My first decluttering project was the linen cupboard. It was full to overflowing. I mainly used what was on the top. Putting stuff away was a delicate game of linen Jenga. One day, I took the plunge and pulled everything out. Over a couple of nap times I went through the lot. There was stuff in there I didn’t realise I had, stuff I’d never use, stuff it was time to pass along.
The result was fantastic. I knew what I had and could actually get to it all. Linen Jenga was no longer required. It was life-changing. Well, maybe not quite, but I loved the result. I wanted to do this to my whole house – now!
And then something happened. A tragedy that eventually befalls all parents of young children – my son, then two and a half, ceased napping. My child, who’d reliably slept a solid 90 minutes in the middle of the day (even during the neighbours building work), gave up napping cold turkey. Stuck in the house, during naps was the ideal opportunity to declutter. Without it, what was I going to do?
My initial reaction was defeat. I can’t declutter with him at my feet, I may as well give up. But I didn’t want to give up, I could see the benefits and I wanted more, damn it.
Once I adjusted to the new normal – a toddler constantly awake and by my side for 12 hour stretches – I came back to decluttering with a different approach. With time, I found a new way that worked for me despite the unsolicited “help” and constant interruptions. I learnt to grab pockets of time, no matter how small, to make progress.
Since then, I’ve decluttered thousands of things from our home. The 1000th thing I decluttered last year were the quotes to extend our house. We no longer felt like we needed more house, we were happy with less stuff instead. That really was life-changing.
Tips for decluttering with small children
- Think small
Only attempt jobs you can complete in one go. Remember, you can’t get five minutes alone in the bathroom. Decluttering your home is going to need baby steps. One kitchen drawer – emptied, sorted, clutter removed, cleaned and reinstated – that’s good progress. Much better than having a sea of half-sorted Tupperware sitting on the table for a week before you give up and shove it all back in the cupboards again. Set yourself decluttering tasks that you can realistically achieve in 15 minutes or less.
- Get bang for your buck
You have limited time and energy, so make it count. You could spend hours going through boxes of your childhood memorabilia, but will it simplify things for you day-to-day? No. Prioritise the stuff that matters. On a daily basis, you’ll get the most bang for your buck from decluttering:
- under your kitchen sink
- your bathroom cupboard
- your junk drawer (s)
- where the plastic containers breed
- your linen cupboard
- where you dump stuff when you come in the door.
- Declutter as you go
This is great if you’ve got no time, or are overwhelmed by where to start. Incorporate decluttering into everyday chores. When putting socks away, grab any holey ones. When hanging up clothes, grab any you know you’ll never wear. Scan the bathroom cupboard for anything out of date when putting medicines back. Create an outbox – a box somewhere in the house where you gather these things that are destined to go. When your outbox is full, give the stuff a quick sort and get rid of it. The great thing about this approach is that clears the clutter from the areas of your home you use the most.
- Don’t forget disposal
If sorting your stuff isn’t bad enough, now you’ve got to actually get rid of it. This is often where things fall down. Think about how you can dispose of your excess stuff. Can you sell it or donate it? Who will you donate it to? How will you get it there? What can you recycle? These are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself as you dispose of your excess stuff. Make some rules of thumb and set up boxes for each disposal method so you can sort as you go. When my son was a toddler I got rid of our stuff mainly through a weekly drop-off to a charity shop that I did on my way to grocery shopping, giving stuff away via Facebook groups (people collected the stuff from me), using the clothing bin next to my son’s kindy, kerbside recycling and rubbish collections. I found a way that worked in around our existing activities.
- Go crazy for a weekend
If you’re more of a hare than a tortoise, you’re moving, your mother-in-law is coming to stay, or you want your stuff gone now for any other reason, devote a weekend to it. In her book Unstuffed, Ruth Soukup includes a step-by-step plan for a weekend long decluttering marathon. Essentially, from Friday evening through to Sunday afternoon, her method breaks your day into 90 minute chunks, each focusing on a different area of your home. I haven’t tried it myself, but I have read it and it looks doable.
What’s your biggest struggle with decluttering? How do you fit it in around your family?