How To De-Clutter For The Holidays

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I lost my coffee cup a few weeks ago.

Normally, when this happens, it involves my driving away with the cup on the top of my car, or leaving it at the self-checkout lane for the next lucky person.  But this was ridiculous. I lost my coffee in my relatively small house.  There were only 800 square feet in which it could possibly have been, and it was nowhere to be found. It had disappeared into the mind-numbing clutter that had taken over my house.

Then I realized the holidays were coming. Soon there would be new shopping bags, gift wrapping and extra stuff everywhere – and where would it go? Every single surface in my home was so cluttered I didn’t have a place to set my coffee cup down. I noticed that in order to have put my coffee cup where I found it, I would have had to actually pull a stool over and step up to reach the top of the bookcase.  Worse yet, when I reached up there to get it, I found other items I’d mindlessly stashed up there for lack of a better place; old mail, my favorite tweezers, a half-full bottle of multi-vitamins. It was a wake-up call.

When your head is spinning from the endless piles of unopened mail, magazines, folded laundry that never made it to the closet, it takes a toll on your sanity and your ability to execute simple tasks.   It’s about prioritizing and organizing, so that there is room for you to move in your space and focus on what’s truly important in your world. Before you call the fine folks at Hoarders and turn yourself in, see if you can tackle this physically and emotionally messy job on your own.

Identify Your Goals

Imagine how nice life could be. Visualize a space of order and peace. Take a moment before you begin the process to breathe and think about all the ways decluttering your home will improve your existence. Will having a neater home mean you can invite friends over for the holidays? Will you actually be able to decorate your house this year without alerting the Fire Marshall? Will clearing off surfaces make space for art projects you’ve wanted to do? Will organizing your bills mean no missed payments and peace of mind?  Really examine why you are taking this step, and get clear on your goals.

Baby Steps

If you’re standing in the middle of your living room surrounded by a tornado of junk, you are at a high risk for throwing in the towel which, of course, now means you’ve added a towel to your clutter. Get methodical about the process. Start at one end of your home and move through it like a hurricane of orderliness.  I’ve read that people start at the front door and move their way in. That’s one option, but I prefer to start in the farthest darkest most cluttered corner and work my way out.  There’s just something more symbolic about that.

Identifying The Clutter

Think about the clutter around you. There is psychological weight behind these items and the reasons you have not yet gotten rid of them. For some, this is the most difficult part, trumped only by the actual moment you hand the bag over to the Goodwill attendant: you must identify your clutter.  Items hold such a great significance, such symbolism to moments in our lives that have come and gone, we hold onto them as if they were time machines that can transport us to another place. It’s important to realize that memories are more alive in our hearts and our minds than they are in material items.  A good rule of thumb is to imagine that you are on a life boat with only so much room, what items would you absolutely have to hold on to?  Photo albums? Or the shoebox of ticket stubs from every movie you’ve ever seen? The first paperback you ever read twice in a row because you cried when it ended? Or that coffee table book about dairy cows in England that you picked up for $3 when Borders went out of business?

Celebrate Your Choice To Declutter

Decluttering may sound like hell on earth, but it truly doesn’t have to be all toil and no fun. You can even invite friends over for moral support. Seriously, throw beer and pizza in as part of the deal and you’ll be surprised at how much help you’ll get.  Friends can help separate the trash from the recycling from the stuff that’s suitable for donation and can provide much needed input (no, you do not need to hold onto the tee-shirt you wore to your first concert twenty-six years ago). Turn on music. The soundtrack from “Fight Club” works nicely for getting amped about the process.

Keep in mind that this can be a major process and does not need to be accomplished all in one day. You can set mini-goals for yourself; organize one drawer a day, keep a bag in the corner for Goodwill in which you can toss clothes that, when you try them on in the morning, you hate the way they make you look.  Do not put something back into your closet that you don’t look good in. Do a walk-through of your space once a day and attack one pile of clutter at a time.
Those who practice Feng Shui, the 3000-year-old Chinese art and science of balancing energy, believe that clutter creates stale ‘chi’ (energy) that could otherwise be flowing freely through your life, assuring your health and good fortune. Decluttering is the first step to reaching this harmony of living, and the first step to keeping track of your coffee cup.