Updated: May 22
How to finish decluttering projects you start...
After experiencing a fast and seriously gratifying entryway clearing with a client, I reflected on what helped us finish so quickly.
Here's what I do for my own clearing and organizing and what I teach all my clients...
1 CHOOSE A DOABLE TASK
Feelings of overwhelm often come from looking at a room or area and thinking, "This is too much, I can't do this!"
Instead of looking at the whole room, choose ONE small task to do. Those tasks add up and show our brains, "We CAN do this!"
When we have a quick win we're often inspired to do more. We can have the final goal of an organized home or other space, but breaking it into bite-sized chunks helps immensely.
Go through one basket, drawer, cupboard or bin
Clear one section of counter
Find one small category to go through - tea, shoes, pots, gardening supplies, underwear, tank tops, towels...
Two things can help decide where to start:
1. Think about your goals:
If you want a relationship, or a healthier sex life - is your bedroom set up to support this? Are there things in there that can come out or be better organized to make it feel and look better?
If you want to be healthier and/or lose weight - is your kitchen set up to support this? Is there clutter or disorganization that holds you back?
If you want to get dirty clothes off the floor - is your laundry room ready to help this happen?
If you want to up your game at work - does your closet and work space support this?
If your home is covered in "stuff" - is there trash you can go around with a trash bag and pick up? Can you do the same with recycling? Then dirty dishes?
2. Think about what irritates you often
Imagine taking blinders off from beside your eyes (the ones that try not to see clutter!) and walk through a typical day in your mind...
Does your laundry room look like a bomb went off?
Do you have trash all over your car?
Can you not find a clean plate?
Is your closet a disaster zone?
Does your purse feel like a black hole?
When you go to brush your teeth is there gunk all around?
When you reach for a spatula, is it hard to find?
Listen to your deep, knowing self and just choose one thing.
Know that we'll get to the other one things - we just need one thing to begin. Start small, start simple, start with something you can finish :)
Choose to 100% focus on the task at hand and don't let anything distract you. Using a timer and a gentle mental taskmaster can help.
Even a few minutes of focused time means a lot in the world of clutter!
Our lives are full of more options in any given moment than we can focus on at once. If we're in a constant state of stress or overwhelm, it can feel like there's something wrong with our brains.
Maybe there is, but no matter what we have going on in our lives and minds, we can train our brain to focus.
If we never give our brains and bodies a true break - quiet with no distractions - we're training our brains to be on alert at all times. This isn't something we're built to handle for an entire lifetime.
To get an organizing task done, make the choice to focus on only that task for a set amount of time.
As my coffee is brewing I clear a counter, for other tasks I set a timer and don't let myself leave or do anything else until the timer goes off.
Getting ourselves to start is often one of the hardest parts, but once we begin, we often want to finish.
Sometimes it takes every ounce of effort and a LOT of self talk to follow through! I often have a voice like a toddler teacher in my brain, saying things like...
"Nope, we're not doing that right now, we're clearing this counter!"
"YOOHOO! Over here, we're not touching our phone until we finish clearing this area!"
"Hellooo! Right here, we're working right here right now. You can do this!"
We train our brains to be unable to focus when we constantly let phones, media, and others' desires pull us away from what we really want to focus on,
Choose to focus on one thing and do whatever it takes to get it done. This trains our brain that YES, we can do this, and YES, it feels good to do it!
If you get distracted, it's ok, come back to the task and refocus. It's like a moving meditation where instead of coming back to our breath, we're coming back to the task we're working on.
Our brains can be like toddlers - sometimes we need to redirect, and redirect, and redirect...
We can yell at them to do this, but I recommend gently guiding them by the hand and saying, "Let's replace that toy with this thing we're doing right now..."
3 DON'T LEAVE THE AREA
To help stay focused on your one doable task, choose not to leave the area you're working in. This can be a LOT harder than it sounds!
While working with the woman I did the entryway above with, I said at least 4 times, "Nope, we're staying right here!" as she started to take something in her hands inside or somewhere else.
Every time she laughed and was surprised!
It's too easy to get distracted when we move from one space to another to "put something away." Instead...
Put all the things that need to go elsewhere together in a "take elsewhere" container (more on this below). Take them to put away all at once AFTER you've made a decision about every single thing in the area or category you're working on.
It can take intense focus and a LOT of talking to our brain, but it can be done!
4 SET UP FOR SUCCESS
To keep yourself focused and able to stay put, it helps to set up at least 5 separate containers around you for each organizing project.
Any other category you might come across
Set these up where you can literally toss things into them if possible - I prefer boxes or open-topped containers rather than bags.
I like boxes best for donations because I can literally throw things into them, then take them right to be donated.
The take elsewhere container is for everything that doesn't belong in the area you're working - a laundry basket, a tote or a box work great for this.
For example, if you're working on a closet and find something that lives in the kitchen, then something that's supposed to be in the bathroom - put those in the take elsewhere container rather than take them to those rooms.
Just this alone can save time and help us get the job done!
I like to have large trash bags handy if there aren't enough boxes or I need to dump the boxes/bins into them.
5 FINISH THE JOB
Give your Future Self the gift of completing this task.
This means making a decision about every. single. thing. and put EVERYTHING away.
Keep only the things you truly use, need, want or love. Ask yourself questions to make the decisions. Take time and listen to your deep Self. Take deep breaths if you get frustrated or overwhelmed, and reach out to me if you get stuck.
For things you decide to keep, be mindful of how you put each item and category away - ask your Future Self what they need to keep up your organizing efforts.
Take time to make it pretty or satisfying and find containers to fit what you're keeping.
#1 Make it easy to put away
#2 Make it easy to find
To finish the job:
Make a home for everything you're keeping
Empty the trash and recycling.
Take the "take elsewhere" items to where they belong (if they don't have a home, put them with other items like them, or at least out of the area you organized).
Put the donations in your car and make decision about when and where you're taking them.
Each time you complete a task, you teach that jumpy brain WE CAN DO THIS!
I believe in you!
Please remember that I'm here for you! Reach out if you have questions and/or you feel stuck.
There's no need to struggle with clutter anymore - you're not alone and I can help you feel better right away.
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