What is hiding behind those attic curtains?
It might be a functional, beautiful and organized space. More likely it’s a space that is crammed with old furniture and household items.
What is in your attic?
No attic? How about a basement or spare room; you have one of those right?
Of course you do. It’s that space in your home that contains bags and boxes of items that you use seasonally, along with more bags and boxes of items from long ago.
You know, those things that are still good, too good to throw away. Let’s not forget the big stuff. The lamps, the furniture, the toddler toys and those home décor items from your last house.
When you open the door to this space you feel overwhelmed. Walking into the space is dangerous and nearly impossible.
Is this sounding familiar?
Congratulations. You’re normal. You have a storage space filled with mindless clutter.
I’ve observed during the hundreds of hours that I’ve spent helping people get organized that mindless storage is the default for most people.
Have you noticed that it’s almost impossible to find something that you need in that storage area?
Searching through the bags, boxes and piles takes too long. It’s often easier to go buy something new instead of trying to find it in the mess. This practice contributes to the excess that so many of you struggle with.
Have you made attempts to clean the space before?
Sure you have.
You had ambition and intention when you began. You bagged some items for give away and some for trash, but you stopped because you ran out of time. You intended to get back to it later. Instead, something more fun or more important popped into your life. You forgot about your project.
I know this is true because when I work with clients just like you, we uncover those bags. Those bags of trash and give-away remained in the space because you had every intention of resuming the project.
The decisions were made whether to keep or toss long ago. When you decide to tackle the project again, you will find those bags buried under even more clutter. It will be necessary to spend more time looking through the bags again – re-making those decisions. This is especially true if the bags were all the same color.
It breaks my heart when this happens because it could have been prevented.
There is a better way.
When I help my clients de-clutter an attic, a basement or a spare room, I teach them a method that will keep the project moving forward. It works when the project can be completed in one work session and it works when the project must be divided into multiple sessions.
Step 1: Block out three to six hours to work on de-cluttering your space.
You can make a huge dent in a space in three hours. If you have six hours you may be able to complete the de-cluttering process for an average size room. Large attics and basements will need multiple sessions.
- White and black trash bags.
- Small and medium cardboard boxes.
- Plastic grocery sacks.
- Large and small ziplock bags.
- Index cards.
- Clear packing tape.
- Large laundry basket or plastic container.
- Permanent marker.
- Box cutter.
- An apron with pockets.
- Clipboard with paper and a pen – You will need this if you are planning to take a tax deduction for your donated items.
Step 3: Eat something before you begin.
You will be making a lot of decisions. Studies prove that low blood sugar can cause decision fatigue. If you will be working for several hours, have some snack food available for a short break.
Step 4: The decluttering process
Put on your apron and fill the pockets with your cell phone, your box cutter and labeling supplies. Do you remember the Progressive Insurance commercial featuring various aprons? Wearing an apron means you’re about to do some serious work.
Your primary aim is to find the floor.
Begin emptying the space. Ignore any items on shelving units or in closets until the floor is clear.
Use my color coded sorting system. This strategy makes for quick work because by observing the bag’s color you instantly know where to put the items that you no longer want.
Use black trash bags for items that you are throwing away. Remove the bags from the space that you are clearing as you fill them. Some items can’t be bagged. Set those items near your filled black bags.
Use white trash bags for give away items. Put breakable items in boxes. Label the boxes “Donate” and group all your give away items together. Allow some space between your donation pile and your trash pile. Books are best bagged in white plastic grocery sacks or placed in small boxes.
Are you planning to take a tax deduction? Make a list of your items as you fill the bags and boxes. Note the item description and its condition. Record items that are in good or excellent condition. Check with your tax advisor for more details.
Set up several boxes for items that you want to keep in your space.
Label the sorting boxes. Create labels using index cards and a black marker. Tape the card to the side of the box. Some categories might be home décor, floral, photos, keepsakes and holiday décor. Once you fill a box with a category, close it, and stack a new labeled box of the same category on top.
You will also find some items that you want to keep that should move to another part of your home. Label a laundry basket or plastic container “put away “or “relocate.” Store those items in the basket until you finish your session. This basket keeps you from getting sidetracked.
Dealing with the paper monster
You may uncover a lot of papers to go through. These can be time consuming decisions. Decisions that need a different mindset and level of energy to process. Label a box “papers to go thru.” Add this box to your “keep” section.
Step 5: Tidy Up – The critical step for success
Once your session is complete, tidy your space. Do not skip this step. Life happens and your project might stall. Remember in the beginning how I described finding bags of things that had been previously designated trash or giveaway?
- Remove your trash from the space. Either put it in your trash pickup area or haul it to the local household waste facility.
- Remove the give-away items from the work area too. Put them in your vehicle to take to a donation center or place them in an accessible area where they can be picked up by a donation center.
- Take your relocate box through the house and put those items in their new homes. Be aware that you are adding clutter to another space. That’s okay. You will get to it. Finish your current project before you start another one.
- Stack your “keep” boxes. It is best to store them in your staging area until you finish emptying your space. If you can’t, stack them along one wall in the space that you have cleared.
Repeat this process until the floor is clear. Then use this process to sort the contents of shelves or closets.
Congratulations. You have cleared your clutter and made hundreds of decisions.
A lot of people consider the project finished after they have removed the clutter. Stopping at this point will bring short term success. You will be able to find what you need quickly in your space because you have grouped like items together and your boxes are labeled. However, there is a good chance that in a few months your boxes will get buried again.
If you want long term success an organized storage system is the answer. This is discussed in Setting up an Organized Storage Space