Decluttering: Where Do You Start?


Where do you start when reorganizing a home or office? What should I keep? What should I get rid of? What goes where? What’s the best set up? Facing the piles, staring at clutter… it can feel overwhelming and paralyzing. Here are some ideas to help you loosen up and get moving!

But first, let’s step back and take a larger view. Let’s start by identifying the zones, first in your house and then in each room.

Zones? What’s that? A zone is an area of activity. Your kitchen is the zone of food and food prep. The bedroom is a zone for sleeping and relaxation. The bathroom is a zone of cleansing and preening. Get it? What other zones do you have in your home?

There are also zones within zones. Some examples of kitchen zones: food prep space, storage for dishes and glasses, a section of the counter for small appliances, food storage, both refrigerated and dry goods. A living room tends to have several areas (zones) for sitting, viewing, reading, toys and/or plants.

How you locate these zones depends on you -- and architecture. In our Madison Square rowhouse, the kitchen is one of the smaller rooms. For me, counter space for food prep and dishwashing is essential to a happy kitchen. I want both my partner and I to be able to operate in the kitchen simultaneously without crowding. So, I moved a few zones into the dining room: dry goods into a built-in closet; plates into a credenza, a table for small appliances. By moving a few kitchen zones outside of the kitchen, itself, we opened up space for all sorts of fun and necessary food-related activities.

Identifying zones also helps tremendously when you’re putting things away. The more clearly areas are defined, the easier it is for everyone in the space to keep it tidy -- and find things!

Once you identify the zones, take these next steps (even if you skip the zones step):

Choose an area or a category. It could be a pile, a drawer or a closet. It could be a whole category, like books or shoes. Sometimes it works best to choose the area that’s bugging you most; sometimes it’s better to choose what seems the most fun.

I personally like to get started with a discrete smallish project that I know we can complete within a short time. Something from which we can step back and see the progress we’ve made, even if it’s a stack of papers -- or the lack of a stack. Something we can celebrate!

The good feelings we generate about the task and about ourselves fuels our motivation to keep going. This energy and confidence propels us forward. With this success in our hearts, we more readily engage in bigger or more difficult projects. The fuel of celebration is essential in decluttering!

Sorting Containers labeled Recycle, Trash, Give, Sell, Move, Return, Wash

 Remove what does not belong. Grab a few containers for:

  • Recycle
  • Trash
  • Give away
  • Move – things to move to other rooms in the dwelling

You may want additional containers for things to:

  • Return to specific people or places (e.g., the library)
  • Give to specific people or organizations
  • Sell
  • Wash or Repair

Place like with like. Sort the remaining items by type. Here, too, you have choices. For example, linens may be sorted by size, by room they’re used in, by function, and/or by color. (I’m sure there are other ways, too!)

Assign homes. Ask yourself, “What activity zone does this belong in?” Or “Where would I look for this?” You can also ask, “What does it belong with?” Packets of sugar for coffee prep belong with the coffee-making supplies and would best be stored near the coffee maker. If that’s not possible, could the coffee-making station move to another spot in the kitchen or dining room (so that the sugar can reside with it)?

Experiment, tweak, evolve. Creating a new system for organizing an area can seem daunting. And thinking you have to get it right can paralyze the whole process.

That’s why I like to think of new organizing systems as experiments. Let’s dissolve the weightiness of decision-making. Let’s introduce a bit of playfulness into your space arranging. Try setting up that drawer, that closet, that shelving unit one way today, knowing that you can change it next week.

Give it a test run. Over the next few days or weeks, notice what works, what feels good and what doesn’t work about the new set-up. It may take a bit of getting used to. Usually, the needed changes become apparent over time.

And if you get stuck or want to celebrate or just share your experience, please reach out!

I’m just a call - text - email away! ~ Peggy Wonder ~ 707-234-5281 -