I’ve been on a mission to declutter the house I share with my dad, and it’s been one of those projects that drags on and on with no end.
Considering I live in a 2000+ square foot home, my dad is a packrat, and he only agreed to have me pack things up, not throw them away – it’s a massive job. Still, I thought it would take me about 3-6 months of daily 15-30 minute increments. So far, it’s been 2+ years, and I’m still not done.
Why? Along with the anxiety-inducing pandemic and my dad’s stroke, which led to a break for about 6 months, it turns out I was learning decluttering from scratch.
That might sound strange coming from a minimalist. Decluttering is one of the first things we do! Yet, for me, purging my possessions has been a thing long before I officially adopted minimalism, so I never had to go through entire rooms of stuff.
Initially, it was hard, it took months just to get through a room. I’d get in, start working on a small area, get overwhelmed at how little progress I was making, then walk away for weeks before attempting it again.
But then, the moment I started to apply the productivity principles I use at work, things began to get a lot easier. The most recent room I did – one of the biggest and most daunting – took me 4 hours. Here are the main things I did differently:
Time-blocking and pomodoros
Rather than 15-minute increments, I dedicated entire time blocks of 4 hours. This way, I could feel like I was making significant progress after each session. I also took a 20-minute break every 40 minutes to prevent me from getting too hungry or too tired to keep going.
Choose a reward
The most recent room I did was a living/recreational room. One of the things I wanted do once it was cleaned out was get back to doing jigsaw puzzles on our old dining table that was overflowing with random papers and junk. So I bought myself a jigsaw puzzle I really liked, and suddenly, getting the room in shape became a top priority.
Rather than just diving in and doing the least intimidating thing, I made a plan for each room:
1 – Clear out the big items that I would be getting rid of/moving. If they had stuff on or in them, I’d put those aside instead of trying to sort them right away.
2 – Re-arrange the furniture to the new layout I wanted. This created space and logical sequence for the next step.
3 – Move left to right, top to bottom, decluttering each zone. Review each item, put into a box to pack away, throw into a garbage bag or put aside for moving to a different room.
4 – Papers. Rather than reviewing each paper I came across, I put them all together for one big review at the end. Takes much less time than going through one by one.
5 – Finally, cleaning. I tried cleaning while decluttering and it never works. So while I’ll sweep up big messes or particularly dusty areas here and there, I save the big deep cleaning as the final step once everything is in its place.
Whether decluttering is on your list of things to do or not, the bigger lesson here is that pretty much every project you embark on can benefit from the productivity principles you use in your daily work. So rather than starting from scratch like I did, use what you already know works for you.
PS. I’m starting my puzzle tonight!