Sunday, February 22, 2015

Declutter before organizing: doing it in the right order

Old Faithful, awaiting the sewing diva
“You can’t organize clutter, you can only get rid of it,” according to FlyLady. Marie Kondo (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up), and Andrew Mellen (Unstuff Your Life) say the same thing. All the decluttering gurus take the same approach: don’t even think about organizing your stuff until you’ve gotten rid of the excess. They may have somewhat different approaches to decluttering, different questions to ask yourself, but all are in agreement that the decluttering must be done first.

It has taken me a long time to learn this.

Several years ago I tried to organize without first getting rid of things. I hired a professional organizer and we spent two whole days organizing my studio. She made it clear at the start that her mission was to organize the stuff I had, rather than going through and getting rid of things. She was quite willing to help me sell anything on Craig’s List if I liked, but it was not her job to declutter; I was to have done that before she came to help me. There was a very short lead time (a couple of days) between when I first called her and when she arrived. I had no time to declutter, and, besides, I was still in the mind-set that I needed everything I had in my studio, so decluttering did not happen. The organizer did tell me that I had “plenty of product” and that I didn’t need to buy any more. Good advice, but ultimately not very helpful.

Without first making some tough decisions and decluttering, I doomed myself to several more years of being overwhelmed whenever I walked into my studio; several more years of adding new projects and potential projects to the pile; several more years of shifting things around from one place to another because—even though it was all “organized”—there was too much stuff to really fit comfortably in the closets and shelves and cupboards. It didn't take long for my beautifully “organized” studio to devolve into chaos once more. It was a hard (and expensive) lesson to learn.

You cannot organize your clutter; you have to get rid of it!

One of the most important things to declutter early on is your “fantasy self.” According to Francine Jay, Miss Minimalist, our fantasy selves lug around piles of things that never get used, and in the end, keep us from really living the lives we want. Of her list of possible fantasy selves, one hit home with me:
“A knitter/sewer/scrapbooker/woodworker extraordinaire with enough supplies to fill a craft store…
when you rarely ever complete a project?”
Before finding this description, I was already starting to realize that I would never be some of the selves I've been fantasizing for most of my life; I would need several lifetimes for that. So, it’s time to say goodbye to those possible selves that will never be, and move joyfully into the me I really am. This is a big step, a good early step in the decluttering process.

p.s., it's surprisingly hard to let go of my fantasy self as fine seamstress, pattern maker, sewist! 

"Storing our fantasy selves’ stuff isn't fair to our real selves—not only does it make us feel like failures, it takes away the space and time we could devote to uncovering our true passions and potential.
So as you’re decluttering, give the boot to your fantasy self and all its accessories—it’s not giving up on your dreams, it’s making way for real ones!"   - Francine Jay


  1. 'fantacizing' - this is an interesting thought line. When we first moved here I was making art books. The key word is 'art' or it was to me. I wanted to be an "ARTIST". I worked hard, made beautiful things, sold many but still didn't feel like and 'artist'. I then went on to beaded embroidery -- same result, same feelings. Like I was never quite achieving my goal. I loved what I did as I did it - that always been a mantra for me - but personally something was missing. I wasn't having 'fun'. I was agonizing over everything perhaps even waiting to be 'discovered' as an artist. Over those years I was still not satisfied. Slowly I started listening to my heart and my mind and realized that 'being an artist' was really not something I wanted after all. What I wanted was to have fun, do whatever pleased me whether it sold, or showed or anyone else in the world even cared. So today I am so very happy, thankful and just having fun -- I can even meditate while I while I work. All is well.

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  3. "Storing our fantasy selves' stuff isn't fair to our real selves..." It also suppresses the real, glorious, authentic artist self that we are. If one believes that fantasy is better than reality, then one demeans the beauty that is in oneself.

    1. We can never live up to the fantasy. And I wonder if the fantasy would have so much sway if we didn't collect so much stuff to support it!

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