Declutter in 4 simple steps


Organize your home and life to reduce stress

(Getty Images/John Lund)

To get you motivated to get rid of your clutter, consider these four tips for sorting your stuff:

#1. Write a must-have list.
Actually sit down and write a list of all the items you love and can’t live without.

In this first step, it’s important you don’t walk around your house listing items. The purpose is to really allow your mind to settle on those items that are most important. If you can remember it, and it’s important to you, then put it on the list.

#2. Set a three month deadline.
Setting goals and deadlines keeps us on track. By setting a three month deadline you leave yourself enough time to accomplish the task of decluttering without feeling pressured or rushed. Remember, this is about eliminating stress in our lives!

#3. Sort into piles.
You’ll never make your three month deadline if you leave the sorting to the last minute, so commit to setting aside time each day to organize your belongings. And don’t get stuck on the notion that you actually have to make piles. If you don’t like the idea of stuff piling up, consider dedicating a room to the sorting, or use plastic bins, or sticky notes. The idea is to sort all your items into categories: Keep, Sell and Charity.

If the task seems daunting, start in a room that will have fewer emotional attachments, such as the kitchen. For instance, you probably won’t get teary-eyed over donating a spatula (or two, or three!) or a set of mixing bowls. Once you make a start it will be easier to move on to other areas of the house.

The rules change a little bit when it comes to tackling paper. Considered ‘Enemy #1’ paper can often overwhelm the best of intentions. Rather than tackle an entire stack, consider doing a little bit each day. By setting a time limit, say one or two hours you limit your exposure to the overwhelming task of sorting through papers. Also, don’t create new piles. Instead, find homes. Sort out all important documents and file them accordingly either in folders or hole-punched in binders. That means every time you pick up a piece of paper you should decide exactly where it needs to go: in the garbage, in a binder or file folder, or the “deal with it now” pile.

By the end of three months every item in your home should be allocated to one of three categories: Keep, sell or charity.

#4. Sell it. Donate it. Get rid of it.
Now you can start the process of actually disposing of your items. If you’d like to make a few bucks, consider throwing a yard-sale, or sell your items online through or (keep posted for tips on how to hold a successful yard sale). If you don’t relish the idea of piece-by-piece sales, consider calling in an online auction company, such as Maxsold. These estate auctions allow people to bid online for your unwanted items, and then all sold items are picked up on a pre-scheduled day.

If you hate the idea of strangers rummaging through your items then consider donating both the charity and the sell piles. Most charities accept drop off donations, but a few will also schedule donation pick-ups. For instance, the Ontario Federation of Cerebral Palsy will pick-up and drop-off your donations to local Value Village stores. The store then pays the charity a cash donation for the items. If you do decide to go this route, don’t wait until the last minute to phone and schedule a pick-up, since many of these organizations only pick-up donations once or twice a month. Also, make sure you ask the charity how your donations should be sorted. My husband and I were caught off-guard when a driver for our local Diabetes Association refused to enter our home to pick-up the furniture we were donating. Apparently, the dispatcher had neglected to tell us that all items had to be left on the curb.

If you end up feeling overwhelmed don’t be tempted to just move everything to a storage locker. A bedroom-sized storage locker will set you back $150 or more each month—a cost that can really add up. Remember the goal is to declutter and de-stress. If you get overwhelmed then take some time off the declutter program, or elicit help of a friend, family member, or professional organizer (if you live in Toronto, try Rosalind Tantalo at Simply Home Inc., or if you’re in the Barrie, Ont. area try Stephanie Butlerat Serenity Organizing Solutions).

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