Decluttering and getting organized might feel like a tedious chore—not something you’d actually consider to be self-care, but that’s exactly what it is: a self-care practice.
As Gretchen Rubin writes in her practical, empowering new book Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter & Organize to Make Room for Happiness, “By getting rid of the things I don’t use, don’t need, or don’t love, as well as the things that don’t work, don’t fit, or don’t suit, I free my mind—and my shelves—for what I truly value.”
Outer order, Rubin writes, saves us time, money, space, and energy. It helps us to feel less frustrated and overwhelmed and overworked. Outer order creates a feeling of sanctuary, according to Rubin: “I experience true leisure because I don’t feel pressured to jump and deal with a mess…I feel more focused and there’s more room in my mind, my schedule, and my space for creative activity…I can revel in the beauty of my possessions because I can see and reach everything easily.”
Rubin also notes that outer order creates a sense of possibility. Which makes sense because when stuff piles up, we feel paralyzed and stuck. “When clutter is gone, I have more choices about the future: what to buy, what to do, where and how to live,” she writes.
Outer Order, Inner Calm is filled with simple, clever strategies for decluttering and organizing. Here are some of my favorites to get you started.
Decide what’s right for you. “Outer order isn’t a matter of having less or having more; it’s a matter of wanting what we have,” Rubin writes. I love this! Because it speaks to the fact that everyone is different. Some people like bare shelves and capsule wardrobes. Others like tables filled with books and photos, and closets with a wide assortment of clothing. Neither preference is superior.
The key, Rubin writes, is to think about relinquishing what’s “superfluous” for you. Because the key is to honor what’s best for you.
Know the real first step. The real first step in getting organized is not to organize. The real first step is to declutter. As Rubin writes, “If you don’t own it, you don’t have to organize it.”
To help you declutter, she suggests the “three strikes you’re out” rule: If you’ve wondered whether you should get rid of something three times, it’s time to let it go. Another great tip she suggests is to walk through each room in your home, and ask yourself: “If I were moving, would I bother to wrap this in bubble wrap and stick it in a box? Or would I chuck it or give it away?”
Take photos. Photos can be helpful in two ways: First, you might take a photo to help you decide what to get rid of. Somehow taking a photo of a cluttered space helps you see it with fresh eyes.
You also might take a photo of items that you no longer need but might be special to you. For instance, Rubin was finding it hard to get rid of her old laptops, which were taking up a lot of space, so she snapped a photo as a memento.
Make it fun. For many of us the very idea of decluttering our spaces sounds like a drag. But it doesn’t have to be. You can make it enjoyable.
Listen to upbeat music as you sort through different piles. Toss 10 items during a commercial break. Pick a different theme each month, and focus on those items, such as books, clothes, toys, and kitchen equipment.
Identify specific problems. Make your life easier and your workflow much smoother by identifying a specific thing that bugs you or complicates your ability to do things.
For instance, if you regularly misplace important info, Rubin suggests using a corkboard, taking notes in one notebook, creating an inbox for “current vital info,” or using a vertical file folder.
“Many problems have simple solutions—once we take a moment to identify them.”
Create beauty. Burn candles with your favorite scents. Use trays to arrange groups of items, such as: perfume bottles; spice jars; or ground coffee, mugs, and a coffeemaker. Bring natural elements inside, such as flowers, sea glass, or pinecones.
Decluttering and organizing your space is about creating surroundings that support, energize, soothe, serve, and inspire you. It’s about creating surroundings that meet your needs and help you live out your values.
And isn’t that one of the foundations of self-care?