How long will it take me to unclutter and organize?

I’m often asked how long it will take to complete an organizing task: organizing a garage, a kitchen, a closet, an office, etc. As with almost everything related to organizing, the only honest answer I can provide is, “It depends.” And it depends on a number of factors.

How much stuff is currently in the spaces you want to organize?

Rooms of the same size and same basic purpose may hold drastically different amounts of stuff. Drawers can be stuffed to the brim or only half full. Garages may have been unable to accommodate a car or truck for years or may have plenty of room for vehicles.

What kinds of things are in the spaces?

Papers take a long time to go through, because each paper must be reviewed, and each paper takes very little space. You’re making a decision about each paper the same way you’d make a decision about a shovel, a toaster, or a couch — but you won’t see results as quickly.

Also, sentimental items take a longer time to unclutter because of the emotions involved.

What kind of decision maker are you?

Some people make decisions quickly: Keep that, toss that, donate that. Other people need more time to make their decisions. Someone might want to tell me the story behind an object before deciding on its fate, and that’s perfectly normal and understandable.

How long can you reasonably work at an organizing task?

When organizing, you want to avoid both physical and emotional fatigue. Uncluttering involves making one decision after another, and you want to avoid decision fatigue — because that’s when you’re likely to make decisions you may regret later. If you find yourself dreading one more “keep or not” choice or your body is getting uncomfortable, take a break or just decide you’ve done enough for the day.

How many people need to be involved in the decisions?

If you live alone and can make all the uncluttering and organizing decisions, things are likely to go more quickly than if multiple people need to agree on the decisions — especially if the people involved have different organizing styles and will need to reach compromises.

What do you want your final organized space to look like?

A number of your organizing choices will affect the time required. For example:

If you’re organizing a new kitchen, do you want to put down shelf liner first? If so, it will take longer than if you decide you don’t need shelf liner.

Do you want all your books organized in a very specific order? If so, that will take longer than if you just want them in general categories.

How do you want to dispose of unwanted items?

The organizing project isn’t really done until the items you aren’t keeping are no longer in your space. If you want to sell them, that’s likely to take longer than if you choose to donate them. But very specific donation goals can take time, too. I know people who have kept things around for months because they wanted to donate them to a specific charity’s once-a-year garage sale.

Unless you need to clear out a space quickly, I’d generally advise working at whatever speed feels most comfortable to you. Once you’ve begun the process, and see how much time it’s taking you to do parts of it, you’ll have a decent idea how long it might take to do the rest.

8 Comments for “How long will it take me to unclutter and organize?”

  1. posted by Dorothy on

    How long did it take you to collect all the stuff?

    The clutter didn’t happen in an hour, so it will take some time to get rid of it.

  2. posted by Simon Ponder on

    It takes no time at all to acquire the stuff. I find it can be help full to just do one room. make that one room perfect. Get rid of everything I can. Then move on to the next room.

  3. posted by Lisa on

    Rome wasn’t built in a day. You have to learn decluttering, if you didn’t learn it growing up. As you learn, you will be able to make faster decisions. Somewhere, probably here, I read that clutter is delayed decision-making.
    I learned to declutter by watching it on TV, on Clean Sweep, and have taught my kids, by cleaning their rooms with them, instead of for them.

  4. posted by momof3 on

    4 years ago my best friend was moved out of her hoarded house for financial reasons. IT was as bad as you see on some TV shows about hoarders…no animals tho! Her younger sister arranged for my friend to move into a condo closer to her. I was asked to come and help pack for the move. #1, the clutter and hoard was immense, and #2, my friend was so overcome with grief about being MADE to move. The sister was matter of fact with my friend. The house was in serious need of much up keep…new roof, tuck pointing around the entire exterior, new paint, new back basement entry door…etc. My friend could no longer afford the real estate taxes either! So….in I go to help. The sister has us put things into to two categories….what is NEEDED for life in the condo (kitchen, bath, bedroom and living room). All other STUFF was boxed up (yes…even some garbage in my eyes and mind) and put in a storage facility, to be sorted box by box once in the condo. AS of today, my friend has refused to sort thru any box being stored, at her expense. The sister was willing to go the storage facility once a week and bring over 7 boxes to the condo…one box a day. SO,…..for some, hoarding never goes away. SADLY, my friend is now in hospice care at the sister’s house and when my friend does finally succumb to her illness….the sister has told me all the boxes in storage will simply be tossed away, because she packed ALL the boxes with my help, and the sister’s kids help. Saved all the “good” stuff for life in the condo, so the sister knows that all the boxes are just “junk”. There is also the mother’s 1960’s car, my friend was keeping, because it was it her mom’s….never any money to restore it.

  5. posted by Her from There on

    I can answer the paperwork one. I have a LOT of paper. Children’s school work that was worthy of being kept for looking back on when they’re older, reports, medical records, insurance papers, work information and so on. Over the last few years its gotten very messy in my filing cabinets as I was just shoving things in folders to keep them together and not adopting any real system. Finally my oldest has finished high school and my sense of chasing my tail ended at the same time. He has learning issues and had 5 tutoring sessions a week, plus all his other appointments and the need for us to sit on him while he did his work because he would get distracted and wander off. Add to that me having a brain tumour removed 2 years ago and the extended recovery time getting over the surgeries and transitional slower capacity etc, and life has been a bit hectic.

    Over our long summer holidays, I tipped ALL of the swing folders from the two filing cabinets and the contents of any bags or boxes containing papers onto my dining room table (we have other places to eat, like the breakfast bar and an outside table since it’s summer here). Over the next 5 days I took over the adjoining lounge room as well. There the papers stayed while I sorted them into ‘like groups’. No order within that, just groups – like birth certificates, swimming records, insurance of any sort, etc. Once the groups were sorted into piles, the process of putting them into swing folders with TAGS on them (how did I not think of something so simple?) began. Then I could decide if they all belonged together or if they needed to be split further (car insurance, house insurance, superannuation etc). I even ended up with a ‘randoms’ file, because there were a few things I knew I needed to have but they didn’t fit any other category. I also found files with an expandable bottom, which I used to put things like cards I want to keep while I’m waiting to scrapbook them. Nothing will fall out of those, so they’re great.

    After a long and tiring seven days, I had 5 drawers of completely organised files. During the process I also put quite a bit of paper in the recycling after determining it was no longer needed. Then I re-sorted the folders so that things I need to keep but will not go through often are in one drawer, and the things I will need to access the most are closest to my desk. All the other files are hung in like groups, so someone else going through the drawers would find them easily. I feel brilliant and relaxed knowing I no longer have to pull out all the files and go through them to find the papers that I need. I’m also very proud of myself for doing it all, although if someone had offered to do it for me, I wouldn’t have said no.

  6. posted by Kristen on

    I’ll let you know when I get there…39 years and counting.

  7. posted by Vikas Kashyap on

    It requires no investment at all to gain the stuff. I discover it can be enable full to simply to complete one room. make that one room consummate. Dispose of all that I can. At that point proceed onward to the following room.

  8. posted by SkiptheBS on

    I recently finished a postmortem cleanup. I use the biggest garbage can available and Rubbermaid or other bins. Paperwork is separated out for breaks. I start at the wall nearest the front door or opposite it–whichever is most cluttered–and work my way around. Once the trash is out of the way, possessions can be organized by category. This system works well in any kind of cleanup; cardboard boxes can sub for plastic but it is possible to bring bugs in with boxes. Paperwork with its attendant hassles is ideal for sedentary time. I allow eight hours teardown time on a seriously cluttered room but often it’s less. Reorganizing is far less trouble, especially after carpet cleaning and wall washing.

    Paperwork has its own unique challenges but I heartily recommend a ScanSnap and paper files and folders matched to computer file and folder names. Sounds simple but you would be astonished at the variance between digital and analog filing systems.

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