10 suggestions for where to begin uncluttering

If you’ve got a large uncluttering effort ahead of you, one of your questions may be “Where do I start?” There’s no one right answer, but the following are some ideas for where to begin your project.

  1. Start where you’ll save money. Are you renting a storage unit (or more than one)? Each unit you can let go of will save you money, and give you that immediate satisfaction of a completed project. You’ll also get a savings if you can move from a larger unit to a smaller one.
  2. Start with the attic, basement, or garage. Sometimes when you’re uncluttering a space like a bedroom or a kitchen, you’ll find things that don’t really need to be close at hand, and which could be stored without concern in one of these less accessible spots. But if the attic, basement and garage are already filled, there’s no room to store anything else in these spaces.
  3. Start with the place that bothers you the most. Is there a cluttered place you see every day, and every day it drives you crazy? You may want to start there. You’ll gain momentum for other projects without this big frustration looming over you.
  4. Start with the quick wins. Do you have things you can unclutter relatively easily, such as old baby clothes when your last child has outgrown them? You might want to start there and see immediate progress, before tackling areas that will be harder for you.
  5. Start with your own stuff. If you’re living with other family members or roommates who are skeptical about uncluttering, you may want to start with the things that are purely your own. Lead by example.
  6. Start with areas that benefit the whole family. If you’re living with family members who are more uncluttered than you are, you may want to work on common areas to acknowledge your interest in creating a better space for all of you.
  7. Start where the weather makes it easy. If you have a nice sunny day that’s not too warm, it may be a good time to work in the garage. If you’re in the middle of a heat wave, you’ll want to work in a room where you can stay reasonably cool.
  8. For papers, start with the current stuff. The current piles of paper are likely to be more important than the old ones; they are where you’ll find the bills you need to pay, notices about events you want to attend, etc.
  9. For papers, start with the old filing cabinets. But maybe your current papers aren’t a burning issue, in which case you may want to clear out the old filing cabinets first, to provide room for new papers to be filed. This is similar to the idea of starting with the garage, attic, or basement.

    And even though unsorted paper clutter is inherently slow to go through, sorted papers can sometimes provide a quick win. I’ve tossed bunches of file folders full of reference material when I realized the information was outdated, and I could find everything I needed online. Or you may find filing cabinets full of things like old utility bills, which, upon reflection, you find you have no reason to keep.

  10. Start anywhere. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter where you start — simply that you do. Pick an area at random, on impulse. Or write down each cluttered area on a slip of paper, place the papers in a hat, and pull one out.

13 Comments for “10 suggestions for where to begin uncluttering”

  1. posted by Jennifer on

    Thanks for all of the great tips!!!

  2. posted by Grace on

    If I stub my toe, leg or any other body part on my Christmas decorations box still sitting in my Living Room I may scream.

  3. posted by June on

    Excellent advice, as always, Jeri!

  4. posted by Casey Bannon on

    Great pointers! This list is a must for everyone to know. I will consider these tips in my Dallas office space.

  5. posted by Kramii on

    I especially appreciate the idea starting with your own stuff, and how this can help with the sceptics. Personally, I’ve found that I get most benefit from tackling the outbound stuff first, by which I mean the stuff that just doesn’t belong in my house any more. Then I go on to the high-traffic areas. I’ve published my own take on this a little while ago at http://marksinthesand.com/2012/05/15/unclog-life/. I hope it proves useful to someone.

  6. posted by Kristin Turberville Haffey on

    Old filing cabinets!
    I’m so excited — after several YEARS of having this bin of “stuff to be filed” sitting next to my filing cabinet, I can proudly say that I finished going through it yesterday. Everything is filed! And other stuff is shredded. Sure, I need to go through some of the older stuff that was already in there, but at least I know where everything is now. :)

  7. posted by Her from There on

    Well done Kristin. I’m trying to achieve the same so I can imagine it feels delightful to have reached that goal. :)

  8. posted by Anna on

    I would add a #11:
    Start with surface clutter. Get rid of dated or themed decor, and sit abouts you don’t even see anymore because they’ve sat there so long.

    A little off topic, but: I’m in the process of decluttering and streamlining my utility closets and cabinets. I’ve searched the web high and low for a minimalist list of cleaning supplies to use as a loose guideline. I’ve used the search function on this blog to find old articles but I’m coming up empty. I’d appreciate a link if an article comes to mind. Thanks!

  9. posted by Marlene on

    Excellent advice. I usually start projects with clients by asking where it bothers them most (#3), but I like the idea of looking at what will save them money first!

  10. posted by Helena on

    Wonderful tips for de cluttering, Jeri!

  11. posted by WilliamB on

    Anna – You can minimize the different cleaning supplies you use by going home-made and natural, and deciding if you really need a specialized cleaner. Here are some I use. You’ll see there’s a lot of overlap in the ingredients.

    Fruit Cleaner: dilute white vinegar-water solution.
    Counter Cleaner: stronger white vinegar-water solution, experimenting w/ adding a bit of Borax.
    Laundry Detergent: bar soap, Borax, washing soda.
    Scrubbing Agent: baking soda.
    Window Cleaner: ammonia, dish soap, water; some people use vinegar and water.

  12. posted by Anna on

    Thanks, WilliamB. And now I must confess that I actually do make all of my products. I even wildcraft my laundry soap. In fact, I’m scheduled to speak in October at our local state park on using homemade products. I started making my own a little over a decade ago, when I read the book “Queen of Clean”, and a few years later when I opened an herbal bath apothecary, I really went over the top, lol.

    What I’d like is some sort of minimalist product lineup. I recently browsed the cleaning supply aisle in Target for inspiration. Oh, my. Method, for example, had a wood spray that is pretty much only for your kitchen table. And just like grocery stores have a product for each thing that needs cleaning, there are from-scratch recipes out there for every little thing you could clean as well- and usually more than one.

    By your list though, you have a scrubbing agent, a laundry detergent, window cleaner, counter cleaner, veggie wash. You might also have something for floors and dusting. Do you change formulas up for dishes, or toilets etc?

    I guess that is what I’m really after, is info on which products will serve double or triple duty. If I have to use less or more depending on the task, no problem, but I’d like the ratios and recipe to be the same.

    We just had marble tile put in our bathroom and marble rules out common cleaners like vinegar or bar keepers friend. As I was about to start researching yet another recipe- I thought instead I would try to figure out a few tried and true all-purpose cleaners.

  13. posted by WilliamB on

    Wow, Anna, that’s awesome. I wish I knew how to make soap. No, that’s not quite accurate. I wish I had someone to walk me through the process in person. I have 2 tubs of lard even, just waiting to be put to good use. (From buying pastured pork in bulk.) Well, someday.

    Those five, plus Murphy’s Oil Soap for wood floors and dish soap for dishes, are what I use.

    I think your best bet for even more overlap is the vinegar/water solution. If you find a proportion that works for you, you could cover the trifecta of fruit spray, surface spray and windows.

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