Today I’m going to share an incredibly simple way to get rid of clutter, but I need to be clear right up front: LearnDoBecome is not a website focused on de-cluttering.
It’s about strengthening families and architecting lives of excellence.
However, we’ve noticed that there’s a huge majority of our community that is so entrenched in “stuff” that dreams and family goals simply don’t feel attainable. We understand because we’ve definitely been there.
Today we’re going to fix that, and here’s what I want you to do:
Step 1: Pick a space.
I don’t care which space it is, but just ask this:
“What is one space that is full of clutter and driving me crazy?”
Maybe it’s the basement, the garage, or the master bedroom.
Do you have it pictured in your mind, in all its glory?
Step 2: Label three boxes.
You’re simply going to get three large boxes (or trash bags, laundry baskets, or designated spaces), and you’re going to label them as follows:
- To Donate
- To Toss
- To Put Somewhere Else
Step 3: Pick one spot in the room, and begin to work clockwise.
You literally pull everything out of that first spot (something like a cupboard, a drawer, or a section of a closet) and put as much as possible into those three boxes.
You’re going to donate like crazy. (Why hold onto something you don’t use when it could bless someone else?)
You’re going to toss or recycle everything you can (yes, even that little mechanical do-dad you thought you’d repair someday).
And anything that really belongs in a different spot of your home is going to temporarily sit in the “To Put Somewhere Else” box. This includes the streamers that belong with birthday party supplies, but ended up in your kitchen cupboard. It also includes the screwdriver that is still sitting on the bathroom counter and the dishes that ended up on your nightstand.
If you’re having a hard time parting with your clutter, you may like Marie Kondo’s advice from *The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Simply keep the items that “spark joy.” (If you’re interested in using this method, feel free to check out our podcast, Using STEP to Fuel the Marie Kondo Method.)
Once you’ve put the majority of your stuff into one of those three boxes, you put what’s left (the best of the best) back into the original space, which will now seem huge and totally uncluttered.
Step 4: Empty the boxes.
When you have completed your de-cluttering session (even 10 minutes is helpful!), empty the boxes so they’re fresh for the next time.
I know this sounds overly simplistic, but it totally works.
Here’s a personal example…
I have a reading basket that had gotten so full that I never even used it anymore. It was driving me nuts, but mentally, I kept thinking I didn’t have the time to clean it out.
In order to personally apply what I’ve outlined above (and show you how easy this is), I made de-cluttering that basket a 5-minute project this morning.
I simply took everything out and put it into the three piles (to donate, to toss, and to put somewhere else), and then I put back the items I actually wanted to keep in the basket.
Five minutes. Now it looks so good.
I tossed/recycled the middle pile, put the two books to donate into our donation bags in the garage, and then assessed the “to put somewhere else” pile.
Interestingly, half of the pile are books I want to keep/put back onto our bookshelves. The other half are books/resources that other family members stuck in the basket and then forgot about. I’ll ask for their help, and then that little project is done.
Here are some questions you might have:
What if I have a hard time getting rid of things?
More on that is coming soon at LearnDoBecome because it’s a huge issue, but I would definitely recommend Julie Morgenstern’s books, *SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life and *Organizing from the Inside Out.
I would also highly recommend listening to the podcast we recorded together: “Secrets for What to Do When You Want to Keep EVERYTHING.”
The essence of these resources is that you can keep anything you love, but you need to understand what may be going on psychologically and train yourself to let go of all the stuff that is weighing you down. I know it’s hard, but if you really want to streamline your life, it’s possible to learn this skill.
What if the stuff I’m organizing won’t fit in a box?
Yes, that will happen when you’re sorting larger spaces. Simply create temporary piles and either label them with signs or make sure they’re clearly defined in your head.
What if the “to toss” pile feels huge and can’t be taken by our weekly trash truck?
If that is the case, CONGRATULATIONS! You may want to schedule a large-item pick-up with your city as soon as you see that’s about to happen. We get three of those a year, and it feels amazing to pile all those broken things up on the curb.
If I put a lot into the “somewhere else” box, won’t that just move the clutter around?
Initially it may feel that way, but here are a few things to remember:
(1) You are only putting things into that pile that you love and value. Alice Osborn, author of *It’s Here…Somewhere, suggests you ask these questions:
- Do I like it?
- Do I use it?
- Do I need it?
- Do I have room for it?
The things you’re putting somewhere else are “keepers,” and you’ll have space soon.
(2) You’re going to put these things where they make sense. I don’t know why we do this, but we end up sticking random items into random places, and then we can never find them. As I’m putting things into better spots, I ask myself, “If I were to look for this, where would I go?” That question is super helpful.
(3) If you move that item to a spot you haven’t yet de-cluttered, it will feel like “one more thing” heaped onto the pile, but that’s only TEMPORARY. Once you get to that spot and do the 3-box sorting method, those items will be some of the select few that will stay.
Here’s the thing: You have important things to do, and clutter doesn’t need to stand in your way. There are much better uses for your physical and mental energy. I’m excited to see how this process works for you!
Your LearnDoBecome CHALLENGE: Take ONE space in your home or office and try this method today. (Let us know how it goes!)
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Thanks for being with us!!
-April (& Eric)
Stacey Hoopes says
Totally the motivation I needed today – we are moving this week (aah!) and packers are here today & tomorrow. I have some boxes I need to sort through on this end so I don’t move all the junk with us and today is the day to do it before they finish up tomorrow. I hope to tackled it this afternoon, yay!
April Perry says
Stacey, I am so excited for you! Good luck with your move! That’s a huge job. 🙂 This method has seen me through nine moves. Can’t wait to hear how it goes!
Just the right encouragement this morning! I sat in on one of your seminars (which was excellent) and I’m off “emptying all my inboxes”! I think my whole house is a giant inbox! 🙂 But this morning’s advice definitely helps in the schoolroom/office as we get set for fall. Thanks so much!
April Perry says
Thanks Jean! I agree..the whole house CAN feel like a giant inbox. Excited for you to get things organized for the fall. Our school starts Wednesday, so we’re right in the middle of getting organized, as well. 🙂 Have a GREAT day!
This is a very effective method I have been using for years–got it from http://www.flylady.net/ originally. Cuts down tasks a few minutes at a time to make them manageable–including exercise! Simple but very encouraging as well.
April Perry says
LOVE FlyLady! I just interviewed her on Thursday for an upcoming summit. Have you used her wall calendar and meal planning method before? I just ordered her calendar, and I’m excited to try it out. 🙂 Thanks for being in our community, Brenda!
I love the FlyLady too! Just finished up “Sink Reflections”. Can’t wait to hear your interview with her!!
Janece Karlak says
Where can I find the interview?
Taryn Wood says
Janece, thanks for asking! The interview was recorded in 2016 and isn’t available to the public anymore. You can learn more about Flylady on her website. 🙂 Thanks for being with us!
Wow! I’m so impressed with your articles and website! Your suggestions are fabulous!
April Perry says
So glad you’re here with us, Melanie! Hope your family is doing great. 🙂
Sandra Rayen says
I love this idea – my problem is I always want to try and sell some of the stuff but don’t have time to take care of that side of it (or maybe I just feel like it is a bigger job than it is)
I do that too. Going to try to list some of it on eBay today!
I do this, and depending on the nature of the mess, sometimes I have multiple “Somewhere Else” boxes. Maybe one for upstairs and one for downstairs, or maybe stuff I know what to do with and stuff I’m setting aside for a different family member. Often I need a laundry basket, too, because children. Sigh.
This method works pretty well except; that donate box? ours just sits around the house for WEEKS until someone finally gets around to driving the stuff to a local thrift store. We live 6 miles away from the local town so we won’t drive it in every time we get a box full; we wait until there’s a lot of boxes full and that means boxes sitting around for weeks. If more thrift stores would go back to either picking up donations or having closer donations boxes in every neighborhood, this wouldn’t be a problem.
April Perry says
I totally hear you, Carrie! We have six bags in our garage right now. Our thrift store is embarrassingly only 1 mile away, but it still takes planning to think about going there. One thing that helps me is to just think of that one pile in the garage as the “Collections” pile, and then I take it in about 4 times a year. That can be scheduled as a calendar trigger… Our middle school also has a collections box right by the school drop-off, so we could take it there, too. Good luck with your de-cluttering!!
Check with the VA Veterans at ScheduleaPickup.com – they come to our home to pick up.
Do you address teachers? I’m always running around and never as productive as I want.
Danielle Porter says
Jenny- YES this is a fantastic place to be for teachers. While we don’t give specifics in the organization for teachers- these principles will help!
Love this article ❤️
Thank you Perry for this easy to read tips. I do enjoy the three box so much that I also share your link on my blog.
By the way, have you heard of 4 box strategy to decluttering?
Taryn Wood says
We are so glad you found this helpful, and we would love to hear more of your story. Please send us a message at [email protected] so we can read more about it!
A large part of my cluttered office space seems to be “To Deal With” – what should I do with things that need to be added to a future projects list?
Taryn Wood says
Great question, Wendy! Many of those things can go into boxes for later on. Label the box so you have an idea of what’s inside and then make a note on your Someday list for when you’re ready to get back to it. We hope this is helpful! Thanks for being with us. 🙂
I did that junk drawer in the kitchen. I got little plastic trays for pens, rubber bands, notepads etc. I know where to find everything now. It is wonderful. I have so much more to do but I feel more confident. Every time I open that drawer or look for something it is a good feeling that the drawer opens easily and I know where things are.
So interested to learn more.
Taryn Wood says
Rhonda, thanks for taking the time to comment. This is so exciting! It sounds like you have made, and continue to make, good progress! We will definitely continue sending you these emails. 🙂 We’d love to have you join us for our free class so we can teach you more! We focus on four steps that anyone can use to get a better handle on life, goals, projects, and tasks. We offer a few live classes each week and you can use this link http://www.LearnDoBecome.com/step to find the best day/time for you! Feel free to share with friends who also might be interested.
Rhonda Blair says
Keep sending me these emails please.
Lana Wolfe says
I’m just getting started with STEP….well, have listened a LOT to your podcasts and also my STEP modules, but finally need to take action. For some reason, pulling together my piles into a laundry basket makes me feel like I won’t be able to find anything. LOL!!! This is soooo silly and would make even more sense of how silly if you saw my kitchen counter mud-slide type pile. I hold my breath as I walk by so nothing falls! But I guess the key is that I do need to pick a time to do this when I will be able to process the pile and not just simply move it. I “did/”tried” the GTD method about 10 years ago, and actually had late bills and things because I created folders and then didn’t keep up with processing. I may be a little scared this will a happen again…just know myself so well after a few decades. 🙂 But getting closer to action! Your methods definitely feel easier and less “precise” and perfect than my recollection of listening to David’s talk. I thought, geez, I’ll be working and tasking all the time. He made it seem like even leisure activities and reading a magazine needed to be scheduled. I’m trying to release some of that worry about perfection.
April Perry says
Lana, I totally understand your worry! Module 5 of STEP will really help you with the processing part, but here’s something you could do to calm your worries: (1) Just make it a habit to check your calendar every day for appointments/deadlines and must-do tasks. If that’s a habit, you’ll be okay. (2) Any time you see something that has some kind of a deadline as you’re cleaning, put it on your calendar. 🙂 (3) Put “Build Command Central” on your Current Projects List and commit to doing it this month. Then you’ll know that everything will be sorted by then! Soooo excited for you and proud of you!
I’m struggling with decluttering/sorting and have been for a while. I know my lack of progress is a mental block combined with overthinking it. Many times I have thought about doing what you suggested but second-guessed it. I had no idea that it was actually a “thing” that people practice lol! I feel like stumbling upon this post was a confirmation to go with my gut. Thank you for placing some clarity on the process and answering many of the questions that have been stopping me. However, I do have a question/concern…the items to process is pretty much everything I own & crammed into one room. My fear is that I will get it started, then inevitably time runs out…two months later I find myself with 3 boxes sitting around along with the other half of my unsorted stuff because I haven’t “had the time” to finish it. How can I avoid allowing that to happen?
Taryn Wood says
Meredith, thank you for reaching out to us! We believe that this can be accomplished in what we call microbursts…small pockets of time where you can work with focus on a specific task. As for your situation and concern, you might try bringing a small amount of what you’re working on to another area of your home. Sort and process into your 3 boxes and then return the items in the boxes to their rightful place. As you have time and energy you can schedule more time to process those items. We’d love to share more with you about the process in our free class! We teach you how to break projects down into doable pieces. You can register for that here: http://www.LearnDoBecome.com/STEP. We have another podcast that might be helpful to you as well. 🙂 https://learndobecome.com/episode53/ Enjoy! Thanks for being with us.
I use a similar system with the papers in my office. It’s an ongoing struggle but I think I’m winning. I use three grocery bags; one is recycle, one shred and the other is file/respond. Now I need to convince myself to do it weekly!!!
Sandi Verfurth says
Hi! I love your business and can’t wait to buy my own course. We hope to buy it as soon as early 2021. We’ll see!
How long do you spend on each area? I know Flylady talks about 15 minutes or even 5 minutes a day, but what do you recommend? I have the kind of personality where daily routines are not my strength, so I try to keep daily stuff to a minimum in order to be successful and only try to build a few habits at a time.
So let’s say I do this on a Saturday, do you recommend tackling your entire spare bedroom/office all in one day, or your garage? I think I will need to break it up into different sessions so that I don’t get overwhelmed and just stop. lol. Is this what you are talking about, or do you recommend a daily time?
Question: What if some of the items are pieces that belong to something else? Like pieces to a board game, or the doll house that the furniture is missing (or even the door)? I know they are all in the house somewhere, but they could be in the attic, my daughter’s room, my son’s room, basement, garage. I cleaned out a big part of our “play room” when I had to start working at home so I could have a desk and a door, but I have many large tubs of items that go with something else. I’m not sure what to do with those. Separate them anyway, put them in the kid’s rooms then worry about them when decluttering their rooms?
Note: my kids are both now adults, but have autism, so sometimes play with things others their age wouldn’t have played with in years. One is also a hoarder (and a collector of many things) and keeps everything, like the one pink paper clip her grandmother gave her, or the business card she swiped from an office.