How to Declutter Without Making a Bigger Mess

How to Declutter Without Making a Bigger Mess at

I get this question/complaint a lot.

I totally understand the frustration since it was MY main frustration with organizing and decluttering before I started this blog.

To answer, I’ll show my current decluttering project.

I used to be all about maniacal decluttering sessions which involved pulling every last thing out of a cluttered space.

Every last thing ended up all over my floor, spreading into a bigger mess than I had before I started.

Since that method rarely/never ended well, I had to come up with a new way.

First, my only decluttering supplies are a donate-able Donate Box (so I don’t have to go back through the things I’ve decided to donate) and a trash can/bag.

No “Keep Box” allowed.

My garage has full-to-the-brim Keep Boxes from years past.

Even worse than a Keep Box is a Keep Pile. Keep Piles caused the most heartache and frustration. WHEN (not if) I got distracted, they morphed into a huge mess that was now in plain sight! Outside of the drawer/closet/cabinet that used to hide the clutter!!

Second, I use my two simple decluttering questions.

The key to not creating a bigger mess comes in the second part of the first question. (The part that isn’t really a question.) It’s also how I avoid the Keep Box/Pile.

The part about “taking it there right now.”

It goes against all Dreams of Efficiency to feel like I’m stopping in the middle of a decluttering project to take one little item across the house, but it’s essential for my distractible personality.

Taking something I’ve decided to keep to its proper home RIGHT NOW means there is no middle of a project.


If I have to stop before I’m finished, I’m automatically at a stopping point because I just need to empty the trash can and put the Donate Box in the Donate Spot.

I may not be totally done with the project, but I’m better off than I was before I started.

Here’s how it worked for me last week.

This corner in my gameroom has been taunting me for over a year now.

Photo - Before Decluttering the Junk Corner at

I pretended it wasn’t noticeable by putting a screen in front of it.

I’m motivated by dreams of having a place to set up my sewing machine (fine . . . one of my two sewing machines) so it can be available for spontaneous sewing projects.

Not that I really know how to sew, but whatever.

My main  goal was to purge. To stick as much as I possibly could in the Donate Box. I knew this stuff had been there for a LONG time. I didn’t know what was buried within the piles. It only made sense that most of it should go.

Gone!! (Things I didn't remember I had) at

I was brutal, but it wasn’t easy. Well, the two-year-old cornflakes and eBay packing slip holders were easy, but the rest wasn’t.

Cute Christmas paper for the newsletter I’m sure I’ll eventually write?

I’ve had it for at least eight years.

If that dream ever becomes a reality, I’ll spend less than five dollars to buy some new paper.

The random cords gave me heart palpitations.

Cords stress me out. WHAT IF I eventually need the item that needs that cord??

But those cords have been there for a very long time. And if I needed them, I would never have looked there.

If I ever needed information from the user’s guide for our rarely-used desktop computer, I’d search online.

My point in listing out those things is that I didn’t put off any decisions. I didn’t sort, then look, then ponder. I pulled out one item at a time and made a decision about it.

But not everything needed to go.

My “office supplies box” was back there. I often go digging in it when I need an envelope or scissors or such.

Having a place for office supplies is legit, but that place was not legit.

So I found a drawer in a nearby dresser that could easily become an Office Supply Drawer.

A drawer full of things we don't need at

The ONLY thing worth keeping was the CD of pictures. It was easy and angst-free to turn that drawer into a space for things I did need to keep.

And then there were the Heelys wheels.

I have no idea why there were six wheels in that pile of stuff.  But I do know I would never have found them if I was looking for them. Now, to be honest, I’m not even sure if our two pairs of Heelys shoes fit anyone right now. But . . . I do know that whatever happens to them (selling them or donating them or wearing them) . . . we really need the wheels.

Taking Items Where I Would Look for Them at

So I took the wheels to the shoes. Right then.

So how does this project answer the How to Declutter Without Making a Bigger Mess question?

Here’s the after picture:

After (But Not Finished) Picture at

(In the foreground of the picture are the trash bag and Donate Box.)

It isn’t done, but it also isn’t a bigger mess. It’s a smaller mess.

A smaller mess = progress.

Progress is good. It’s not magazine-worthy, but it’s a huge improvement.

Yes. I need to get back to this project and keep working until the space is clear. But I worked for an hour and made progress, not a bigger mess. Next time I can work on it for an hour, I’ll make more progress.

Eventually, I’ll be done.

Make sense?


Drowning In Clutter? e-book at


Swooshy Pants Must Go

Swooshy Pants Must Go at

Those are swooshy pants.

In a Donate Box.

Swooshy pants should really be the easiest type of clothing to purge, but I somehow still struggled.

Oh. Not sure what swooshy pants are? They’re the ones that make a swooshy sound when you walk.

I think I’ve debated about those pants every time I’ve purged clothing for the past five years. Honestly, I haven’t worn them in those five years either.

It’s just that every time I started to pitch them, I would think about how one day, one coooooold day in the future, I might need them.

I mean, they are wind-breaking pants. (Please, no obvious jokes on that one . . . )

And they are lined!!! With really warm and thick something-or-other!! If I ever needed to spend time out in the freezing cold in a situation where I did not care one bit about how I looked, these would be the perfect pants!!!

But then, that happened.

I’ve mentioned my 5 a.m. Camp Gladiator workouts. Well, these workouts happen no matter the weather. Even when it’s like 20 degrees. Or colder.

Even when the wind is blowing like nobody’s business.

They also happen in the dark. Yes, there are a few lights. But honestly . . . this is as close to a who-cares-what-I-look-like situation as I’m ever going to get.

I’ll admit that I skipped the workout (the only time I’ve skipped) on the day when school was canceled due to an ice storm. But it was still scary-cold two days later when I did go. I had stressed all night about how cold I was going to be.

Around 2:30 a.m., I remembered those red workout pants. I think I even got up to be sure I still had them and then slept less fitfully after I knew I had something warm to wear.

I got up at 4:45 and put them on. I even walked to the kitchen to get my water and unlocked the front door. But as I walked out, the swoosh became too much for me to bear. The swoosh plus the elasticized ankles.

I had to turn around and put on less embarrassing pants.

I was cold, but I managed.

And now I know the answer to the age-old declutterer’s dilemma:

If I had to be outside in the freezing cold while it was pitch dark, wouldn’t I be glad for these pants, even though they’re swooshy?


The answer is no.

I wouldn’t.


Want more decluttering tips and stories based on (way too much) decluttering experience? Go here.


If It Won’t Fit

If It Won't Fit, There is No Decision to Make at

A while back, I decluttered a kitchen cabinet. Inside, I discovered some trivets or hotplates or whatever-you-call-them.

I was proud of myself for choosing to keep only two. The two that fit in the drawer next to my stove where I keep such things.

I was practicing my hard-learned Container Concept. Go me.

But evidently, in the moment when I decided they fit, the drawer didn’t have everything in it that it usually does. I’m guessing an oven mitt had been randomly left on the kitchen table.

So once my kitchen was totally clean, I couldn’t shut the drawer. After three or four attempts to get it closed, I realized that my container (the drawer) was overflowing. Something had to go.

I removed the strawberry trivet that I hadn’t used in years anyway. (And that also appears to have something on it that looks a little like bird poo. Even though it’s not.)

If it won’t fit, I can’t keep it.




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