It’s been a long day. Meetings, phone calls, unrelenting deadlines, then a commute in which it seems as if everyone on the road has forgotten how to drive.
At home, mail from days ago sits on the kitchen island next to a half-eaten cake. Son’s 50-pound backpack is parked on the family room couch with his dirty Air Jordans chucked on the carpet, decidedly in the “no-shoes” zone. Upstairs the storage closet is bulging with suitcases from last month’s trip. In the bedroom—that refuge from the world—hubby’s Sabbath suit is strewn across the bed, and it’s Wednesday. Stacks of dusty magazines sit piled against the wall, the nightstands laden with books, bills, mail, pens, earbuds, etc. And the treadmill, a constant reminder of fitness goals yet to be achieved, doubles as a clothes rack. The sweaters in the closet are tumbling out—new ones stuffed over those that haven’t seen daylight since the new century dawned. The drawers can’t close with ease for their abundance of complimentary charity 5K T-shirts. In the master bathroom the vanity cupboards host products well past their prime and likely hazardous to human skin now. Those colognes gifted every Christmas and birthday? They sit gathering dust and threatening to tumble out in a mass of shattered glass on the tile floor.
Have I stressed you out yet?
How do you feel when you check into a nice hotel room for the first time? Ignoring any annoyances of the journey to get there, you hopefully notice how clean and ordered the room is. There’s usually a comfortable chair and table, a working desk with a notepad and pen neatly arranged, and a flat-screen TV angled just so. The bathroom is dry and clean with the countertop free of anything but a couple of clean glasses and complimentary toiletries. And the bed—simple and crisp with white sheets, a comfortable duvet, and a few pillows—beckons you to take a rest. That’s it. If you feel good from that imagery, it’s because the room has instantly relaxed you just for its minimalism.
If an overabundance of “stuff” has overtaken your home and you feel frazzled just looking at it, there’s good news. It’s time to declutter, and doing so is going to make you feel a lot better.
So here’s how to attack those beasts of messes.
Divide your home into sections that will each receive individual and focused attention. While the task ahead may seem daunting, know that you can approach it in realistic blocks of time. It doesn’t all need to be accomplished in one day, though if you can devote that to it, you’ll feel amazing once you are all done.
Areas that deserve attention: all rooms including communal living spaces and the kitchen. Within them, drawers, closets, desk, and tabletops, and in your home office—you’ll go after whatever’s on your computer as well.
How do you feel when you check into a nice hotel room for the first time?
Armed with trash bags and a shredder (for paper items such as old bills and other sensitive documents), create three piles: keep, toss, and donate. Go through each drawer, closet shelf, shoe rack, and be brutally honest. A rule I’ve found helpful when going through items is to ask myself if I’ve worn or needed it in the past year to two years. If the answer is no and the piece is in good condition, it goes in the donate pile. If you have items that are damaged and cannot donate them, find an ethical way of disposing of them. To borrow from Marie Kondo, the current queen of decluttering: if an item doesn’t “spark joy,” get rid of it.
It’s a good idea to do a little research beforehand for donation possibilities. Some organizations will pick up your items from your home free of charge—and that can even include furniture you may wish to part with. Other outlets such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army can easily be found in nearly every city or town. Plan to take your bags of donations to these places that very day, if possible. Doing so will alleviate any temptation to second-guess and hold on to items deemed ready to go and will help you see a visible difference.
Apply these same rules to every area of your home. Those piles of magazines? Recycle them. Medicine cabinets? Throw out every old prescription bottle, or over-the-counter product past its prime. Overstuffed drawers? Throw, recycle, or shred (papers). Diligently go section by section through your home and eye everything critically. If you have a problem doing that, recruit the assistance of a discerning and firm friend or relative to help you stick to the decluttering mission at hand.
Once you have discarded items that no longer have a place in your space, neatly fold and reorganize what remains, give surfaces a good dusting, and breathe a sigh of relief. Trust me, you will.
To keep your newly decluttered spaces soothing to your soul, you need to establish an attitude of vigilance and commitment (yes, it’s that deep). This means you don’t let things get out of control again.
For example, if you buy new articles of clothing or footwear, consider pieces in your closet that might be ideal for donation. Again, if you aren’t wearing it or you look at it and say “Meh,” it’s time to let it go. Perhaps designate a monthly day to shred old bills or documents you no longer need before they pile up. Organize a monthly fridge/freezer cleanout date the whole family can participate in (because all those stockpiled ketchups or dressing packets have served everyone).
These same ideas can also be applied to your life commitments. If you are overloaded with too many school, church, or social obligations, it might be time to take stock of what’s really important. Pray for wisdom in this and learn how to politely bow out where you should.
While decluttering doesn’t sound like the most fun way to spend a day, it represents a much more important exercise in being a good steward of the material blessings God has given you. After all, if you didn’t have so much, you wouldn’t need to downsize. That says a lot about the importance of taking stock of our lives and paring things down to what really matters—in our closets and in our hearts.
Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.