Organizing your life in the new year begins with taking stock of what brings you happiness and joy. If it doesn’t bring you joy and peace, it is clutter. Clutter can be material possessions, it can be relationships that have gone awry, and it can even be the way you think or react to situations. Before you can start getting your “things” in order and creating a way to organize them, you have to get rid of what you no longer need.
Is it Essential or is it Clutter? Understanding Organization and Clutter
Make a list right now of the 10 things in life that bring you the most joy and happiness. Yes, stop reading, grab a pencil and paper and write them down. Ten things. They have to make you happy and be the things in your life that you would never want to be without. Family, friends, faith, exercise, your pet – whatever it is that you derive joy from. Do not read on until you have your list.
Done writing? You will be referring to the list throughout the week so keep it someplace safe. The things that you have written down are your essentials. They are the things and people in your life that make life worthwhile. They are non-negotiable, irreplaceable, and a huge part of what makes you the person you are.
Your list is going to be different from anyone else’s, but chances are that there are some similarities. For instance, did your collection of plates, dolls, thimbles, books, figurines or sports memorabilia make your top 10 list of things that bring you joy? Probably not. If it did, that is fine, because your collection truly makes you happy. If it did not, the harsh reality is that it is clutter. Of course, you love your collection, but the question you must ask yourself is does it serve to enhance the 10 things on the list that are most important to you? Recognizing the difference between the clutter or “noise” in your life and your essentials is the first step toward living the life you want.
Save, Toss, Donate
Organizing your life and your possessions is going to mean that tough choices have to be made. If you are like most people, your closets and cupboards are overflowing. Do you have that one closet in your house that you are almost afraid to open, because you know something is going to come crashing down? Rationally you know that it is a sign that you have too much “stuff,” but emotionally it can be almost too much to deal with. Pairing down what you own to include just the things that you need is exceptionally difficult when you first begin. The process requires you to sort those items you want to save, those you want to toss away, and those that can be donated.
In Leo Babauta’s book, The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life, he says, “Make everything count. Whatever you do or keep in your life, make it worthy of keeping. Make it really count.” How often do we hold onto things out of obligation or because of sentimental value? How often do we bring things into our homes and lives to “fill” them only to wind up more stressed and less happy than we could be? For many, the answer is way too often.
As you begin to sort your possessions, really think about what you are keeping. Each item that stays is going to need to be worked into the design of your home and your life. Do those jeans that are two sizes too small bring you happiness or are you just holding on to them “in case” you lose 15 pounds and acid washed jeans come back in style? For too many people, holding on to things that no longer fit their current lifestyle and goals only holds them back from the potential of who they could become today by trapping them in yesterday.
Items that are being held onto for sentimental reasons are often the biggest offenders of clutter in our lives. The Early American-style hutch that you inherited from your grandmother may have matched her taste in furniture, but it does not work with your casual and contemporary home – but you cannot let it go, because it belonged to her. “Surely, Grandmom would be upset if I donated her hutch to charity or sold it in a yard sale! She loved that hutch!” you tell yourself. Would she? Would your grandmother want you to live feeling cluttered and burdened by a piece of furniture or some thing that belonged to her, because you feel obligated to hold on to it? Or would she want you to live a happy, organized, clutter-free life? In your heart you know what the answer would be. As much as your grandmother loved that hutch, she loved you more. Give yourself permission to let go of the clutter that is weighing you down.
Once you have sorted through everything, get rid of it – immediately. Put the donation bags in your trunk, drive to the charity of your choice and give it away. For the things you have decided to keep, make sure that you have a place for everything. If you do not have enough room, do not rush out to buy new storage units until you are absolutely sure that you need the overflow. Your life should not be packed away in storage bins and boxes in your basement.
Use the bins, baskets, shelves, and cabinets that you have to organize your things and label, label, label. When there is a clear label on a bin or basket, you and your helpers are much more likely to put things back where they belong. Color-coding the baskets or bins can also be a big help with organizing and finding things quickly.
The more you start to declutter, the easier it gets. Before long, you will be searching for things to throw away or donate. When the mail comes in, you will be tossing that junk mail in the trash before it even hits the counter. You will even be getting your kids involved at home and at school by setting a timer for three minutes and having everyone straighten the room before the buzzer goes off.
You will, for the first time in a long time, start to feel…free. With less “stuff” cluttering your home, you may then begin to declutter other aspects of your life. And the best part is that it will feel good. As Louis Parrish wrote, “If you can organize your kitchen, you can organize your life.” You can do it!