How to get started decluttering and keep motivated

Lesson 3: Free online downsizing course

Are you wanting to declutter your home but don’t have the motivation or know where to start?

Do you feel more and more overwhelmed the longer you think about it and put it off?

We’ve all been there don’t worry, we know how stressful it can be. You’re not alone!

If you’re like the rest of us, there are likely items in your home that you walk past where you think, “I’ve got to do something about that.”

I call it having that “Urgh” feeling. Whenever you open a cupboard that gives you that “Urgh” feeling, it can rob you of a little bit of your peace of mind each time.

I feel the primary purpose of decluttering is to remove the “Urgh” feeling so that you can enjoy your home more.

9 steps to getting and keeping motivated

Our 9 steps below should get you through some of the motivational slumps when it comes to getting started and keeping motivated when you go to declutter.

Here’s how we recommend you do it.

Step 1: Use the red sticker technique

Chances are you’ve made the decision to declutter lots of items already.

Things that you know you want to get rid of.

Instead of walking past these items with a sense that you should donate the items when you get around to it, there’s an easy way to clear the decks a little.

And this is the red sticker technique.

This is a wonderful method which I learned from Tanya Lewis, The Eco Organiser, which involves looking around a room or around your home and putting red sticky dots on all of the items you know you would like to donate.

Then, items with a red sticky dot on it go straight into the boot of your car and get taken to Salvos. Avoid leaving the items in the boot of your car for 6 months – try to take them to the op shop as soon as practically possible.

And then, just like that, you have created a little more space. Not only have you created a little more space in the home, but you have likely created a little more mental space by dealing with these procrastination tasks.

Step 2: Consider starting in the garage, shed or junk room

Deciding where to start is often the hardest part.

And garages, sheds and junk rooms are often where household objects go to die, so can be a little easier to deal with.

Of course, leave sentimental items to one side (it’s always easier to declutter non-sentimental items), but you’d be surprised how much progress you can make in these spaces.

At Downsizing with Care, we often start with garages, sheds and/or junk rooms because they make useful staging areas. Having a clear staging area to put boxes of donation items, packed items for a move or items for family members can be helpful if you can afford the space.

If you do have a garage, shed or junk room in need of some attention, clearing the decks there can help to build momentum for the rest of the home.

Step 3: Set an attractive goal

Having a specific goal that you really want to achieve makes everything easier and when you’re trying to declutter it’s no different.

Set an attractive and achievable goal that won’t push past your physical or mental boundaries.

For many people, what they really want is to create a welcoming, clutter-free living room or bedroom, so many choose to start in the living room or bedroom.

Once you have a picture of what you have in mind (for example, clean and clear surfaces in the living room or bedroom), it will be a matter of chipping away at things until you get there.

Note that if trying to declutter causes you a high level of anxiety, it may be beneficial to get some expert advice to assist you.

If you find you make good progress by working little by little around an area that you’d especially like to declutter, it can be very motivating to see your incremental progress towards your goal.

Step 4: Try not to scatter your focus

A related approach to Step 3 is to work in one space at a time or with one category of items at a time.

Too often, it can be tempting to work a little on the linen cupboard, switch to the garage, declutter under the sink, then come back to the wardrobe and make bits of progress in different areas around the house.

This can result in feeling as though you have dozens of half finished tasks and increase the sense of overwhelm.

It’s also harder to see the fruits of your labour.

Whereas if you can work in each space until you’ve achieved a result you’re happy with, it can help you to “tune out” the rest of the decluttering and organising tasks.

Because you know that your only job is, for example, to work on a particular shelf in a particular cupboard until it’s done. And then to move onto the next shelf in that cupboard.

Or that all you have to do at the moment is to deal with all the paperback novels. And then to move onto the coffee table books.

Working category by category or space by space is a great way to divide up a downsizing project into manageable chunks. There’s a lot to be said for choosing a room you want to work with and working from one end of the room to the other, putting related items together and culling as needed, until the work is done.

Step 5: Use a “maybe” box for sentimental or difficult items

Sentimental items can often be the hardest to deal with.

And there may be other items you find it incredibly difficult to decide upon.

Often as people get older, they find that they can be less decisive and find that progress can stall if they come across particularly tricky items.

There is absolutely no harm in coming back to a decision.

Sometimes people need more time to make a decision on what to do with sentimental or difficult items.

And that is perfectly okay.

(Sidenote: you might also consider using a Sunday Box for items which require you to take followup action. I find this to be very helpful for many of our clients.)

No one wants to have to decide what to do with sentimental items, so to help take the pressure off we recommend leaving these til last.

Step 6: Consider your personality type

What’s your usual working style?

Work how you usually work – decluttering and downsizing is a project, the same as any other.

Are you more of a delegator or a doer? Are you internally motivated or externally motivated? Do you prefer working in short bursts or intensively? Your answers to these questions should be taken into consideration as you plan your decluttering. Work to your strengths and your decluttering project will flow a lot more easily.

If you are externally motivated, there are lots of strategies you can use to keep momentum going.

Step 7: Choose a trigger

Habit stacking is a great way to incorporate new practices into your life, whether short or long term.

Think of something you already do each morning without fail such as have a cup of coffee or brushing your teeth.

Each morning when you do your selected activity use it to trigger you to have a short decluttering session.

This works even better if the trigger is something you enjoy, then you can use it as a reward for after you’ve done your short decluttering session.

Your decluttering session can be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or so. Consistency can be more important than duration.

Step 8: Be gentle on yourself

We all have good days and not-so-good days, especially when you’re downsizing.

Try to keep sessions relatively short so that you don’t over-do it each time. Taking breaks is essential during the decluttering process.

It can be physically and mentally exhausting to go through belongings in your home , so it’s important to take breaks and give yourself time to rest and recharge. This will help you to stay motivated and avoid burnout.

People can tend to get less decisive as time goes on, and that is not a problem either. Keep a “maybe pile” of items you’ll make a decision on later, so that way you can avoid getting stalled.

Step 9: Keep a “done” list

Sometimes a “done” list can be far less intimidating than a “to do list”.

Let me explain.

A list of items to do can seem like an insurmountable challenge where the end is out of sight.

A “done list” is a blank piece of paper where you can add each small task as you complete it. And no task is too small.

For example, you might write:

  • Collected paperwork to sort

Then, as you psyche yourself up to build on that, you might write:

  • Got rid of obvious recycling

Then, once you really get going you might write:

  • Made a pile of papers to action
  • Made a pile of papers to file

A done list can be its own celebration of progress, without putting pressure on you to work outside of your limitations.

Progress is better than perfection.

Next lesson: Which type of downsizer are you?

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