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We live in the wealthiest nation on earth, and compared to much of the world, we have everything we could ever want. And yet, even with the blessings and the bounty we enjoy in our lives, it’s amazing how often we still feel that sense of scarcity, like something is still missing. And then, to fill the void, we reach to “stuff.”
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How many times have we looked in our closets full of clothes and felt we had nothing to wear? Is that just me? Whether it is not being able to find anything that goes together, or feeling unhappy with my weight, or just not feeling confident, it’s not that unusual for me to walk into my closet and feel like nothing fits.
I’m pretty sure it has happened to most of us at some point—and what do we do? We go to the store and pick out more stuff, or we go online and order items we hope will fit and flatter and fill the void.
Imagine instead, a manageable closet: there’s a set number of pieces to wear, and everything fits and is easily coordinated with other items you love. Sounds wonderful, right?
How about cooking? Cooking can be overwhelming and messy. Often, many of us hate to cook because we own complicated cooking gadgets, which are supposed to make our lives easier, but require more work to use and clean than a simple knife and cutting board. We have drawers and cupboards of spices and ingredients only to find our parsley is grey and tasteless, and our baking powder has long since expired. We cut our fingers trying to clean our spiral slicer or we can’t find the piece to the ice cream maker.
Now imagine instead, cooking a simple meal from items ready-prepared in your freezer, and knowing the spices and tools required are ready, on-hand, and easy to find and use.
Whether it is taming your closet or conquering your kitchen, the reality is that planning ahead, staying organized, and paring down to just the items you need is one of the most liberating things you will ever do. Your clothes look great and make you feel really good about your appearance. Suddenly meals feel simple and healthy. Cooking becomes a joy, because it’s doable and easy.
The truth is that STUFF doesn’t have to control our lives. In my new book, Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Mind, Home and Soul, my goal is to help each of us discover what it takes to become truly unstuffed. Because becoming unstuffed is SO much more than just throwing a few things away!
It’s changing the way we look at our homes and the stuff we live with.
It’s changing the way we look at our schedules and the stuff that fills our time.
It’s changing the way we look at our relationships and the stuff they are made of.
It’s becoming purposeful about the stuff we let in, because the reality is that nature hates a vacuum, and if we are to become unstuffed, we better spend some time thinking about what that really means before our unstuffing stuffs us with new stuff we don’t need or want. (Say that five times fast!) But as funny as that may sound, the reality is serious business: we have to choose our stuff well.
And the very first step towards becoming unstuffed is being realistic about how we actually use our homes, as well as how we want to use our homes. Here are five steps to help you kick off the process:
1. Identify the Purpose of Each Area of Your House
This can be as formal or informal as you like. If it helps you to write down each area and its purpose, then do it. You can write a list or even sketch it out. Walk through each room and really think about what you do in the room and how it serves its purpose. Do you play games in your family room? Is your dining room also your office? Maybe you eat in the kitchen and rarely use the dining room..?
Once you’ve identified the purpose of each area, keep only those things in the area that serve that purpose. Consider the storage in each room as well. Does it make sense to keep pantry items downstairs or bathroom items in the closet near the bathroom?
Envision your ideal use for each area of your home and how you would like each area to feel. Maybe you enjoy an eclectic space, a clean, sparkling space, or a cozy space. Once you’ve figured it out, make it your objective to let go of or move the items that don’t fulfill your vision for that room.
2. Create a “Collection Zone”
Designate one area (by the stairs, at an entryway, or by a door) as your family’s “collection zone.” This is where all those stray items go throughout the day—items that would formerly be strewn about, left on the counter, or just thrown anywhere because they don’t have a designated spot. Choose a suitable container for your collection zone, like a pretty basket or a rubber storage container.
When it’s time to pick up, grab your collection-zone container and put everything in it as you go. Once you’ve collected everything lying around, it’s easy to run through the house again and put everything back where it belongs in one swoop.
Commit to spending 10-15 minutes before bed each day putting away items from your collection zone. Or better yet, if your kids are old enough, they can take turns running collection zone duty.
This simple act will keep your house neat and tidy and prevent clutter from building up on the coffee table, kitchen counter, by the door, or on your desk.
3. Clear & Clean Your Surfaces
At least once a day, do a surface cleaning of your house. This doesn’t mean you need to vacuum or dust every day. Simply run through the house with your collection zone container, if needed, then you’re all set to work those surfaces.
Spray off all countertops and the bathroom sink, and clean up any spills or messes. Straighten up the couch cushions and do some quick “sprucing” and tidying.
You’ll be amazed at how this little effort makes a huge difference in your home. Suddenly, keeping things organized and tidy will seem less daunting and much more attainable.
4. Wrangle Your Paperwork & Media
When it comes to clutter, papers and media are two of the biggest culprits. Whenever you have the option to go paperless—take it! Get your bills and junk mail on board with the paperless plan. Pay bills online and unsubscribe from any direct mail or catalog lists (and while you’re at it, tackle your email inbox clutter as well).
Be a ruthless shredder when it comes to paperwork. Digitally archive loose paperwork and items by snapping a photo or scanning to your computer. You’re not required to keep original documents in most cases (aside from tax-related materials and certain financial documents). 99% of the time, all that extra paper is doing nothing but cluttering up your life.
Organize photos, books, and media, and opt for digital versions whenever you can. Rent or borrow books and DVDs from the library or download and stream online. Media can be a huge source of clutter and much of it can be found in digital format, so why maintain physical copies?
5. Use Your Calendar—It’s a Powerful Tool
Your calendar is a powerful tool. One of the biggest ways to break free of clutter is to schedule as much as possible. I know it sounds restricting, but it’s actually quite freeing! Just like you would use your calendar to schedule an appointment at the dentist or a meeting at work, use it to organize and schedule your life as well.
When you put an item on your calendar, it becomes much more concrete, so you’re more likely to keep the appointment. Designate a set time to “deal” with things like phone calls, bill paying, exercise and social obligations. Schedule kid pickup times, and even time to organize and clean. Set aside calendar time to review your bank account and family budget, and time to do your shopping.
If an appointment or obligation feels like drudgery, or is unnecessary, don’t be afraid to scale back on your appointments. The idea is to simplify your life, not overschedule yourself and add to the clutter.
With just a few simple tools and tricks, you can keep your home clutter-free and stay on top of your schedule. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to becoming unstuffed! There are so many great ways to let go of the things that no longer fit our needs and simplify our homes and our lives.