When you walk into your home what does it remind you of? A showhouse or an example of feng shui at its best? If so, well done, take a bow.
Or maybe the view that meets your eyes is more like a scene from one of the many hoarding programmes on television where people are drowning in a sea of clutter. Everything is higgledy-piggledy and there is no sense of order or organisation.
Watching these shows will either make you feel totally stressed as you wonder how anyone could live in such a mess or believe you are the tidiest person on earth when you compare your humble abode with the homes these anguished owners are desperately trying to reclaim.
Many of our houses fall somewhere between these two extremes. Most of us are guilty of hoarding to some degree and only for the fact that we do regular clearouts we too would be heading down that slippery slope.
Often it takes something like a major change in our life circumstances, such as a decision to move house or a relationship breakdown, or the arrival of spring, to encourage us to take action.
So, where should you start and what is the easiest way to create a clutter-free environment and bring calm and harmony to your home?
1. Desire is the starting point of achievement. The very fact that you want to rid yourself of unnecessary stuff and organise your prize possessions is a good thing in itself. You know what you need to do so just take that first step.
2. Have a plan. This is essential otherwise your focus will be scattered and you will achieve little, except a kingsize headache! Do not try to tackle everything at once as this can be defeating. Put a strategy in place so you know what exactly needs to be done and then draw up a timeframe in which this needs to be achieved.
3. Set achievable goals. Accept that you are not going to tidy up your entire house in a day so do not even attempt it. It took time and many days/years of accumulating things to get your home into this state so it will take a while to get it back in shape. When you make your plan, target specific areas you are going to declutter, clean up and organise. Focus on one wardrobe or room at a time and break the task down into manageable segments. That way the job will appear less daunting. Work in 30 minute bursts on a Saturday afternoon, for example, then take a 15 minute break and work for another half an hour. Even if you are full of enthusiasm be wary of attempting too much in one go. It is easy to get disillusioned especially in the early stages when progress is not very apparent.
4. Do not let the magnitude of the task overwhelm you. This can be the first fence where prospective declutterers fall. When you see all that has to be done it is easy to get disheartened and head for the cookie jar instead. Your aim is to avoid the frustration that can build up as you attempt to decide if something should be kept, donated to charity, or thrown away, and try to form an action plan to build on your success in the future.
5. Work in a methodical fashion. Begin in one area of the room and do not move on to the next part until that has been decluttered. If you aim to do a big clear-out, sort through the contents and decide what should be retained or thrown out. Remember clutter is occupying space which could be put to better use.
6. Nourish your ruthless streak. Never has this quality been more necessary. The reason you have got into this mess in the first place is because of your lackadaisical attitude and your penchant for hoarding. Expect to suffer many bouts of sentimentality and pangs of conscience as you chuck things out.
7. Do not procastinate. This is the enemy of decluttering. Avoiding doing a task that needs to be accomplished is all too tempting, especially when it seems onerous. But think of the sense of achievement and the level of satisfaction to be gained when the job is complete.
8. Be honest with yourself. Clutterologists recommend getting rid of anything you have not used or worn for more than a year. If you follow that principle it will be very easy to sort out your clutter. However, it is all too easy to fool yourself into thinking that the fluorescent tankini that is two sizes too small or the golfing umbrella with the dodgy spoke is worth saving for a rainy day. Listen to your inner voice and if in doubt, throw it out.
9. Do not leave anything in a temporary holding place. This will only double your work. Decide once and for all where items should go and leave them there.
10. Reward yourself. This is crucial. You need built-in breaks and rewards to help you keep up the momentum and achieve success. If you are slacking view it as a need to stop, re-fuel and re-focus.
11. Give yourself time to review items. Evaluating everything you possess sounds like a tall order but if you just concentrate on one corner of a room or a closet, wardrobe or drawer at a time it will all appear more manageable. It will also ensure you do a proper job and save you having to repeat the process later. Some decluttering advocates recommend using four boxes to help you with your pruning task - one for the items you intend to keep and the others for those you plan to donate to charity or sell, store. or get rid of altogether.
12. Avoid distractions. The best declutterers have fallen victim to this and have rued the time they took that call or stopped to watch TV or left bags of unused and unloved items destined for the charity shop residing overnight in their hallway. By morning their missionary zeal had vanished and they suddenly saw merit in the gaudy shirt or the 10 volumes of How to Survive Mosquitos in the Amazon or the burnt orange jumper from Great Aunt Maud that made them look like they were coming down with something fatal.
13. Once you have taken the first vital steps to kicking the clutter habit and you realise how rewarding this can be, you may want to continue with the process or indeed branch out into life itself. Think of how you would benefit if you eliminated toxic relationships, unhelpful behaviours, thinking patterns that no longer served you well, or that negative inner voice that sometimes stops you from making changes and embracing exciting opportunities? You can apply your action plan to these areas too and make similar headway with your internal clutter.