Book Review: Decluttering at the Speed of Life

It’s been a while since I did a post on decluttering and minimalism, and I am so excited to give a rave review of Dana K. White’s book Decluttering at the Speed of Life. I downloaded it using the Hoopla app (which lets you use your library card to borrow six titles per month for FREE) and listened on my commute.

I’ve been through some stuff lately, y’all. I am moving for the second time in seven months. When I packed up and moved out of my ex-husband’s house, I realized that I was barely taking up space in that house. I’d pack my items up in each room and look at what was left behind, bewildered that it looked essentially the same. I had been trying to take up space for four years and though I’d hung art on the walls and organized the Pyrex containers the way I liked them, it never really felt like home.

With this move, I was determined to take up space and make my apartment a true home for myself filled with joy. I made a reading nook corner that I never used, I found the perfect chair at the Habitat for Humanity Store that I never sat in, and I used an air mattress as a couch because screw giant furniture. And I was happy there. Until I decided to move again ahead of schedule as part of Operation De-Stress.

Turns out, I still had stuff I didn’t use, need, or even want. Like the two sets of towels I received as wedding gifts that are still in their packaging. We got married over two years ago. Plus, some of the cute towels I bought when I moved in aren’t all that absorbent despite the fact that they match my bathroom theme. They’re in the donate box now. LuLaRoe clothing that I held onto for their resale value are just in the donate box. The white linen skirt I wore at my wedding, which I had planned to use in some piece of inspired transformative artwork, is in the donate box.

Because, hold up, this book has changed my life.

First of all, Dana K. White is the author of the blog A Slob Comes Clean, which started as an anonymous “practice blog” where she could confess her dirty house secrets. But then it turned out that a ton of other people related to her clutter woes and she ended up building a huge following and brand and I’ve consumed her books Decluttering at the Speed of Life and How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind.

You should read these books if you have a messy home that you feel like you can never get out from under. Right now. Find them.

Here are the things Dana has taught me:

  1. The Visibility Rule: Start your decluttering project in the most visible places in your home. Where do you enter your home (and where do guests enter)? Look at your home as if you are a visitor and start decluttering the most obvious spaces. Clear your “slob vision” by looking at your home through new eyes.
  2. Don’t Pull Everything Out: I used to postpone decluttering because I wanted to go in KonMari style and do whole categories at a time. But I have other stuff to do, and I don’t always have the time or energy or wherewithal to pile every piece of clothing I own on the bed, touch it, and ask if it brings me joy. Dana helped me understand that I can declutter effectively without this en masse approach.
  3. The Container Concept and One In One Out: This is something I actually had done before, in my earliest days on the blog. I had a small bookshelf and decided I’d only keep the books that fit. The bookshelf was my container. But this method died a quick and painful death when I moved in with my “collector” ex, who had shelves upon shelves upon totes upon totes of books, technology, toys, hobby equipment, and clothes. And he was a shover. I cannot stand shoving. If a drawer is too full to close and needs shoved, there is a problem. Dana’s book reminded me that if there’s shoving, it’s time to remove something until the container is actually containing things.
  4. Start with Trash and Easy Stuff: Dana’s decluttering steps are so simple and obvious, I feel ridiculous that I never did it her way before. When you’re in your most visible space, start by throwing away or recycling the trash. Then look for Easy Stuff, things that obviously don’t belong in this space. Then…
  5. Take It There Right Now: Get rid of your Easy Stuff by putting it in its proper place as soon as you pick it up. Also, as you’re decluttering, ask yourself “Where would I look for this first?” and take it there RIGHT NOW. (MIND BLOWING – No “Keep” Boxes allowed).
  6. Donate the “Almost Perfect:” This one hit me so hard. If there’s something you keep around but don’t tend to use because you don’t like one thing about it, it’s time to say goodbye. This is what helped me let go of a super cute dress that didn’t fit right in the bust, as well as the aforementioned not-super-absorbent-but-really-cute towels. But now all my towels fit on one shelf in the linen closet with no more shoving!

There’s plenty more, but I really seriously want you to read her book. Also, she has a podcast. I am gonna die of excitement.

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How to Purge Your House: By Category

how to declutter your house by category

Last week we talked about how to purge and declutter your house by going through each room and completing it before moving onto the next room.

Another option to declutter your home is to purge by category. This means you gather up all related items from the entire house and sort them all at once, then put them back in their respective homes.

Pros and cons of the category method

I personally dislike this option because it requires a lot of running back and forth between rooms and gives you opportunities to miss items that might be hidden away or stored somewhere. This is a way for distractions to take hold, if you happen to notice something that needs dealt with while you are moving from room to room gathering items.

However, this is a good option if you happen to have your clothing or other items in multiple rooms or closets because it helps you understand how much “clutter” you are dealing with in a certain category.

For example, I have a pair of boots by the back door, 3-4 pairs of shoes in my bedroom closet, and a couple pairs of shoes in the coat closet. For me to look at any one of these locations, it would seem like a decent amount of shoes, but when I get them all together, it is clear that I need to pare down my shoe collection.

If we were to amass all of the books in our home in one place, we would probably collapse a hole in the floor. Maybe we won’t declutter those by category. You know, for structural integrity’s sake.

Declutter categories

Potential categories for this purging method include:

  • Accessories
  • Bags
  • Blankets and bedding
  • Books
  • Car related items
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Clothing
  • Craft supplies
  • Cutlery and kitchen utensils
  • Dishes
  • Disposable items
  • Electronics
  • First aid supplies
  • Food
  • Furniture
  • Games
  • Jewelry
  • Magazines
  • Makeup and toiletries
  • Medicines
  • Movies
  • Office supplies
  • Pictures
  • Purses
  • Shoes
  • Spare parts and hardware
  • Spices
  • Tools
  • Towels and washcloths
  • Toys

You can, of course, go by categories that make sense for you, especially if you have a collection or hobby not listed, such as photography (cameras, lenses, other goodies!) or baseball cards, etc.

How to declutter by category

The steps for decluttering by category are essentially the same as decluttering by room.

  1. Begin by clearing a space for your stuff, such as a bed, table, or floor.
  2. Gather all items throughout the house in the category and bring them to the central sorting location.
  3. Evaluate all items, asking the same questions listed in the previous method – have you used or do you plan to use the item in a month, three months, six months, twelve months? Do you love it? Does it belong?
  4. Sort your items into donate/sell/trash/keep boxes.
  5. Take the trash out, take the donations to an organization, put the sell stuff into a designated space, and put the “keep” stuff away.
  6. Continue to the next item category on your list.

Which sounds best for your particular situation – decluttering by room or by category? Tell us all about it in the comments.

How To Purge Your House: Room by Room

Declutter house part one

For a lot of people, minimalism jumps upon them swiftly when they look around and suddenly wake up to the fact that they’re surrounded by unneeded stuff. For others, they take a slower approach.

I find that the quick and dirty process gives much better results and helps you stick with it long term, because you put in all your effort in one huge push of time, energy, and sweat, and you do it while focusing on the fact that your goal is to have LESS STUFF. You go from being a person of stuff to a person of less stuff, rather than saying “Oh I’m working on decluttering!” for a year at a time, all the while still accumulating more stuff.

(I feel the same way about dietary changes. Don’t hem and haw about reducing your sugar intake by grams per day… just cut it out and bask in the glory of a better life).

There are a few methods of purging your home – this post will focus on how to purge and declutter room by room.

Purge Your Home By Room

Purging your home by room is just what it says – you go one room at a time and complete the decluttering process on the entire room. I like this method for a few reasons:

  1. It saves time – you do not have to go around finding things from multiple rooms. You just do the room you’re in.
  2. It is intuitive – you can work throughout your house in an order that makes sense to you, either top to bottom, clockwise by room, do bathrooms then bedrooms, etc.
  3. It is conducive to breaks – you need breaks when you work, and completing an entire room gives you an opportunity to take a break at a meaningful point.
  4. It is easy to chunk – while the best option is to do your entire house in one fell swoop, that isn’t always possible. Decluttering by room gives you a way to complete sections of the house and know where to pick up where you left off.

Begin by making a list of every room in your house, and number them in the order you will complete the decluttering or purging process. Got your list? Ok – let’s do this thing!

Be clear about your goals

Before you begin, take some time to get clear about your goals for decluttering and embracing a more minimalist lifestyle. What do you hope to gain? Here are some ideas:

  • Having a home without clutter will help me feel more at peace.
  • Minimalism will help me prioritize physical and emotional “stuff” in my life.
  • Purging the house on a grand scale will help me move on from an emotional trauma.
  • Not being tied down by so many possessions will allow me to feel free.
  • When I purge my belongings I will be able to pursue a dream.
  • When my home is free of unneeded items, I will be out of excuses and will work on a goal I have been avoiding by hiding behind the mess in my house.
  • Finally accomplishing this task will give me a sense of pride in my home.

Once you have your goals and affirmations clear, you can begin. It may help to write some of these things down so that when you’re halfway through bedroom #2 and you want to crawl on the couch and watch the latest season of Orange is the New Black on Netflix with a bottle of wine and a pint of gelato, you will be able to stay clear on your intentions and power through he process.

12 Steps to Purge a room

  1. Get some boxes, bags, or baskets for sorting items.
  2. Remove everything from all cabinets, drawers, etc. If you’re in the bedroom, empty your closets, dressers, nightstands, and shelves. Nothing is to be in a storage space.
  3. Put all the room’s stuff in a pile on the bed, kitchen table, floor, or other handy flat surface.
  4. Clean cabinets, drawers, etc. This step is optional but you may as well take advantage of the fact that they’re empty and give them a quick wipe down!
  5. Inspect each item carefully. Have you used it in the last month? Three months? Six, nine, or twelve months? Do you PLAN to use it in the next month/six months/year? Is it past an expiration date? Do you love it? Do you use it? Does it belong in this room?
  6. Sort everything. You should sort into the following categories: Keep (in this room), keep (belongs in another room), trash, recycle, donate, sell.
  7. Take the trash and recycling out of the room (or, ideally, out of the house entirely) as you fill bags.
  8. Take “sell” boxes to a designated storage space in your house. Write the date you decluttered the items on the boxes. If you haven’t held the yard sale within 3 months,this stuff goes to Goodwill.
  9. Take “donate” boxes and bags to a donation facility at the end of the day.
  10. If you have truly “undecided” items, put them in a box and mark the date on it. If you do not go looking for the items within 3 months, donate them without opening the box.
  11. For things that belong in another room, take them to the room where they belong (you don’t have to put them away yet, because you’ll be decluttering this room later).
  12. For things that you are keeping in the room you are decluttering, put them away when you have finished sorting.

Repeat these 12 steps for every room you declutter.

I recommend you set aside an entire weekend and devote it entirely to decluttering your house. This type of rapid fire approach leaves little time to second guess yourself.

Decluttering traps

So many things can derail you when you finally get the ball rolling on your decluttering plan. Watch out for these bad boys of the purging process:

  • Sentimental items. I know, it’s hard, but unless you truly cherish and regularly use or gaze upon an item, it is okay to let it go. This is relevant to the inheritance of relatives or even your high school calculus notes. I know some of you have a tote of school stuff in your mom’s basement. Get real. You’re not using it.
  • Gifted items. I always feel like I owe it to a gift giver to keep their gift. It was thoughtful of them to get me something, right? That is true, and it was thoughtful, but try considering that the gift’s true purpose, which was a moment of joy when it passed from gifter to giftee, has already been fulfilled. It is ok to let go of a gift you no longer use or need.
  • Paperwork micromanaging. This one has been my downfall since the dawn of decluttering. You find yourself moving at a good clip and then suddenly – PAPERWORK. I will give you a pass, just this once, to throw all paperwork in a box to be sorted and/or digitized later. Your main goal is to declutter your whole house.
  • Organization containers. These containers exist for one reason: to make hoarding look pretty. There is a time and a place for organizational containers, but you don’t need to make a run to the office supply store in order to achieve your decluttering goals. Focus on moving through the room before you worry about cute ways to store cotton balls and Q-tips.

Get to work! Or, learn more next week.

Does decluttering by room sound like a good method for you? Great! Get to work and tell me how it goes. Or, if you want to learn a different method next week, stick around, because I have more to teach you!

Share any other pitfalls you run into when decluttering and I’ll include them in the next post.

Reverse 100 Things Challenge and a Giveaway

You may recall that I decide to participate in the Reverse 100 Things Challenge, which was to eliminate 100 items by the end of 2012.  I didn’t finish by the end of the year, and I didn’t quite make it to 100, but I’m going to share the list of things that have been either already removed or earmarked for removal in the near future:

  1. DVDs – 10 – Tarzan, Up, Wall-E, and Atlantis have all gone to my sister.  Hot Fuzz, Fat-Burning Kickboxing, Mrs. Doubtfire, Moulin Rouge, Stranger than Fiction, and Too Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar are all still available for adoption. 
  2. Personal care items – 15 – Hair flat iron (given to sister), hair dryer, zipper pouch of hair ties, small bag of Burts Bees items (counting individually would get me more points, but I just counted this as one thing), brown eyeliner (which will be thrown away), shampoo, conditioner, Noxema face cleaner, Avon acne wash, moisturizer (all thrown out), pads and tampons (given away), two brand-new Ban brand deodorants, one unopened box of bar soap, compact folding hairbrush with mirror
  3. Pure Romance items – 13 – I haven’t divulged this tidbit previously, but I used to sell Pure Romance products.  I’ll be posting a blog on one of the major reasons I stopped soon, but in any case, I have at least 13 products, many of which are unopened.  Just in case your kids are reading over your shoulder I won’t say what they are.
  4. Clothing – 15 – three tee shirts, one sarong, one sarong coconut-shell tie clasp, four pairs of underwear, three pairs of gently used brown trouser socks, a four-pack of unworn black trouser socks (used to be a six pack but I wore two pairs!), one pair of pink polka dot socks, one pair of huge pink fuzzy socks
  5. Books – 8 – “Into the Wild,” “Privilege, Power, and Difference,” “Media Psychology” (given to sister), “Linking Workforce Development to Economic Development” (unopened text book… sigh), “The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook,” “Weight Watchers Cook It Quick!” “Weight Watchers Complete Cookbook,” set of two romantic/cute fill-in-the-questions books for a couple
  6. Kitchen items – 2 – Plastic container for snacks with a separate compartment for dip, iced tea maker (brewer and pitcher)
  7. Geeky nerdy items – 5- Star Trek UNO card set, Star Trek lunch box, Bat’leth Klingon sword (stop judging me), rubik’s cube keychain, shoebox of pokemon cards
  8. Miscellaneous – 12 – Coupon organizer, wallet, highlighter, bumper sticker (“Enjoy life, this is not a dress rehearsal”), Willow Tree ornament, booklight, small spray bottle (plastic, never used), UNO card game, personalized (and thus pretty much useless) “Class of 2006” photo album (and several pictures of High School Caitlin), throw pillow, roll of tickets, small pink and yellow box

For a total of 79 items decluttered (or to be decluttered in the near future).

Now for the fun part – I want to incorporate some of these items into a giveaway, but I’m not sure how.  I can’t ship anything very heavy or it will be prohibitively expensive.  Should I offer up a select few items and have people comment for a chance to win? Should I just let my readers pick through the list and say “Oh, hey, I need a wallet!” What do you think?