Decluttering: No One Lets Go in a Vacuum

New Year’s is a classic time for a fresh start. And the act of decluttering your space and schedule can help you make room for change. It clears space to think, energy to explore, and insight as to where to go from here.

Yet, we all know how hard it is to get rid of things.

In my 30 years as a professional organizer, I’ve discovered that the biggest mistake people make when decluttering is focusing just on the “throwing out” part. The secret to successfully getting rid of the clutter lies in focusing more on what you do before and after you actually toss the junk.

My book SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life will help you declutter anything in your life that is weighing you down (space, schedule or habits). The four steps of SHED — Separate the treasures, Heave the Rest, Embrace Your Identify from Within, and Drive Yourself Forward, make it easier to let the obsolete go.

It’s a nurturing process that allows each pocket of clutter (what I call a “Point of Entry”), to teach you something about yourself that helps you grow and gain strength.

Here are eight key concepts of the SHED process:

1-Recognize that no one lets go into a vacuum
No one lets go of anything without reaching for something else. Come up with a one or two word theme for what you are making room for. It could be anything from deeper connections and financial security to self-acceptance, creativity and freedom.

2-Analyze the role the clutter is playing in your life before releasing it.
Clutter isn’t just “junk” we should be able to easily toss. Clutter--whether in the form of unworn clothes, untouched piles of paper, or rarely used kitchen gadgets, represents an attachment we are struggling to release. By understanding the role it is playing in your life, you are in a position to find a healthier way to achieve that goal.

3-Declutter one category at a time.
Organizing is best done by room, but decluttering is best done by category (eg. books, clothes, shoes, papers, plastic containers, etc). Once you’ve made decisions about what is trash vs treasure for the whole category , it’s easier to apply that to each pocket of clutter you find around your home. Take inventory of what’s weighing you down, and decide which category you will tackle first.

4-Plan Ahead.
Decluttering is very difficult emotional and physical work, so you should never do it in a knee-jerk way in the spur of the moment. Plan ahead, by at least 3 days. Choose a day and time when you will be rested and have enough time to focus (a minimum of 4 hours). Determine in advance precisely where you will send your discards to and arrange in advance who and how they will be removed from your home once you are done (e.g. Bulk trash days, charity pickup or dropoff, etc.)

5- Before tackling any pile, establish your treasure guidelines.
Ask, “if all this were gone tomorrow...what would I miss?” Write that down on a piece of paper, and use it to guide what you keep.

6-Handle tough choices with specific questions.
When unsure whether to keep something or not, ask yourself: Is this the best reminder I have of this person, place or time of my life? And What’s worth more to me—this object or the space it would free up to pursue my goals?

7-Aim for a radical release.
Once you’ve separated the treasures from trash...get the trash OUT. Not 2 items a day....but in one fell swoop to make room for moving forward—you should be able to measure the space gained in pounds (removed 100 pounds of stuff from your house)—or inches (remove 50 inches of files...) or hours (removed 5 hours of time wasted on a bad habit).

8-Be prepared for the Wall of Panic.
As you let go of things, you will experience a moment (or two, or three) of panic or fear—wondering “who am I without my stuff?” “What do I do with all this empty space?” Hang in there. The wall of panic usually passes within 2-3 days,.Respond not by reaching for what you just tossed, or rushing to fill the space with new things...but by embracing your identity from within. Remind yourself that you are who you are regardless of your possessions.

With a step-by-step practical approach, you can create a calm, welcoming environment, where you can recharge and ready yourself for the life you want to lead.