Friday, 4 January 2013

Project Simplify: Declutter your house in one week

At the end of last year, we did a major de-clutter which I called Project Simplify. With the new year and detox-type resolutions abounding, I thought it would be useful to compile everything we learned into one post to make it easy to tackle should you be thinking of attempting a similar operation.

Our main objective was to systematically rid our house of unwanted or unusable items in one fell swoop, in order to facilitate simpler, easier living in a more convivial, less stressful home. In other words, I wanted to clear the clutter and to know every item in the house and where it lives.

We meant business. My husband and I both took a full week off work while the children were (mainly) in school/childcare. This allowed us uninterrupted time to think, process, and work quickly and efficiently. Obviously this is a luxury so if you can't do the same try to work out some other way to gain a significant chunk of time to yourself. 

Our decluttering began in the attic bedroom where we sleep. With eight double cupboards in the eaves, this was the main source of the clutter. Because the junk was behind closed doors, we had no real idea what we were dealing with so our first job was to take everything out of the cupboards and assess the situation. It was worse than we thought. Have a look here for a full description of how we tackled this particular mess. 

On subsequent days we moved from room to room, through the house clearing and tidying, relocating and rehoming. Kids' bedrooms are obvious clutter hubs but providing decent storage and explaining how to tidy, put away etc should minimise some of the worst of the mess. Other pinch points include the bathroom cabinet - full of tiny tubes of hotel toiletries, carefully gathered but never used. I was ruthless. Kitchen cabinets were also bad. Anything behind a closed door tends towards the chaotic if you're not careful.

So what did we learn? Here are my top tips:

I am a firm believer in the like-with-like approach to storage. It's a straightforward system, and if you label storage containers there's more chance of everyone understanding and sticking to the system. 

Bed linen storage has always been a headache of mine. When it comes to changing the beds I worked myself up into a frenzy trying to find the right size sheet for the right beds. The solution is simple and came to me in a eureka moment - each bedroom now has a dedicated space containing the linen suitable for that bed. One room has a box of linen in the wardrobe, another a blanket box/bench, and the last a dedicated drawer. 

Work in sequence, finish one room before moving onto another. Group items together to see clearly what you're dealing with. Prune out broken, ugly, or unwanted items, box them up, and take them out of the house the same day. 

Offer unwanted items to your friends or followers first, before trying Freecycle or eBay. It's much easier to drop something round straightaway rather than photographing, listing and waiting for auctions to end. Plus you don't want to run the risk of changing your mind at any point (a de-clutterer's worst nightmare). 

You don't want to have to do this again.

Don't go it alone - work in pairs, preferably two people with slightly different tendencies to even out purging/hoarding. Keep energised - a constant stream of breaks, snacks, and rewards at the end are essential. If necessary stock up beforehand. This *is* a military-style operation. 

Photograph rooms at their worst so you can see how much you've achieved. Count the number of bags you're taking to the charity shop or the tip. Give yourself a pat on the back. 

Accept some clutter is inevitable and plan for it. Our kitchen worktops are rarely without those piles of bills, kids' drawings, magazines etc, and the best thing to do is find them a home. It doesn't matter if that home is messy, as long as it's contained. I'm going to invest in a kitchen trolley from IKEA - one shelf each.

Put redundant furniture to new uses: a beautiful old wire shoe rack became too small to hold the copious wellies and heels we own, so it now lives in the bathroom - the perfect storage for bath toys, shampoo, and hot water bottles. Likewise, a beautiful antique trunk at the end of our bed contains all my craft materials, fabric, and other bits and pieces I rarely get round to using. 

Leave something half done unless completely unavoidable. We still have a few piles of bits and pieces to ebay, and mess generates mess. But, at the same time, the term 'Project' is a little misleading. Successful de-cluttering is an ongoing process - accoutrements need to be pruned regularly (daily, weekly) and the 'little and often' approach is better than the binge-purge, all or nothing.

Lose momentum - call up painters, decorators, electricians etc while you're in the moment, frame photographs, hang pictures, try out paint samples, replace batteries. These things don't take long but the cumulative impact is huge. 


Phew. Our house is far from finished but we made a good start, which has allowed us to see more clearly what still needs to be done, and even how we might use the house itself in better ways. 

Have you ever done a similar de-clutter? What are your tips? Would you consider tackling your home in this way? Or are you one of those naturally tidy, ruthless types whose house is always neat?

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