Is It Possible To Tidy Just Once?

Lately I have totally surprised myself at how many books I have read on the subject of decluttering – basically four books in just under four weeks!  For me that is almost unthinkable – I’ve never been known as a fast reader.  I enjoyed them all so much I found it hard to go to sleep or work!  Each of these books has brought decluttering to life in very different (but complimentary) ways.

However today I want to draw your attention to one book in particular (not necessarily a favourite – it just has a powerful theme). The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying is by Japanese author, Marie Kondo – who’s home I would love to visit, but not necessarily live in.  Her methods are definitely successful, however, for me, the outcomes are a tad drastic.  I’m not sure I would want to end up with just 30 books in my house.  Nevertheless there is something about this book that has helped me to treat my possessions as ‘an emotional extension of self’.  Some might say this could make it harder to let go of an item, but actually I think it’s easier to let something go that has served you well, but you have come to realise that the joy of owning it has diminished over time – therefore it can go.  If an item “sparks joy in your whole body” then she recommends you keep it.

Still on the subject of books, I’m now able to look at a bookshelf quite differently  – I could never just run my fingers along a bookshelf and select the books I no longer need.  Marie Kondo pulls ALL books off the shelf, allowing them to “breath a sigh of relief”.  She then picks each book up separately, strokes it and talks to it.  If the book gives her immediate joy just by holding it, then the chances are she will keep it.  Anything else, she personally thanks it for giving her pleasure at the time of reading, and lets the book know that she will be letting it go to someone else who will also gain pleasure from reading the words on it’s beautiful pages.  However I haven’t yet talked to my books – but they certainly do talk to me when I am deciding whether to keep or let go.  Getting them all off the shelves at once also allows you to clean the shelves as you go and check the books for damage – or worse still, “wildlife infestation”!

When it comes to Marie’s wardrobe, I imagine it is ‘arranged’ as beautifully as the displays in a stunning designer shop in Hong Kong.  Her ideal method of clothes storage is VERTICAL wherever possible – she feels sorry for clothes trapped at the bottom of a pile!  She espouses the art of ‘folding’ clothing – T-shirt origami if you like!  Once again she brings EVERYTHING out of the cupboard, in fact all of your clothing in the house, car, garage, laundry or the cupboard under the stairs.  You will probably find yourself standing knee deep in clothes in your bedroom – and then, same as the books, pick up each item individually so as to “commune” with it. Then the folding comes into it’s own – she has proved that you can actually fold T-shirts, jumpers, jeans, in such a way as to be able to place them in a drawer vertically!  Rolling is the another way to put small items away – underpants, stockings, socks – and placed side by side in the drawer, maybe with drawer dividers to keep them in place.  Wow – what a departure from most people’s idea of tidy.  But there’s a catch – ANY clothing found in the house after the sorting, folding and tidying, must be THROWN OUT – if you overlooked it initially, it doesn’t mean enough to you to retain it!

Marie’s “motto” is that you should only ever have to tidy your home, office (life) ONCE.  That is really powerful – and something to ponder when you begin your journey to a clutter-free life. NOW is the time to start.  After your decision to keep or let go, find the right place to keep each item, and always return it to that place after you have used it.  Deciding how you want to lead the rest of your life will help you choose what to keep and how you organise your possessions. ONCE IS ENOUGH – imagine that! I have also just watched a You Tube talk with Marie Kondo which was really helpful – I thoroughly recommend it. Please feel free to comment on this post – its quite a severe departure from most declutter methods, but the benefits are endless.  I would really love to hear what you think.  Happy folding!


The Office (without Ricky Gervais)

Several great things have happened in the last couple of months – two of which are noteworthy for the Declutter Diary section of my blog.

  • I read a really good book called “The Clutter Cure” by Judi Culbertson – excellent.  It has helped me to get rid of things I never thought I would have the courage to do – including around 100 books!!
  • I have started helping a friend to clear her office – which was in serious need of some TLC!  It’s still a work in progress but I will write about it on another occasion.  Helping someone else declutter has really inspired me to progress faster than expected on my own tasks, made me feel fantastic to be able to help my friend – and I know she felt wonderful, even after just 2 afternoon sessions!

So, in the middle of March I was inspired to make a start on my office.  Well, specifically my desks – yes I have two (but it’s not a collection!).  Let’s call them Blue desk and Roll-top!!  The photos below show the mess I had been working amongst – and around – for years.

Main desk - before

Blue desk – before

Infrequently used desk - before!

Seldom-used Roll-top desk – before!

In the past I’d “clean up” – tidy and dust, infrequently – but had never actually thought about HOW I use my desks.  I hear you saying “How did she ever work on those desks?”  Well, the answer was “With difficulty” or “Never” (respectively)!

Blue desk (actually my old kitchen table) was first – most important one, as I (try to) use it every day.  So I decided to clear EVERYTHING off it.  Wow, it was a surprisingly large area!  Cleaned it to within an inch of it’s life, banged in a few rivets that were popping out, and it looked like new.  Then I replaced ONLY WHAT I NEEDED.   In my case that is my computer screen, speakers, desk light, a small 5-drawer file (more about that later), pens and stapler etc – just the things I use every day.

Then over Easter (while No.1 Son was away) I tackled the big one – Roll-top!  Following the same rule, I took everything off, cleaned, and only returned what I needed.  I was amazed at the amount of C-R-A-P  found hidden away under piles of other things.  For years I had been using that desk (my first ever furniture purchase!) as a dumping ground – you know the scenario, people coming for dinner, empty the dining table,  put the piles on the desk, roll down the lid – easy!  I used to “tidy” it, but never PROPERLY.

Now I have two functioning desks that are effectively drawing me back to the office – every day.  Sometimes if I don’t need to, or don’t have time to work at my desk, I will just stroll by and take a look.  See below!!

Blue desk - after

Blue desk – after

What a difference!

What a difference!

I mentioned above the 5-drawer file I replaced on Blue desk.  Previously that was full of papers that became “lost” under all the other papers – no real order.  So I have now developed a good system, with room for tweeking, but working well so far.  I read a book last year called Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.  While it tends to focus on the productivity of a “business office”, there are many valuable points that one can use for a home office set-up, and how to tackle everyday and longer-term jobs or projects.  Allen has used reasonably complex flow-charts and filing systems in his book, but there was one particular point that grabbed my attention – one that can be used in all facets of our lives – at home or work.  I call it the 2 minute-5 minute rule.

I applied this rule to all the other “stuff” I removed from both my desks – every item, every sheet of paper.  Each item was then categorised one of four ways:

  1. Obvious rubbish? – straight in the bin. (rubbish bin, recycling bin or shredder.)
  2. Would it take 2 minutes or less to deal with?  If the answer was “yes” I dealt with it immediately.  (eg. those little bits of paper with someone’s address or phone number on it – transfer it to where you hold all your contacts, bin the piece of paper.  Or an odd button – sew it back on the shirt or put in the button box.)
  3. Would it take 5 minutes or more to deal with?  If the answer is “yes” then file it (in the 5 minute drawer!) and allocate a time to deal with it. (eg. it may be a travel brochure you kept to remind you to book a flight – when the flight is booked bin the brochure.)
  4. Or is it a longer term project?  In which case you need to schedule a time in the future to start that project.  Meanwhile keep all related items in the same place – a file, storage container or a specially designated area of the garage. (eg. my photos need organising.  As I declutter my home I am discovering photos in many unrelated places, but am slowly gathering them together in one spot – it doesn’t matter at this stage, that they are in no particular order – putting them in order IS THE PROJECT.)

I can’t tell you what a delight it is to come into my office every day now.  I share my office (which is the 3rd bedroom of our house) with No.1 Son.  He keeps his desk SOOOO tidy he’s almost OCD about it!  (If I walk past and move a pen he’ll move it back again!  Get the picture?  Pity this habit doesn’t flow on to his bedroom, and his “dirty-laundry floor”, on which sits his usually empty “dirty-laundry basket”!)  He spends more time at his desk than I do during the week – he’s doing his final year of a Civil Engineering degree.  How many 21 year old university students do you know who have a desk that looks like this (below)?!  Today he has just tidied out his bookcase next to the desk and it now looks amazing – he is very proud of his efforts.  Maybe this will inspire him to treat his bedroom in a similar manner?

Looks like no-one's home!

Looks like no-one’s home!

So, in just a matter of a few weeks this has become a really lovely space – three neat, clean, tidy, very functional desks, and two people who really like working here.  I have to say that it was pretty easy to achieve this outcome – and the personal benefits far outweigh the effort required.

Looking forward to bringing you news and photos of my friend’s office in the near future.

Please leave comments below – how is your office looking?  Could it do with a spruce up? (and I don’t mean new paint or furniture – my clear-out didn’t cost me a cent, but to me it’s priceless).  If you need help please contact me and I’ll be right onto it!


I Love Decluttering!

Well you’re probably thinking I have left the country again – but NO!  I am still here – well and truly getting stuck into decluttering my home/life, as planned.  I’m absolutely LOVING IT!!  I still have a long way to go but I’m reaping the benefits already.

Have you made a start on your decluttering project yet?  If not, what is stopping you?  The two biggest “prohibitors” in our lives are time and money.  However the beauty of decluttering is that it can be done in small time blocks – with little or no financial outlay.  These points are outlined in my decluttering plan.

Here are the benefits I have noticed since committing to my plan.

  • Just starting has given me further motivation to do more, and I often spend more than my 20 minute time allocation
  • I come home from work eager to start on the next phase
  • I am now seeing spaces in my garage that I didn’t expect to see so soon
  • I love working in my “new” office and look forward to refining my filing system
  • I am learning to look at my possessions through a “different filter”
  • I feel “lighter”

I am sure that with good planning and some hard yakka you too can achieve similar outcomes in a short space of time.  I have been totally suprised at my progress, and how easily I have conquered the “letting go” inhibitor.  Just today I was emptying a box of clothes (my 20 minute allocation) and sorted them into “keep, give away & toss” piles.  I felt so good afterwards that I continued on to another cupboard, and now have a huge pile to give away, a larger pile of old clothes for my mechanic to use as oil rags, and the rubbish bin is full to the brim!

If you have made a start on your ‘clutterless’ journey I really want to hear about your progress and what benefits you have gained so far.  Please leave a comment below letting me know how your commitment to a clutter free life is coming along.  I’m keen to learn any tips you have as well – we can all learn from each others’ methods.

However, if the task seems just so daunting that you don’t know where to start then think about this.

What would your life look like without clutter?”

To deal with this question you can break it up into smaller parts….

  • What would your bathroom look like without all the excess makeup, nearly empty bottles of shampoo or moisturiser?
  • How would it feel to work at your desk with only the items you need to complete the task at hand?
  • What would your garden shed look like if you threw out all the broken pots, nearly empty bags of potting mix, and hundreds of seedling punnets you keep, just in case…..?

All you have to do is START – focus on one small area (how about your handbag – there MUST be something in there you can throw out?)  It’s really that easy!  Read my plan as mentioned above (click on the link) and just start.

I guarantee it will be liberating just to COMMIT to starting.

5 Easy Steps to Freedom

So the plan is hatched and nothing is stopping me now.  We have just come to the end of a holiday weekend and the majority of my time has been devoted to my “other job” – writing, blogging and enacting my own decluttering plan.  On Friday night after work I made a start on my own slash and burn (Steps 1 & 2) – and today I  start my 20 minute steps.


The task ahead

The task ahead

My "work" space - can't wait to tackle this one!

My “work” space – can’t wait to tackle this one!

There actually is a workbench under all that.

There actually is a workbench under all that.


Before you read my plan let me share this with you – a paragraph from Julia Cameron‘s “The Artist’s Way”.

“By tossing out the old and unworkable, we make way for the new and suitable.  A closet stuffed with ratty old clothes does not invite new ones.  A house overflowing with odds and ends and tidbits you’ve held on to for someday has no space for the things that might truly enhance today.

“When the search-and-discard impulse seizes you, two crosscurrents are at work: the old you is leaving and grieving, while the new you celebrates and grows strong.”

Looks quite tidy - but I could lessen the load.

Looks tidy – but I could lessen the load.

Now read the plan below – right to the end. Spend time digesting each step, especially Step 1. (This is the crux of the whole plan).  Do some planning on paper first if you need to – don’t be afraid to write down your reasons for decluttering, or what you want to achieve – be specific.  Describe how you may feel about throwing out or giving certain items away,  and how you would like to feel after you have achieved this.


5 Easy Steps to Freedom – Making decluttering fun – not a chore!

Step 1. Question yourself.

  • Generically Why did I start keeping “stuff” in the first place?  Place importance on your reason, think about it, be kind to yourself if it’s a trauma, and try to unload any possible unhappiness.  Write it down – it really helps to put it behind you.  If you can let go of the unhappiness then it’s easier to let go of the “stuff”.
  • Specifically – Look at each item and ask, When did I last use that? (Now it depends on your end goal as to how brutal you are here) You could say that if you haven’t used it for one year then it goes out – I tend to think that one year is a little severe but whatever the limit you arrive at – stick to it.

Step 2. Decide which areas are to be tackled.

  • Have a good look around your home, sheds, garage, studio and garden spaces. Decide which areas you wish to clear out.  Drawing a plan of your home helps, using colours to shade the different areas that need attention.  Make a list of the tasks required to declutter each area, leaving it in a prominent place – and tick off each area as you go.  This helps with motivation and you can actually map your progress – the more ticks the closer to your goal. Wow!
  • Discuss it – with your family, or just yourself!
  • Commit your decision to paper  – as in “I, Cate Walker, commit to completing the tasks listed to successfully declutter my home.”   Sign and date it.  Place copies of the “pledge” around the house – in the areas that need work.  (Committing to paper actually makes you accountable to yourself)
  • Don’t spend TOO much time on the decision-making progress – it doesn’t have to be perfect, there’s room for flexibility, as long as it doesn’t distract you from the action required.  Remember, procrastination is the enemy.

Step 3. Allocate regular blocks of time, and commit to ridding yourself of a certain amount each time.

  • The 20 minute rule!  Here you need to be realistic.  There’s no point coming home from work intending to spend 3 hours each night clearing out the garage and expecting to succeed.  You won’t!  Think small blocks of time and a specific target each day.  I am thinking 20 minutes each evening – smaller blocks of time are achievable, you can always extend to 30 minutes or even an hour if you’re “on a roll”.  But always do the minimum 20 minutes.
  • The 5-10 item rule!  Allocate how much you wish to get rid of in that 20 minutes.  Aim to throw out at least five items each time – or ten if you like, but stick to that number.   When I say “throw out” I mean remove from your property – either in the rubbish bin, to the charity bin, sell on e-Bay (or similar) – do not relocate to another box or room.  If you think somebody else will benefit from your “trash” try the following ideas – hospitals love old books and magazines, your kids may be moving out of home and could use the old armchairs or excess mugs and glasses, or the local patchwork group could use some of your excess fabrics.
  • This is totally achievable!  Each night you can easily maintain your goal of 20 minutes/10 items – imagine what you can do in a week, or a month!

Step 4. Photograph your progress.

  • As you are progressing so quickly – and painlessly, because you have planned it so well – it is surprising how quickly you forget what it all looked like before you started.
  • Use the photographs as motivation to keep you going  – and as inspiration for others to follow your lead.

Step 5. Celebrate.

  • Invite your friends around to celebrate your achievements – you will be amazed how many more people you can fit in your house and garden!
  • But…remain true to the habits you have formed to achieve your goals.  Maintain your free space and mental freedom to try other more enjoyable pursuits.
  • Finally, give yourself a treat – paint that old chair you have been “getting round to” for years – your workbench is now clear to do the job, and you have room to put the chair in your study, in a nice sunny corner.  Now you can sit in your “new” chair, complete with the cushion you made, and read a book – with a clear conscience.  Ahh!


So what do you think?  Sounds easy – and it will be lots of fun.  Imagine all the things you will rediscover – and the memories that will go with those items.  Some memories will be good, and some not so good.  But don’t waste time on this – keep going.  Getting rid of the bad memories will free your mind for the new happy and fulfilling ones.

I can’t wait to begin!  And I’m looking forward to being accountable to all of you by updating my progress on this blog.  Keep following me.  If you know someone who could do with some help in this area of their lives share this blog with them.  But the best example is to do it yourself – then they will notice the difference in you.  Good luck!

Please share your thoughts on the plan, or any great ideas you have, in the comments section below and connect with me via Facebook and Twitter.  I would love to hear of your progress as well, and how it worked for you.

Priority One

My decision to prioritise Decluttering  as Task No. 1 was easily made as I feel that once I have relieved myself of unwanted items, which have taken years to accumulate, I will be able to move around my garage, my wardrobe, and my desk(s) – yes I have two – but it’s not a collection!  Consequently I will be free to access and work in  these uncluttered physical spaces.  This in turn will allow me to concentrate on the things I need and want to do – rather than thinking where will I do it and where will I put it once finished.

If you have read my previous post about freedom you will see I am convinced that by relieving my brain of making so many unnecessary decisions about things, I will also have uncluttered my mental space.  I’m sure the body will thank me too!  Success with the remainder of the “tasks” will follow, with perseverance of course!  (Remember those tasks were to turn around my attitude to exercise, actually complete the projects I begin, and banish procrastination) Once I have decluttered, I will have finished a task, and I will feel liberated – FREE – to get on with the next tasks – I might even feel like going for long walks, regularly.  There you are – procrastination gone just like that!!

But is it that easy?  Yes – and No!

Firstly we have to get to the bottom of why we have accumulated so many useless possessions.  Much has been written about hoarding and decluttering.  Hoarding is now recognised as an illness, has various causes, and is treatable with therapy, support and guidance.  A hoarder is someone who collects, keeps and stores items for “later use”.  These items can include tinned food, dolls, records, cardboard boxes, newspapers, Christmas wrapping paper and ribbons, old light fittings, teapots, or even kitchen sinks!

Serious hoarders have been known to keep everything that comes into their home, sheds and gardens.  They have often been traumatised by something, either as children or adults – death of a parent at an early age, a divorce, an old friend dying later in their life.  They tend to replace people with things -because “things won’t let them down or leave them”.  Some are no longer able to move around their homes safely – hence unable to attend to the necessary chores around the home that we take for granted – cooking, sleeping and maintaining personal hygiene.  Over the years they withdraw from family and friends, are unable to ask for help and unwilling to accept help when offered.

Fortunately I do NOT fall into the serious hoarder category – but I empathise with those who do.  There are various things that make us hang onto a particular item.  Some people collect certain things (like brightly coloured teapots), some just love being surrounded by books or family photos, others have the “scatter cushion syndrome” and only feel comfortable propped up by at least a dozen cushions while reading in bed.  Each to their own.  I am probably guilty of most of those – except the teapots!

Twenty four years ago today I was married.  We were lucky to be given many wonderful wedding gifts, allowing us to comfortably set up our first home.  Moving house (and towns) became a regular occurrence due to my husband’s work commitments.  As married life progressed and No.1 Son grew up we accumulated more books, toys, tables, bed-linen, garden tools, sewing equipment and fabrics, dogs and chickens.  Each time we moved packing up and unpacking took longer – and more decisions needed to be made.

Sadly, in 2002, our home burnt to the ground.  Nobody was home at the time, so no human or canine loss.  Fortunately not everything was burned – we managed to retrieve most photos, some books and pictures, toys and clothes.  (But a word of warning – this is NOT a method of decluttering I would recommend!)  While we concentrated on rebuilding the house over the next 12 months, I was also rebuilding the other “collections” – books, music, having pictures re-framed, photos, recipes, scarves (one of my downfalls!) – so that when we finally moved back into our wonderful new home it actually felt like a home, not an empty shell.

The re-accumulation was on track!

Some years later my husband became my ex-husband.  No.1 Son and I were on the move again.  There was not the time – or the will – to have a good throw-out before moving this time – so all the “stuff” came with us.  We spent 4 years adjusting, finding it hard to let go of the excess, for whatever reasons – and trying not to welcome more clutter into the house.  Then an opportunity came to move to a better house and location – closer to university and work.  ‘Ruthless’ was a word I used while packing up this time – but once it was all in boxes and my friends and family were doing endless loads to the new home, I realised something was wrong.  I discovered that I didn’t really know the meaning of the word ‘ruthless’ after all!

Accumulation is a slow process – getting rid of it all can seem to take even longer.

This is where a plan comes in!

Now, these plans can take on many guises – each person will develop a plan that suits them, using the time available and, of course, their end goal.  But I intend to follow a pretty simple formula.

And the key to success is to

  • Start
  • Commit
  • Be honest with yourself
  • Enjoy your small achievements – daily
  • See it through to the end
  • Celebrate!

What’s next?

The plan will reveal itself in my next post.  I will let you in on my mess – with photographs! I will explain my starting point and invite you to leave comments, share helpful hints and creative ideas for my quest – and yours!

Until next time…..stay safe.

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