From Chaos to Zen: Where to Start

OH LORD, THE CLUTTER. I AM SO OVERWHELMED, I MIGHT HAVE A STROKE. WHERE DO I START???

If this is you, rest easy: I have a few simple tips to get you started. Number one, well, precursor number one: Don’t try to do everything at once. Your head will explode.

Step 1

Get out several pieces of paper, some tape, and a marker. Make four signs and tape them up in four areas of your house. These will be your sort piles:

  1. Keep—because a) it is functional, b) it is beautiful, and/or c) you are in love with it.
  2. Garbage—self-explanatory.
  3. Donate—either to charity or to someone you know who would use said item. Have a pad of sticky notes nearby; write that person’s name on the note and stick it to the item.
  4. Decide later—because sometimes it is really hard to make a call right now and you don’t want to lose momentum. Keep going. You can do this.

Step 2

Choose a thematic item to sort into these piles. In other words, you will winnow down a particular type of item—books, clothes, shoes, tchotchkes, etc.

Do not try to tackle a room at first. Why, you ask? Because: Where will all the stuff you cleared out of that room go? Just picture it. Yeah.

The goal is to eventually find a well thought out, intentional home for all of your items, but it is hard to conceptualize this without knowing what you actually have. Think about this process as taking an inventory of your stuff, item-type by item-type. By sorting, you may learn you have 7 copies of [insert name of book here], which, I’m guessing, you probably don’t need.

Sort, sort, and sort some more, putting everything in piles 1–4 (see above). Repeat this process with other themed items until you have a reasonably sized pile of things you would like to keep.

Step 3

Now think about putting together rooms/zonal areas. Consider how you and your family like to live in your space. Where do you like to read? Put your books there. Where do you get dressed? Put your clothes there. And so on. And, because you sorted, you now know what exactly you have! Do you need 2 bookshelves or 15?

A word about furniture: Your furniture ought to reflect 1) What you have/need to put away, 2) What you find beautiful, and 3) How you like to work—do you need clear surfaces to work on, or is it out-of-sight-out-of-mind therefore you need to see what you are working with? It is important to really think about what you and your family need to have in your space to support you all to do your work in the world.

Step 4

Put everything away! And presto-change-o (and a crapload of work later!) you have a beautiful, organized house! Congratulations.

This could be you. Minus the perm.

This could be you. Minus the perm.