How to Run Your Own Declutter Project

by Michelle

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There are people who love the process of cleaning, decluttering and organizing.

These are the Monica Gellers of the world. They’ll happily spend Saturday afternoon filing or cleaning the kitchen, and they might even write organizing books suggesting you do the same.

Then there are people who love the outcome of cleaning, decluttering and organizing. They crave order and delight in systems, but don’t enjoy the work it takes to get there.

(There are also people who have no interest in the process or outcome of decluttering, but I suspect they’re off reading the Chaos is Amazeballs newsletter.)

I’m definitely in the second category. In fact one of the reasons I have a website, products and blog devoted to personal organization is that I’ve become adept at finding ways to live an ordered life without having to do a lot of organizing work.

If you’re in the second category too, then this article is for you.

See, I recently did a massive declutter of my home and office space – I even gave it a name: Declutter-Fest Project 2011.

I’m not going to lie to you – it was not what I’d call fun. But the results are totally, unequivocally worth it. Every day I feel happier, calmer and more motivated.

So I thought I’d share with you the four strategies I found most useful in getting myself through the icky process to the wonderful outcome.

1. Have A Strong Why

It sounds obvious, but without a good reason for starting a declutter project, you won’t have the energy or motivation to see it though.

In my case, the previous 12 months had been kind of sucky, and I was coming up to my 44th birthday. I wanted to use a major declutter as a symbolic process, a leaving behind of the past and old energy and bad associations. This was very compelling for me. I strongly wanted to start my 45th year fresh and focused.

For you, the Strong Why could be anything that drives you, for instance:

  • Leaving behind the past
  • Discarding negative memories
  • Starting afresh
  • Being a role model for your kids, family or friends
  • Marking a new life or career direction
  • A symbolic clearing of old energy before you begin a big goal – like losing weight, starting a business, or refreshing a relationship.

Before you begin a declutter project, think about what it represents to you. Having a cleaner house is a great outcome, but you can find more motivation if you dig a little deeper.

2. Have A Simple How

One of the biggest obstacles to a sizeable declutter project is the sense of overwhelm that engulfs you before you can say, Where do I start?

The best solution to this overwhelm that I’ve found is to make a list, a simple plan for what you have to do.

I made a list of rooms, then main areas within each room. You can see my plan, which I wrote on my office whiteboard, in the image at the start of this article.

In writing your plan, break down your space into logical sub-spaces, then list these.

If you don’t want to make your own list, you can use a ready-made program like 52 Home Organizing Missions or 30-Day Organize-athon.

Having a Simple How plan alone will reduce the sense of overwhelm. You may even find yourself excited to get going on one of the sub-spaces in your plan. Small, achievable goals can be super-motivating!

3. Do It Fast

I wanted to complete my entire house and office declutter in one speedy, big block, because:

  • I don’t enjoy the process and wanted to get it over with as fast as possible
  • I didn’t know if I had the drive to come back to it once I’d taken a break.

So I allocated five days for my declutter project, and that’s pretty much all I did for those five days. (I was happy to skip gym classes – decluttering burns calories! – and to make up work time on available weekends.)

Knowing I had only five days kept me motivated to persevere when I got tired and helped me to make quick decisions. I really didn’t want to leave the project half-finished! The ticking clock also kept a lid on perfectionism.

Allocate as much time as you can to your declutter project – an afternoon, day, weekend, week – and free yourself of other commitments for this period. Then divide the available time over the tasks on your list and get rid of clutter!

It can also help to use a declutter mantra to keep yourself moving – I like: Move fast. Don’t overthink. Let it go.

If you do your declutter project in one big block of time, then the momentum will carry you through, and you’ll need far less energy and motivation than you’d need if you had to start and stop.

4. Check Off Your Successes As Your Go

When you look at my whiteboard list, do you wish you could cross off those items? Well, I did too!

The lure of checkboxes is powerful. I also put a line through completed areas, which made the list doubly motivating. Each day I would tick off and put a line through finished tasks, and post an updated picture of my whiteboard on Facebook.

Give yourself the pleasure of checking off and/or crossing off each mini-area as you complete it.

Most of us are kids at heart, and these little reinforcers work wonders.


If you want to run your own declutter project, here are my top strategies:

  1. Have a strong why
  2. Have a simple how
  3. Do it fast
  4. Check off your successes as you go.

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