By: Wulfgar
14 December 2007

This is the first article of the Declutter Series that Blackie and Wulfgar have been working on. This is a work in progress, as our lives are never as organized as we want them to be. We’ve learned a few great ideas and tips over the years, so hopefully Rubies can benefit from them.

We’ve begun the Declutter Project with the long-term goal of getting our own land, and then building our home. At first, this may sound strange. Why declutter when you are looking at buying land and building a different house? We’re in our late thirties to early forties and we’ve struggled with organizing our current home since we first got married. The arguments about “Should Wulfgar have a wood shop?” or “Should Blackie have a library (book storage and reading room) just don’t happen, as we both know and respect what the other wants. So, we look at designs for a shop, for instance, and most of them don’t work for us for one reason or another. This has been true of every room and area in our home.

We’ve been to organizational hell. Our first mistake was an innocent one. We didn’t really look at our personalities when we first designed how our house was set up. We tended to have friends over often, and we adjusted our house around entertaining them, while down-playing our needs. We had to have 26 beverage glasses, so in case all 24 friends dropped in at once, we were ready. We ran around the house before people came over, hiding our meds and “interesting” books. We use a lot of books and magazines when having friends over, and we’d leave them all out so they were handy. This meant important, non-entertaining-related items would get buried in piles.

The point is, this simple mistake caused us a lot of issues with clutter, and we didn’t even realize we were doing it. Our house just sort of “evolved” this way out of necessity and lack of planning. We later realized that this was the first lesson about decluttering; you must make decisions about how you live in the spaces in your home and why you use the space the way you do.

The second lesson we’ve learned about decluttering took us quite a while. At first we thought that having people over all the time was very relaxing. After all, we’re laying on the couch, chatting with old friends and drinking a beer. What’s not relaxing about that? As it turns out, we were very stressed by the “flight of the bumblebee” 30 minute fluff-n-stuff before our guests arrived.

It took a while, but we learned that we needed our own space and time to relax. However, the second lesson taught us that we can’t relax when our home was awash in clutter, no matter which way we turned. It made us mentally tired. When we looked across the cluttered wasteland of our dining room, the energy for our projects drained right out of us.

Three things fell into place for us, in order to find the process that works for us. First, we realized we learned the above two lessons. Second, we both became VERY motivated towards the goal of getting our own land and building our own off grid home. Third, we found the magazine Real Simple.

Chuckle if you want to, but Real Simple magazine seemed like a divine guiding light. As with all helping hands, we didn’t “get it” at first. The magazine suggested methods on decluttering that didn’t seem to make sense.

For instance, various articles suggested that you should identify the purpose of a room, and decide what we wanted in the room. Ok, this was making sense so far, as we had learned that in lesson one. Then, once you know what the room is for, take out everything that doesn’t belong, or doesn’t support the purpose of the room. Again, OK, so far. Now the crazy part; Once you have everything that DOESN’T belong, you don’t have to find a home for it. Just remove it from the current room. Make sure to put the pile somewhere you’ll see it a lot, just not in the room you’re decluttering.

This is one of the big reasons people don’t clean. They think that EVERYTHING has to be moved or cleaned, or they’ve failed. It’s better to not start, then to partially finish.

We didn’t think this would work, but we had tried everything else. So, we started with the bedroom and took out everything that didn’t belong. When we were done, stuff was gone but still not organized. Then we found out why this worked. When the stuff that didn’t belong was gone, organization happened much faster. We also had space we didn’t even realize. For instance, our dresser drawers now had extra space. We found that the top couple of drawers would hold the standard clothes in them, but now the bottom drawers became dedicated to our masks, gloves and Tyvek suits. We didn’t think about them belonging in the bedroom before we cleared the clutter. After we decluttered, we realized “Duh!”, for our uses, the bedroom is likely where we’ll need a good bunch of these items.

The second part of the article then made sense for us. Once you clear an area of clutter, whatever is left needs to have a place to be, and only that place, or it has to leave the room as well. A harsh rule at first glance, but we found this worked really well. We had ignored getting extra storage because, to tell the truth, we just pushed more into the closet or dresser. So now we needed more storage.

We then came up with our next rule for us. Everything has it’s own container or drawer it goes in, and no more just pushing things into drawers and forgetting what was where, or buying extra because you can’t find what you have.

This served 2 purposes for us; everything looked far more organized and less stressful to the eyes. Even better, when we’re ready to move and build our new home, we already know the minimum size our rooms need to be and what changes we need to make in the house design at time of building.

For instance, a big design thing we have decided upon after looking at our bedroom is to have walk-in closets, with locking doors, on each side of the room. The headboard of our bed will be on the same wall the closets are built into. This will allow us to not have to look at our messy closet every morning when we wake up, it will allow us to put some of our preps easily up on shelves without worrying about visitors seeing or accidentally finding them (because of the locks), we can have our gun safe close with our extra ammo, and a full length wall to hang our clothes on to boot.

Ok, we didn’t forget the part about taking everything out of the room that didn’t belong, and then not putting it where it should go. Don’t get distracted about putting the non-belonging things away. Put them in a central location, for later. If not, you start this horrible domino-effect thing; pick up something in the kitchen that belongs in the dining room, then pick up something in the dining room that belongs in the bedroom, then pick up something in the bedroom that belongs in the kitchen, etc. By the time you realize you’re off track, you can lose 2 hours moving things around. You won’t feel very acomplished, but you will feel very frustrated.

We’ve also learned to work for only 20 to 30 minutes if necessary, and only declutter in one area of the room to start with. Without the false starts and distractions, you’ll be able to accomplish a significant amount in 20 minutes. The next time you start, you may feel like decluttering for 40 minutes. By the end of a week, your bedroom is done. So, there is a method to this madness.

As you can see, we worked this method, and then started adding rules as we went along. It is a different way of thinking. For people like us that have gotten stuck a hundred times, it works.

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