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Nine Steps to Help You Declutter a Room


Hello. My name is Megan, and my house is cluttered. In a few rooms spectacularly so. My resolution for this year, like so many other people, is to get rid of a lot of my stuff. I know how great getting rid of stuff feels because last year one room of mine was was so packed that I hired an organizer to help. I was a little ashamed that I’d let things get to the point that I needed to call in help, but I kept reminding myself that at least I knew for certain we wouldn’t find a dead cat somewhere underneath everything. Unless one broke into our house, decided to hide in the room and died from shock.

Here is how I found myself with a room full of stuff that I just couldn’t seem to cope with: When my husband Scott and I first moved in together years ago, we went from Ohio to San Francisco to Seattle and never lived in any one place for longer than two years. Since we were doing this ourselves we would shed whatever we didn’t want to carry before each move. Then we bought a house, and we’ve stayed here for seven years. I do a lot of DIYs, and my husband is a musician so our respective spaces filled up with things like whole rolls of fabric and drum kits. Home ownership meant we needed tools we never thought we’d own (‘sup extra tall extendable tree limb chopper?).

And then we had a water leak. A big one. It was one of those “Why is water dripping from the ceiling?” moments. It happened in my studio room, so we had to move all of my craft stuff stuff out of my studio and pile it into the corners of other rooms. Then we had a slow parade of plumbers, insurance inspectors, installers and follow up visits. By that time the holidays had arrived so we moved all of the stuff, which at this point had lost all semblance of utility, back into my craft room along with piles of books and boxes of things we had to remove from affected closets. All the things that we’d moved out of formerly crammed closets jumbled together in piles that took over the floor. We shut the door and decided we’d deal with it all after the holidays. Hidden behind that door it was like nothing ever happened. The new year began, and we were busy with conferences and travel and life and suddenly my craft room became The Room Where We Store Stuff. It stayed that way for months and months. At first it just existed, but then it started to loom.

Every once in a while I’d give myself an organizing pep talk, boldly walk over, open the door and proceed to have a staring contest with my stuff. My stuff would win, every single time. I’d close the door, wait a moment to let the feeling of being utterly overwhelmed dissipate a little, and then I’d decide that doing the dishes or clearing out my email was a far better use of my time. I fully admit to being an exceptionally lazy person, but this was getting ridiculous.

When I was finally sick of myself I hired an organizer, and with her help, we had my studio room back to working order in a weekend. You guys, it was great! I feel incredibly silly for waiting so long but in the end I regret nothing. I’m not somebody who will generally hire somebody unless it’s absolutely something I cannot do on my own, but in this case I met my organizer at a party right at the point where I had decided something drastic needed to be done. I’d been considering fire so I think meeting her was some sort of intervention on the part of my property value.

Everything the organizer did with me is logical, but I always like a good outline to break things into smaller steps, so here it is:

  1. Set yourself up with music and snacks and an organizer or clear headed friend to distract you from feeling overwhelmed.
  2. Take everything out of the room you want to reclaim. As you’re removing it, sort it into piles of things to keep and bags for trash, recycling or donation.
  3. This is key: As the trash/recycling/donation bags fill up, move them out of the house and into your car. Schedule the last hour of each day to haul these things to your nearest charity shop and trash dump. (Get yourself some ice cream on the way home.)
  4. Be brutal, shed things; it will feel great later.
  5. Once the room is clear, dust and vacuum. Get into all those corners you normally cannot reach. Then take a moment to be proud. Pose like Superman.
  6. Move everything back in, but do this slowly. Be brutal again and move more things in to the donate/trash piles. Put things where they will be used. If you’re doing an office room, file or shred papers as needed. Take your time and don’t leave anything to deal with later.
  7. Find a trash can and a recycling bin that make you happy and put them where you will use them.
  8. Make sure that everything you’re going to trash or donate is out of your life at the end of your last day. Don’t leave a pile to deal with later or a bag of something in your car. Clear it all away and watch as metaphorical mental clouds part. Deep breath, ahhhhh.
  9. Have a drink, you deserve it.
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