Where to Start Decluttering: How I Did It and You Can Too
Wondering where to start decluttering? The process can look different for everyone, but let me tell you a bit about my own organizing journey — including the most important first steps.
Before I became a professional organizer, I spent a year decluttering and organizing my entire house, and I promise I’m not being dramatic when I say that it changed my life.
So many of us want to organize our homes, but it can be a struggle to know where to start decluttering. I can’t promise to know all of the secrets, but I certainly learned a thing or two over that year.
My goal here at Grid + Glam is to help you learn how to declutter your home, so you can develop habits that make living an organized, fulfilled, and joyful life feel easy. Part of that involves sharing my journey with you and what I learned along the way. So, here’s how I got organized — and how you can too.
How I organized my home (and kept it that way)
I often get asked if I was always organized, or if it was a skill I learned as an adult. I think people want me to say that I was super disorganized until I discovered “These 5 Secret Organizing Skills” or “These 7 Decluttering Habits” and VOILA — I became the most organized person I know. That would make a good story (and I do have a special organizing formula)… but it’s not true.
The truth is, I have always been highly organized. In my feature in the Boston Globe, I even described myself as “an organizing junkie from day one”. My superpower is bringing order to chaos. I love creating efficiencies. But while I have always been super organized, I used to have too much stuff. Way too much stuff.
Because I had so much stuff, I found that I was always organizing. Seriously – every minute I was not working or with my kids, I was organizing. I knew how I wanted my home and life to feel, but I could never get it to feel that way. I was anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed, even though from the outside (and even from the inside, I guess) my house looked like it was plucked from a catalog.
I realized that I had too much stuff and too many responsibilities on my to-do list. So, I set out to change that by decluttering and organizing my entire home.
When figuring out where to start decluttering, I didn’t decide that it would take me a year. Truthfully, I wasn’t even sure if I would have the stamina to organize my own house, let alone know how long it would take me.
So, I just started. And I kept going and going until it finally felt… done.
Over a year, I got my home into the best shape of its life. Best of all, though, I was no longer constantly stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed. My home felt how I wanted it to feel — calm and comfortable — and my routines were finally manageable. I realized that I had so much more space – literal and figurative – to live the life I truly desired.
I want that kind of life for you too, friend. That’s why I want to tell you about where I was right at the beginning, and how I overcame all of the doubts and uncertainties that you may be feeling right now. And when it comes to where to start decluttering, the answer might just surprise you.
Where to start decluttering: 7 commitments to make first
Now I didn’t plan my year of decluttering ahead of time, but I did do a lot of research and created a rough system in my head of how I would get everything done.
One thing I know for sure is that you need an unwavering commitment if you want to achieve something. So, here are 7 commitments that I made to myself before I started organizing my home. If you’re truly wondering where to start decluttering, it's by making these commitments and promises to yourself.
COMMITMENT 1: Don't Buy Anything
You already have too much stuff. Period. It can be a hard thing to admit, but if you’re really struggling to declutter and organize your home, I can almost guarantee that having too much stuff is the biggest culprit.
For the next year, I want you to decide that you won’t buy anything unless you really, REALLY need it. It sounds challenging, but I believe in you!
In the year I organized my home, I didn’t buy anything I didn’t need. Instead, I made a running list of items I would need to replace. For example, when I purged my ratty linens, I added fresh towels and sheets to the list.
But (and this is key), I didn’t wait to purge until I replaced those items — I just went ahead and did it. That brings me to my next commitment...
COMMITMENT 2: Purge
Commit to getting rid of anything in your house that you don’t use, need, or love. Do not let anything get in the way of the purge. Commit to yourself to do it — to let go and not look back.
Before I started decluttering, I promised myself I’d have no remorse over items that were gone. Instead, I focused on the lightness I felt by purging those items.
I went category by category, Konmari style, but going room by room works, too. And I literally touched every belonging in my home – every photograph from the past 40 years, every office supply, every article of clothing. Some days I spent 20 minutes working, while other days I would put on an audiobook and spend four hours on it. It’s important to find a system that works for you.
This may be the hardest commitment when decluttering
Purging can be tough, so it’s important to focus on the end result: getting rid of every single item you don’t need. Don’t worry so much about the process of getting there. Just remember: we can’t take it with us when we go, and the majority of our things are easily replaced if we do realize we need something after all.
When it came to sentimental items (which is definitively the hardest category to purge, for anyone) I reminded myself that the gift was in the giving. The memory lives in me, not in the object. I did set aside a dedicated spot in my home for memories, so I didn’t feel like I had to purge anything that I loved.
*Important note, friend: If you cannot embrace Commitments 1 and 2, don’t bother reading the rest of this. You are not ready to live a chaos-free life right now, and that’s totally OK. But if you truly want to know where to start decluttering, it’s with steps 1 and 2. If you try to follow the steps below while skipping these two crucial steps, the process won’t work. Period. The End.
COMMITMENT 3: Make it a Priority
I know that you’re busy and tired and that you want to spend your free time being lazy (maybe curling up on the couch with some Netflix for hours on end)... but you need to purge instead.
Now I don’t mean purging and decluttering needs to be your priority every day, or all the time. But it does have to be a priority most of the time. If you want the decluttering process to move quickly and be systematized, you need to set aside a certain night or day each week to focus on it.
Trust me on this one, friend — if you don’t make that commitment to be consistent, you won’t reach your goal of organizing your home.
COMMITMENT 4: Get Family Buy-In
This is a step that I think most people skip when thinking about where to start decluttering, but you need to get everyone in your family on board. Yes, everyone.
Now I don’t mean that everyone in your family needs to help you declutter your home. That might be a battle you’re not willing to fight right now. And sometimes it takes time, and your family members may need to see the benefits of your decluttering and organizing to get involved. But they need to be made aware that it is happening and that it is a priority for you.
Having family buy-in is going to make the decluttering process so much easier and smoother for you, friend.
COMMITMENT 5: Give Everything a Home
Do you want to know my number one secret to maintaining an organized home? Assign every single item in your home a specific place to live. Then, at the end of the day (or week), put every item back into its home.
It really is that simple and quick. Having this ‘home’ for each object is going to help you and your family establish important habits that are key to keeping your home organized. And, if you’ve followed the commitments above to keep only what you need and to get your family on board, this takes very little work to maintain.
Let me repeat that: it takes very little work. It does not take zero work. You do have to put everything back in its home every single time, and if you buy anything new or bring any new item into your house, it needs to be assigned a home. It’s the only way this can work.
If you’re looking for more tips like this, you can check out my best tips for getting organized.
COMMITMENT 6: Containers
Once everything is purged and assigned a home, then (and only then) can the ‘binning’ begin. Let me repeat that. You must purge everything first before buying containers.
It may sound a bit unorthodox, but it works. I did not buy one bin or make a single label until my house was fully purged of every single item I didn’t love or need or use or want.
Once I did reach that point in my decluttering, I did spend time and money on finding the right bins and labels for my systems. After all, I believe that when our space looks beautiful, we’re much more likely to keep it that way.
Containers contain. That’s their job. Don’t buy any more than can be kept in a container. That’s the key to maintenance.
Labels tell us what to do. That’s their job. Most of us can follow directions — yes, even your kids. Don’t underestimate the importance of labels. Even if you think something doesn’t need a label, it probably does.
COMMITMENT 7: Reset
I’m not going to pretend that I spent a year organizing my home and everything has been totally fine since then. Life still gets chaotic, and spaces still get messy. Enter the final commitment: resetting.
After the purging was done, I started doing a nightly, weekly, and monthly reset — and I still do these resets to this day. I usually share these resets with my community, and you can follow along on the Grid + Glam Instagram.
Each night, I set myself up for a successful day the next day. Each week, I take time to get my house back to baseline so that all of my hard work from the past year (and beyond) will be maintained. And each month, I do something to move me forward in my organizing journey.
Where to go from here, now that you know where to start decluttering
Let me be real with you, friend. This decluttering process was not easy. There were days I procrastinated and cried and got angry. But I’ve felt a million pounds lighter since I finally made those commitments, stuck to them, and got organized once and for all.
And you know what? After decluttering my home, something amazing happened. I also started purging relationships and plans and other things that were standing in my way of living the life I truly wanted.
I know that these commitments are game-changing because they not only changed my life, but they also became the pillars upon which I built Grid + Glam. And less than two years later, I have been able to help hundreds of families just like yours get and stay organized with my professional organizing services and The G+G Membership.
I teach all of these commitments and so much more inside The G+G Membership, and I love that I get to reconnect with this part of my journey each time I welcome a new group of members.
I hope these commitments resonate with you and inspire you to find your own path. Remember — some belongings ground us and make our house a home, while others weigh us down. Only you know in your heart what items to keep and what to toss. Don’t let anyone else’s path or journey dictate that for you.
Good luck, friend. I'm cheering you on every step of the way!