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  • B.Webster

Surviving Chaos - A How-to Guide For Decluttering

Whether you're moving, cleaning house or simply decluttering, it can feel like a monumental task. Here are some of my favourite strategies to tackle the chaos and avoid burn-out.

It can feel overwhelming and exhausting to take on a big move or tackle all the clutter. Especially in the midst of major life changes or transitions. Especially when that 'clutter' holds meaning for you.

I get it. I've been there - more than once - and it IS possible to come out the other side relatively unscathed.

Read on to discover a few of my favourite strategies to get organized and declutter, even during the most stressful, difficult and emotional of times.

A neatly arranged child's closet showing books, toys and clothing.

5 Steps For Surviving The Chaos

1. AVOID BURNOUT: Get Prepared

✓ Stretch before, during & after

I'm serious; if you follow only a single piece of advice, make it this one: Go for a walk, get outdoors, stretch those muscles.

✓ Meal prep in advance

Simple / frozen / On speed dial - Go easy on yourself and try to have some healthy snacks nearby so you're reaching for nuts and apple slices rather than a bag of chips and chocolate bar.

If friends or family offer to help, meals or snacks are also a great way to show support.

✓ Give yourself time and space to decompress before & after.

Cleaning, organizing, packing are physically and mentally difficult. Your own things, or someone else's may carry sentimental value. I like to start with the 'easy' things like expired food or personal care products and carry a notebook and camera with me to take note of significant memories/ideas/things that hold value. If you're able to, treat yourself to a small indulgence to unwind - take a bath, watch a favourite movie, read a book, go for coffee with a friend - ideally, something to take you away from the clutter and let your mind focus on something else - it will make a HUGE difference.

If you're finding it difficult to let go of items because of guilt rather than personal attachment - maybe they were passed on through generations, or you feel a certain responsibility to hold on to something - know that you're definitely not alone in this. Listen to my guest podcast with Nurture Narratives "Brittany Webster on Choosing Connection Over Clutter" (including liberating yourself from 'heirloom guilt').

2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Donate / Giveaway / Sell

✓ Know your options

Look for online forums to sell, donate, or give.

I recently joined Poshmark to help clear out my closet and love gifting to 'buy nothing' groups or doing clothing swaps with friends.

✓ Call ahead if donating

It's important to make sure your donation is needed. Often websites will post what they are in search of as a 'Wish List' or a quick phone call can make sure your things will actually be accepted and used.

✓ Think outside the box

Many organizations don't actively ask for donations but would gladly accept certain items in good condition: Nursing homes, rescue shelters, community centres - make sure to call first to ensure the item can be used and find out details before dropping something off.

3. BE ECO CONSCIOUS: Avoid the Landfill

✓ Choose reusable / compostable / rent containers

Ask for packing materials in giveaway groups, buy discounted used boxes and supplies, or rent packing crates. *A great option for reusable moving boxes and supplies in Canada is Frogbox!

✓ Return or recycle used clothing / products / empties

Some companies take back their used /old products for in-house recycling...and I've been researching take-back programs / initiatives for tricky items like pill bottles, used batteries, etc. Your local / municipal 'garbage pick-up calendar' may list some of these resources.

Find more information and guides to donating and recycling programs in Ottawa and the surrounding area on A Curated Blog: Part I: Clothing, Textiles, Accessories


✓ Choose one thing to tackle at a time

One room / corner of a room / closet / pantry etc. and if you have help, assign tasks. Breaking down a project into manageable parts allows you to focus on one thing at a time and feel the satisfaction of completing that task.

✓ If you get stuck, move on or pause for air

When you come across something that you cannot make a quick decision on, feel free to set it aside and come back to it - move on, or take a short break. When you come back to it later, you may have a fresh take / viewpoint that will help you tackle these more difficult items.

✓ When you complete a task, recognize it

Pause and give yourself a 'high-five'. Take a moment, recognize how far you've come, check it off the list and have a small reward before moving on to the next task - this doesn't need to be long or complicated - a literal checkmark on your list works well, so long as you allow yourself that moment.

5. CREATE A VISUAL: Bookmark & Codify

✓ Find a system that works for you to help organize & recognize items easily

Colour code / Sort into piles / Use stickers. It doesn't need to be fancy or involve buying new office supplies, it just needs to make sense to you and simplify the process.

✓ If you notice something amiss, flag it now

It's easy to lose, misplace and forget something if you leave it for later. Whether you carry a notebook and write it down, or take a picture, flag it with a certain colour, have a separate area set aside... DO make note of it BEFORE moving on.

Whether it's a closet, basement, or packing belongings into boxes for a move... Most importantly, Be honest and patient with yourself. And if you find yourself slipping, Circle back to #1 take that break, get outside and decompress.


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