Okay, it’s getting on to the end of January, here. Are you sick of winter yet? For my good friends on the underside of the world, you don’t need to come back and read this in 6 months–it works in summertime, too. Especially if heat that could fry bacon on the sidewalk without a griddle is keeping you, too, locked up indoors in climate-controlled, stir-crazy comfort. But here’s the deal. It’s the perfect time now–be it dreary, post-holiday winter, or high surface-of-the-sun summer, to take a De-Cluttering Break.

Restless And Unfocused?

If you’re like me, there was a flurry of activity carrying you through late fall into the holiday season, all the way to the post-holiday teardown and the “I swear I’m going to lose that 6 pounds I gained eating holiday treats.” Now, you’re either established in your exercise/healthy-eating routine and the newness has worn off, or you’ve abandoned it altogether in favor of “give me comfort food.” And as winter weather sets in (or perhaps, doesn’t, and that’s making you nervous because you know that hammer’s gonna drop sometime and you just hope it’s not in the form of an ice storm after the magnolias have bloomed and the roses have peeked up), you’re starting to slowly delay that morning shower, or not bother with changing the sweatpants, or even not bother with pants at all.

Well, do it in your underwear if you have to, but now is the time to get your ass off the couch and take a half-day to declutter. The “stuff” in your house is likely creating “stuff” in your brain, which keeps you from focusing on what’s important.

Start By Sorting

First step in decluttering is to classify your clutter. Start by having 3 boxes or trash bags, labeled “Trash”, “Donate”, and “??”. The third bag is for stuff you don’t want to throw out or donate, but are not yet sure what to do with. If it takes you longer than 30 seconds to decide the fate of an item, put it in the third bag and relax because you don’t have to decide what to do with it right this second.

Take Time To Toss

Now is the perfect time to get rid of all the detritus from the old year. Get rid of old clothes, old papers, and old or no longer usable junk that’s keeping the pathways of your house narrow and claustrophobic. The kids have gotten new toys for the holidays, so get rid of old ones. If you have trouble throwing things out, use Goodwill’s drive-up donation window. Your city probably has a Freecycle, too, for items still in good condition.

Keep a few things in mind, though:

  • If you won’t fix it in 6 months, toss or donate.
  • If they haven’t played with it in 12 months, toss or donate.
  • If you haven’t used it in 12 months, toss or donate.
  • If it’s too small, toss or donate. By the time you shrink up again, it’ll be out of style anyway.
  • If it’s too big, toss or donate. Don’t let yourself think you’ve got fat pants, because your subconscious might try getting you into them again.

Figure Out Its Fate

Once you’ve got your trash and donate bags filled, take a break and hit the donation centers, the dump, or just the kitchen for lunch. After a nice break, come back and figure out the fate of the stuff you couldn’t sort before. File the paperwork, or write down the dates on your calendar (you do keep a family calendar, don’t you?). Ask yourself, “does this item have a home in my home?” If not, get out a new “trash” or “donate” bag and start again.

Finish When It’s Finished

Finally, don’t spend more than a half day doing this–you could, I’m sure, come up with weeks’ worth of work in decluttering every closet and storage area, but you’re trying to avoid burnout and depression, here, not drown yourself in it. Pause to reward yourself and your new, widened spaces, and pull this half-day out the next time the weather gets crappy or you start thinking that deep-fried meatloaf sounds like an awesome breakfast for a dreary day.

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