Have you ever watched a film where one of the main characters had a gorgeous home that immediately became your dream home? Maybe you saw a French film where the characters sat around a Bohemian-style Parisian apartment drinking wine and talking about books and current events, or maybe the film’s main characters lived in a huge, modern home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. And then, when the film ends, you look around your home only to see a mountain of laundry on the chair in the corner of your living room along with a month’s worth of mail piled up on the coffee table. If you can relate to this, then read on!
I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy to get the home of your dreams, but it IS somewhat doable. You CAN have a clutter-free, beautiful home. You CAN have aspects of the dream homes that you see in those films. And in turn, you can have a taste of the life you want too. But you must do a few things first. And you must be ready, really ready.
You need to first think about what type of life you want to live. Do you want to have friends over for wine and snacks every Friday night (once this pandemic is over of course!) and chat about books? Do you want a minimal living room with views of your garden in your backyard? Do you want the clutter to disappear so that you have a seat in your home to read?
Here are the steps I recommend to clients: Keep your dream life/home in mind; keep your eyes on your goal. Then do the purge-sort-organize method to tackle your clutter.
First, you need to grab a bin, trash bag, or box, and then walk from room to room to gather anything in those rooms that is either trash or something that you’d like to donate. You could use a trash bag for the trash and a box for the donation items. Then once you do this, you can move on to the next step. Mind you, this could take an hour or a week! You can also do closets in this first pass of gathering the “low-hanging fruit” that needs to go. Don’t bother with things that you are not sure about; leave these items for now. This first step is supposed to be pretty easy with little or no decision-making necessary. It’s the obvious stuff that is easily trash or donations (e.g., a bunch of candy wrappers; a shirt that is way too small for you).
Then put the trash in your trash bins or dumpster right away so that it’s out of your space, and put the donation box in your car or somewhere in your home where you will take it out with you the next time you go out. If you have a lot of stuff, sometimes charity organizations will come to your home to pick up the stuff for you. I recommend calling them to ask about their policies on this.
The second step is similar to the first: grab another bin or box, and go through the house again, but this time, gather anything that does not belong in the room you find it in. For example, if you start in the kitchen, you might find your kids’ shoes or a hair brush; those things go in the box. Then you walk into the living room. You find coats that belong in the coat closet. Those also go in the box. And you continue this method until you have all of the stuff that was left in the wrong rooms/places.
The third step is sorting. Now put the stuff you just gathered in the right rooms/places. Don’t worry if the stuff doesn’t fit perfectly; we’ll tackle that part in the organization step. The goal of the sorting step is really just to see what you have in each category of things. This is typically where clients of mine will say to me, “Oh, I didn’t know that I had two of these sweatshirts!” At this point, you might decide to donate more items, and that’s good! You will find duplicates of things, and you may realize that you only need one of something. This step might also take anywhere from an hour to several days; that’s OK. You can do an hour a day if you’d like. You can enlist the help of the whole family. You can hire someone too.
At this point, you might start to feel overwhelmed or tired, so it’s important to remember your dream home/life. Revisit your goal. Watch that film again if you have to! Once you are ready, you can move on to the last step: organizing.
This is the most complex step. It really involves looking at your space with new eyes; this is also the step that I feel, even more so than with the previous steps, could use the expertise of a professional organizer. With this step, you want to look at each closet, drawer, table, counter, shelf, cabinet, and room and find spots that really work. Nothing should be overcrowded or crammed. If it’s a closet, there should be enough space and flow to get stuff out easily — without moving 10 things out of the way first — and quickly. The reason why many people don’t put things back is because it’s too much trouble or too crowded, and it takes too much time and effort. So things end up on chairs, on stair railings, and on the floor.
At this point, you might need to move some stuff to an attic, basement, garage, or other part of the house. Maybe you end up using your closet only for the clothes that you wear in the current season. The rest of the clothes can go in bins in the basement or attic. Another option is to do a more deliberate and ruthless purge at this point. If your clothes almost fit in your closet, but you have about 20 things that don’t fit but that are in season, then look at your closet with new eyes. Do you really wear all of those shirts? Are all of those pants still wearable? The last thing you want to do at this point, which is typically what most people do, is cram stuff in and say, “This is fine for now.” Don’t do this! Your closet will be cluttered again in a week!
After you’ve done all of the previous steps and tried out my previous suggestions, take out the 20 or so clothes that are in season but that you only wear once in a great while or for a special occasion. And I’d suggest also trying these things on first! They might not fit, and if they don’t, then they can be donated, but if they do fit, then move them to a box or bin, and put the date on the box. Then set a reminder in your phone to open that box in six months; if at that point, you still have not needed those things, then you can happily donate the items.
There is of course a bit more to this method including getting and using the best storage solutions (e.g., bins, containers, racks), but this blog post gives you a good overview to get started. Do this same process for all aspects of your home. Tackle the junk drawer this way. Tackle your basement in a similar manner.
Most of the time when I work with clients, they find stuff that they did not realize they still had, and they toss or donate much of it because they no longer need it. Then they end up with empty drawers, cabinets, and more. You need to make space to really get organized. It can be done, but you need to keep your goal in mind. Also, don’t think of the losses; think of the gains: I’m gaining space! I’m gaining an easier morning routine. I’m gaining more free time. And lastly, you’re moving one step closer to that beautiful life that you want!