Declutter your Life: How to get and stay organized

We all love the helpful tips and tricks to organizing, but when it comes to making a meaningful change, it takes a big shift if both what we do and how we think. If you’re like me you sometimes say “Yes” to more than you can handle. This is why you need to declutter your life.

What does it mean when I say “Declutter your Life”?

It is all about taking away the things that clutter up our day, our homes and our schedules. This way we have more time, energy and resources to do what we want.

Do you like the way a space feels when its tidy and clean?  Do you long for more time to do the things that you WANT to do instead of the things that you have too?  

Decluttering can give us back so much.  For me, it’s about stress and getting back more time in my day. It saves time by not having to spend it looking for things that we misplaced.  By not wasting money buying things we can’t find. It allows us to work more on our passions.  

How do we get and stay organized?

I want to see decluttering your life as your job. We need to think of it this way because it is so important.

I want your commitment RIGHT NOW to getting organized.  Raise your right hand and say it with me:  I promise to get organized.  I am committed to seeing this through and working on my own personal challenges to make my life more efficient and my time better spent.

Fantastic!

Now we’re going to get into the ‘how’ of getting organized.  Follow these actionable tips to 

1. Make it easy to stick too

One thing you can do to set yourself up for success is to make things easy for yourself I went through a lot of different iterations of what organizing my life looks like and I’m still working on it. 

Find a method that works for you take things down in bite-size chunks reflect on your achievements reflect and celebrate your achievements. 

I love using less or community challenges to keep me on track I market in my planner the dates that I’m supposed to do the group activity and set a reminder to share photo

A lot of the times I find myself completing a project just so I could share it with my friend or with my social group. 

2. Organize in sprints

There’s a lot of advice out there that says spend five minutes every day doing something like decluttering. Doing an activity for a small amount of time every day is a great way to build a habit.   In a week those daily 5 minutes only add up to 35 minutes, which is not enough to make visible gains in progress.   

What I like to do is take one area and work on it like a mad woman for a half hour. Every once a while on a weekend I’ll set aside two hours to do a big project. 

I can get way more done in 30 minutes or two hours then I can in five minutes per day and here’s why: 

5 minutes is not nearly enough time to really dig into a task that isn’t already a habit. You spend time making a decision about what to do.  You could be distracted easily during your five minutes, and it’s just not enough time to focus on the task. 

In 30 minutes I could 

  • Planning what I want to get done
  • Make a quick sketch of how I wanna organize the space
  • Get started disassembling the area
  • Clean or organize 
  • Wipe everything down
  • put everything back.  

This was the method that I used to organize my pantry.  This was a bit of a bigger project so it took me two hours across two different nights to complete. 

3. Join a challenge

We live in a really exciting age of social media that connects us to others all over the globe.  It’s a great form of entertainment and social interaction but can also be a fantastic productivity tool. 

On platforms such as Facebook, Reddit, Twitter or other various forums there are groups of people that share their experiences so that their social network helps keep them accountable for the task they are working on.  

I love reading stories that others share about projects that they are working on.  I find it inspirational and it motivates me to work on my own projects.  

There are two areas in my life where social media is a big part of my routine one of those is working out and the other is cleaning and organizing.

I love sharing pictures of my progress with my social groups and I also love reading about their challenges and achievements. And on occasion I’m able to offer advice which makes me feel helpful.

4. Routines – establish good ones!

Routines are one of those things that lets me put parts of my life on autopilot.  The less I need to think about the day to day tasks, the more time I can dedicate to planning out my next big project.  

A routine is a step-by-step process for completing a task or list of tasks. 

Some routines that you may have:

Having good routines in place allows your brain to be free of making decisions.  When I go to bed, I don’t have to decide if I’m going to brush and floss my teeth because its already part of my routine.  I don’t even need to think about it.

Some other routines that I added into my life was how I grocery shop. 

To establish good routines in your life – review how you are spending your time.

Are you having trouble getting yourself ready on time in the morning?  Try writing out your routine and see if there are places that you can improve.  Are there things you can remove from the routine or steps you can take ahead of time to set yourself up for success?

5. Create achievable goals

Goals are one way that we can track the progress on a project. When we’re setting goals it’s important that we make them realistic. If I’m decluttering my house like to give myself one room at a time.  If it’s a large room like my kitchen, I’ll split that room into sections. 

It’s important to make these tasks a priority but we also don’t want to try and do too much at once. That’s not to say if you get on a roll and feel like you could take on another task you can always set another goal for yourself. 

Another way of setting goals is to a lot a certain amount of time to a task.  If the goal is to clean all the bathrooms in my house I’ll set a timer one day after work. If we are just doing a general cleaning 30 minutes is generally enough time to wipe down surfaces and clean the toilets.

6. Set a timer

One of my favorite ways to keep focused and on task is to set a timer. I’ll often do this in the morning if I want to complete a quick task so I will also get to work on time. A timer is just a reminder that you need to stop. 

Whirlpool stove timer
My kitchen timer that I use to remind myself to get my butt out the door in the morning

The time constraints also keep you on task because you know you only have X number of minutes to finish and then you need to move onto the next thing. 

Brown background image of black google home mini
Time to declutter your life! I use my google home mini as a timer most mornings. “Hey google set a timer!”

7. Track your goals

When it comes to getting organized, big projects can be broken into smaller mini goals. Seeing the progress that we make, encourages us to keep moving forward. 

Your goal tracking should be somewhere visible in your house somewhere that you’d remember to look at it frequently. 

A good place would be to post a written list on the refrigerator or in a bullet journal.  You want to use a tool that you will frequently check. I find that paper works way better than phone apps.

Related Post:  Reasons to start using a Bullet Journal

8. Limit your list

As tempting as it is to make a giant to do list, I would encourage you to prioritize two or three things at a time. I like to set a goal of doing two big things per week and no more than three small items per day.

If you’re trying to make progress, having easy wins throughout the day is key to staying motivated. Small projects would be something like going through one cabinet in the kitchen. Clean out one drawer and put all items back. 

A larger project would be something that takes at least an hour to complete. Some examples would be to declutter a bedroom closet or go through and declutter and donate your clothes. 

9. Do the hardest thing first

What I try to do when I give myself a list of tasks as I try to make the most unpleasant task be the first one that I complete that day. 

When I’m at work that item is usually returning phone calls. And at home it’s usually doing one of those recurring tasks like laundry every week or picking up and vacuuming. 

10. Create a home for everything

I don’t believe in junk drawers. Instead, I believe in utility drawers or office supply drawers but I don’t believe in designating a spot as a catchall.

Having a catch-all spot is a big trap that will sabotage your organized space. Batteries need a place too, don’t doom them to the junk drawer.

clear plastic box with label reading batteries
One of the many ways that I use my label maker to keep our stuff organized

As you are embarking on this organized version of your life, commit to having a place for each of your items. If you’re not sure where something should go just pick a place, decide that’s where it’s going to live. If you’re still not sure it’s the best place come back a couple months later and change it. 

I had a struggle recently with keeping hair elastics. My daughter uses these they end up absolutely everywhere in my house. Where should they live? Should they be in my bathroom, my daughter’s bathroom should they be downstairs in the living room?

The answer was a little bit more simple than you might think we ended up creating several containers for hair supplies. There is one in my bathroom, my daughters bathroom and in the bathroom downstairs. It’s OK to have multiple homes as long as they are decided and organized.

11. Labels!

What better way to remember where your items home is then by having labels when my daughter was born I bought a Label Maker it was something of a functional item for me but also a fun toy.

Brother P-touch, PTD210, Easy-to-Use Label Maker, One-Touch Keys, Multiple Font Styles, 27 User-Friendly Templates, White
My favorite organizing tool. I’ve used this label maker for the past 5 years and everyone asks to borrow it. I seem to always be loaning it out to my daughter’s teachers and friends and family.

12. Organize your life and space by stations

Organizing your space into stations was a concept that I came across after reading dozens of self-help and organizing books. The concept is that you organize your things around the task they are meant to complete. 

For example in the kitchen you want your cutting boards and your knives to be close to each other. You want those items to also be close to where you’re going to be doing your petty where you’re going to chop vegetables. 

Related Post: 3 Easy Ways to Organize your Kitchen

The same thing goes for your cleaning supplies. This is why a cleaning caddy is such a great idea. You have a container that you can grab that has your rubber gloves, cleaning supplies, cleaning cloths, brushes and sprays all in one spot. 

You don’t have to run and grab your gloves from underneath the kitchen sink run under your bathroom to grab the spray cleaner and go to your linen closet to get a cleaning cloth.

Your gears might be turning right now: I do have to go on a field trip around the house before I can even get started on certain tasks!  I’ve been there too!

Purple bathroom caddy with sponge cleaning cloth brush and rubber gloves
I finally bought an extra pair of rubber gloves because I added so much time having to run down stairs and grab the ones from the kitchen. Now I keep this bathroom caddy upstairs for getting started more quickly.

13. Make it a game

Here are a couple ideas to make organizing more fun.  Pick a small area – a drawer in your kitchen. Put on your favorite music playlist and get moving!  Can you get your task completed before the third song is over?

Next time you go to tidy and straighten, see if you can complete one whole room without leaving it.  Create piles of things that need to be relocated and once you’re done with that room, take your pile of stuff to its home and tidy that next room before leaving it.  

It will get your brain engaging in organizing and cleaning in new and interesting ways.

14. Rewards each step of the way

Do you have a giant list of tasks to complete?  Maybe you are moving soon and want to get your whole house decluttered?  

Whatever event life is throwing at you right now make sure that you are having some positive rewards in your life to help you get through the painful tasks.  Finish organizing your kitchen? Fill a vase with flowers to enjoy. Finished cleaning the garage? Replace an old tool with something a bit nicer.


15. Say No

If you are over scheduled and stressed out don’t let people talk you into taking more on. You already don’t have time to do the things that are important to you. Be honest and don’t feel guilty. Next time someone asks you to add something to your schedule tell them “I would love too, but we are really busy that weekend.”

Don’t start this journey by adding in more activities assigned to you. Leave yourself room to breathe.

More about organizing your stuff:

Physical clutter can manifest self in mental clutter. I’ve heard more often or many times that a cluttered desk equals a cluttered mind. A big part of learning to declutter your life is to declutter your stuff!

So the first thing that we want to improve is how we organize our physical things. I don’t expect you to drop everything and just organize your house for three days straight because who has the mental energy to do that? No, we’re gonna take this in bite-size pieces.

The goal here is to work on decluttering and then stop and then move on to something else. The goal is not to achieve perfection. Think of it as you want to do 80% of the job and then move onto the next thing. Since perfection isn’t the goal we are going to make the largest impact by doing a portion of each area and then moving on.

Once we have all of our areas at 80% completion we will revisit at less hectic pace and finish these areas to a satisfactory level.

We’re going to take three simple steps and apply them to each area. And an area might be a drawer it might be a cabinet it might be a room. These easy steps lead to declutter your life!

The steps are:

  • Remove
  • Declutter
  • Put back

That’s it!

The first thing you want to do before starting this process is to get a box or a bag. This is going to be for donations. I would also suggest having a trashcan nearby for things that need to be thrown out. 

Remove

You’re going to take your area, let’s start with our sock drawer. Take all the contents of that sock drawer and dump it out. For each item, make a decision – does it go back in the sock drawer or not? 

Declutter 

The items that you do not go back in the sock drawer can either be donated, trashed or re-purposed.

I have one old sock that I use for polishing my shoes that’s an example of repurposing an old sock. 

Replace 

All of the things that you want to keep and that belong in the drawer. 

Now instead of asking yourself if 12,000 items in your house spark joy I’m going to suggest that you ask yourself do I use this do I want to continue using it if I’m not using it right now how hard would it be to replace.

Using socks as an example again, we only want to put the socks back that we enjoy wearing. If you have a pair of socks they have holes in them, it’s probably time to replace them. If you have a pair of socks that you hate to wear because they’re too tight or an odd color or just not your style, it’s time to let them go. 

Simple but not easy

When you work to declutter your life the concepts are simple but in practice could be hard to get done. My rule of thumb is if I’m not using it, it can leave my home. If I like the item or feel confident that I’ll use it soon, it can stay.

If you were agonizing over letting one thing go.  Keep it! Right now its about tackling those low hanging fruit and getting the biggest bang for your buck – time wise. We can revisit those items that you have strong emotional connections with at a later time.

You don’t need to beat yourself up about the decision to keep stuff. You’ll find that the more often that you go through things, easier it will become to let things go. 

Decluttering is like a muscle and in order to make that muscle strong it takes repetition. I don’t expect you to be able to get rid of half your stuff the first time you go through things.

The more you practice the easier it out it will get and the stronger your ‘decluttering muscle’ will become. 

If you are ready to tackle the sentimental items Jill Nystul wrote a great post on Practical Ways to Cut Down on Sentimental Clutter.

Organizing your Finances

I’m not going to go too deep into financial goals since that could be a whole other books by itself. In general its good to discuss finances with your family and talk about plans. I also think it’s important to include your kids in the finance discussion in an age appropriate way. So far for me we explain as things come up: Mommy and Daddy work and get paid for doing that work. And with that money we pay for our house, food and to do fun things.

Once a year me and my husband like to take a look at our financial picture and figure out if we’re on track with our 5 and 10 year goals. Our goal started out with paying off our debt and then saving for a down payment for a house. 

Our next goals will be to save up a pretty good size emergency fund and start saving for replacement cars. I would love to be able to pay cash for our next cars.

Long-term we look at where we are for retirement savings, future tax planning and college savings for my daughter. I also try to plan for future flexibility so we could live off either mine or my husband’s income if one of us decides that we wanted to explore something new. 

If you’re just getting started is in the budget go check out my budgeting posts with my downloadable budget template it really helps me to see a lot of the information on one sheet.

Goal setting personal learning

Another thing that I can pursue once I declutter my life is my quest for learning. It’s really important to me to always be growing and learning. Each year I set a lot of ambitious goals for myself to learn new skills.

I’ve been blogging casually for many years but this year I wanted to learn more about what goes into the development and marketing in running a website.

This is a hobby that will teach me a lot of new skills and the skills can be used in other parts of my life. I have a big thirst for knowledge and love taking what I learned and see see the positive results that come from applying something new that I learned. 

My personality has always been to push the button and see what happens. I never worried about breaking something when I push that button and always err on the side of adventure. 

Another of my goals this year was to learn how to code. I wanted to be able to create some simple programs that would make my day today work at my job just a little bit easier. 

No one told me that this is what I should do with my time. I know that if I pick up this new skill and I’m able to automate and reduce the amount of time I need to do my job that will make everyone happier.

This will make my bosses happier because I’ll have more time to work on the projects. It’ll make me happier because I’ll do less of the tedious work.

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