A messy or disorganised environment can negatively impact our productivity, relationships and happiness. Studies have shown that clutter competes for our mental attention, thereby reducing the amount of attention we have for the things that really matter.
A clear-out can feel great because it lessens this overwhelming background pressure, leaving us free to think more clearly. But it’s not always easy to summon the motivation to actually do it, particularly at the moment when our home lives are already quite full.
Here are six ways to make the task a little less daunting.
Set a time limit
Parkinson’s law puts forward the theory that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. In other words, the more time you give yourself to do something, the longer it will take. However, creating time limits for projects or tasks forces us to be more focused.
Try a 30-minute challenge to get you started. Grab two bin bags or boxes – one for things you want to keep and the other for the items you want to toss – and tackle one area of your home. Set a timer and get through as much as you can in 30 minutes. Setting a time limit for a task creates a parameter to work within and will make you more efficient with your time.
Break it down
Sometimes the thought of a clear-out can feel too daunting to face, especially when you have a lot of rooms or areas in your home that need work. Like any big goal, the trick is to break it down into smaller steps.
You could tackle one room at a time. Or you could follow the Marie Kondo method of dealing with different categories. Kondo recommends starting with clothes, followed by books and so on. If that’s still too daunting, you could split it into manageable daily steps. Try organising the junk drawer one day, tackling your sock drawer the next, and so on. The key is to get started.
How to part with things
Another stumbling block can be letting go of things. The idea is to get stuff out of your home and not to move items around the house. One great tip I got from stylist and wardrobe detox expert Angie Daly was to ask yourself if you lost or damaged the item, would you go out and repurchase it? If the answer is no, then you should let it go.
KonMari consultant Jen Lawlor says: “When you declutter, the point is not to discard things but actually to figure out what things to keep by choosing what you love.” She recommends you pick up every single item to help you figure out if you want to discard or keep it. Either it should “spark joy” or convey a negative feeling if it’s something you want to get rid of.
Following the Marie Kondo method, Lawlor also recommends you create a vision for what you want your future life to look like at the beginning of the process. Use this vision to help decide what to throw away. For example, do the clothes you are undecided about fit with your future picture of yourself? If not, let them go.
Have a plan
Know in advance what you will do with the things you don’t want. A pile of boxes or bin bags sitting in your hallway for weeks will create another kind of overwhelm.
Figure out if you intend to discard, re-gift or sell your items. Research what charities will accept, though they are on hold as an option right now because of Covid-19 restrictions. There are also options for selling and donating everything from clothes to old furniture. Do your research, and you might even end up with some extra euro.
If you are discarding, make sure you do so sustainably. Old clothes can be recycled. Or, if you’re handy with a sewing machine, consider reusing the fabric. My mum made face masks with some of my dad’s old shirts, for example.
Make sure you have lots of bin bags handy and don’t get hung up on not having fancy storage boxes or equipment. Only think about storage when you’ve finished clearing. Once you’ve gotten rid of the things you don’t want, you can decide how best to store the remaining items.
Make it fun
“Light a candle, put on your favourite music, and have fun,” says Daly. This is excellent advice. With so few outlets for fun right now, why not try to make even the mundane enjoyable? The benefits are often well worth the effort as a good purge will breathe a whole new energy into your home.
Denise O’Connor is an architect and design consultant @optimisedesign