Where Do I Start?

Traditional approaches to decluttering have limitations when it comes to an extremely cluttered environment. Working room by room is a slow process if there is a large bulk of items in every room, and choosing a category such as books or clothes to work with is difficult if belongings are jumbled together or inaccessible. The slow decluttering approach which involves removing unwanted things wherever they are found lacks the focus required to make headway in a large project. This post discusses a harm minimisation approach to decluttering which focusses on problem issues first.

Addressing clutter is important because of the negative impact on health, safety and wellbeing that can result from excessive clutter in the home. These negative effects can act as powerful motivators for change, and can also be a starting point for defining decluttering projects. Rather than focussing on tidiness or organisation as goals, projects can be developed which address specific problems or risks associated with too much stuff. The objective is to minimise the harmfull consequences of clutter by addressing the most serious risks and dealing with them first.

Harm minimisation projects could include:

1. The Safety First Project
Identifying and addressing hazards caused by clutter or hoarding such as limited access to important exits, removal of obstructions in walkways, removal of trip hazards, reducing the height of piles at risk of falling, and clearing areas around stoves, heaters and other potential fire hazards.

2. The Healthy Home Project
Cleaning up food and drink scraps, taking out the garbage, clearing out the fridge, establishing a routine for cleaning up and removing food waste, washing up crockery and utensils, general cleaning, addressing pest infestations, reducing dust exposure, removing items affected by mould and mildew, addressing damp and its effects, removing old medicines and toxic chemicals, and putting poisons out of reach of children and pets. In a heavily cluttered environment this project may need to be repeated as additional areas become accessible. However attacking the obvious health risk early in the process creates a safer and more pleasant living and working environment while the larger project goes on.

3. The Financial Survival Project
This project involves identifying any immediate financial risks from a cluttered and disorganised lifestyle such as unpaid rent or bills, or excessive debt. If mail has been unopened or ignored, it can be useful to run through the regular expenses that need to be dealt with and develop a realistic financial picture. If excessive debt has become a problem, stemming spending and working out a financial strategy could be important considerations. Being proactive about financial problems may prevent a crisis such as power cuts or evictions.

4. The Family Friendly Project
If one person in the family tends to collect and acquire a lot of stuff, this can impinge on the space and comfort of other family members. The family friendly projects involves finding out the needs of individuals in the family and making it a priority to create some space and sense of order in the areas of the house that affect them most. This might mean making decluttering the kids rooms a priority so that they have space to study and play. It might mean having an agreement with a spouse about areas that are to be clutter free. The Family Friendly Project aims to acknowledge the needs and preferences of everyone in the home, so that clutter doesn’t rule the roost.

5. The Reaching Out Project
Feelings of hopelessness and isolation can be debilitating consequences of a cluttered situation. Changing long term patterns of thinking and behaviour can be difficult and stressful, and may require the support of counsellors and doctors. Reaching out can also involve enlisting the help of sympathetic family and friends. Professional organisers are available to assist with the practicalities of sorting and organising. Reaching out brings hope for real and lasting change by drawing on the knowledge, experience and goodwill of other people.

These projects are an example of an approach to a major decluttering effort which aims to address the most serious consequences of the cluttered environment first. Which you choose will depend on which issues are causing the most risk or distress. Of all the harm minimisation projects, reaching out is probably the most crucial, as it will change the dynamics of the situation and give the other projects a better chance of success.

A specific harm minimisation approach is outlined in the book Digging Out  by Michael A Tompkins and Tamara L Hartl.

The links to the book are affiliate links with Australian online store Booktopia.  A small percentage of the purchase price is paid to Live Light if you buy the book through this link

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