How to Create an Organization Action Plan for Your Next Decluttering Sweep

Going in with a plan can make the process feel less overwhelming.

We'll be the first to admit that decluttering is overwhelming. As important as decluttering is to maintaining a more organized home, the daunting thought of making decisions about everything we own can prevent us from getting started. That's why beginning the process without a game plan in mind is a rookie move. An organizing action plan is essential for decluttering success. So, we've laid one out for you. Grab a cup of coffee, plus a pen and some paper, and follow the steps below—you'll soon be on your way to a more calm, chaos-free home.

Start by Setting Goals

Whether you’re working with a professional organizer to eradicate clutter or doing it on your own, you need to prioritize which spaces you’ll work on and figure out how much time and money you’re willing to invest.

Find Your Focus

Professional organizer Laura Leist of Eliminate Chaos often begins with new clients by asking them to give her a descriptive tour of the rooms they want to organize. “I’m listening for those pain points. You can hear it in their voices or see it in their actions,” Leist says. “After I hear it, we then talk about what I heard or saw.”

Try identifying pain points on your own by standing in the middle of a room and turning slowly 360 degrees. Narrate what you’re seeing at each moment: “There’s the sofa. There are our favorite pillows. There’s the end table . . . and there’s that annoying pile of gaming gear that no one ever puts away," Leist says, as an example. When you feel your pulse rise, you know you’ve found something specific you can better organize.

Envision the Future

Ask yourself why you want to get a certain room organized. “If you have a big enough reason why, that will be enough to get you going,” says Donna Smallin Kuper, author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness. Flesh out your desires with some creative thinking. What do you see this space looking like? What does “organized” look like to you? What will it feel like?

For example, close your eyes and think about that spare bedroom currently filled with piles of clutter. Ugh! Now envision what it could look like. How will you move through the room? Where will you sit or work comfortably? What will you do in the room? Hold onto that image. Write down what it looks like. Curate a Pinterest board of inspiring images that match your vision. Once your brain and all your senses are fully engaged with your goal, you’re ready to go.

Set Priorities

Brainstorm a list of all the things you want to achieve in a room, and then put these items in a sequence that makes sense. Avoid committing to multiple projects and goals. Strive for projects that you can complete in one work session or day, even if they’re small. “Success is the biggest inspiration for further projects. You’ll have the feeling of weight being lifted when you finish even a small project,” Leist says.

To prioritize your projects, look over your list of things you want to accomplish and identify the following:

  • The Biggest Pain Point: Of all the rooms in your home, which is bothering you the most? And even more specifically, what piece of furniture or aspect of the room stands out for you?Tackle that project now.
  • The Biggest Payoff: Ask yourself which project will yield the biggest results, in the shortest amount of time, with the smallest effort, and for the least amount of money. Go for that one.

Put It in Writing

Turn your task list into a set of written goals. “The act of writing gets the goal into your subconscious,” Leist says. “Plus, it’s nice to be able to go back during and after a project to see how you’re progressing.”

Leist also recommends assigning a specific due date to each step and an end date for the project to reinforce the goal and shape the entire endeavor. Scheduling an important event or a party can motivate you to keep working because you want to enjoy the celebration and satisfy your guests.

Get Real

Television shows about organizing and decluttering distort what’s possible in a day. “Clients want four-hour miracles, but they have 20 years of stuff,” Leist says. Put your goals through a reality check. Have a second pair of eyes review your goals; a neutral friend can see things you overlook.

Revise and Rebound

Whenever barriers to progress arise, go back to your original goal. Ask yourself what’s really keeping you from achieving it.

Perhaps your goal was to have a living room where guests can sit comfortably, but several weeks into the project you’re still struggling to even clear the coffee table. Is there something going on that you need to be aware of? Maybe you’re actually struggling to let go of a collection of figurines that you don’t really like but came from your beloved Great-Aunt Colleen.Take the time to craft another goal that specifically gets at the barrier you just identified. How about searching online for a passionate collector who will truly enjoy those figurines? Who knows, this person might even pay you for the collection.

A professional organizer can also be extremely helpful in these moments of stalled progress.

Project Chunking

Big decluttering projects, such as editing your closet or clearing out your attic, will not get done in a single session, even with professional help. You need to break big projects into a series of mini projects that you can complete in 15 to 60 minutes, depending on your stamina.

The two most common ways to chunk a project are to focus on just one area or one type of task at a time.

By Area

You could divide your clothing closet into zones for specific garments, such as short-hanging clothes, long-hanging clothes, shoes, accessories, and so forth, and then spend a chunk of time on each.

By Task

Or you could divide work on the same closet into the steps you need to go through: sorting all clothing, deciding what to keep, figuring out how you want to store the remaining items, buying and installing new containers and hangers, and finally adding labels.

The key is that each chunk, each mini project, has a clearly defined starting and stopping point.

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