of decluttering. Her book also includes a whole section on how to tackle items you’re not quite ready to get rid of yet.

I like to do a combination of methods. On some days I am energetic, enthusiastic and have plenty of time. On these days I might be able to pull out the entire pantry, clean the shelves, chuck out the junk and rearrange everything as I put it back in. Other days I am time poor and have little energy to do that. At these times I will simply set my timer for 15 minutes, perhaps pop on a bit of music and do a quick clean out of one small spot in the house.

Once you have determined what type of declutterer you might be however, there is still the decision to be made about exactly where to start. You might decide to sign up to a decluttering challenge like the one Peter Walsh runs in January every year. The basic idea of these is that on each day you receive an email or Facebook notification telling you which area of your home to work on next. If you need someone to walk you through the process each day, this could be the plan for you.

If you are more of a self starter and don’t want to wait to receive an email to let you know what area of your home to begin working on next, then my S.O.S decluttering system might just be the thing for you.

The 3 step S.O.S decluttering system

S.O.S Decluttering System Quick Start Guide

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Want to get a quick start on your decluttering project?

Download your quick start guide today!

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This three step process will make it as easy as possible to complete one decluttering task each day until things are back under control. It will help you decide exactly where to start and what to do when you get there without telling you that on Tuesday you need to clean out your wardrobe and on Wednesday it is time to rearrange the medicine cabinet. Once you understand the steps, you can use it to make your own plan that suits your lifestyle and situation on any given day.

 

decluttering

The 3 step S.O.S decluttering system explained

Step 1) Identify a Space within your home

Firstly it involves selecting a Space or room that you wish to declutter.  Examples may include the car, garage, shed, kitchen, laundry, bathroom, bedroom, family room, games room, essentially any large area that contains clutter.

Step 2) Select an Object within that space 

Secondly, choose an Object or item in the room which contains or holds the clutter you wish to remove. This can include cupboards, wardrobes, tables, benches, fridges, freezers, car boot, TV cabinet, bed, pantry.

Step 3) Choose a Section of that object within that space. 

Lastly, choose the Section of that object by breaking it down into its smallest manageable parts. For example, in the pantry we have each separate shelf, containers on those shelves and even the floor.  Each of these sections can be worked on independently of each other to make the decluttering task as simple as possible on any given day.

The process looks like this:

decluttering techniqueLet’s say for example that we choose the kitchen (space) and the pantry (object). A pantry has a number of sections. There are all of the shelves, the floor, the different containers of items on those shelves. Depending upon the level of clutter and the time available, if we try to tackle the entire pantry in the one go, we can become overwhelmed, burn out and give up. The S.O.S system therefore directs us to choose one small section of that pantry to tackle each day.
declutter  In the S.O.S method we simply spend 15 minutes working on the area of our choice. I like to choose the spot which is causing me the most annoyance and do that one first. Yes, it is highly possible that using this technique we will spend the entire week decluttering the pantry. This is completely fine. We are focussing on the one place until it is all finished, not scattering ourselves all over the house, hardly making a noticeable dent in anything.

Take for example the solution where we declutter the fridge on day one, the lounge room on day two, the bedroom on day three etc. That is OK, if you have all day to get each thing done but if you only have a limited amount of time you will find yourself in one of two places:

a) overwhelmed and disappointed that you hardly scratched the surface,

or

b) burnt out and unwilling to continue with the process until the whole house is finished.

 Tweet: A large impact in a small area is better than a small impact in a large area. http://ctt.ec/5r41U+

Using the S.O.S system we are creating a snowball effect. The tangible results achieved by using this method create a sense of accomplishment. Imagine what it will feel like to get up in the morning, walk into the pantry to grab breakfast, be able to find exactly what you need in the shortest possible time and know exactly where everything belongs the next time you need to put something away. The obvious success in one area then helps to create the momentum to continue and work on another area. Inspired by the pantry, you may choose to work on the fridge or cupboards next and who knows where you will end up? Hopefully it will lead you to an entire house free from clutter and one that is much easier to keep that way.

Ok, now we know what to declutter and a process for choosing a small achievable Space, Object and Section of the house to work on but what exactly are we doing when we declutter? There are a couple of very simple steps I recommend to easily declutter the section of your choice. You will need three bags/boxes/containers for the 3 R’s.

1) Rubbish. The meaning is simple here, this is for junk that will go straight into the bin.
2) Rehome. Things that you no longer need but are too good to throw away can be donated to good will. I do not recommend trying to have a garage sale or something of that type as this involves keeping the clutter around until the event and is really only moving it from one place to another. This will counter the momentum we are trying to build up by seeing the clutter removed from our homes. We want to get it out of the house as soon as possible to achieve the best result for all of our hard work.
3) Relocate. This is for all of the items that you need to keep but are in the wrong place in the house. It’s much easier to collect them all together and relocate in one go at the end of the process than to be distracted trying to return an item at a time in the middle of it.

Go through the chosen section and put the items into the appropriate box if there is no place for them in the area you are working on. It doesn’t really matter to me how you organise the things that are left. I am not an advocate of purchasing containers or anything like that because we do not want to introduce more stuff into the house to contain all of our other stuff. We are not talking about organising our stuff here. We are talking about getting rid of what we do not need.

I have shared a lot of information with you today. Hopefully you will be able to put each of the steps in to place and begin the slow and steady transformation of your home into one which feels welcoming, looks fantastic and feels good to live in.

Remember that this is not a race, it’s a process you can work through at your own pace.

You may feel that in order to begin, you need to be walked through the process step by step for the first week or so and that’s OK. I have a simple PDF available for immediate download that will guide you through the S.O.S method until you are 100% sure about how to do it and can begin a process that suits your own situation.

Download your free Quick Start Workbook and get started today.

If you are wondering how you will possibly manage to find the time to begin the decluttering process, then The Lifewrangling Planner is the tool for you. It will help you to:

a) Record all of your tasks

b) Identify the important items

c) Schedule your day to get them done

Get your copy here: The Lifewrangling Planner

Happy Clutterwrangling

S.O.S Decluttering System Quick Start Guide

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Want to get a quick start on your decluttering project?

Download your quick start guide today!

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This post may contain affiliate links. I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Julie @ Filling the Jars April 9, 2016, 7:35 pm

    This is a great post! I love decluttering, but I’m usually not really organized about it – more like, “This spot is driving me crazy. Time to declutter!” And then I have a great day or week of getting rid of stuff. I will have to try the organized approach!

    • lifewrangling@gmail.com April 10, 2016, 12:02 pm

      Hi Julie, Yes, I used to wait until I was driven crazy by something before I was motivated to do something about it. I have found that a little bit often makes me feel so much better and no one has to listen to a crazy lady get mad about things that did’t appear to annoy her yesterday but are now all of a sudden a big issue. 🙂

  • Mom Kat April 9, 2016, 8:30 pm

    Wonderful post. By remembering the four major points you highlighted at the start of the article, i can limit my clutter already. Thank you for the tips! #weekendblogshare

  • Mom Kat April 9, 2016, 8:31 pm

    Wonderful post. By remembering the four major points you highlighted at the start of the article, i can limit my clutter already! Thank you for the tips! #weekendblogshare
    momkatsnotes.com

  • Mom Kat April 9, 2016, 8:32 pm

    Wonderful post.By remembering the four major points you highlighted at the start of the article, i can limit my clutter already! Thank you for the tips! #weekendblogshare

    • lifewrangling@gmail.com April 10, 2016, 12:05 pm

      Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest difference isn’t it? I always know exactly when the males in the house have been looking for something because every cupboard door and drawer they looked in is still open. 🙂 Now to try and get them to follow those 4 simple rules more often.

  • Emma @ Life, kids and a glass of red April 10, 2016, 11:07 am

    I can’t stand having clutter in my home! I finally got around to sorting out my husband’s study recently – I had a field day! 🙂 Now to tackle the filing cabinets… Every couple of months I tend to go through all the cupboards and tidy them up (towels and sheets always get shoved in, clothes seems to fall off hangers etc). Items no longer needed or wanted are taken to the charity shops or thrown away.

    • lifewrangling@gmail.com April 10, 2016, 12:07 pm

      I always seem to have a bag in the boot of the car to go to the charity shop. I like to get unwanted items out of the house as quickly as possible so there is no temptation to find another use for them.

  • Katie April 13, 2016, 3:10 am

    Wow what a wealth of information! Love your four simple rules, we are going to start with those in our household today!

  • Angela April 13, 2016, 4:34 am

    Great post. I definitely need to declutter! Thanks for linking up on #FFBH!

  • Jo @ You had us at hello April 13, 2016, 11:42 am

    Can’t talk, decluttering!! But seriously, looking forward to getting fire on so I can burn excess documents we no longer need, build the shelves and box away things! One day I will be completely clutter free ? (ps. It looks it when visitors come, just don’t open the cupboards!! I have a Monica cupboard!)

    • lifewrangling@gmail.com April 19, 2016, 8:30 am

      Hahaha, yes, don’t look in the cupboards or under the bed. Definitely worth spending a couple of minutes each day on one of those spots. You’d be surprised how quickly the clutter disappears if you are consistent.

  • Hannah Spannah July 19, 2016, 7:32 pm

    This is really useful and something I am definitely going to go back to. I tend to ignore things, such as my desk, until the pile becomes perilous and then attack it and make it beautiful and the polar opposite of what it was but in a small house, life just doesn’t always stay so clear and there just isn’t enough time to deal with everything when it wants to be dealt with as apposed to when I am able to deal with it. Thanks for joining the #weekendblogshare and thank you for commenting on my blog too x

  • The Mum Project October 13, 2016, 11:27 pm

    Wow this is so helpful! I like the SOS method, where its a little bit at a time, I think this is definitely the route for me. Although when I do have free time (which is NEVER) I am the type to do a massive clean all at once : ). Thank you so much for sharing with #StayClassyMama!

    • lifewrangling@gmail.com October 14, 2016, 6:25 am

      Yes, those big chunks of time just don’t seem to be available anymore once children come into the mix. A little bit often is my best advice.

  • Claire October 14, 2016, 2:33 am

    Oh wow, this is a really comprehensive post, so helpful!! I recently had a big declutter of two areas in my home and I feel so much happier for it. There are two other areas in particular I want to work on next x #stayclassymama

    • lifewrangling@gmail.com October 14, 2016, 6:22 am

      Hi Claire. I’m glad you found the idea useful. Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed I find that a good declutter makes me feel so much better.

  • Amy@MoreTimeThanMoney November 10, 2016, 11:39 am

    I’ve had a lot of success decluttering taking The Minimalism Game challenge. You can find out all about it here – https://moretimethanmoney.co.nz/tag/minsgame/. Your S.O.S approach would work really well as a way to tackle the challenge. I totally agree that a big difference is a small area is better than a small difference over a larger area.

    • lifewrangling@gmail.com November 12, 2016, 6:22 am

      Ooh, I’ll have to check out that challenge. Thank you for sharing.

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