Decluttering Technique: Pretend Someone Else is Packing for You

decluttering tip - let someone else pack

Some people have a really, really hard time parting with clothes. Clothes they don’t even like, that don’t even fit, that they haven’t worn in 5+ years. Clothes they never intend to wear again! But I get it—it can be hard. Interestingly, I’ve found that the more clothes my clients own, the more unhappy they are with their wardrobe as a whole.

Here is the tip: Only have things in your closet that you would be pleased to find in your suitcase if someone else packed it for you.

I figured this out the hard way in middle school—as if we needed anything else embarrassing happening then in our lives. I was responsible for my own laundry at this point and was way behind. I wore my last decent outfit to school, so of course it was an ideal time to spill something all over—all over—myself during class. Being the very understanding mother that she was and is, my mom drove over a new set of clothes for me to wear. But. The only clean clothes she could find in my closet were an embarrassing and seriously huge musical theater t-shirt (it was Cats, I believe) and strange gingham shorts that I was mortified to even own. This outfit was … incredible … as you can imagine.

Being about 12 years old I did not go home and radically purge my wardrobe. But I think the moral of this story is pretty clear: Don’t have anything in your closet you wouldn’t want someone to choose for you (also, keep up with your laundry). Things that are too tight or too big, that you feel self-conscious in, that are unflattering, that have rips or stains beyond repair, that you just don’t like, etc. All of this must go.

Having this mindset makes it a whole lot easier for my clients to let go of things—suddenly clothes start flying into the “no” pile. If you need some extra help in this area, maybe give it a try.

Decluttering Tip: Stop Putting Things Away

Laundry basket copy

When I am tidying up our house, folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher, I am considering every item that I touch. Why put away something we don’t need or want when I could easily skip that step and place it directly in the donation bag?

When I tell clients that I purge roughly one bag of stuff per week, they always wonder how I did it so easily and also where the items came from. I’m not usually digging into the backs of closets and drawers. Instead, I am assessing each item I come into contact with by chance and evaluating its presence in our home. Just like we casually examine a piece of fruit before eating it, I casually gauge the items in our lives before putting them away.

This split-second decision becomes second nature with enough practice. I promise I don’t hem and haw over each thing—that would be exhausting! This is quick and painless, and it completely avoids the time-consuming experience of a full-on decluttering session. If you can get into the habit, I think you might find it as effective as I do.

p.s. This applies to broken/ruined items too. These should go directly into the garbage. Putting away these sorts of things is nuts, but we’ve all done it. Break the cycle!

5 Tips for Spotting Clutter in a Room

One of the most helpful aspects of having an outsider’s perspective on a room is that everything is fresh to his or her eyes. When we live with clutter, we stop seeing it. Remember that nagging pile of folded laundry? After a while, it starts blending in. And the stack of catalogs, costumes and papers to deal with … soon enough we forget they are even there. The junk becomes a part of the landscape, and we cease to notice it. This happens to all of us!

If you have really tried to declutter a room but can’t seem to pinpoint the problem, here are five tips that might help:

clutter on surfaces

1. Take a photo of each area of the room. If you don’t have a partner or friend (or me) to help spot the clutter, a quick photo on your phone is a good substitute. See something you don’t like or that belongs somewhere else? Out it goes.

2. Consider your surfaces. Decorative objects seem to breed overnight. It is very common to keep adding accessories and artwork without removing the old ones. One in, two out is my rule. Start by completely clearing the surfaces of your room (side table, coffee table, console, mantle, etc.) and only put back the things you really, really love (if you don’t know if you love it, you probably don’t). And keep it minimal. Less is almost always better than more.

3. Limit the picture frames. Holy smokes, the picture frames. Reduce these by about 90% and keep the remaining ones in a single style (bone, horn or silver are good options). I know you love seeing your family in a frame, but trust me on this, friends!

4. Examine your floors. When too many things “live” on the floor, it starts feeling like a room cannot breath. Rooms frequently have too much furniture, plus baskets, bins, toys and other mish mash on the floor. Clear as much as you can from the floor (other than major things like your sofa or bed). Stick it in the hallway while you look around the space. Doesn’t it feel better already? Return as little as possible, and if you do, find it a home other than the floor.

5. Check your lighting. Two common problems I see: overhead lighting (only) and windows left covered during the day. Overhead lights create a dull, dreary ambiance. Try using lamps, sconces and/or floor lamps before flipping on the overheads. And open up those shutters or curtains! Sunlight makes everything feel and look more beautiful and fresh. The first I thing I do every morning is open the shutters in each room (even if we aren’t going in there). It makes a significant difference in the feeling of a space.

Looking for rooms for inspiration? Follow me on pinterest!

The Power is in the Editing

Art is the elimination of the unnecessary 4

Like so many people, I love design magazines and blogs. Image after beautiful image appears and inspires us. We read and pin and buy and buy again. But something still falls short. Why is it so difficult to achieve what is seen in magazines? It would be easy to say lack of funds, but I think it is something else (aside from the fact that magazines are completely unrealistic). To me, the most powerful indicator of a beautiful outcome—of any kind—is the editing.

Can you image if an architect combined every design period in one house? Or if a chef added every delicious ingredient to a single dish? Or if a writer had endless plot lines in a book? Disasters. It is their expert knowledge of what to leave out that makes the greatest difference.

In our world, where we can potentially see and buy and experience everything available, it is easy to continue filling our homes and lives with more.

The power is in the editing. Knowing what to keep and what to let go. When to add and when to hold back. This is one crucial difference in a life well lived and one full of physical, mental and emotional clutter.

Not all clutter is created equal

It often surprises clients that I don’t have a slew of non-negotiable decluttering principles. We all lead such different lives, how could I? The important thing is to embrace what best expresses who we are and the right choices for our families, and I have found that varies greatly from person to person.

For someone who loves quilting, of course she’s going to have an area devoted to scraps, threads, patterns and other flotsam and jetsam. The wood turner will likely have 50 different tools that seem exactly the same to the rest of us, but an expert knows they serve very different purposes. A child wild about super heroes will know precisely why he needs each element in his collection (and don’t you dare think of removing that one dude with the broken arm).

Not all clutter is created equal. In fact, if it is something you use and love and cherish and look forward to having in your home, it isn’t clutter at all.

Clutter is the unnecessary. It is the stuff we try to overlook. The things weighing us down. The stuff that creates guilt or aggravation. It might be not even be an object. Our time can be cluttered with unneeded activities. Our bodies can be cluttered with unhealthy choices. Our lives can be cluttered with negative relationships.

We all have such different situations and circumstances. What is simple to you might feel very complicated to me and vice versa. For the most part, I think we can ignore the rules and focus on what is best for our own lives. Forget what everyone else is doing. If it feels right for you, it probably is.

p.s. Anyone who knows me well knows that I actually love rules and totally appreciate a great top ten list. We just have to remember to only incorporate those things which truly mesh with our lives and not feel guilty about the rest. Easier said than done, I know!

A Closet Full of Clothes

Quote - If a woman has a closet full of clothes ...

So often I find women have far, far too many clothes—most of which they don’t even like or wear. We’ve all heard the rule that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time, and I do believe this is true. I certainly used to fall victim to this statistic, as well.

A few years ago, following the birth of my first child, I pulled out my pre-pregnancy wardrobe and realized how much of it I wasn’t excited to see again. Why did I have all of this stuff I wasn’t wearing?? I went on a rampage ruthlessly editing my clothes, got rid of nearly everything, and was left with only the things I really loved. It was shocking to see how little remained. And it was the best feeling.

When working with clients, time and again I find they love their very same clothes so much more after we clean out and organize their closet. Without buying one single thing, they feel better dressed, more confident, more comfortable and more excited to get ready every day. It seems counter-intuitive—that we’d like our clothes better when we have less—but it has happened so often that I truly believe it.

Why might this be? It is because we are no longer weeding through things that are not flattering, need to be altered, are out of fashion, impractical for our lifestyle, or just not our taste. We only see what we love, what makes us look and feel great, and what goes with the rest of our wardrobe.

Doing this will also show you where it might be helpful to purchase a few things. I once helped a woman with 20+ pairs of jeans, and not a single one made her look or feel good.

Give it a try. Remove everything from your closet. Only put back your very favorite things. Bag up the rest and set it aside for a two week experiment. I guarantee you won’t want to go back.

I read the above quote from Bill Blass on one of my favorite gardening blogs here. (Hire Tara if you need a garden designer!) I couldn’t find this quote attributed to Mr. Blass anywhere else, but I think he’d be okay receiving credit.

Decluttering Technique: This or That

There are all kinds of suggestions for how to declutter your belongings, but so often I feel like they fall short of telling you exactly how to decide on an item-by-item basis. I’ve shared my own rule of asking whether it brings you joy, but even that can be tricky for some people to incorporate. So, I thought I’d share with you my second strategy, in case you are looking for other ideas.

This or That

When I encounter a client really struggling to part with anything, I start breaking it down into very small categories. From there, I let each item battle for a spot. For example, if sorting clothes, I’ll gather all of the black blouses (this assumes someone has far too many black blouses, which is often the case).

First I’ll ask the client to pick her least favorite. Then another least favorite. Then another. I keep going until she gets stuck. Then I let the clothes duke it out: holding up two shirts I’ll say “which one—shirt A or shirt B.” If she keeps shirt A, I put it up against a new shirt that we’ll call shirt C. So now it is shirt A vs. shirt C. She might choose shirt C this time, so up next it will be shirt C vs. shirt D. I keep this process going until we reduce that category to a reasonable amount for her lifestyle and closet space. A client has never disliked this technique and it always seems to work!

If you find yourself really struggling to reduce your belongings, break them down into narrow categories and pit each item against one another. May the best man win!!

Blouses from Isabel Marant and Band of Outsiders.