How to get motivated to clean out/organize?

nancylouise_gwAugust 8, 2014

Morning all,
Hubby and I are within a handful of years or retiring. When we do we will be downsizing to a smaller place. At the moment we have a 3200sf home. Full attic, basement and a 3 bay garage. All are packed with items you accumulate over a 33 year marriage, raising kids, etc. I want to start getting rid of the majority of stuff we have. (bags and boxes of baby clothes-the "babies" are now 25 and 22 years old, furniture, old clothes, kitchen wares,etc.) When I go up into the attic to try and start I get so overwhelmed, I don't know where to start. How did you all even attempt it? Any and all suggestions would be very helpful. I figure if I start now by the time we retire it should all be done and organized. lol. I tried the search function, but as always on GW it was useless. Thanks, NancyLouise

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I try to get mad at the stuff, LOL. Or greatly annoyed.

Since you know you want to tackle the attic, my vote is to make a goal for only small things. (Note: this works for smaller areas, like the kitchen, as well.)

Pick a "unit of measure," like boxes, dresser drawers, 2-foot sections of a wardrobe, or--in places like the kitchen--a single cabinet, or even a shelf or -part- of a shelf. Or maybe it's a single laundry basket full of stuff you pulled off of a shelf in the garage.

Make it a size of thing that's not bigger than about a box. And depending on how much time you have on any day/weekend, you can do at least one "box"; if you have more, you can do two.

You want something that doesn't feel overwhelming, that you can go through in just about an hour, maybe even less. (And if you're busy, make it even smaller, like "one kitchen shelf," so you can do something, anything, in the 45 minutes between supper dishes and your favorite show.)

Maybe even make a list of the "units," and stick it up on the fridge, and cross them off when you're done. (Like: Halloween costumes; left half of attic wardrobe; top shelf of kitchen cabinet over counter--that sort of stuff.) If a list would help you, remember that your first list doesn't have to have -everything-; just put a few things on so you have a few different sizes to choose from, and so that you feel like you have a plan. You can make a new list of fresh items once you cross the first ones off.

Bring the stuff downstairs (or out of the kitchen). Into the living or dining room, where you can have company and play music. Make it pleasant. This is a hobby!!

Another advantage, even w/ the stuff from just another room, like the kitchen, of bringing everything from that shelf into the living room or dining room is that you will remove it from its camouflaging habitat. And so you might be able to be more skeptical of its right to space in your home. And you'll have to carry it back into the kitchen

But first, I think, make a plan and lay in supplies, etc., for how to get them out of the HOUSE, not just out of the attic. Before you even start.

Get a box to designate for donations; choose an organization, figure out where they are, plan the delivery trip, write it on the calendar. (If at all possible, figure on making several trips, not one big huge one; it'll turn it into a routine, and it'll get stuff out sooner, instead of just smearing it around the house while you wait for the donation day.)

Get boxes to designate for mailing stuff to the kids, or setting it aside for them to go through if they're local (but only if you have a very-soon date on the calendar that they're going to stop by and do this).
Have that conversation with the kids, and work out how much work and hassle you're willing to do for their stuff, and how decisions will be made.
My folks sent me things in boxes. I threw most of it out--and at first I wished they'd just tossed it. But then I found things that I was glad to either keep, or to simply see once again before I tossed it out.

Also designate boxes for stuff you *DO* want to keep. Divide and label them so they're easily found, and easily re-evaluated.

Maybe even, to keep things moving along, designate a couple of "DECIDE ON THIS LATER" boxes or spaces. Because you don't want to get derailed while you dither. And some decisions need a little bit of time.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 11:33AM
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Another thought/idea:

Go first for the low-hanging fruit, maybe.

Or, perhaps more powerfully, save that for when you're starting to run out of steam, or feeling dithery.

Low-hanging fruit = the stuff you -know- you want to get rid of.

So, either at the start to get jump-started, or in the middle of things to feel some sense of accomplishment or direction, go to the attic or garage with only one purpose:
-To identify something you know you want to send OUT of your home.

Don't worry about anything that's iffy; don't sort through a whole box.

Walk into the garage/attic/kitchen and say, "what can I toss*?"
Look around, and find something that you know you don't want. Go directly to it, and take it out to wherever it goes.

And maybe as a starter, just go everyday and look for 3 to 5 things that you know are safe to send out of your house. That'll make you feel motivated to dig deeper into iffy-er stuff.

Then segue into the "unit of measure" method.

And you can come back to the "pick the low-hanging fruit" idea if you stall sometime.

*"Toss" being, "send out of your home by whatever method is appropriate to it--it encompasses donating, trashing, recycling, whatever.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 1:07PM
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When my son is overwhelmed w/ the idea of cleaning his room, I have him "Do a Dozen."

I give him a laundry basket, and tell him to just grab 12 things and throw them in the basket.

THEN, once they're corralled away from the overwhelming stuff in the rest of the room, he goes through that and puts them away.

You might try that with the attic, or maybe with the kitchen.

Combine it with the "low-hanging fruit" idea--pile in 12 things that you're pretty sure you don't want, and then deal with them.

It's a nice way of keeping it manageable.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 1:09PM
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Another way to make yourself be honest with yourself is to go buy some colored-dot stickers.

Anything you decide to keep, put a sticker on (maybe even write the date on the sticker).
When you actually -use- that vase/platter/gadget, remove the sticker.

Then, later, in any follow-up purging, or maybe when you're finally packing up, you can see what still has a sticker, and make yourself re-evaluate whether you -really- want to keep it.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 1:10PM
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To minimize the "decision overload" arrange it so you are making "binary" decisions in multiple passes through the material ... a "yes/no" on each item instead of a "keep for Sue/Joe, maybe I can fix it / which charity should this go to / I may need it / it's an old dried stick of glue" process.

FIRST: Think trash, which is not "low hanging fruit" ... it's fallen off the tree and is rotting on the grund.

When I am decluttering, I go through a box or drawer quickly and throw away everything that is "trash" into the recycle bin or trash or hazmat collection. That can be an immediate 10-50% reduction in stuff to process further.

* Broken and unfixable (trash or recycle)
* Fixable but I have no time or parts (craigslist free stuff)
* obsolete paperwork (shredder)
* old magazines (recycle)
* expired products (trash or hazmat)
SECOND: Get things you clearly don't need out of the house ASAP.

Think "cubage" ... look at the size of things. One LARGE piece of furniture out the door to charity makes a BIG hole you can work in.

Think categories that can be cleared quickly. Baby clothing, for example, could be quickly hauled down, sorted (save one or two sentimental things if you want to) and shipped out to a charity in a weekend. Get that stuff in circulation to people who need it.

THIRD: Stop storing other people's stuff.

Think LIMITS to being a warehouse ... ask the kids over, hand them a few good storage boxes and tell them to sort through their stuff for what they want you to keep until they are living in a place of their own. If it fits in the boxes, it can stay, so they have to decide. If it's too much trouble for them to sort through, it's too much trouble for you to store. (I did that to the SO's children ... one of them could never get motivated to do the sorting and was aghast when he showed a couple of years after the deadline wondering where his ___ was.)


So the process becomes a series of yes/no decisions

Trash / not trash
Keep / goes to charity

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 1:55PM
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Wow, thanks for all the suggestions Tally. I am a list maker so that will help. When I cross "Done items" off the list it does make me feel like I have accomplished something. Throwing away stuff I know I don't want is also a good idea to start my task. I'll start small and do things till I start to feel overwhelmed. Maybe little by little it will get done. I would just hate to have to do this all at once when we are ready to move. Thanks for all the helpful suggestions, NancyLouise

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 1:56PM
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I think that is one of my problems lazygardens, I put to much sentiment to "things". The first baby dress the girls wore or a knick knack we picked up on vacation. It may be broken, but there is sentiment to it for me. If I can get out of that frame of thinking, I think it wouldn't be easier to get rid of all the stuff we have accumulated. I guess I will just have to keep repeating these are just things... these are just things. Also getting these things to other people that could use them now is a big help in my thinking process. they aren't doing anyone any good just sitting in boxes and bags. Thanks for the additional motivation. NancyLouise

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 2:08PM
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If it's broken, is that emotion also mixed with a negative emotion? In which case, that's what I call "a little piece of evil," and the item needs to go in the trash.

Also--is it the -only- way you have to remember that time? If not, toss it.

Also, feel free to come back and ask us to be your backbone!

It's also useful, sometimes, to see if you can get a partner to help you go through. Even if all they do is sit there and sip their iced tea while they say to you, "Oh, really, I know it's from your trip to Hawaii, but it's chipped, or it was hidden away, which means you don't really--value it" and then say, "Toss it, it'll be fine, I promise you." That's still a big help.

I find I do better w/ company or an audience. If I have to describe it and justify it outloud in front of someone with a brain, I realize how silly it is to keep it.

You might also assign a dollar amount to stuff, arbitrarily, and then say: "Would I pay $35 for the right to keep this thing? No, actually, I wouldn't." and then get rid of it.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 4:01PM
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OK, here's another thought:

I find the act of deciding where to pass on stuff to be something that derails me. If I think of too many "good homes" to give stuff to, or if I put the burden on myself that I have to think of the -best- place for stuff to go, I give up, or dither.

That's why I suggested figuring out the "exit stream" first, before you even start.

And I'm going to suggest you pick one place. Just one. So that baby clothes *and* furniture *and* excess lamps *and* extra kitchenware goes to all the same place.
Streamline this. The "where to donate" should not be the focus of this exercise.

Just get it out into the world; the universe will take care of its getting to the right person from there.

This post was edited by talley_sue_nyc on Fri, Aug 8, 14 at 16:54

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 4:04PM
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And I'm going to suggest you pick one place. Just one. So that baby clothes *and* furniture *and* excess lamps *and* extra kitchenware goes to all the same place.
Streamline this. The "where to donate" should not be the focus of this exercise.

^^^^^^ YES!!!!!

I have very few spots in my "exit stream" ...

Books - the charity book sale because they pick up.
Domestic stuff - one local charity that supports special education

Some things go on Craigslist for free or $$ if it's something a charity can't use, such as all the grout and adhesive for tile jobs.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 8:11PM
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I've done a lot if purging since I retired last year, so not a lot left to weed out. But these two things still work for me as "maintenance"

The pickup donation plan. Every 2 months, I schedule a pick up for a few weeks out even if I don't think I have much to purge. I set up a few boxes in the garage and drop things into it until the pickup. I've never had to cancel a pickup.

Take a picture. I'm not an overly sentimental person to begin with, but if I do run across something that evokes a fond memory but serves no purpose for me now, I take a picture with my iPhone. Then I can divest myself of the "thing" but still revisit the memory anytime I want......digitally.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 2:24PM
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FlyLady has some good tips on how to declutter. I'll post the link below. I find it helpful to use a timer. Set it for 15 minutes to up to an hour. Do it a little at a time or you will burn out. I like to listen to radio talk shows on my ipod while I declutter.

Here is a link that might be useful: FlyLady How To Declutter

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 11:27PM
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Really awesome ideas here!

Aside from how real or not they may be, watching episodes of Hoarder type shows inspires me. To see the "stuff" they have, that is rotting away and not items that are valued enough that the owner cares for them properly, is enough to help remind me that stuff is nothing more than stuff.

I also think about items as one of many on a shelf or rack at a store. Or think about 4000 of the same thing being loaded in a shipping crate and coming from the manufacturer overseas. That helps to put it in perspective too.

And keep it short at first- actually set a timer. That way there is an end point and you don't burn out quite as quickly.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2014 at 3:12PM
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You need a friend or relative or anyone willing to share an opinion to come over. Their job is to hold an item up or point to it and ask of you want to get rid of it. Your answer is "yes" or "no". You can have a "maybe" pile, but you can't let it get too big.

My aunt did this for me last year when I moved. I got rid of a ton of stuff. Some of it was going anyway, but I got rid of some stuff that wasn't originally planned.I haven't missed it.

My biggest problem in this was dh. He pulled some stuff out that I wanted gone and kept it. It wasn't anything sentimental, valuable, or even something he had bought. Overall, I had a good purge.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 6:34PM
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Well, wish me luck everyone. I'll be starting in the attic this afternoon (have some planting to do this morning in a new garden area we dug). I'm going to take a picture before I start so maybe when I see empty floor that will inspire me too! Once again thank you for all your suggestions and ideas. They have been very helpful. NancyLouise

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 8:53AM
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As one who worked (along with 2 siblings and a couple of spouses) for weeks to clean out my folks' house, your kids are grateful, even if they don't know it.

I also appreciate this thread for myself and will work to use some of the strategies to reduce my own excess stuff. Thanks to all who added ideas.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 9:06AM
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I will second the idea of using a timer. I find it so motivating even if you set if for 15 minutes at a clip- you really work so focused and efficiently. It's truly amazing what 15 minutes or whatever time segment you want (but it really shouldn't be too long- its way better for me anyway to do multiple segments than one long one ) can accomplish.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 7:22AM
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sandyslopes z5 n. UT

For the sentimental things, you can take a picture. That way you'll be able to see it again, evoke the good memories, but you don't need to physically hold onto every little thing that has memories attached. Photos don't take up near as much storage space.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 4:31AM
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My DS and I have just finished cleaning out my dad's property so we can sell it: 2400sf house, two car garage attached to the house, another two car garage/workshop, attic and a large shed. All of these were FULL of stuff.

We first determined things we knew we were going to keep, either for ourselves or to put in storage to sell later. We moved the larger things we were keeping out to make more room and to give us a feeling of some progress. Then we started with the obvious trash and got rid of it. That made it a lot easier to see what was left.

Once thing that I had to be careful about was spending too much time with the sentimental things. We found a lot of old pictures, cards, and even letters between my parents right after they were married. I found very quickly that I would start looking at these things and an hour or more was gone. For things like those, you may want to put them aside until later. You can always go through a box of photos while watching tv.

I found it helpful to focus on areas where I knew I could make fast progress. For you, that may be something like the baby clothes. You know you will never need those again. Unless there is a special item packed away in there that you'd like to pass on to your grandkids, you may be able to just take the bags/boxes that you know contain baby clothes and either put them in a pile to be donated or trash them if they are in bad condition. That will let you see your progress and encourage you.

Yes, your kids will be grateful. My dad hung on to so much obvious junk: old catalogs, half empty containers of everything from motor oil to shampoo, old clothes, our old toys, etc.

I am trying to really think about this for my own home.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2014 at 11:55AM
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I have been clearing out stuff for the last couple of years since I retired. I have found those sentimental things or those things you think you will keep "just in case" you will not think about once they are out of the house. Believe me, when you retire, so many more important things will be on your mind, like enjoying yourself and traveling, etc.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 11:33AM
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As I dejunk, I find myself regretting having spent so much time and money on things. The simplicity of times past, which seemed so hokey to me when I was in my twenties and thirties, seems wise beyond words now.

Today I hauled two very large bags of stuff and other gear to my favorite charity, and shopped for a few minutes in the thrift store afterwards. For some reason, although I usually love to drop donations off, today I felt rather down about it. I find it burdensome to maintain a place to store donations until I get to a charity. Plus this keeps the focus on useless stuff. Going forward, I'm just going to toss things as I declutter and organize. I should add that I have dejunked quite a bit in the past year or two as my children have moved on to college. Im going to focus instead on creating clear space and reinforcing routines that redirect my clutter tendency. And I will add that nothing motivates me more than watching an episode of Hoarders. I run around the house during the show cleaning, and clean for hours afterwards. Fear is a good behavior modifier, albeit a temporary one. Useless things are a ball and chain, even unique or sentimental things. There is so much more to life then managing stuff.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2014 at 9:45PM
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You all inspired me! I grabbed a tall, tough birdseed bag, went down to the basement, filled it to the top with JUNK, litterally dragged it up and out to the garbage can - all within 20 minutes.

Thinking about doing this took me about 2 years.

Good inspiration! Thanks

    Bookmark   September 14, 2014 at 10:42PM
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plow_in: So great that you saw such powerful progress!

And cup--such great wisdom as always.

"As I dejunk, I find myself regretting having spent so much time and money on things."

This is so true--I wish I could go back in time and persuade myself. I once tried to persuade someone here that they didn't need to buy so much stuff for their kids. And I find myself regretting having junked up my kids' lives w/ stuff as well.
I also see my daughter traveling down that same path. She's only in college, but she's got the most stuff-heavy existence. And she gets it from me.

"I find it burdensome to maintain a place to store donations until I get to a charity. Plus this keeps the focus on useless stuff. Going forward, I'm just going to toss things as I declutter and organize."

I have done this. I probably should do it more.

" Im going to focus instead on creating clear space and reinforcing routines that redirect my clutter tendency."

I want to focus more on -doing- things that my clutter is for--sewing the stuff from the fabric stash, etc.

" Useless things are a ball and chain, even unique or sentimental things. There is so much more to life then managing stuff."

    Bookmark   September 15, 2014 at 11:38AM
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google squalor and hoarding, and read the horror stories out there, and the unspeakable burden placed on loved ones after death, including many threads here on GW. I've been pretty motivated since reading these!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2014 at 6:58PM
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Thank you, Talley! You, my dear, should write a book on this broad subject of home organization and management. Your insight and out-of-the-box thinking, plus clarity of expression, are a treat to read and re-read. I learn so much from your posts. Thank you!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2014 at 7:58PM
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Since you're not time cruched do it in rounds. Plan a de-clutter weekend and discard, as someone put it, the low-hanging fruit. If you're of two minds about an item, keep it.

In six months or so, have another round. By now you're probably enjoying the space and freedom and some of those undecided items will be easier to toss in the bin to go out the door. Some may still want to hang around. fine. Let them.

after another six months have another round. repeat until you've reached your ideal, but then be prepared for annual touch ups...stuff gets back in.

When I did this I got rid of about half my excess stuff each round. Each round became easier because, first, there was less to do and mainly because I was really engaged in getting free from stuff.

Also, think about taking advantage of technology. I got rid of a huge volume of stuff by downsizing from a big entertainment center/multiple component sound system and large lp/cd/cassette collection by switching to MP3/streaming music. Flat screen tv with roku and streaming video instead of boxes of dvds/vhs. Big computer to netbook. Big desk to smaller desk. Multiple bookcases and boxes of books to a kindle. I replaced my favorite cookbooks on kindle. I collected lots of cookbooks, but most only contained a couple recipes I used regularly. I tore those out and put them in a notebook and donated the rest.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2014 at 4:51PM
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How is your clean out project progressing, Nancy Louise?

    Bookmark   October 10, 2014 at 10:28PM
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