Three truths about decluttering: an invitation

May seems like a strange time to think about spring cleaning. Yes, it’s spring, but if you’re a parent, you’re busy. Schools panic and decide to cram several months’ worth of meetings, presentations, and projects in a few final weeks. Kids have final sporting events, dance recitals, and band concerts. No one’s in a big hurry in the morning to get to school on time. (Or is that just my kids?)

Even if you’re not a parent, you’re not feeling the wiggle room to spring clean, either. There’s something about summer on the horizon that makes us in the mood to…. lie around. Read a good book. Walk in the grass. Go out for margaritas.

Not knee-deep in a closet and overwhelmed with our stuff.

jeans

But I’m doing it in May anyway. In fact, I’m doing it because I’m in a slump and feeling busier than I like. Clearing out my physical space airs out my head space, helps me sleep better, and fans the fire for being content where I live.

I need it.

This isn’t new

I’ve written about spring cleaning before. It was the topic of my first e-book that led to the creation of my first print book, Organized Simplicity. If you’re a long-time reader around here, my writing on spring cleaning will be a refresher.

But it has been awhile since I’ve tackled this topic. When I recently asked you guys what you like around here, you overwhelmingly asked to read more about the practicals of simple living.

So, this month I’ll work through my own home, and I invite you to do the same.

A few tenets:

1. Decluttering first is a million times better than just organizing.

Organizing—a four-syllable word that just means “putting stuff where it belongs”—without first getting rid of all the unnecessary is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s also discouraging, disheartening, and a temporary fix.

Get rid of absolutely everything that doesn’t give life to your life. I ask myself this question about everything with my four walls: “Is this thing beautiful or useful?”

william morris
Source

If it is, I keep it, guilt-free. If it’s not beautiful or useful (to me or to someone who lives with me), I ask: Why am I keeping this? Do I feel guilty at the thought of letting go? Am I holding on “just in case?”

Related: The thrift store can be your nearly-free storage unit

2. Decluttering isn’t a one-time thing.

I know, I know… It’s an in-vogue idea that you can dive in and get rid of everything you don’t love in one fell swoop. For some people, that might work. For the rest of us, I have one word:

Kids.

Okay, it’s not just kids. It’s this simple truth: life is full of changes. We change jobs, change relationships, change locations, change interests, change responsibilities.

I don’t think it’s life-giving to hold on to things “just in case.” But I do think it’s unfair to broadly say decluttering should/can happen only one time, because when it’s time to declutter again (and if you’re like the majority, that will happen), you’ll think you’re doing it wrong.

You’re not doing it wrong. You’ve got a two-year-old when you first declutter, but then you blink and she’s six. Or you live in the suburbs, but a year later you move to an urban community. You work from home for a season, but then you go back to the office.

Different situations call for different stuff in our life.

lego

Now, it’s not good to make needless excuses in order to not do a thorough job, to hold on to things just in case, or to not try at all. But give yourself grace. We’re not all obsessed with tidying…. We have real-life people and responsibilities around us.

A word of encouragement: The more you declutter, the easier it gets. Nearly a decade after first starting, I don’t have much to do anymore. Just an annual checkup, and we’re good. Chin up, if you’re feeling swamped. Start now.

3. Once you declutter, organizing is easy.

Organizing simply means giving everything a home. You don’t need color-coordinated canvas baskets for all your kids’ toys, you don’t need chalkboard labels for your mason jars, and you don’t need to buy more meta-stuff to store your stuff.

Nothing wrong with making things pretty. But it’s not necessary to have the aesthetically-ideal organizing supplies to just put things where they belong.

When everything has a good and proper home, then things are easier found, easier cared for, and easier enjoyed. When organizing is kept simple, we’re far more willing to make it a habit.

shelves

Once your living space is decluttered, it’s not too hard to organize. Don’t give yourself a needless, complicated chore.

Related: The powerful difference between organizing and decluttering

How this will work

For the next three weeks, I’ll write weekly on why and how I’m decluttering certain areas in my physical space:

  • May 17: Kid stuff (toys, clothes, art supplies, books)
  • May 24: My personal stuff (clothes, books, work supplies)
  • May 31: Hot spots (the little places where clutter breeds at night while we sleep)

In these weekly updates I’ll share my personal preferences, tricks, and reasons why I keep what I keep.

You in?

If you feel the need to declutter and organize, you’re welcome to join in. Before and after pics are super motivating, so if that helps you stay on task, use the hashtag #theartofsimple on your Instagrams or other social media posts, and I’ll be able to cheer you on.

You’re also welcome to post your links in the comment sections to the weekly updates here on AoS (blog posts, Facebook statuses, whatever). I’d love to read them!

Or, you can quietly do your thing and just play along at home. That’s great, too.

clean empty shelves

If you’d like to support this site, you might like my first book, Organized Simplicity. It’s not essential to decluttering your home, but it’s a helpful bit of encouragement and hand-holding .

I’m looking forward to this time next month, with my physical surroundings clearer, cleaner, and just about right. I’d love you to join me.

p.s. – Upstream Field Guide has opened again. Yay!

If you feel like the chaos outweighs the calm in your home,

first, take care of the basics.

You already know what to do—you just need to do it.
Focus on just ONE thing at a time, and you'll conquer the overwhelm.

 

31 Comments

  1. dhiyar

    Great post! I am actually getting ready to across this information, is very helpful my friend. Also great blog here with all of the valuable information you have. Keep up the good work you are doing here.Well, got a good knowledge.

  2. Traci

    Great. Will definitely be following along.

  3. Janeen

    I NEED this!!! The clutter has gotten so bad, my husband got a storage locker a year or so ago and he’s still going nuts over all the stuff we have. I have two girls in size 4t-5t/4-5 and size 12/14-16 and clothes in between those sizes stored away. I have toys and books galore not to mention all the paper I need to go through and either file or shred. Its a nightmare! I need one of those organizer people to come over and help me!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Sounds like decluttering’s the name of the game for you, Janeen! You got this, sister. 🙂

  4. Chenay

    Wonderful! I used to be an organizer and now I am definitely a declutterer. I just didn’t understand that I didn’t have to make more space for my stuff, I could just toss it! We have been decluttering like crazy around here as we transition from our 2070 square foot house to our new 1089 square foot house, and we couldn’t be more excited! Looking forward to the rest of your decluttering posts!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Sounds wonderful, Chenay!

  5. Nicole

    The voice of reason and inspiration! “Clearing out my physical space airs out my head space, helps me sleep better and fans the fire for being content where I live.”

    I’ve been off my game, tired, uninspired and couldn’t figure out why. Then, I read this post and really looked around my space and saw that my physical world is a jumble. No wonder I can’t get my groove going! Time to get the clutter out!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Hooray!

  6. Katrina Di Filippo

    YES! I need this! I want to prep for the future where we are looking at living abroad for a bit, but don’t want to store unnecessarily, especially since we don’t know if we’re coming back to the same place.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      We did the same thing when we moved to Turkey, Katrina. In fact, that was the impetus for starting this blog way back in the day! 🙂

  7. Christina

    We have two storage rentals right now, one for all of our furniture that we left back east, and one for about 85 percent of the stuff that we brought with us. So, we don’t have much here in the house… but eventually we will have to go through it all again. Just not now.
    There’s really nothing like moving for getting rid of stuff.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Amen.

  8. Henriette

    I’m always decluttering “on the go”. My kids are 5 and 8, so they are still growing relatively fast. Clothes that don’t fit the big one anymore are put in the closet of the little one or in meta-storage in his room until they fit.
    Clothes of the little one that don’t fit anymore are donated or sold.

    When I do laundry I always check if clothes are damaged and either repair them or toss them.

    Before christmas and the birthdays the kids declutter their toys because they know that they can only get new ones if there is enough space.

    When I just finished reading a book, I decide at once if I really want to keep it or if I sell or donate it. Same with DVDs/blurays.

    But the most important thing is: I don’t buy everything that I need.
    I just made a Twister Game from scraps of fabric, used clothes and an old tablecloth. It is so beautiful, fun and much more durable:
    http://die-linkshaenderin.blogspot.de/2016/05/star-wars-kindergeburtstag-mit.html
    (It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak german, there are tons of photos in the post.)

    I wish you as much space and freedom as you need!
    Henriette

    • Angie

      I do the exact same things, Henriette. It really helps to keep the clutter from accumulating in the first place. We are lucky to have a thrift shop in our small town. It’s just a block from my work so it’s convenient to drop off a box of stuff as soon as I fill one up.

  9. Lee Benton

    Ah I’ve tried so many times to create an organized simple life. I’m 64 now and still trying.
    Looking at you you are an inspiration, a shiny example, and I think its time for me to add the piece (peace) of an orderly existence without so much extra.
    I’m ready to begin clearing everything I don’t find useful or beautiful.

  10. Marla Taviano

    I love this. Organized Simplicity is still one of my all-time favorite books. We’re decluttering here in Cambodia right now. How in the WORLD are we accumulating CRAP here?? I want everything 100% decluttered before we leave for the States for 2 months on June 8. (p.s. If anyone’s getting rid of excess Legos, we’ll take them for our kids’ center here!!)

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I’ll make sure and mention that in next week’s post, Marla!

  11. Bev Baird

    I definitely need this! I have too much clutter – for many reasons. But I am retired now and need to get rid of stuff. WIll be following as well.

  12. Arundelgirk

    How do you join this??!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      There’s nothing really to “join.” 🙂 I’m doing this for the month of May, and if you’d like to, too, go for it! I’ll write on Tuesdays here about my progress, and share throughout the month on social media using the hashtag #theartofsimple. If you’d like me (and others) to see your social media posts during your progress, use that hashtag as well.

  13. Henriette

    Questions to ask yourself when tempted to buy new stuff:
    1. Do I really love this or is it just the cutest thing on these shelves?
    2. Does it fill a need or desire in my home and life, or is it just a good deal?
    3. Will I just be decluttering this 6 months from now?

    Henriette

  14. Raymond - The Window Cleaner

    My house was full of different things. For me most of them had sentimental value and it was really hard to decide which one to keep and which one to throw away. I asked myself a lot of question and I succeeded! This article was really helpful to me. I hope it will help others as it did to me!

  15. Tiffany

    I’m excited to see and read your upcoming posts! Im fairly new to AoS, and am loving it!!
    We moved into a new place last june thats under 1000 sq.ft! I had a good declutter session, and then the holidays happened & birthdays of 2 young kiddos, and then lovely changes. Now I feel like Im swimming in stuff and chaos, I fully plan to join along and possibly post some pics!!

  16. Liza

    I declutter year round. As I see something that’s no longer needed, I get rid of it. But I always use May as my big cleaning month. I like to start the summer off with a clean slate. It’s also when we take stock of clothes and figure out what we have and what’s needed.

    This year, I’m in the middle of switching some rooms around. My two youngest have always shared s room, but I’m giving them their own rooms. It’s the perfect time for sorting and letting go of some things. My problem right now is that I have things that I just don’t know what to do with. It’s mainly things I bought for specific projects but I don’t remember what I was planning. So I’m debating on whether I should come up with things to do the stuff or if I should just pass it all on to someone else.

  17. Marsha G

    Yes, I’m swamped again and need to declutter. I’m an art supply junkie and have way too many books. We live in a small house, but it is definitely full. Count me in.

  18. Julia

    Can I ask everyone – how do you get your husband on board to declutter his clothes, books, hobbies, office? And not to leave his stuff everywhere – on the floor/kitchen/chair – everywhere else but where it should be. Do you not touch his things at all? I’m at the point where his clutter is getting to me big time. How do you encourage him to put his own things where they belong without starting a big fight?

    • Hillary

      My husband has said he needs a “chaos corner” so I give him a corner chair in our bedroom and his own small dresser next to it. We do family clean up as well after dinner – so we all grab our things from the family room and put them away. I’ve also made it known that I’ll only wash clothes that are in a hamper. Just some thoughts!

      • Tsh Oxenreider

        I like that idea, Hillary!

  19. annie

    Loved the article, but am laughing at your last picture…..they should just get rid of the shelf, instead of keeping so few things on it!

    • Sarah

      Annie – I think it’s a bench for sitting, not necessarily a shelf for storage.

  20. Chelsey

    Well, this just came at the perfect time. I’m in! We have moved quite a bit with my husband’s job and have decluttered every move. One move my little family of four (at the time) sold everything and lived in a tiny house of almost 200 sq ft. Now we are in a “normal” size home and stuff has taken over. I don’t even know where it all came from! Luckily, our kids are used to donating their toys so they are always excited to do it. They know the benefit of having fewer toys and more floor space to play! It’s just so overwhelming for me.

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