“I feel paralyzed.”

“I don’t know where to start.”

“I’m so overwhelmed.”

Can you join with the countless number of people who utter these words in regards to how they feel when looking at their clutter? Is there so much stuff that you don’t know where to start so you just stare at it and walk away defeated? Are there so many places that you can’t make a decision on where to start?

Today I want to give you a place to start. At the end of this post you will also find a few short questions to help you pin point your next area to work on.

Let’s start with a bookshelf. I’m going to walk you through just what I would do in-person with a client. These will be broad strokes as I can’t ask you questions about specific items like I would if I were with you but everything else will be right here.

First, why a bookshelf? A bookshelf is usually already mostly laid out for you, either having nothing hidden, or just one layer behind another allowing you to see almost everything on it at one time. You’ll see the importance of that as we keep going.

The first thing I do in organizing is the prep work. We choose an area, gather our supplies, and clear off a space to work on. Our area is a bookshelf and because of it’s layout we will get to use the shelf as part of our work space. You will still want to clear off a table or bed to work on as well. For supplies, you will want a trash bag for trash, boxes for donating, and a smaller bag for your walkabout. A walkabout is for those items that you want to keep but don’t belong in the area you are working on. For example, a hair tie in the silverware drawer. You want it but it belongs in the bathroom, not the kitchen.

The next thing we will do is sort. This is in a few stages and with our bookshelf will go more quickly that other areas. Usually you would take everything off of/out of the space but since we have this beautiful space to clearly see your books, we will leave the books at first. Anything that is not a book will come off of the bookshelf and be put on your work space. If you’re feeling like your declutter muscles are strong, go ahead and sort as you bring things down. If not, pull it off and then sort like with like. If your declutter muscles are super strong, go ahead and toss or donate some things. Hold off on what you are keeping until you have everything off of the shelf (except the books) and sorted.

Once everything except the books are off of the shelf and are sorted. Turn back to your books. If you have children’s books mixed in with cookbooks, novels, and text books, go ahead and do some sorting there depending on your preferences.

With everything sorted like with like, you can start the decluttering process. This involves making a decision on each item – keep, toss, or donate. Start with the items that aren’t book then move over to your books. A few questions you may want to ask yourself: Do I like this book? Is this book still useful? Does this item belong on the bookshelf or somewhere else in the house? Put those “keeps” that aren’t books or specific items for decoration on the bookshelf in the walkabout bag (oh and if this bookshelf isn’t in the kitchen, book your cookbooks in the walkabout and take them to the kitchen.) Don’t worry about organizing anything just yet. Give yourself the freedom to just make the decision on if you are keeping it or not.

Now that you know what you want to keep (all of these items should still be on your work space and/or bookshelf with no order necessarily), what you are donating (all of these items should be in a bag or box ready to be donated), and what you are throwing out (all of these items should be in trash bags) you can think about organizing. A bookshelf is a great place to start for this reason as well. 90-100% of the items on a bookshelf should be books. If you don’t have enough books to fill the shelf it will be lower of course. Let’s say it’s 90% books for our discussion here. Put your books in an order on the shelves that make sense to you for easy reference. Do you prefer to find a book by author or title or subject? Do you have children’s books that need easy access to little ones? If so, those would be good on the bottom shelf. There is no right or wrong here, just preference. Don’t overthink it. The other 10% is likely decoration like a keepsake or framed photo. Arrange these in a way that doesn’t overcrowd the shelves and is pleasing to your eye.

Just when you thought you were done… you need to actually finish your project. Do your walkabout. Put the trash in the trash can. Put your donations in your car and drive them to their destination.

You did it! You went from not being able to make a decision to finishing an area! Fantastic!

Don’t worry, here are those questions I promised you. Your answers will help you to determine which area to work on next.

  1. What area overwhelms you the most?
  2. What area would give you a “win” and the courage to keep going?
  3. What area seems the easiest to tackle? Hardest? (depending on what type of personality you have you might want to start with the easiest or the hardest)
  4. What area can friend, spouse, sibling, child, etc help you with?

You can do it and if you ever want someone to come along and help, bring in a professional! I’d be happy to be that person.

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