A Moment in the Closet
I’m having a moment. I’m probably having several moments at once, but right now, the moment that seems to comfort me includes purging and resettling my space.
Yesterday, I spent about 20 minutes on our “hall” closet (there really aren’t halls in an open concept house, but you get the picture). The before and after made me smile with satisfaction. A place for everything and everything in its place. This is a common seasonal occurrence when you are rearing 3 busy boys, and they are all heading back to school. More importantly this year, two of the three are in new and unfurnished spaces, which jump started my season of giving locally - their new places are the happy recipients of much of my summer decluttering.
Clutter is hard - it creeps up on you, often to the point where you suddenly feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. Closets are the spaces that hide my dirty secrets, and thankfully closets are small enough to create big wins when I clean them out. When it comes to decluttering, it rarely sparks joy in the act of doing. It can seem never-ending. Here’s the hard truth - it is never-ending, but the good news is that it gets easier with practice. It is why I refer to my decluttering and organizing as “moments”. When I have a moment, I take a small chunk of this type of work and make it happen. I do this because in the long run it pays off big in my mental health and clarity. A clean and orderly space is indeed helpful for (a)finding what you need and (b)creating a space where you can enjoy life without staring at 50 “to-dos” around you. When my space is disorderly, I find that I am less likely to want to be in that space.
So, yesterday, I started with 1 closet, intending to also complete the pantry and then the office, but mother nature brought us a lovely power-outage level storm that derailed my efforts until later this weekend, so perhaps next week I will update you on the level of progress I have made.
While getting organized and paring down does spark joy for me, doing so in the dark does not. Love it or hate it, I thought I’d share a few of the tricks I use to help me pare down and reset my spaces. Hopefully there is a morsel of two that helps you, too.
SET THE GOAL: before you start clearing the closets, it helps to get clear about your intentions. What do you really want from your “moment”? Your goal will set you free and enable you to move your stuff faster because you are clear about your intention. Common goals include one of more of the following:
put things in their proper place
get rid of old/broken/damaged/unwanted/unused items
find missing items, remove duplicates, shrink inventory
donate items to a cause/friend/organization
prepare to move
free up time/space for other things or activities
usher in a new phase of life/growth, prepare your worldly possessions for your potential death(aka - “Swedish Death Cleaning”)
alleviate a safety hazard (tripping hazards, hoarding-level decluttering, etc.)
BREAK IT DOWN: A clear goal needs a plan. Boring? I treat mine like a puzzle or a game. Which piece will be the most fun? The hardest? The easiest? The most elusive? The fastest to accomplish? The most rewarding when done? Unlike Marie Kondo’s konmari method, which organizes items first by type, I tend to focus on a specific area, then break the space down by type/task. Below are some strategies to different approaches.
BY AREA: Pick a space - closet, bedroom, garage, pantry, refrigerator. no area is too big or small. Want to pare down the kitchen? You could drill down even further - counters, cabinets, refrigerator, pantry, bookshelf, drawers, etc. Got 15 minutes? Pick a drawer or shelf or surface and set a timer. This is an organizer’s version of what we call “chunking” in the ADHD toolbox of strategies. I once had a junk drawer that was the neatest drawer in my kitchen. I loved to look inside just to admire how well it was put together. It was calming. My miscellaneous junk was now energizing!
BY TASK: You have selected the space but now you don’t know where to start. Breaking the space into tasks can be a helpful step to organize your process, list out everything that needs to happen, and also provide you a gauge for just how much you have accomplished when you are in the thick of it. Susan Pinsky, author of Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD, would tell you to grab a garbage bag and start tossing what is easily identified as trash. In a room like the kitchen, tasks may include: collect/empty trash, empty/load dishwasher, wipe counters, go through mail, wipe out cabinets, and so on. Each task can be put into micro-task moments or collectively completed in the time you have allotted for a moment.
BY TYPE: again, this can be subjective. fans of the konmari method follow this practice of decluttering, attacking all clothing, all books, etc. in an effort to get make gains in paring down and organization in an entire category, decreasing the opportunities to coming back to each category multiple times in the process. There is a beauty to this approach, as you are completely focused on one category of items at a time for your entire home or office. This can feel daunting for the clothes horse or bookworms in the audience. You may not have time, energy or physical room for that type of gleaning, in which case I might stick to those types or categories in a room. But if you really like this concept, skip to #4 to see how I decide what stays or goes. Instead of looking for something to spark joy, I look to name its purpose.
BLOCK OFF TIME: this is important. All plans are simply intentions until you put them into action. Figure out how to get yourself into action. Set aside time, make a commitment, and in some cases it might be helpful to tell someone what you are doing. Outing yourself is a great way to create accountability for yourself. Still stuck? Ask a friend to join you for a bit of organizing - they are much better at helping us let go of things to which they hold ZERO emotional attachment in the next step of letting go. Set a timer. Put on your favorite tunes. sort mail in front of your favorite TV show. Whatever works to get your going.
LET IT GO: Here comes the secret sauce. I love easy systems to hold in the brain. I have 3 piles in my process - stay, stray or nay. In the case of my closet, everything comes out and is put away in one of three categories.
STAY - this item is useful, it fits, is necessary and beloved. It will stay. It goes back to the space I am clearing, in it’s proper location for me to locate it when needed. ex. - coats hanging in the closet, gloves and scarves in the winter basket, board games tucked above the coats because we play them at the dining table right next to the closet..
STRAY - this item is useful, necessary, beloved, or fits AND it belongs somewhere else in the house. These go into a pile or basket of stray items to be put away after the space is decluttered. In my closet, that included neck scarves, bags and shoes that went back to proper bedroom closets.
NAY - this item is no longer useful or beloved, no longer fits, can be donated or trashed (trash bag and donation box nearby to facilitate). These things are leaving my space. At the end of my moments, these items go to my trunk for the next time I head to a donation center, a friend in need, or they go into the trash can. This week’s closet purge included some books that will be donated.
CARROTS - clearing your personal clutter can be exhausting. My mother can muster about 2 hours of solid decluttering before her energy levels drop through the floor. Knowing your limits is step one. Setting small rewards can also help you feel some sense of accomplishment and joy in the process. Perhaps you will take a walk with your friends after you accomplish your moment, maybe you will take a break and head into town for a movie, or you might allow yourself some time to curl up with a good book. It’s your carrot. Define something with a little crunch. When I cleared my closet this week, my carrot was a trip in town to grab the last items needed for my sons’s move back to school - a physical break between my “purging moments” this week - movement, social interaction, and completing another task that is more fun. What I didn’t anticipate was a microburst storm that would leave us without power for 5+ hours.
Kate’s Bonus Tip: DOCUMENT THE PROCESS with pictures. Sometimes, it helps to visually document your progress. This can be especially helpful when the space is large and may take several moments to cross the finish line. If you are too vulnerable to share your goals with someone, this is a great way for you to privately track your progress. Below you can see my pictures of my Tuesday closet moment for inspiration.
So, while the power outage interrupted my ability to return home from my break in time to declutter another space in its entirety, I was able to tackle a desktop space within my office before daylight disappeared. I’ll tackle another piece of the puzzle this weekend. Until then, I am spending abbreviated moments on smaller chunks of my next space - my home office. If you’d like to see that progress, I’ll report back in the coming weeks to show you how I tackled a larger space. For now, I’m documenting the process in pictures to help me move along.