Are you overwhelmed by all of your stuff? If you’re ready to simplify but not sure where to start, I have what you need: a simple plan for decluttering.
I’d be lying if I said I own too much stuff. Because the truth is that it owns me. Our stuff is like that, isn’t it? We allow it – we actually invite it – into our homes. And we coexist quite happily until we just don’t need each other anymore. But like a bad relationship that we just can’t bring ourselves to end, we hang onto it.
Oh, the You Tube videos I watched! They implored me to declutter, to get organized, to simplify. The end results were tantalizing – clean, peaceful, and minimalist. Even the pantries were lovely – with matching bins and labels. I longed for the same results. But nothing motivated me to actually do it.
Why? Because I’m going for practicality, not perfection. And mostly because I don’t care what anyone tells you about decluttering – if you want to do it right, it can be overwhelming. And as a chronically ill person who feels like she’s always a couple of “spoons” short of the recommended daily allowance I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Until the pandemic. So much time at home meant so much more time to recognize that I had a lot of stuff. Stuff I didn’t need anymore, didn’t like anymore and didn’t remember that I had even purchased.
Lace doilies, random glass vases, a tall stack of plastic Cleveland Browns tumblers from one of their rare good seasons (sorry Browns fans), and a 30-year old custom-made chocolate bar that looked like the blonde guy from the 1980s series, The Dukes of Hazzard. (What can I say – it was white chocolate so I never ate it.) These are just a few – a very, very few – of the many things I encountered during my foray into the boxes in my attic and my basement.
Decluttering the wrong way can be a big waste of time
Recently I wrote about how our efforts to declutter are often nothing more than an energy-stealing waste of time. Largely because we’re going about it the wrong way.
So what’s the right way to declutter when you’re chronically ill?
To be fair, there’s always more than one way to do something, and what works for one person may not work for another. But if nothing else, I am practical and I know myself well enough to know that I have to use my energy wisely.
I have a simple approach for a less-stressful decluttering experience, and it starts with a plan.
Creating a simple plan for decluttering with chronic illness
If you’ve been putting off decluttering because you feel overwhelmed, taking the time to create a plan will help.
Step 1: Determine your goal – and be honest about the “tools” you have to work with
You wouldn’t start building a house without a vision or a blueprint, would you? It’s the same with any project. Before you propel yourself headlong in to the closet from hell or any space in your home, you’re going to want to give some thought as to what you want to achieve – and what will help – or stand in the way of – your success.
In a recent post, I outlined six questions you should ask yourself before you start decluttering. So take a few minutes to read them and answer them. Trust me – it’s the most important step you’ll take.
Here’s a short summary of the six questions:
1. What is my goal? How far do I want to take this?
2. How will my physical capability and the amount of energy I have to expend influence how much I can do?
3. How much of my free time am I willing to spend on decluttering?
4. How will I manage my tendency to hold onto nostalgic items?
5. Is there anyone who can help me?
6. How do I want to feel when I’m done?
Step 2: Build your simple plan for decluttering
Grab a piece of paper and in a column on the left side of the page, make a list of every area you’d like to declutter. You can get as specific (or not!) as you like. This is especially helpful if you’re wanting to do some large-scale decluttering – your entire home for instance.
But even if your decluttering goals aren’t quite as lofty, it’s still useful (if for no other reason than it feels good to check things off on a list of to-dos).
As you make your list, remember – there are at least four kinds of clutter:
- the physical clutter of “stuff” we bought or otherwise accumulated;
- paper-based clutter (this could include things that need to be shredded for security reasons, or things that can be thrown out or recycled, instruction booklets from appliances you don’t have any more);
- digital clutter (emails, electronic files, passwords to accounts you no longer use);
- and emotional clutter
Although emotional clutter isn’t the topic of this post, rest assured that simplifying your physical and digital spaces will make your mind feel better!
Once you have your list turn it into a grid by adding three more columns. I use Excel, but you can use Word, or heck, you can just use a piece of paper.
Feel free to take a look at or download this example. It really is simple!
Column 1: This is the list of spaces you want to declutter
If you plan to declutter every room in the house, you’ll want to break things down a bit so that you can carve out realistic goals. For example, decluttering in my living room included two bookcases and the entertainment center.
Column 2: Priority
Don’t overthink this one – keep it simple. Use a 1-2-3 approach (where items rated a “1” are the biggest priority). Regardless of what you use to designate the priority, assign the top priority based on one of two things. Imminent need for the space or, better yet, which space, when decluttered, will bring you peace.
Do you have a room so crammed full of stuff that walking in puts you at risk of tripping? That’s a priority! On the other hand, if getting rid of clutter in your kitchen will make for a simplified and more peaceful cooking experience, start there.
Column 3: Energy Required
The right way to declutter is whatever way will help you to effectively manage the (limited!) energy that you have.
Again, simplicity is key. Take the 1-2-3 approach, but think of it this way:
1 = requires lots of physical movement and if I overdo it I’ll pay the price
2 = I can do this if I don’t have to spend most of the time on my feet or walking from room to room.
3 = I can do this if I’m sitting down in a comfortable place
Column 4: Status
In this column, add a box so that you can check off what you’ve completed. If the task is fully completed, put an “x” through it and if it’s partially complete, designate it with another symbol. If you’ve changed your mind about the task, use a symbol to designate that you’ve cancelled it.
Before you get started
Take your time with these two steps. Even though it’s a simple plan for decluttering, it needs to be practical and realistic so that you’ll be successful.
Be as specific as you need to be, and be honest about what your own limitations are.
When we’re suffering from chronic illness we may have limitations to our physical capabilities. And no matter what our measure of health is, we know what our roadblocks might be when it comes to decluttering. Maybe we procrastinate. Or maybe we know that it will be hard to part with items that are nostalgic, or items that were gifts.
I hope you’ll take some time to create your plan. I invite to you to come back next week for Step 3, the final step in my plan: “Just Do Something!” This is where the boxes meet the donation truck… or the curb (you decide).
Caz / InvisiblyMe says
I feel like I’m forever decluttering. Part of me loves it but part of me is just so frustrated with having to pace so much. I’ve learned through recent years to pace but it doesn’t mean I don’t still get fed up with it, but I’ve also come to appreciate the joy of getting rid of things and getting organised and feeling more refreshed. I like that you’ve included different types of clutter, like emotional and digital. And I love your suggestions for breaking the task down to really see what needs doing, what the priorities are and what resources it’s going to require from you in terms of energy and pain. Really great post! Retweeted on Twitter 🙂
The pacing is tough – sometimes I feel so depleted that I do nothing, but then there are times when I’m feeling pretty good and I just keep going… only to pay the price later. When I realized that even the small stuff adds up, I feel a sense of progress that keeps me motivated. And when I say small, it could be as simple as taking a couple of minutes to throw out spices that I haven’t used in 20 years. Just do what you can when you can, and then sit back and enjoy the sense of peace it gives you.