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When getting started on a decluttering, organising or a tidying up project, it’s hard to know where to start, right? It’s the number one question everyone wants answers to “How and where do I start?”. Not knowing the place to start is also the biggest reason for procrastination. This essential guide to getting started aims to give you the answers.

What is the difference between decluttering, organising and tidying up?

Before we begin with any of the steps it’s important to be aware of the differences between these. It will make a big impact on how to start your project.

First I’d like to share with you my definitions of clutter, disorganisation and tidy. These are the working definitions I created as a Professional Organiser, which will hopefully give you more clarity about your next step in the project.

CLUTTER – Is anything that fills up space in your life that doesn’t match who you truly are and want to be.

DISORGANISATION – Is anything that causes chaotic environments that limit who you truly are and want to be.

TIDY – To put things back in an orderly way, to make something neat and orderly.

From these definitions you see how they affect different areas of your home, spaces and life. For example, you have piles of loose paperwork on your desk, which would you start with? You can start tidying up the paperwork but it’s only effectively if you have the paperwork system set up in the environment. Also if much of the paperwork is out of date you could be tidying up items you’d be better off decluttering. 

Why it’s essential to know the steps for decluttering, organising and tidying up before starting?

Have you ever started an organising project only to feel like you’re getting nowhere? The main reason for this has a lot to do with using the right process for the situation, as I mentioned in the example above.

Tidying up has a different process and purpose than organising does. Organising also needs to have it’s process separate from decluttering, so that the organising makes sense.

It’s a lot like wanting to bake a cake. The main ingredients used for baking a cake, brownies, cookies and muffins are the same. Although the mixing order you choose, the baking container you use and the temperature of the oven will in the end decide for you if it’s a cake or something completely different.

So stay with me, I’ll explain the essential steps for Decluttering, Organising and Tidying in just a bit.

How to choose the method that suits you and your goal.

Over the last decade I’ve seen a fair few decluttering and organising trends claiming to be the one way to solve the issue. To be completely honest (and I have to be, I can’t help it), there is no ONE way that works for everyone!

The method of decluttering, organising and tidying up which will work for you depends on a multitude of factors:

  1. How you like to process information.
  2. The way you interact with your surroundings.
  3. Your lifestyle and working style preferences.
  4. What motivates or demotivates you.
  5. Habits, behaviours and beliefs that support you or get in your way.

Choosing your goal for the project will play an equally important role. The end goal will affect the method you choose, as well as it’s success. 

A great place to start with choosing your goal is to use something visual, like “My goal is to have all my books fit into one bookshelf by the end of the month.” A lot of us are visually inspired so this could be a great place to start. We seem to believe what we see more than what we can’t, like the absence of papers on the floor.

The essential steps to decluttering.

Use these steps as a guide to your decluttering project. Having a process when decluttering helps you feel in control. You’ll have a better chance of staying on track and letting go.

  1. Choose just one area to declutter and stick to it. Even a drawer or a box is enough to start.
  2. Set up a sorting zone – Give Away, Sell, Recycle and Rubbish.
  3. Work with your energy and concentration levels. If focusing is difficult or you get bogged down in detail set yourself a timer for short sprints of sorting.
  4. Remove all unwanted items out of sight immediately after the sorting session is done.

The essential steps for organising.

By now you’d realise that to start organising the decluttering process must come first. Only when you can see the total items to organise can you make the process work for you. I recommend starting your organising project on the area of your life that’ll receive the biggest improvement in the shortest amount of time.

Steps to Organise Anything

  1. Start with the end in mind. Write down what you need from this organised space? Look at all the details and determine what’s most important to you.
  2. Group items into categories that speak to your logic and the logic of the people using the space. The biggest trap I see people falling into is over categorising. Doing that can cause as much disorganisation and no categories.
  3. Find the right storage for the space, items and the people using them. I’m pretty sure, like most of us, you’ve seen a great organising tool or funky storage idea at the shop and thought, “Yes! This will solve the chaos.” Next, you set it up and realise it isn’t working like you hoped. That’s because we don’t have a clear idea of the number of items needing to be organised, or the best space for it to live, or how the items get used with other related items.
  4. Labels are the most under rated organising tool. They don’t have to be expensive or fancy to perform the absolutely crucial role they play. Don’t overlook labeling for a minute, it will pay you back in hundreds of hours and dollars no matter what you’re organising.

The essential steps for tidying up.

Tidying up is the important maintenance step of decluttering and organising. Because let’s face it, we can’t live in a show home 24hrs a day. Even the most organised work space or office has to pull out materials, digital files and information to do good work. Tidying up is the process to keep on top of all your wonderful decluttering and organising work.

  1. Get to know your tidying energy style. Are you full of vigor in the morning and hit a slump in the evenings? Then you’d be on my team. I don’t mind admitting that I’ll go to bed with a few dishes in the sink, the living room sprawled with bits and pieces of sewing, dance gear or whatever else I was up to that night. But that’s okay, because first thing I spend 10 mins whipping around the house before going for a sunrise walk. Figure out when you have the best energy for tidying up.
  2. Develop a routine that you love. Tidying up works best when it’s a natural part of the day and week. Before it becomes a habit you’ll need to work out the cycle of tidying in the main areas of your life. The regularity of the cycle will depend on your goals, lifestyle and processing style. I show you how to set up routines like this in my free eBook “The Truth About Habits, Routines and Schedules.”

How to ask for help from friends and family on your project.

A big part of starting any project that affects a group of people is getting them on board. The other side of getting help is when the job is just too big for you to do on your own. Having some structures around requesting help is the answer.

Use these points to ask for help: 

  1. Make a list of the people who will be affected by changes to the space. You may even want to subdivide the list into different levels of impact it will have.
  2. How will these people be impacted both negatively and positively. Write a detailed list for all the aspects you can think of.
  3. Before asking for their help decide on some ground rules while working on the project. Some of the ground rules could be:
    • Items going into the rubbish need my okay first.
    • If I get upset or overwhelmed I’d like you to (insert action here).
    • When deciding on organising systems the person who uses the area most has the right to have last say on how it works.
  4. Give the request a time frame of when you need help and how long for. By setting expectations both you and your helpers will be able to plan ahead and manage energy levels. This type of work can become exhausting and emotional, don’t loose friends or family under the strain.

How to decide to work with an Organising Coach or Professional Organiser.

Having friends and family to support you on your project is wonderful but it can come at a cost. For this and many other reasons people often chose to work with a Professional Organiser or Organising Life Coach.

Some other reasons are:

  • expertise in dealing with letting go of clutter that is compassionate and non-judgmental.
  • get a non-biased objective partner to work with.
  • ability to transfer organising and time management skills.
  • an organising coach partners with you for a deeper understanding of your strengths and what works for you.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself to help you decide if this option is for you. Grab a notebook and write your answers:

  1. This project I want to tackle has been affecting me for ____ months or years.
  2. Areas of my home, life and career that are being affected are ______. These could be things like; relationships, finances, wasting time, missing out on opportunities, a good environment for my children to learn and grow, ability to connect with loved ones in my home, mental wellness, general health and well-being, creativity and what ever else you have experienced.
  3. The time and energy I have to dedicate to this project is______.
  4. I want to make a permanent change to _______ so I can ______.
  5. The strategies I’ve tried in the past but haven’t stuck with are: (write any you can think of)
  6. I know I am ready to make a change now because_______.

Making a start on decluttering, ogansing, tidying up and pulling it all together.

Fantastic, you made it! Well done on getting to this point. Because you know what? You’ve already started just by being here.

I hope you’ve now found that place to start on your next decluttering, organising or tidying up project.

If you get stuck or procrastination starts to set in come back to this guide for inspiration and direction. Absolutely, if I can be of help you know how to find me plus you can take a look through the blog for specific organising, decluttering and productivity tips.

Leave your questions and comments below, I’d love to support you on your journey.

Infinite peace and gratitude always,