A question from a reader:
” I am trying so hard to declutter and purge but it is so hard to do.
We have had to clear out everything in the downstairs in preparation for the renovation and after 5 years down here I have accumulated so much.
It is all packed away in my daughter’s room. If she had to stay over and sleep in her bed she could not get in there. How do you let go of things and de-clutter? ”
Renovations offer a wonderful opportunity to declutter and start fresh with our stuff as well as with a newly designed space. I’ll talk today about going through your things as you are putting your room back together, so after the renovation.
#1: Procrastinate until you can see it and feel it.
Trying to purge before the renovation is done is difficult because you don’t know what the new space will look like or how it will function and flow.
It’s like when you move houses. In the old house, you could have put things away while you were blindfolded. In the new house, even when you see the three-dimensional space, it is still hard to envision where all your things will be put away. So if that’s difficult, how easy can it be if you’re staring at the old space, sketches in hand, not 3-D.
Pretty tough, so in this case, procrastinate.
Wait until you’re a week away or so; whatever timeframe gives you the motivation to start decluttering, but when you can start to envision this new space.
#2 Sit in the space and enjoy the lack of stuff.
Feel it. See it. Relish it. And try to remember it.
A great feeling, but we need some stuff to live. But keep this picture or feeling ever present, as you walk over to the dreaded boxes of stuff you need to go through.
When you begin to put the room back together, wait a day or two to completely finish it — wait to put up all the same pictures/paintings as you had on the walls before you renovated. Wait to put back every piece of furniture. Put back what you know you’ll need and live with it for a couple of days.
Said a different way, you’re seeing what you can live without. A couple of days. That’s probably all it will take. But plan time in your calendar to finish. Plan it, so you’re not finishing up in 6 months, long after you wanted to.
#3 Decide what activities will go on in each space.
Organizers often refer to kindergarten rooms, where the children have their: art space, nap space, math time, reading books, etc. One activity per section of the room. Why? Because then you’ll locate all your stuff, supplies, materials you need for that activity, in that activity’s zone or section. Easier to find things and put them away. Because if it’s not in that one section, you know for sure you don’t have it.
Write down the section names or activities on a sketch of the space. Take this with you when you head to the boxes. Because you’ve now decided what will go on in this room and how it will be used — and what won’t. This will help going through boxes.
#4 Head to the boxes.
Take a few empty bins or boxes with you. These give you flexibility to sort your packed boxes. Open up one packed box. Just one; don’t open them all to be efficient or to see generally what’s in each one. Just take one. I know it can be tempting, but this can overwhelm people quickly.
“When you feel overwhelmed … pick out a landmark just ahead – a light pole, a house, a tree – and agree to run only that far.” –Jim Ballard, runner
#5 Take out one item at a time. Questions you’ll want to ask yourself include:
Why am I keeping this? What will I do with it?
Do I need it or (just) want it?
Have I enjoyed it ?(Or hidden it away in a box all these years.) If it’s been boxed up, why? Why do you need it still?
How many of these do I need? Think about reducing not eliminating.
If I needed it again someday, could I get it again — Internet, borrowed, from the library, repurchase if really necessary.
Remember your list of activities which will go on in this space? Does this item you’re holding support one of those activities? Does it still belong?
How many of these do I need to remind me of this person?
Do I love it? Even if you once loved it but it’s not a current love … who else might love this as you once did? Family, friends, organizations you belong to.
A key motivator for most people is to decide who else would enjoy this item. If you know the item isn’t tossed out somewhere-who-knows-where, but that it’s going to a new home (reuse/recycle/donate), the letting go process is much easier.
#6 Other Bits of Advice
Key question, depending on what you’re sorting through. Is it easy or hard? Do you find yourself putting everything in the Keep pile? Invite someone in for support.
How long can you work at this at one time? For some people, starting with 15-30 minutes, or one box is the easiest way to get started. For other people, they want the blitz approach — taking a full day and doing a lot at once. It’s a personal choice, but if you try one way, and you’re just not getting to it, try the other.
It is perfectly okay to use some of your daughter’s closet or storage space to keep memories, and other things you want to hold onto. Decide how much of that space you want to co-opt, now that she is married and has her own home. And this becomes your own boundary for how much to keep.
I promise you that when your renovation is done, you’ll think twice about how much you really want to put back into your new space. New space is a new start. A new start is refreshing.