*This post was updated November 3, 2015.
We’re always searching for “the secret” to solving life’s troubles. Usually, we realize that no matter the solution, we still have to put in the work to see the results we want. If we want to lose weight, we have to exercise and change our eating habits. We can try the treadmill or take up boxing. We can join Jenny Craig or just replace bad snacks with healthy ones. What works for you might not work for me. You’ve heard all this before, yes?
Well, it’s the same with tackling clutter. There are some rules of thumb, but, generally, there’s no right or wrong way to attack clutter. Whatever method you choose, you should implement a strategy that’s a good fit for your personality and learning style so that it will be easier for you to maintain in the long run.
The Clutter Paradox: Contradictions in Clutter Clearing Methods
Here’s a look at opposing ways of clearing clutter. It’s a paradoxical perspective, and depending on your personality and specific circumstances, either option might work.
Where should you start?
1. Start with the hardest thing first.
Start with the most difficult organizing project and your efforts will pay off big. That hard task will get smaller, not seem as daunting, and you’ll cross it off your list sooner. This will be a huge relief since it’s probably been sitting on that list for some time.
2. Start with the easiest thing first.
Start with the easiest task and you’ll get instant gratification! With a small, easy project, you’re likely to finish it on your first attempt AND you’ll cross it off your list immediately. That great feeling of success will motivate you to move on to the next task.
How long should you spend attacking your clutter?
3. Do a little at a time.
This is one of the best methods for reducing clutter – just do ten minutes a day. It may not sound like much, but those ten minutes can go a long way to chopping down the clutter giant. You’ll feel accomplished because you acted on your commitment to getting organized, and still have time to do the things you love to do.
4. Do a lot at a time.
Another great way to manage mountainous clutter is to devote chunks of time to your project. When you’re focused for 45-60 or more minutes (think Konmari — affiliate link), you can make a big dent and see results a lot more quickly. You know yourself best, so be sure to pick a time frame that won’t leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Who is the best person to help you? Someone you know or a professional organizer?
5. Get help from friends and family members.
Friends and family members can be very supportive and help you to physically clear an area, especially if you feed them! They are almost always guaranteed to laugh at those old pictures of you or tease you about your Cabbage Patch Doll collection. =)
This can make the process less tedious, and actually, they may be interested in taking a few things off your hands. After you’re done working, you can go out to celebrate all that you’ve accomplished. As long as loved ones are non-judgmental and focused, the process can go smoothly.
6. Get help from a professional organizer.
Professional organizers, particularly those who adhere to National Association of Professional Organizer’s Code of Ethics, will be non-judgmental and will not share details of your project with others (e.g., “Jane Doe’s home office was a super hot mess! It took hours to clean up!”).
They are also knowledgeable about strategies that complement your learning style and can give you a fresh, objective perspective on how to tackle that thorn in your side. Some organizers may have a network of other professionals needed for the project (e.g., bookkeeper, junk hauler, maid service, etc.) and may help by dropping off donations for you.
Will playing music be helpful or distracting?
7. Play your favorite music.
Having lively music on can help you stay motivated or help you finish your task. Have you noticed that gyms use this same method? When the spinning instructor wants you to go that extra mile, the music gets a bit more upbeat. If you put on your favorite CD, you might be able to pull of #4.
8. Work in silence.
If playing music makes you get up and dance all day instead of organizing, then you may lose a few extra pounds. That’s also the signal that music is a bit too distracting. If you’re at your best in pin-drop silence, then work sans audio – that includes turning off the TV, telephone, and e-mail notifications. You’ll get a lot more done and feel darn good about it.