What's the best way to do this? Answer: any way you can think of.

I have always been terrible at higher math. By which I mean everything past basic arithmetic. Algebra was the worst - I just couldn’t get my head around it. My teachers seemed to rely on repetition as a learning device; they just kept repeating the same explanations over and over, as though the same words would eventually make sense.

Fortunately, my father was not only some kind of math genius, but also a gifted teacher. He’d patiently explain the concept, and if I didn’t get it he’d come at it from a different angle. He’d use analogy and example and just keep talking about the concept until I had that light bulb moment. He’s single-handedly responsible for getting me through high school math. This is just the least of what I owe him.

This same method can be applied to just about anything: if one explanation or example doesn’t work, try another. Try talking around the problem until something finally strikes a cord. It’s helpful to remember that one strategy does not fit all, and that a method that works well one day may prove less effective the next. This is as true of home management as algebra, and is why I don’t organize FOR you but WITH you, because my best way might not be your best way.

If you’re struggling with decluttering, don’t despair! There are a lot of strategies out there, so please don’t become discouraged if one doesn’t seem to be doing it for you. For most of us a combination of approaches is a great way to proceed. You may have heard me say that I finally got good at decluttering when I decided to get rid of five things per day. I was determined to lighten my load of possessions, and occasional clear-outs were not getting me the results I wanted. Slow and steady seemed like a good strategy, and for me it really did the trick. I started a blog to keep myself honest - I didn’t really gain much of an audience, but posting every day was the impetus I needed to keep at it. As you can see, some years I really stuck with it and some not so much. It’s another tool in my arsenal, not my only weapon in the war against clutter.

Here are my favorite decluttering actions. Try one, try all, mix and match as you see fit. Just keep working at it, you’ll get there.

  1. Set a timer. This is particularly good for big spaces that are really overwhelming. I like to work in 20 minute increments. When the bell sounds you get to stop. Repeat daily. Or hourly!

  2. Choose a small area or category. Examples: the medicine cabinet, reference books, spices, the nightstand. I offer a weekly prompt via text with a suggestion for a 15-20 minute decluttering project. You can get in on the goodness by texting the word “throwaway” to 31996.

  3. Set a daily or weekly number of items to get rid of. The tricky part is that you have to stick with it! This is a great one to do with a buddy - text a list or a picture of the stuff you’ve jettisoned to one another to stay on track. Accountability can really help keep you going.

  4. Make a game of it. There’s a great month-long challenge, apparently invented by dozens of people simultaneously, in which you throw away one thing on the 1st of the month, 2 things on the 2nd, etc. If you stick with it you’ll end up tossing well over 400 items. A great start!

  5. Move 27 things. This is based on a Feng Shui principle of moving energy. I like to use this one for tidying as much as for decluttering. Either way, progress will be made.

  6. Take pictures! I’m terrible at this one, but I’m working on it. Before and after pictures remind you of how much you’ve progressed. If you’re feeling down you can remind yourself (and everyone else) that you are good at this, dammit! I hesitate to encourage you to spend MORE time on social media, but the kudos you get online can be very encouraging.

There you have it, my top tips for slow and steady uncluttering. More in the future about speedy overhauls vs. incremental changes; I have LOTS of thoughts about that.