I’ve been asked a certain question many times since I published this post explaining how I have learned to declutter without making a bigger mess.
The game-changing decluttering strategy? Taking things where they go . . . now.
Not making piles of stuff to deal with later. In my distractible world, “later” doesn’t always happen.
Even though the Take It There Right Now concept will rock your world (I promise, it will), there’s this issue:
What do I do when the place where I need to take it (the place where I would look for it first) is a disaster? What if it won’t even fit in the place where it’s supposed to go because that space is so cluttered?
Hmmmm. Good questions.
But . . . it’s possibly, maybe, potentially . . . a case of Classic Slob Over-Thinking.
Not that I’m calling the asker a slob. I’m going from my own experience as someone who always has a big ol’ BUT.
(With one “t” thankyouverymuch.)
I’m going to answer the two questions separately, because they are two different ways that one decluttering project can get derailed by another decluttering project.
Question #1 – What do I do when the place where I need to take it (the place where I would look for it first) is a disaster?
A while back, I cleared our dining room table after a few weeks without hosting our church home group. (Translation: a few weeks without the Impending Doorbell Motivation I so desperately need to make me clear the table completely.)
The table was covered in various craft supplies from a 7th grader’s recent school project and a puzzle we’d pretty much given up on finishing.
I know where craft supplies go. I know because I answer this decluttering question: If I was looking for this item, where would I look for it first?
I would look in the dresser in our gameroom. It contains office supplies and crafty stuff and even though there weren’t any other pipe cleaners, it’s where I’d look first for pipe cleaners.
If I needed pipe cleaners.
You never know when you’ll need pipe cleaners.
When I took them straight there right then (key to avoiding piles for the Mythical Land of Later), I found this:
A very messy drawer (or two) hanging wide open for who knows how long.
That right there is another decluttering project, folks. A totally different “project” than the “project” I was currently tackling, which was clearing my dining room table.
I’m pretty sure some of those paint bottles are dried up. A few might even be empty. And I distinctly remember that once upon a time, they stood upright and pretty.
There was a real temptation to tackle that drawer right then. I mean, I was already in the Decluttering Zone!
If I stopped clearing the dining table and started decluttering that drawer, I’d find myself sucked into the black hole of Every Other Drawer in that Dresser That Could Use a Good Going-Through.
Suddenly, the time I had to declutter would be gone, and the dining room table would still be a mess.
And that was the project I needed to finish.
That was my visible space that guests would see.
Here’s what I did.
I closed the drawer.
Visually, a big improvement (especially if you aren’t looking close enough to see the dust and splatters and such). It took 2 seconds and didn’t distract me from the project that actually mattered right then.
Oh, and I also ignored the mess in the drawer where I placed the pipe cleaners.
Those drawers weren’t my focus. The dining table was.
Now for the other question/part-of-the-question.
Question #2 – What if it won’t even fit in the place where it’s supposed to go because that space is so cluttered?
What about the times when the place where I’d look first doesn’t have room for the thing I’d look for in there?
Here’s where grasping the Container Concept is key. Containers are natural limits. They determine how much stuff I can have. It’s nothing personal, they’re just there.
Shelves, drawers, cabinets, etc. are containers. They contain (limit) how much stuff I can keep.
If I definitely have to keep this object, and there’s no space for it in the place where I’d look for it first, then I have to practice the one in one out rule.
For it to fit, I have to get rid of something else. Something else that isn’t as worthy.
Most likely, if it’s a cluttered cabinet or drawer or closet, there’s at least one DUH in it.
At least one.
I need to remove (to be trashed or donated) one item that will free enough space for the item I need to place.
I don’t need to do a huge project, I just need to remove one thing.
For example, while clearing the dining room table, I needed to put the puzzle in our Game Cabinet.
I despise that cabinet. It’s a hodgepodge of games and other randomness. It used to be the Sticking Place (for things I didn’t know where to stick), but isn’t anymore because it’s full.
When we get a new game, I get stressed out.
Games go in the Game Cabinet, but I stress over the thought of how much time I’ll have to spend (like, probably an entire day or two!) clearing it out before I can put the new game in it!
But if my Goal of the Moment is to clear the dining room table, and I need to clear it of a game/puzzle that I know we want to keep, I look in the cabinet and decide which one thing I can remove.
I don’t have to declutter the cabinet, I just need to make room for the game I’m keeping.
It’s the One In One Out rule.
When I let go of the idea that I have to declutter this entire thing before I can declutter that entire thing, I chill out and realize there’s (at least) one game the kids have outgrown.
Removing that one game gives me the room to
shove in store the puzzle I want to keep.
In a perfect world, I’d clean the dining room table, the Game Cabinet, the kitchen pantry, the garage and all our closets.
I don’t live in a perfect world. I live in my house. And I want to let my friends come inside and eat on my dining table.
Do you struggle to keep one decluttering project from distracting you from another decluttering project?
Posts related to these concepts:
How to Prioritize Decluttering Projects (The Visibility Rule)
How to Declutter Without Making a Bigger Mess
Ooooohhhh, “Contain”er. Now I Get It
Keepable Resolution: Live in Your Home (Also explains the Container Concept)
Containers and Limits and How They’ll Change Your Life
Oh, and here’s my affiliate link for the game my kids have outgrown (but used to love) on Amazon.
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This! This! Thank you! I resolve to focus on “that one” area and not be distracted by another needy area until “that one” has been addressed!
This was so timely. Thank you!
A trick I use to help me continuously return to the space I am working on, either by decluttering or cleaning, it to put streaming music on my phone, and stick my phone in a curved glass.
The music keeps drawing me back to what I was working on, and the glass amplifies the music (I’m serious!! Wine glasses work best). Having it in the glass also keeps it out of my hands, therefore off of Facebook. Because Facebook is way more interesting than cleaning! (Can I get an Amen?!?!!)
My husband does not get it. He always offers to turn on the stereo that can be heard through the whole house. I’ve explained over and over. He still doesn’t get it, but he knows if he sees my phone in a wine glass, he knows I’m trying to concentrate.
Dana White says
Great trick!!! I put my phone in a glass, too!!
GREAT IDEA! I WILL TRY THIS!
this is the main reason why i’ve decided (but not yet implemented–one step at a time!) the idea that my laundry day *can not* be a day that i have off from work. If i do laundry on a day that i’ve already worked, then that’s the only thing i’m doing that day (besides maybe cooking dinner).. but if it’s a day i have off from work, there are usually half a dozen other projects that i want to work on. Continuously stopping to switch laundry loads, and then folding and putting away said laundry loads, not only draws me away from the task-at-hand, but it forces me into other areas of the house… areas with more… PROJECTS….*dundunDUN* …. Which I realize is actually a slightly different issue than either of the questions above, but still. Decluttering distraction is a real problem for me.
Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore says
Great post! Love it , especially this: “In a perfect world, I’d clean the dining room table, the Game Cabinet, the kitchen pantry, the garage and all our closets. I don’t live in a perfect world. I live in my house. And I want to let my friends come inside and eat on my dining table.”
If only more people thought this way!
Elizabeth G. says
Amen, sister! I really have problems with that whole “But I can’t even PUT IT where it should be, and what’s all that crap–oh, I’ve been looking for that! I wonder what else is in there? You know, it wouldn’t take that long to just go ahead and get that dealt with…” So I really like the application of “one in, one out” to this.
just one question what is that shoe in the game space – i keep picturing a huge monopoly game.
one in one out – greatest rule ever made- we also have the one year rule- haven’t used it in a year – gone baby
Dana White says
Hahahaha!!! Huge monopoly!!! No, those are my tap shoes. That cabinet is where I’d look for them first!!!
THIS is the single most important factor as to why nothing ever gets really decluttered in my house!!!!!!! I can’t put anything away because where it SHOULD be stored is already full – which distracts me and makes me want to clear out all the storage spaces first so that I can clean the “right” way (violating the totally-makes-sense clear out the visible areas first rule) but then the storage spaces totally overwhelm me and I give up. It’s an endless cycle. I will definitely be trying this approach this weekend!
Awesome post, Dana. My favorite line is: “When I let go of the idea that I have to declutter this entire thing before I can declutter that entire thing, I chill out and realize there’s (at least) one game the kids have outgrown.” It is so easy to get overwhelmed and panic about clutter. Sometimes just chilling out about it is half the battle. It’s great to read tips from someone who “gets” how a slob brain works. 🙂
“I don’t live in a perfect world. I live in my house. And I want to let my friends come inside and eat on my dining table.”
This is why we love your blog. It’s true. It’s beautiful. It reflects real life. My friends are coming over to eat on my dining table this evening. I’d love for every drawer and cabinet and shelf to be perfect, but in reality I just need to public areas of the house to be presentable. AND, I need to be calm and ready to show love to my friends who really need some love right now. Thanks for helping me refocus and use my home to bless those in my path.
lydia purple says
this is besides the point of your post, but sometimes it works to just look through a junk drawer to pick out the few obvious things to keep and just turn the whole thing over into a trash bag…. no looking deeper, no reasons thinking is required to lead us astray into keeping totally usable things we don’t need.
by the way, your decluttering strategy of progress is the only way i can keep my house somewhat under control with 3 little kids. especially with a crawling baby it is impossible to tackle a huge project at once, or to leave it halfway done out on the floor, because the baby will eat the junk and possibly choke on clutter. or drown in it… but, to take things one by one where they go, without making a mess is the way to go. now it really doesn’t matter if the baby wakes up from her nap in the middle of a decluttering project. so thank you for your wisdom.
this is it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! now to keep those distractions at bay. having it in black and white rather than rolling around in my head because we actually do usually have the answer in there just need someone like you to put it on the table. THANK YOU
Two methods that I use:
1) Oh no, I found another cluttery thing in the middle of a decluttering project! What do I do? Write It On The List. I have a white board for projects. One of the columns at the moment is for a baby shower that’s in 3 days, and one of them is spaces that need to be decluttered. They’re written in roughly 15-minute project blocks. The whole craft cabinet needs decluttered? It gets written down as:
___ Craft Cabinet:
___ Drawer 1
___ Drawer 2
___ Drawer 3
___ Drawer 4
___ Drawer 5
And thusly, it’s a nice little reminder that I don’t need to do it all at once, but if I don’t then I know where I left off. When I run out of room in the space with the list, I take a picture, erase what’s done, and if I feel like it I’ll re-write the not-done stuff starting from the top.
2) Timer: My mister is the posterchild for adult ADD. Sometimes, he just can’t do a project. So, we set a timer. Whatever he gets done in that time is what gets done. If that means that in the middle of filing papers in the office he finds a dirty glass, and takes it to the kitchen, and loads half the dishes into the dishwasher, goes to wash his hands and discovers the soap dispenser is empty so he refills the soap dispenser, finds he doesn’t have a hand towel so he dries his hands from one in the laundry basket, hangs it up and starts folding laundry… Seriously, he just got half the filing done, half the dishes, and half the laundry, the only task he completed was filling the soap dispenser but DUDE the soap dispenser is full! and the filing isn’t falling over! and I guarantee you that basket of laundry will get finished because he’ll get distracted by the TV and absentmindedly fold while watching ;). Sometimes he gets annoyed by never feeling like he finishes anything, but on those bad days it still feels like a victory when the time isn’t wasted entirely.
“Mythical Land of Later.” I love that!
Hi!Back to Nony and Co. after a break…I recollected an old acquaintance of mine, Ruth Rooley, who kept her diningroom table set. So, once I got the table cleared, I put a tablecloth on it, dishes, glasses, silverware and then I put a sheet on top (a. that way we don’t cherrypick items off to use and b. since we’re only two people here we aren’t using it to dine on, yet).
Bonus: less dishes available in the kitchen means they’re getting washed more regularly, and the overwhelming build up doesn’t get to happen. Also, I didn’t have to purge my dishes to get this to happen in kitchen, so can still serve 6 if we have occasion to. Another bonus was it freed me to set up a beverage cabinet since I now shifted the remaining plates into one cabinet with all the soup/cereal bowls. Also, I get to continue my habit of storage on flat surface, just more decoratively and those items on the table aren’t clutter. I know, this might not work for everyone household, and we have very limited storage for what we’re trying to accomplish here (so, no china cabinet), but wanted to share my little dining room ‘aha’. Thanks for all you do!
This post was great! I have to tell you that it took me this long to actually finish reading it in my inbox–I found it ironic that I kept getting distracted (or needing to do other things like take care of my five kids) while trying to read a blog post about getting distracted! 🙂
Thanks! It was my question too!
Thanks so much I have needed much guidance in this area. I have ADHD ….self diagnosed but it’s real…I am easily distracted…and am passionately creative. I am excited to see if this logic will help forcing myself to focus. Thanks for the tips. First I have to have a gate to corral kids while I declutter…lol.
‘Mythical land of later’….I’m the mayor!
Coral Swimming says
Ha ha ha! This is great! I’ve been listening to your podcasts and started to declutter yesterday in preparation for my mother in law visiting this week (only the rooms that she would see). I was following the Two Question rule and putting stuff where it belongs NOW, and I was faced with precisely this question! Everywhere I went to put an item away, of course, needed decluttering.
I some situations (like where paper clutter was the problem), I just stuffed the item on top of the paper and moved along (that would be another day’s project), In other instances, however, I stopped to put away items that didn’t belong at the spot where I had gone to put away original item. I knew I was getting off track, but I kept telling myself that it was ALL progress!
I’m glad this post was here. It will certainly help me as I continue decluttering today. Thanks, Nony, for leaving that tap shoe in the picture. It made me laugh out loud and feel right at home 🙂
Thanks for this post. When I saw the dining room table, I thought that it looked pretty good to me–I cannot see the top of mine; but the shoe in the cupboard was perfect. Been there, done that. I needed to be reminded of the container concept applied here; my tendency has been to just buy more containers which don’t get filled because I get distracted and then can’t remember what I meant to put in them. Love your blog and podcast!
I really loved this post. Thank you. My current situation is that both my parents passed away in the past six months. I inherited the responsibility of Genealogy Records and photographs (of which my mother probably had thousands) and video tapes. When my dad died, I was in the middle of making assessment portfolios for five home-schooling children. Add the photos we had to get ready for the funeral and WA LA! what at complete mess.
We bought a tall floor safe to store the crucial and precious genealogy things that CAN’T get destroyed, brought up all our file cabinets from the basement and added those to the room.
Well, I should explain that we have a 400 square foot apartment at the back of our house. My mother lived there for 1 year. We are turning that apartment into the Genealogy and Photo Room and a Craft room (where things won’t have to be taken down each night. Woohoo!
So I look forward to having a space to work as I DECLUTTER the new clutter and try to streamline everything. I’m thinking about scanning all the pictures (from those huge old albums) and making a Shutterfly book with them. Nice and slim. Then maybe giving the originals away to those who want them. We shall see!
Tiffany Chapman says
my troubling thing right now is that my kitchen is a disaser. Like horrible. Ilike to wipe the counters andbsweep and mop the floor but i hate dishes. I AM the dishwasher. I also have fruit flies coning out of my sink so im trying to get rid of those but its a cycle. I have to wash everything so the sink will be clean so i can clean the sink and pour some bleach or something down the drains, and in order to wipe the counters table and do the floors also the dishes have to be cleaned. I feel like chucking everythinf and starting over! Which i wont lie i have done before. I have a special needs son who just thrned two yesterday, and i am always exhausted, but also want to be super mom and get up early and tackle it but i dont have the energy!! We are having a party saturday and im gonna be gone all day tomorrow shopping. Ive been procrastinating thinking that oh ig wont take me THAT long but it actually will be at least a couple hours bc i have to do all the layers at once! I could really use some prayers! This needs to be done seriously today! Thank you Nony for the blpgs and pdocasts and videos. I just started with u the other day and im soo much like you. Im really gonna try to start making better habits!
This single concept has already made my life so much better. I just finished the Declutter book, and now I’m listening to the other one, and I LOVE them so much. I came home with groceries the other day, and had that horrible feeling I always have – there’s no room in the cabinets or pantry for all the stuff, but that pantry overhaul is forever at the bottom of my list of things to do. I’ve literally left non-perishables in grocery bags sitting on my table until I used them, like that was the actual way to store them. So this time, I just threw away enough stuff in the pantry to make room for the new stuff, and even had a little space left over. It felt wonderful! My pantry is a bit more organized, my groceries are all put away, and I probably only spent and extra 5 minutes at the most. Why didn’t I ever do this before??!!
This is totally me! I am going to start the one in one out rule. I’m “happy” to see the single shoe in your game cabinet as that makes me feel like we might be related. #kindredslobspirits
I loved a recent post where you highlighted our excuses. I always think of my projects as a line of dominos — I need to move this THERE, but I have to declutter that place first, then that’ll make room for these but where will I put THOSE?
I’ve adopted the one in, one out, and even though most places aren’t organized, at least there is less! Now to keep motivation going as I work towards the sentimental — photos pulled out for my husband’s funeral.
Indecisive Squirrel says
No more “squirrel in the middle of the highway” cleaning for me! I had a big DUH moment when I read your simple solution to ‘take something out to trash or donate’ before placing another item in. That is the slap in the face I needed! Thanks!
Love this approach, thank you!
This. This is what I needed to read after learning about the difference between decluttering and organizing. I always end up with a terrible case of Cleaning ADD – I start one place, take something to its place that needs cleaning, and something else needs to go somewhere else that needs cleaning. I love this focus on the current project and one-in-one-out plan!
Sometimes you do need to take everything, or almost everything, out of a space. But – it needs to be a one hundred percent commitment that anything that doesn’t belong and you can’t or won’t find a place for needs to go. And to make it easier, declutter the easy stiff first.
After a massive decluttering of our games closet, I pulled the rest out, neatly organized it, recycled or donated everything that didn’t belong (because I would look for it in the games closet and it pdoesn’t belong in the games closet) and informed the kids that if they wanted to keep any of the games on the table, something already in the closet needed to go. I stood my ground when it was suggested that more games would fit and husband took the lot to goodwill. So happy with it. : )
Thank you Nony! This makes SO much sense to my ADD brain. Instead of my brain constantly thinking “squirrel”, I can think “put it where it belongs no matter what it looks like. If it won’t fit, get rid of something (trash or donate) so it fits and walk away”. Now back to the project I was and am working on. I have a fast paced job where my priorities are constantly changing and I do a great job of rearranging and meeting my deadlines there. I don’t know why my house is such a problem but it always has been. I have both of your books and am so happy that I found you! You speak my language and I’m finally making progress slowly but surely. Thank you again.
I love your books (I’m on Day 3 today – wash the dishes) and have made a massive sea change in decluttering as a result.
But my brain is really struggling with those shoes in the games cupboard.
Yes! Thank you for the just get rid of one thing to make the more important thing fit idea! This will definitely help with not starting multiple projects and stopping because it’s all connected and overwhelming problem.
Angie D Rakes Evans says
Thank you! Someone finally understands me! This is my life and it is driving me crazy going from room to room and like you said, no room to put what I’m trying to organize on its rightful spot.
Genius! I expected the “is it useful? is it beautiful” questions that haven’t helped my clutter issue. I LOVE these 2 questions!
First, isn’t it nice to see your posts live on? I’m late to the game, but here’s my story, readers digest version. I became disabled last year & had to retire several years earlier than expected. I’ve lived with clutter for years, but always made the excuse of being so busy at work (which was true), etc. now, being at home all the time, I’ve felt like I’m drowning in clutter. Reading all the how to books on decluttering hasn’t helped at all… reading this one little post from you I suddenly feel like somebody gets me! Can’t wait to read more! I’ve been decluttering the dining room table for over a week… EDG (Easily destructed girl) I’ve done lots of other little things while decluttering the dining room table, but basically accomplished nothing! I think I can handle this decluttering thing now… one object at a time! Thank you!!!
This tip has been so helpful. Though I have to admit, the other day, I had time to declutter and instead of hitting the visible areas first, I actually took the time to declutter a non visible place because I was tired of constantly putting things there and then having to one-in-one-out every time! The rest of the house doesn’t look better BUT as I do my five minute tidy, I have space to put stuff where it belongs again.
J.M. Ney-Grimm says
I’m having trouble with my basement cabinets, which are jammed-packed full. They are NOT a visible space, and I don’t want to start decluttering there. But as I went through my kitchen, I found 6 canisters that I absolutely want to keep. And I know that the next time I need a canister, the place I will look is those basement cabinets. So that is where I want to put them.
But 6 canisters are a LOT of volume. I’d have to clear an entire shelf in those cabinets to fit the canisters. And tackling an entire shelf…I just didn’t have it in me. Plus I was working on the kitchen. I didn’t want to abandon the kitchen. So I put the canisters in a clean trash bag, and piled them on top of those basement cabinets.
I know it means I’ll have more work to do when I finally get to those cabinets (which desperately need decluttering). I don’t feel entirely satisfied with my solution. But I DID get back to the kitchen cabinet, and I did make a sizeable dent in the work that needs to be done there. So at least that part was a WIN. Still, I’d love to hear what others do when they have 6 LARGE things that need to go in a jammed-packed space that is not the focus of the current decluttering effort.
Just found this, and it reads like my sarcastic brain talking to me 😂😂 and just realized I found your book a few days ago!
Now to binge-read your blog…
I find myself stuck in “broken container land”. I have a wonderful wooden trolley, but it’s wheels are jammed and need replacement … and hubby needs to help because and because … but he is a farmer and time is a sparse commodity. So my trolley (to become my Bible Study studio on wheels) is sitting upside down waiting, with all my books also waiting.
I wanted to start on the garage as I need to clear the playroom-cum-deposit-all-cum-tool-shed as the children are grown now and I want to use the room for a totally different purpose now. But most of the stuff will relocate to the garage which is still in need of “containers” (shelving) which again waits for hubby …
And I get distracted as all the waiting stations are creating a mess
Lonna Levine says
The photo of “the sticking place” got me!!! That nude tap shoe?!? I think I had its lonely mate kicking around MY house for the past decade (I think I finally released it to the universe during the first great COVID purge).
Just found your podcast recently, and I love everything you share!