February 19, 2020
3 Simple Rules for Decluttering
We just wrapped up a month of decluttering in January with The Clean Mama Clutter Challenge and I realized something that felt profound in the scheme of decluttering. I’ve said it many times, in books, in blog posts, on social media but I am sure you can relate to hearing something but not really hearing something. It’s simple, it’s something you’ve probably heard before but I’m going to say it again, maybe in a different way. Consider this your decluttering check-in and reality check 🙂
We know this to be true: Clutter takes up space in our homes and minds. Stuff has physical and mental weight. Even if you can’t see it everyday, you know it’s there and it holds space in your home, heart, and mind.
Rule #1: Clutter is different at different times in our lives. Stuff FEELS different in different life stages.
All January I decluttered right along with you guys and followed the challenge. I was clearing spaces, decluttering on schedule right along with you. Then 3/5 of us came down with the flu (myself included) and we pretty much lost the last week of January. I didn’t declutter but I was still contemplating the stuff and what I hadn’t gotten to quite yet. Once I was feeling better we were back to the clutter and our focus turned to getting our house ready for new flooring throughout the first floor. Most things needed to be moved to the basement or other areas of our home. I’ve been sharing this a bit on Instagram if you’re interested, I’d love to have you follow along. I came to a conclusion while we moved stuff, assessed items that we had just decluttered and gave some things a second thought.
Clutter feels different in different stages because it is! We drag our stuff with us from place to place and when we don’t evaluate it, it can become burdensome. Even if it’s in a box in the basement, it’s extra stuff. We moved into our home eleven years ago. I was a stay-at-home mom to a 1 year old and a 3 year old. It was a different season. I had every intention to go through each and every box in the basement and decide what to keep and put out into our new home, what to donate, and what to toss. But what do you know, we figured out how to live without the stuff in the basement, that season changed (many times over), and here I was last week finding paystubs and credit card statements from 1997.
I used this as a wake-up and my husband and I spent the better part of that weekend shredding paper and going through boxes and clearing ‘clutter’. It feels good and we’re still going. What’s the point? It’s not always going to be like this. Even if you think you’ll get to something when you have more time (you might), take care of the clutter today. Stop putting it off. You’ll have a couple times in your life when you’ll be forced to deal with clutter and I feel like it’s much better to deal with it on my terms but with a little bit of a rush or end goal like when you’re moving or remodeling.
When faced with lots of untouched paperwork found in boxes in the basement, here’s what we did:
QUICKLY SEPARATE BY YEAR – per IRS guidelines, we keep necessary paperwork for 7 years. This is what I was left with after we went through all the old paperwork – just one bin. I had a lot of things in zip top bags – I dated them and separated by year and set this aside.
SHRED, SHRED, SHRED
I recommend investing in a good paper shredder. You can also check into shred days in your community or at your bank. Moving forward, I’m shredding as I go .
STORE IN A SAFE PLACE – I transferred all of the receipts and paperwork to large plastic envelopes and dated them. I put them in order by year and at the end of each year we’ll shred the oldest year and use the envelopes for the next year. I use a different system for expenses now – QuickBooks – and don’t need to save nearly as much as I have in the past, so I can see this filing system getting smaller and smaller.
Come up with a system that works for you! I keep current files in my office and am updating that now – I’ll share that update with you too.
Rule #2: Clutter doesn’t have to stay clutter.
If a table is piled high with paperwork, magazines, books, whatever, it doesn’t mean that all those things are clutter. It just means that those things need a home or they need to leave. Deal with the stuff. If you’ve held on to something for sentimental reasons, and you can’t really think of a reason to keep it but you can’t part with it, that’s ok, just don’t save everything. Come up with rules for what you do keep and what you let go. Here are a couple ideas to get you started: anything with a handprint, special baby outfits, family heirlooms, things you’ll need again….
If you are still not sure if you want to keep something or let it go, try putting it in a box and put a date on it – 1 month from now, 1 year from now, whatever works for you and if you don’t go to that box again, let it go.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with just starting or if you have a large area to declutter, set a timer for 10 minutes and deal with that small area until the timer goes off. If I’m feeling overwhelmed with a cluttered area, I put painter’s tape around the area make myself focus solely on that area. No looking around and getting off task, no moving to something else. If you ever wonder how professional organizers can tackle a cluttered closet or room so quickly, it’s because they have no attachment to what’s inside. Pretend you’re a pro and try to detach yourself from what you’re working on.
Rule #3: Clutter is ongoing.
There is no magic way to have a clutter-free home all the time. Sure if you get rid of anything unnecessary and only have the basics, it’s going to be fairly clutter-free, but you still have to deal with clutter on a daily basis, it’s ongoing. Mail, papers from school, toys, dishes, daily items left out, books, clothes….
Here’s what DOES work: MAINTENANCE
The pre-Clean Mama Becky saved all the stuff and while it was organized, it’s not all needed. If you follow the Clean Mama Routine, you know that CLUTTER is a Daily Task. We deal with it daily to avoid the overwhelm. If you weren’t convinced that I deal with clutter too, you’ll notice that another Daily Task is WIPE COUNTERS – this includes doing my Nightly Sink Scrub on the kitchen sink, well, nightly. I developed the Clean Mama Routine years and years ago and it was born from necessity – I needed structure to keep the clutter from taking over. Simple strategies to help this mom with littles and a house that felt like it was never completely clean. I love sharing strategies with you but I also love encouraging you as well. Here’s my encouragement for you:
If you’re having a hard time letting go of things for sentimental reasons, think about if it will matter in 5, 10, 20 years. Will your kids want this? Will you want this? Is there someone that can use this NOW so I am not storing it for later?
I’m working through the basement – finally and will report back with any other findings and hopefully a lot less clutter.
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The printable collection in the shop is completely overhauled and simplified! Check it out here – The Clutter Handbook is a great place to start!
Linda johnson Says
I, watched a few episodes of “love it or, list it”. Most of the couple’s, complained they have “outgrown” their house. The wife, has clothes in bedroom. Husband’s are in another room. 3 couples said, we need larger closets. They, all had walk in ones.
I, thought, what you really need is “clean mama”!! DECLUTTER!
Clean Mama SaysPost author
Just curious about those plastic envelopes you’re keeping for the 7 years. What type of paperwork are you saving? That’s SUCH a brilliant system (latest year goes in and oldest year gets shredded), but I’m just wondering what gets kept for those years? I’m trying to tackle that same thing (keeping way too many old papers), so any advice would be appreciated!! Thanks!
Clean Mama SaysPost author
It’s business receipts, gas receipts, home improvements, etc. – I have no idea if I’ll ever need them but I feel better knowing I could grab them just in case!
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Marcia ZN Says
The general limit for IRS tax audit is three years. Why do you keep things for seven years? (I’ve been pitching after three years, as you might surmise.) Many thanks in the name of decluttering!
Clean Mama SaysPost author
If you look on the IRS website they say 3-7 years and with a business/self-employed, I err on the side of caution 🙂 Do what works for you!