Simplifying life can happen in many ways, and where things owned are concerned it can easily become overwhelming. Many of us face situations in which the items aren’t even ours to begin with, but inherited when family and relatives die. To create a structure for the process of simplifying things, especially when the number of decisions is massive, I outline one suggested order in this post.
An Overview Of The Process
Before jumping into something new it is often a good idea to know approximately where we are headed. Details definitely don’t have to be controlled at the overview stage, but once we are amidst modest or enormous chaos, a general map is golden to refer back to.
These are the steps I will discuss below:
- Step 1 · Observe and question
- Step 2 · Declutter
- Step 3 · Clean
- Step 4 · Organise
- Step 5 · Fix
In my experience, time constraints such as a deadline on a rental flat are horrific to work with after the death of a loved one. Approaching such an unexpectedly stressful situation with a plan in mind brings clarity, even though the potentially unpleasant work itself cannot be avoided.
It also allows you to decide where to do what. Will you clean on site? Or will you bring home what is to be saved, possibly store during a break, and deal with the next phase only once some time has passed? It can be surprisingly emotional to handle things previously owned by someone else, whether the relationship was warm or not.
Step 1 · Observe And Question
The first step of observing and questioning sets the tone for your project. This applies when you are emptying the house of someone else and when you have decided to bring order to a single kitchen drawer.
When I observe a space in this context of simplifying, I try to do so with categories of actions in mind. Is the space full of items that belong together, or are for example kitchen utensils mixed with craft gear and cleaning supplies? If it is a mixed bag of sorts, will I have to put the most energy on decluttering, cleaning, or organising? And are many items due for fixing?
Questioning concerns both the actions tied to the items in front of me and practicalities such as whether this space is of higher priority compared to another space also in need of sprucing up.
Also, when and how quickly will I have to make decisions? Decision-making causes fatigue, so how will this project of simplifying fit in when considering other activities and obligations in my life? Can I choose particular times of day when I feel fresh of mind, or is it a necessity to finish as quickly as possible?
It helps to write down these meandering thoughts for moments when overwhelm may hit you. If it does, even experienced declutterers I am acquainted with have to batch things to manage these types of projects that run in parallel with the rest of their lives. It is also perfectly normal for all sorts of emotions to appear, so acknowledge them, sit with them for a while, and decide whether you had enough for the day or must keep going regardless.
Low-hanging fruits are a wonderful concept. As this image insinuates, tackling what is closest to you, easiest to deal with, least resistance, or fastest decisions will produce results. If you have a mountain in front of you, getting momentum going by choosing the lowest-hanging fruits first is the smartest step to take.
Step 2 · Declutter
Decluttering is not an activity that everyone is familiar with yet. An easy way to approach it is by defining clutter first.
Clutter as a noun per Merriam-Webster is: “a crowded or confused mass or collection” or “things that clutter a place”.
Clutter as a verb on the other hand is the most descriptive: “to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness”.
To declutter then becomes both decreasing disorder and increasing effectiveness by reducing the number of items.
Decluttering is the most beneficial step to start from. It makes no sense to clean what is broken or organise what will not stay, but be sold, disposed of through the garbage-handling system, or donated to a charity.
Beware of saving lots of things that fulfill “just in case” criteria only. It is helpful to remember the KonMari concept of sparking joy, too. In the Marie Kondo series on Netflix, she asks her clients to consider things which will bring joy when going forward. There is no point in keeping or adding things to your home, which are connected with sad or awful memories from earlier times.
Step 3 · Clean
Now it is time to clean! There are many books and other resources on housekeeping in which various cleaning techniques are taught, if you need help learning the skills.
A thorough book for beginners is Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook, but you can dip your feet into cleaning tips for free on her website first.
When cleaning it is helpful to decide at which level you will be doing work: deep or surface? Deep cleaning includes taking down curtains, dusting them off, and putting in the laundry, or washing windows. Surface cleaning on the other hand is a quick dusting or wiping down of an item.
To make a space feel more liveable immadiately, a nice surface cleaning is often enough. “Done is better than perfect” as they say.
Step 4 · Organise
Once your things are reasonably decluttered and clean, it is time to organise them. This applies whether you live in a studio flat or mansion.
Organising means establishing designated spots, homes if you will, for all things in a space. It is beneficial to apply logic such as:
- Dog leashes are put on in the entryway right before I take my dog for a walk, so dog paraphernalia for outdoor use can stay in that part of my home.
- Even though books are kept in my bookshelf in the living room, I prefer to store cookbooks in the kitchen, and handicrafts books in my craft space.
Your rules have to be your own. If someone else tells you to group all your bathroom stuff in one spot, yet you have one bathroom upstairs and another downstairs, creating rules to fit your own home is the only route to an organised space.
This is why I believe there is so much more to organising than simply having an expert such as a personal organiser breeze in and tell you what to do.
What will happen in everyday life when you change hobbies? When someone dies and you have a huge number of new decisions to make? And how about when you move, even if the things are exactly the same on your two addresses?
“But I’m not organised!” Not a single so-called organised person was born the perfect organiser, but it is a skill that is honed continuously.
In short, it is the active choice to ask questions about routines and existing habits, preferences regarding anything that happens at home or away from it, current and dream budgets, and more. And the answers are as unique to you as the sum of all questions will be.
If you hire outside help to establish a system, this is a quicker route to a new structure at home. However, you will still have to understand the structure as well as be willing to maintain it from then on. Otherwise chaos returns shortly.
What about tidying? I view it as the act of putting things back where they belong. This preferably happens at the end of each day if not sooner.
As concluded above, an organised (an therefore tidy) home is an on-going effort. It takes time and energy to maintain a neat space.
For neurodivergents in particular the pressure to conform can be immense. If you are not yet familiar with the concept of spoons, do a search online so you don’t shame a loved one, whose resources are not the same as yours to constantly keep it nice at home. Few of us want to live in filth after all.
Step 5 · Fix
Fixing things as I define it includes mending what is broken, for example:
- Buttons to sew back in place.
- Darning clothing with holes.
and maintaining what is in need of touching up or improvement:
- Re-painting where it has worn off in a spot.
- Changing a worn-down cushion insert for a decorative pillow, or vice versa.
- Re-sewing a seam once a curtain has started drooping on the floor. (I know it is a specific style to let curtains swim on the floor, but the amount of dust they collect is rather awful in my opinion.)
- Tightening loose screws on furniture.
These projects while important are often of such nature that they can be left undone until a later date.
If fixing were high on the list of priorities when sorting out a home after a loved one has passed, we risk viewing individual trees rather than the woods. Rephrased, there is little point in fixing what will be donated or disposed of when the sheer volume of other items demands attention.
My personal experience regarding maintaining a home covers a wide range of energy levels available. There have also been seasons in my life when it simply hasn’t felt very important to invest a lot of time in doing something only to have to redo a few days later.
I happen to enjoy a neat and clean home though, so the friction between needs and wants is always present. A key activity therefore is decluttering, which I return to regularly, and it always amazes me how I keep finding things that no longer serve me alongside changing life circumstances.
Please share comments and questions below, if there is something on your mind. I am happy to discuss simplifying with you!
Photo credit: Samantha Gades.