I'm always caught off guard when mid-August rolls around and the school buses start lumbering down the roads. Is it really that time of year again already?
This is the first year in the last 20 that I don't have a child heading off to school in the mornings. My youngest graduated from high school in May, and now all three of my children are in college. I'm officially an empty-nester.
Even with my new stage of life, the back-to-school season marks the time of year when I want to get my house in order. When my kids were younger, this meant cleaning out backpacks, organizing closets and switching out clothes, getting the pantry and fridge prepared, and creating systems for all the papers and artwork coming in the house.
As summer comes to a close, I still find myself wanting to put on my “house cleaning hat” to get things in order. I recently moved from our family home in Atlanta to a much smaller house in Asheville, North Carolina. During the move, I streamlined all of my possessions and let go of a lot of furniture. But still I underestimated how much stuff I was bringing with me and how much less room I have in my new place.
We've shoved things in closets, under counters, behind doors, and underneath beds just to quickly find space to throw all of the extra stuff. Now I'm ready to tackle this spillover clutter and streamline my house even further. I plan to use the 10-minute declutter system I used when preparing to move from Atlanta. This is a system my co-author, Steve Scott, and I outline in our bestselling book 10-Minute Declutter: The Stress-Free Habit for Simplifying Your Home.
Here are 10 cleaning house tips on how to declutter and organize in 10 minutes a day:
A lot of us avoid a decluttering, organizing, and cleaning project because it feels totally overwhelming. You open a cabinet, see all the items spilling out in a jumbled mess, and just close the door again. Who has time to deal with all of that? When you think about all of the cabinets, closets, and drawers in all of the rooms in your house, you give up before you even get started. I know exactly how that feels.
But you can declutter all of these spaces in less time than you think — and without feeling completely overwhelmed — when you tackle it in small chunks of time every day. Set aside just ten minutes a day to work on your clutter, and within a few weeks, your house will be in order! Here are some ideas:
1. Set up a staging area.
You'll need a place to temporarily stage all of the items you want to store elsewhere or give away. Find a room or space in your house where you can place these things until you're ready to deal with them. You may decide to create a staging area in each room you're working on rather than one main area. This works just fine as well, as long as you don't mind having a pile of stuff sitting in a corner of the room.
2. Get some boxes.
You'll need boxes in varying sizes for staging items to donate, give to other people, sell, or put in storage. Use inexpensive cardboard boxes for staging purposes. Then later you can purchase more durable storage containers for any items you want to store.
3. Have a timer, notebook, and pen handy.
Since you'll be working in ten minute increments, set a timer so you'll know when to stop. You'll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in ten minutes. Also, keep a notebook and pen with you as you declutter and organize. You'll want to make notes on organizing supplies you may need to purchase or ideas you have for storage, donation, or selling items.
4. Set up a schedule.
Setting up a 10-minute declutter schedule means you're adding a new habit to your day, which can be hard. Creating habits requires a few special skills to make sure you don't give up. Choose the time of day you want to perform your declutter habit. Make sure it immediately follows a trigger, which is a previously established habit like having your coffee in the morning or brushing your teeth. The trigger will cue you to perform your declutter habit. Be sure to keep the work to ten minutes only, especially in the beginning so it doesn't feel overwhelming. Reward yourself after you perform your new habit. We give you all of the details on creating this new habit in our declutter book.
5. Begin where you spend your time.
If you're confused about where to start your decluttering and organizing project, we suggest you begin where you spend the most time. For most people, that would be the kitchen, bedrooms, and family room. When you complete a room you use a lot, you'll get a great feeling of satisfaction and relief, as well as give you a boost of emotional energy and peace of mind.
6. Determine your system.
In order to keep your work to ten minutes a day, consider moving through spaces top to bottom, left to right. For example, in your kitchen, begin with top shelves of cabinets and declutter/clean the shelves on the left side first, then move to the right. Remove everything from the left side shelves, then quickly sort what you know you want to put back on the shelves. Wipe the shelf clean, and then replace the items you want to keep. Put the remaining items in the appropriate boxes to give away, sell, donate, or store elsewhere. With drawers, do the same — dump everything out, sort the absolute keepers, wipe out the drawer, replace the keepers, and put the rest in the appropriate boxes.
7. Avoid indecision.
One reason people have a hard time decluttering is because they can't decide whether or not to let something go. There are a million and one reasons for this confusion, but you need to deal with indecision in the moment to successfully declutter. That's why I suggest you put only the absolute keepers back in the spaces you've decluttered. Get rid of anything you know for sure you don't want or need. Anything you feel slightly ambivalent about or rarely use, put it in a storage box to deal with later. Label the box, seal it up, and put it in a storage room. In the book, we have a list of 15 Decluttering Questions to help you ultimately decide whether or not to keep something.
8. Work quickly.
Have you noticed how easy it is to get distracted when you're cleaning and organizing? You pick something up, look at it, think about it, wonder what to do with it. With the 10-minute system, you've created a sense of urgency for yourself. You're trying to accomplish a task in a short amount of time. That's why it's so important to replace only the items you know you need. You can deal with the other questionable items later. But you may discover you don't need them at all after living without them in sight for a while.
9. Tell your family.
Be sure you inform those who live in the house with you that you are working on this declutter project. Better yet, ask for their support and help to complete the project even more quickly. At the least, you want to be sure they don't come behind you and re-clutter the spaces you've completed. If you have kids, it's great to get them involved in 10-minute clean-up projects. They'll enjoy racing against the clock to complete a task.
10. Enjoy the process.
Even the smallest accomplishments afford a great sense of satisfaction and pride. Every day, you'll complete a small task that will lead to a streamlined, organized, tidy home. But rather than seeing these daily tasks as simply a means to that end, try to enjoy each 10-minute chunk of time. Put on some music and make it fun. Give yourself a nice reward once you complete the task — a cup of tea, reading for a few minutes, or a walk outside.
If you'd like more detailed information on decluttering and organizing your home, please take a look at my bestselling book (along with co-author Steve Scott). We take you through every single room of your house and give you step-by-step instructions for sorting, organizing, cleaning, and streamlining your home. We also discuss all of the health and emotional reasons it's so important to go through the decluttering process. And we make it easy and fun to do.
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