Unit 3: Strategy
Let's do this!
In this unit, we will learn the most effective way to declutter and begin decluttering your “smallest worst space.”
- Complete Worksheets 3.1-3.5 & 4.3
- Home Evaluation
- Moon & Stars Goals
- Smallest Worst Space Plan (4.3)
- Clutter Considerations
- Purging Prep Checklist (add trash can to list)
- Print Time Savers List
- Decide where to put things to donate/sell
- Post donation hours in your car.
- Bonus Declutter Challenge: Take a “before” photo of your “smallest worst space” and then spend at least 30-60 minutes decluttering it, starting with the first small area within that room.
Unit 3: Strategy
Welcome back to the Think & Tidy: Decluttering for Moms E-course. In Unit 1, we fine-tuned your family vision. In Unit 2, we learned about clutter-loving thoughts and how to overcome them. And, in this Unit, we will get down to an effective decluttering strategy and make an action plan for decluttering your smallest worst space.
“Are you moving?” my friends asked me. Not quite, just decluttering, but you know what, decluttering can sometimes feel like moving. It is a lot of work and sometimes, it can be stressful. The good thing is it is less work than moving entirely, but it is important to acknowledge that it is not going to be all sunshine and rainbows. It will be hard work.
In the end, however, you will have a home that feels bigger and has less stuff to trip over. It might honestly feel like a new home (without the closing costs!). That mindset can propel you forward when decluttering gets intense.
So, are you ready to make your home feel like new again? Then, it’s time to make some specific goals for your home. I have always loved this quote, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars” (Les Brown).
So, today, we’re going to shoot for some big moon goals that would be miraculous and amazing to accomplish, while also putting down our own personal star goals that are totally easy and doable for us. Then, no matter what you end up accomplishing, you can be content with achieving your goals to some extent, and that is something to celebrate!
Your moon goal may mean that you want to declutter your home so thoroughly that you have an empty room for a home gym. Your star goals may be as simple as cleaning out your desk or purging the toys. Over time, you can work your way towards your moon goals by bouncing from star to star.
In order to avoid getting stuck in overwhelm and to avoid not really getting anywhere with little by little efforts, you’re going to be strategic with decluttering your home. To understand this strategy, we are going to play a little game. I am going to give you 2 scenarios and you decide which scenario will be the most effective. In this instance, effective means that the individual is able to purge the stuff in their whole home. So, let’s have you choose the most effective method.
Jill has a lot of stuff. She decides that she’s first going to conquer her biggest and scariest space… the garage. There are boxes piled to the ceiling and she doesn’t even know what is in half of them. She needs to declutter the rest of her house, but starts here since it will have the biggest impact.
Suzy also has a lot of stuff. She starts by decluttering her sock drawer. That was easy, so she moved on to the next drawer and continued to work through her home starting with the smaller wins, and progressively moving on to the bigger wins.
Ok, do you have your answer? Both of these answers could be logical options. In fact, logically speaking, it would be great to get in control of such a large space as the garage first. And, if your brain wasn’t such a huge determining factor in this decluttering game, that may be an effective method. And, for some, it might even work alright.
To carry this story on, poor Jill started decluttering her garage and quickly became overwhelmed by box after box. She felt she was making no progress and the idea of opening another box sent her into decluttering paralysis. She ended her allotted decluttering time by binging Netflix to dull the overwhelm.
Have you ever felt this way when you’ve embarked on a decluttering project? Or, even a DIY project? If you have, the good news is that you’re totally normal.
This is where our psychology can come in handy again. Our brains like to know that we’re on the right track and that we’re making progress. So, when Suzy decluttered her sock drawer and gave a happy sigh of relief, her brain gave her a little shot of dopamine as a mental high five. That felt so good that she was incentivized to move on to her next small win.
In order to help our brains learn to deal with the sometimes uncomfortable decluttering feelings, we can choose to start with teeny tiny small wins. Now, this isn’t just a good idea, it is a concept used by productivity experts and financial planners. Plus, it’s been scientifically proven to be more effective.
To help you understand this concept, we’re going to learn a little about debt. The “snowball method” of paying off debt has been shown to be the most effective way to pay off one’s debt. The method suggests starting with paying off the smallest loans first, then progressively moving towards the bigger loans. People feel encouraged each time they knock out a loan, so they keep going until they are debt free.
By snowballing your efforts, you give yourself small wins that help you see real progress and gain momentum. (Imagine how exciting it would be for someone to cross one loan off of their list!) The snowball method helps your brain feel encouraged and motivated to keep pushing on for that next win!
In matters of paying off debt, or managing excess clutter, the game is very much the same. It requires planning, discipline, and smart strategy to keep yourself from getting stuck and giving up. So, let’s talk about how we can apply this tried and true strategy to decluttering.
Stop the Flow
I recently watched a video of a woman who used the snowball method to get her family out of $10,000 of credit card debt. Yay! They were so thrilled. But, then, they became mortified to find themselves in the same place where they had started with another $10k of credit card debt because they had not changed their spending habits. Similarly, our decluttering efforts will not last if we do not change how much we bring into our homes.
To really get clutter free, you need to stop the flow of stuff into your home. A person serious about getting out of debt needs to stop excess spending, and a person trying to get rid of the clutter needs to stop bringing in stuff. In both cases, it’s essential to change the habits that got you to where you are in the first place.
Bringing stuff into your home while you’re decluttering is like leaving the faucet on when you’re trying to drain water out of the sink. You need to stop the flow of stuff into your home so that you can have a fighting chance of getting rid of your clutter. So, while you’re decluttering, avoid bringing extra things into your home. Avoid hand-me-downs, avoid shopping for more than essentials and try to use what you already have.
I know that it gets more complicated with family members, but you can help them get started with the one thing in and one thing out rule to at least maintain the status quo and not increase the amount of stuff in your home. For example, if they bring home one art project, lovingly ask them which one they’d like to toss. Or, if they get a new stuffed animal, ask which one they are done with. We will be discussing more clutter managing habits in Unit 5, but you can preview the Tips for Managing Clutter workbook page to help you stop the flow while you declutter.
All goals are dreams with a price. In many ways, the ultimate price for achieving your goals is your time and effort. So, let’s figure out how to make more time for accomplishing your home goals.
Denzel Washington said, “Without commitment, you’ll never start, but more importantly, without consistency, you’ll never finish.” Decluttering your house can happen little by little, but I recommend spending some significant time upfront doing a house reset where you dramatically purge your stuff. This reset can happen in the little bits of time that you have throughout the day, but you may find it helpful to set aside an hour or even a day each week to really get down to decluttering.
Now, you may think, “I really don’t have time!” But, what if your water heater broke today? Would you just endure cold showers, or would you find the time to deal with it? It would be a pain, but somehow, you would find a way to deal with the problem as soon as possible. Maybe you would get help from others, maybe you would cancel a doctor’s appointment, but because you value hot showers and hygiene, you would make the time to fix that water heater.
The nice thing about clutter is that it won’t give you an unpleasant cold shower. The not-so-nice thing about that is that it makes decluttering easier to put off. So, in this lesson, we’re going to take some time planning on when you’re going to make decluttering happen.
Like paying off debt, decluttering takes discipline. Instead of allocating dollars towards debts, you’re going to allocate your time towards your clutter. Whether you’ve got one hour a week, or an entire day each week, you can make significant progress towards your decluttering goals by being strategic. The same way decreasing expenses and increasing income helps someone have more money to pay off their debts, decreasing wasted time and increasing your available time can help you take care of your clutter.
Now, you may be wondering where on earth you’re going to find any significant time to declutter. Lucky for you, I have 13 ideas to help you save time.
1) Cut back on apps and social media.
Ah, bless it all. I think most of us have a love-hate relationship with social media. Have you ever looked on your phone to see exactly how much time you spend on social media each day? I have, and sometimes it’s honestly a little shocking! Android phone users can view their personal stats under settings -> apps and notifications -> screen time. Apple users can click on settings -> screen time -> see all activity. Consider uninstalling your biggest time suck apps or commit to only using social media on the computer to give you a little extra time each day.
2) Turn off the TV. Television can be a way to escape, but it can also be a great way to lose track of time. While you’re intently focusing on purging, shelf your favorite shows and put that time towards decluttering.
3) Double your efforts. When I found myself running ragged in the mornings last year, I started doubling breakfasts and found the extra time I needed to get on top of other things throughout the week. This concept goes beyond cooking – whenever you’re working on something that can be doubled to save you time later with minimal extra effort, do it!
4) Beware of multitasking. If you need to run errands, make phone calls, and respond to emails, how effective will you be if you are ping-ponging between the three? Instead, choose to group your tasks by type to be more efficient with your time. For example, make all of your phone calls at the same time, run your errands when you’re already out, and focus your full attention on responding to emails at one time each day. On a larger scale, you might have one day be your errand day, one day be your house cleaning day, and one be your crazy purge day. You may be amazed by how much more you can get done this way!
5) Cut the fat. While we’re purging stuff, let’s talk about purging your scheduled activities. It’s ok to say no, it’s ok to not go. It’s ok to pull out of something if it isn’t adding value to your life. Remember, you get to choose! You may decide that, even for now, you want to take a break from certain activities so that you have time to really focus on your home.
6) Minimize interruptions. So, you have some time set aside to declutter, but then you get sucked into responding to emails… Help yourself out by turning your phone off or putting it somewhere out of reach so you can really focus on the task at hand.
7) Let it go, for now. Lin Yutang said, “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” Whenever I am seriously decluttering, especially with kids around, the rest of my home sometimes gets a little out of hand. But, guess what, most of those things, like dishes & laundry, will eventually get taken care of. Decluttering, on the other hand, won’t happen unless you let something go for a time in order to make it happen.
8) Establish & honor your systems. It’s easier to put the laundry in the hamper than to put the laundry on the floor, then come back later and put it in the hamper. Create and commit to systems as you declutter your home. When combined, these little systems can save you a surprising amount of time each day. Teaching your kids to follow systems can also save you time from nagging. For example, if your kids know their expectations are the same every morning, you will have less reminding to do on days when you need to hurry somewhere.
9) Use a timer. Somehow, using a timer helps us use our time better. It can feel like a game and kick us into gear. Using a timer to accomplish certain tasks can help you and your family get things done in less time (plus, it can be more fun!).
10) Mind the moments. There may be little productive moments hiding in your day like when you’re sitting in the carpool lane, going grocery shopping, or driving in the car. You may decide to schedule an appointment while waiting in your car, listen to your favorite podcast while grocery shopping, or take a phone call through your car while driving. Pairing mindless tasks with higher concentration tasks can help you to kill two birds with one stone.
11) Get help. Find ways to pull your spouse or kids into the decluttering by giving them little jobs. For example, upon entering a room, you can assign one person to throw away all of the trash, one to collect and stack all of the papers, one to gather all of the toys, and another to sort things by type. Getting your family or even a friend on board can help you multiply your effort and plow through tasks in less time. Bonus points for making it fun with music or offering a fun family incentive for when the job gets done!
12) Use your brain to save your feet. When you’re in the area, do the thing. Just like a bus picks up people enroute, you can pick up and put away stuff as you go around the house. For example, when you leave your bedroom in the morning, carry your laundry to the laundry room. When you’re passing the stuff left on the stairs, carry it on your way up or down the stairs.
13) Rest up. Of course, if you’re running yourself ragged, you’ll be less effective with whatever time you have, so respect your body by giving it the proper rest and nourishment that it needs.
Prioritize & Time Block
Now that you’ve got a little bit more time to work with, let’s focus on giving each hour of that time a specific job. Dan Millman said, “We can’t do everything… at least not at the same time.” We will be using the Home Evaluation worksheet to help you decide exactly where to start with your snowball decluttering strategy.
Rate the clutter condition of each space in your home using the Home Evaluation worksheet, then circle your smallest SOS space in order to prioritize your decluttering efforts.
Congratulations! You just determined your starting point for your decluttering snowball. The smallest SOS space you just circled is where you will begin.
Instead of trying to declutter the whole room at once, you are first going to break it down into bite-size chunks and assign each of those chunks a time limit.
For example, if I were decluttering my bedroom, some smaller steps would be to declutter under my bed, declutter my nightstands, declutter my dresser, etc. I could give myself 30 minutes to declutter under my bed, 30 minutes for my nightstands, and 1 hour for my dresser. Start with the easy parts of each room to help yourself get your little dopamine high five to keep you motivated as you move forward. Remember to completely finish one thing before moving onto the next. Doing so will help keep things livable while you purge.
The smallest worst space worksheet is designed to help you learn how to break down each space of your home into manageable bites. Complete the worksheet to make a plan for your smallest worst space.
As a mom of four young kiddos, I understand how the struggle is very real when it comes to decluttering. I know how it feels when you stick something in the donation box and a child comes along and snatches it out. Or, when you are in the decluttering zone when you hear a loud rumble followed by screams in another room. I also get how it feels to be stuck staring at your pile of stuff thinking, “What have I done?” and not knowing how to make decisions and get things put back. Sometimes it helps to have someone else with you to help you to think clearly! Lastly, how about when, amidst the decluttering, your curious tiny people come and dump the sequins all over the floor. In this case, not so fabulous. Like I said. The struggle is real.
But, even with the realities of family life in mind, there are some ways that we can work smarter, not harder to get the job done. Yet again, a little planning goes a long way.
I’m going to walk you through the Clutter Considerations worksheet, which you will finish at the end of this unit. You’ll notice this worksheet helps you answer the “Who, what, where, when, why, and how” decluttering questions.
Who will you contact for accountability and support?
Maybe you’ll utilize the decluttering group, or maybe a friend who is also decluttering. In any case, working together on similar goals can help you keep going when the going gets tough.
What is your biggest decluttering struggle?
This question is as essential as its answer. Knowing your biggest struggle can help you know how to overcome your struggle.
Where will you put items so that others don’t undo your work?
Where will you put items to donate when you’re are in between decluttering sessions so that your kiddos don’t come and take stuff from your pile? Or, where will you put items to sell so that they don’t just melt back into your stuff? Answering these questions beforehand can help you stay organized and not lose ground as you declutter.
When will you declutter? What will you give up to make it happen?
Choose a time when you have energy (or, at least enough energy) and few distractions. Having this time may require some temporary sacrifices.
Why do YOU personally want to declutter?
Remember your moon and star goals. Remember your vision. Your why will give you strength to accomplish your goals.
How will you do to overcome your struggles so you can declutter?
Sometimes we like to just focus on the struggles. But, within each of us is the best solution for each of our problems. No one knows your struggles like you do, so you are the best person to figure out the right solution. You can do it!
This last one isn’t a question, but it’s WEEE and is all about making decluttering more fun!
This, of course, is my favorite question. Decluttering can be tiring, so what will you do to make your purge sessions a little more fun? Maybe you can get a special snack, audio books, or stream music from your high school days to really get the energy flowing!
Using the Clutter Considerations worksheet, make a bunch of little decisions ahead of time to make decluttering easier and more fun for you.
Physical Set Up
Getting your physical space ready for your purge can help things go smoother when your allotted time comes. Your last task for this unit is to gather everything that you will need to declutter and determine where you’ll put the things you’re selling or donating.
I put the things to be donated in my husband’s car (which he really loves), then when it is full, off it goes. The great thing is that I can lock the car so that my people don’t get into the boxes and undo my work.
If you have any large or expensive items to sell, put them in a place that you will see regularly to help you remember to take care of it. You may set aside a room or some space in the garage for the stuff that is waiting for a new home. At one point, our front room was our little sales room. I loved being able to lock the door so that my kids wouldn’t mess with the items for sale so that they were there when people came to buy them. But, if you don’t sell it in a month, just let it go.
That is the end of unit 3. In this unit, we set some goals, learned the snowball decluttering method, found more time for decluttering, and made a decluttering action plan for your “smallest worst space.” In the next unit, we’ll dig further into decluttering.
This week’s assignments are to:
- Complete Worksheets 3.1-3.5 & 4.3
- Home Evaluation
- Moon & Stars Goals
- Smallest Worst Space Plan (4.3)
- Clutter Considerations
- Purging Prep Checklist (add trash can to list)
- Cut out store/sell/donate labels and affix to boxes or bags, if desired
- Determine where you will put things to donate and sell
- Write the donation hours of your local thrift store on a sticky note and put it in a visible place in your car.
- Bonus Decluttering Challenge: Take a “before” photo of your smallest worst space and then spend 30-60 minutes decluttering your first small area within that room.
Good luck getting started! I’ll see you in Unit 4!
Q&A's and Feedback
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