How to Start Stuff-Flow: The Big Stuff-Buster Plan

Do you need a small stream of stuff to flow out of your space or are you looking for a wide, raging river to remove heaps of stuff? Stuff overwhelm didn’t happen overnight, so it won’t “unhappen” overnight. The Big Stuff-Buster Plan is for people who would like to remove a large amount of stuff from their space. Check out the Ongoing Stuff Relief Plan if you have a smaller amount of stuff to eliminate.

The Big Stuff-Buster Plan

According to Harriet Schechter in her book Let Go of Clutter, decluttering means “discarding, removing, or markedly reducing any accumulation of material objects.”

Photo by Minding Your Matters.

Preparing to Declutter
Decluttering will go more smoothly if you are prepared. Here are some of the items you will need:

•    Large, strong trash receptacles. It is generally easier to use a sturdy trash can with a bag liner, but you can use just a trash bag. Label the trashcan “Discard.” Even though it may be obvious that the container is for trash, once you get into the groove of organizing, it is easy to start getting the various containers mixed up.
•    Box (or bag) or area of the room labeled “Donate.” You have many choices regarding where your items go when they leave your space. You can donate them to a variety of organizations or recycle them in many cases.
•    Box labeled “Decide.” This box is for the items that need more thought before identifying their final destination. It should not be overflowing! This box is for the few items that you can’t make immediate decisions on.
•    Box or area of the room labeled “Designate.” This is for items that are designated to stay in the room because they support the functions of the room. Remember: if the item won’t have a department in the room once the reorganizing is complete, then it needs to leave the room–otherwise it will be clutter!
•    Box labeled “Distribute.” Items that do not belong in the space either because they belong to someone else or because they do not support the designated functions of the room go into this box to be distributed to their rightful owner or to the appropriate space.

Decide to Declutter Questions
So it’s time to remove some of the clutter from your space! It is hard to part with items that you’ve had around for a while. Use the following questions to help you determine which items you really need to keep.

•    Does this item belong to me or to someone else? If it belongs to someone else, give it back to him or her. This may entail setting deadlines for other people to retrieve their items and consequences if they choose not to honor deadlines. Be strong! Their items are cluttering your space!

•    Do I have a real need for this item? This question refers to a real need; not a perceived need. You may not say, “I might need it someday.” You should be able to finish the sentence, “_____ is required for _____.”

•    Do I have a definite time when I will need this item? Not only do you need to articulate that there is a real need, but you also need to identify the specific time by which the item is needed. Complete the sentence above, “[Item] is required for [task], and I will be doing this project within the next [time period].” Be reasonable about the time period. If you are going to use the item within three months, that’s great. If you aren’t going to use it for three years, it needs to move to another owner unless it is irreplaceable.

•    Does this item have a department where it belongs? Whenever an item enters your space and it doesn’t have a department where it belongs, it immediately becomes clutter! Always determine where the item should be housed or decide not to add the item to your space.

•    Does this item have a specific purpose? You may perceive a need, but is there a purpose? Does the purpose justify the space that the object is taking?

If you are still having difficulty deciding which articles to let go of, consider the following:

•    Can the item be replaced if absolutely necessary? If the answer is yes, get rid of it.

•    Are there legal repercussions if you throw it away? If no, then pitch it.

•    When was the last time you used the item? If it has been more than six months, then it is time to let it go.

•    Would the article like to have a new owner? Some items have outgrown their need for you and would be better off if they had another owner.

Time to Declutter
Now that you know what decluttering supplies you need and what questions to ask, it’s time to get to work! Choose one room and one area of that room, select an item and decide which declutter category it falls into. Try not to spend too long making each decision. From your starting point, work in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. If there is more than one person working in the same room, start at different places in the room and rotate.

Working with Others
In order for stuff to flow at a continuous rate, everyone gets to take part. No one is immune! Here are some dos and don’ts for encouraging participation in your home or office.

Do:
•    Set up a donate bin. Whenever you have something that can be donated, place it in the bin. When it is full, take it to your favorite donation location.
•    Model the one in-one out expectation. Example at the dinner table: “Today I bought a new pair of shoes and a shirt. I have already put an old pair of shoes and a shirt into our donate bin.”
•    Tell others that you are trying to simplify and rid your space of clutter. You can tell them that you don’t need any more stuff. For instance, “I appreciate the fact that you always give me a birthday gift. I have plenty of stuff. But if you feel like you still need to give me a gift, please consider something consumable such as a manicure or restaurant certificate.”
Don’t:
•    Remove things from someone’s space without their permission. I know that it is easier to go through a child’s room and remove the articles that you feel he or she no longer plays with; however, this can lead to anger and frustration on the part of the child. Furthermore, it can lead to the very behavior that you are trying to change. Children who had adults “clean out” their spaces are more likely to hold on to extra items as adults.
•    Expect others to delete stuff from their collections if you are unable to model the behavior.
•    Be afraid to re-gift an item that a loved one has given you. It is much better for the piece to be enjoyed by someone else than to have it take up your precious space.