This one is for you, parents. I am not a parent myself, however, after four years of living as an au-pair in a family with two schoolboys, I do know the routine.
Being ready for school isn’t just having the school bags ready. Have you thought of the shoe size for PE, or having a place in your home to hold all the incoming and processing papers that are always so many at the beginning?
Getting your home ready and supportive to efficient school rhythm is half of the win.
It is January, and most of Europe is yet on another strict lockdown. As household owners, we seem to be divided, depending on our life and family situation, into two basic groups (and much more, but for this article, let’s keep it simple).
The ones who have no time to spare as their kids are home and need to be given both education and attention. While household still needs to be run and work needs to get done.
The other group finds themselves with some extra time, on the other hand. Spending more or most time at home and without kids, I have seen people picking up new hobbies, starting on house projects, or reading more books…and perhaps watching Netflix.
If you belong to the first group, save your ambitions. You are already doing enough now, so safe your house organization for another time. However, if you do have 10mins left in your day and desperately want to lessen the chaos around, watch this simple video. It comes from the time I was helping a family to homeschool myself and could feel the load of the combined environment (household + office + school). If you don’t want to lose this article about decluttering, save my blog to your bookmarks, or subscribe to my newsletter for monthly tips. And come back to it when you have a bit more time.
If you belong to the second group, however, and want to spend your extra time on decluttering and organizing your house, you’re on the right page. This article is about how to start decluttering and not get lost in the process. The secret lies in good preparation: Categorize first!
why should you categorize first?
Just as Marie Kondo suggests, decluttering based on categories is more efficient and I usually go with that strategy as well. In her book ‘The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up’ she invites to declutter in categories as opposed to rooms. It’s because many times you have the same stuff in multiple places in your house and while you declutter and organize one room/section, you might need to reorganize it again, as you find more of the same stuff elsewhere in your house later on.
I would add, that it is also important for time efficiency and energy preservation, as well as for having a clear plan of what you are doing. I am writing more on this below.
Her 5 famous categories are clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous), and sentimental items. Those categories are a good starting point, however, they’re quite brought and I like to further subdivide most of it.
So first thing first, think about what categories you’re dealing with in your process! Good preparation is the most important aspect of following your project through without getting lost. And for that reason, you might hire a professional organizer who will bring that plan of execution to your project and make sure you don’t derail. If you wish to do it on your own, take some time aside to plan your sessions. If you don’t have much free time, schedule which categories you do and when.
how to categorize?
If you want to set on a whole-house decluttering project, clothing and textiles are usually a good way to start, as they are more clearly distinguished. I often follow with books, bathroom, and kitchen. For the rest, it tends to be harder as the categories collide, overlap, and take over different spaces in the house (and I will write another article about that complexity later).
But even if you set to declutter and organize only one room, have a clear category as a starting point. Because starting from a corner will quickly exhaust you as you try to combine two different tasks: Categorizing and decluttering at the same time (don’t even think about organizing at this point!). So for example, the “everything” room (formerly named as a guest room) will probably have some electronics, some papers, lots of memories, outdoor equipment, old clothes, etc. Get clear on the categories you are dealing with and declutter them one by one. Either day by day, or hour by hour – depending on your situation, your time, and your stamina.
4 benefits of categorizing before decluttering
1)Time-saving Just as mentioned in the video, once you proceed to the actual decluttering after you have categorized, there’s a simple task for you. Declutter. You don’t need to put any energy switching your focus from different unrelated objects (and where do these objects belong in my life). You can simply make the decisions to keep it or to let it go. Decluttering is a draining process and you want to make it as easy as possible for yourself. Approach each pile one by one and just get those decisions done.
2) Single focus Especially for those who are more likely to get distracted (like ADHD for example) by the interesting objects one finds, it’s helpful to make your tasks smaller and simpler. Tasks like “Now I am doing just one thing, collecting all the papers in this room to one pile”. When you do get distracted, you still had that one task to come back to and to complete instead of coming to a more complex categorize/declutter/organize project. “Right, I was just collecting all the papers to one pile”. Such tasks can be as short as 10 minutes.
3) End procrastination Tacking a mountain is an overwhelming task. And that is exactly how it might feel if you approach your project as one big thing. The bigger and more overwhelming projects feel, the less likely they will get done. Especially if there’s no urgency to them (like, you can live like this for another year)! Divide your project into chunks of categories and you will find out it’ s not as bad as you thought.
4) Double check-in This whole process means, that you’ll most likely touch some objects more times. Once when categorizing, once when decluttering, and once again when organizing. Even though this might seem as a waste of time, touching things multiple times has its benefits. First of all, you’ll remember you actually own this thing! And secondly, it can help you with your decision making when decluttering.
When we come across something we haven’t seen for a long time or we even forgot we own it, it might jump out as a surprise and trigger an emotional reaction. Perhaps a nostalgia or curiosity. At such point, we might not be ready to let that item go. However, once we acknowledge that it’s there, and get used to that fact (as we carry on categorizing), its existence won’t be such a surprise once we come to declutter it. That momentarily emotion we felt the first time we touched that object might be gone and we can rely better on our final decision to keep it or to leave it.
Through many years of experimenting with meditation, mindfulness, and conscious living, I couldn’t not notice how busy our mind is. And every external input stirs it over and over again (that’s why when beginning with a meditation practice you have your eyes closed to eliminate distractions- and yet it will jump onto sounds, smells, sensations, etc.)
After studying somatics and the connection our body-mind has to our environment through the nervous system, I started noticing how much are we actually affectedby what’s around us. The need for safety is so primal, that it never stops. And so we take in all the sensory cues available to determine how we feel about our environment (which then impacts the body reaction in terms of holding, tension, posture, etc.).
Bringing it back to the practical – creating a well-intentioned and safe environment is crucial for living and achieving what you want! I am gonna give you two examples of how your environment supports your productivity and efficiency through the lens of time and emotion.
Eliminating distractions supports your focus which in turn uses your time more efficiently. It always takes time to refocus! So if you wonder where has your time gone, it’s a good practice to look at where has your focus gone as well. Have you been distracted by frustration? Memory? Or another to-do?
If your intention and action go hand in hand, you achieve flow. On the contrary, if your action is work, yet your intention is to fix your environment, your flow is hindered and you get less done (a very simplified version of a long rant about this fascinating topic).
Now with emotions, it’s even more complex. Feeling good and safe is essential for creativity and productivity. And trust me, everything that’s around you doesn’t come unnoticed.
If you surround yourself with clutter that has no longer a purpose, your “monkey mind” will get reminded of all the underlying stories that go with it. The postponed decisions, the yet to-dos, the rather forgotten impulsive buys, and so on… And it doesn’t even have to be a clutter. Sometimes we might be surrounding ourselves with items we used to like, while later on coming to realize this stuff stirs emotions such as nostalgia or sadness.
By creating a supportive environment, we can regulate the emotional baseline we start our day with. So make sure, that what you have in your environment brings your emotional baseline up rather than down. Surround yourself with inspiration, happy memories, warmth, etc. Try having fewer to-dos, fewer ambitions, and fewer items stirring shame (the common emotion I encounter as a reason for holding onto unneeded stuff).
To expand this topic, I am adding my old video I created to play around with this concept.
So what can you do now? Bring your attention to what’s around you! I know, it’s been there for so long, that you don’t even notice it anymore (which is another brain phenomenon that I am going to discuss later), yet it’s still there and it’s being subconsciously processed.
Stay with your items in full awareness and inquire into how they make you feel. Is it a feeling of urgency to act, of shame, procrastination…? Know that this feeling is subconsciously there for as long as the item stays in your line of vision.
Act! Take the time to deal with the items that distract you or bring you down and watch whether you feel lighter, and gained some extra time to do the things you love. If you feel stuck and can’t seem to take the action needed, talk to a professional organizer.
P.S. To create this post, I have drawn from knowledge accumulated over years of inquiring and studying these topics. There’re no particular links or sources to refer to. Although if you’re curious, message me and we can discuss this topic and its sources deeper.