Decluttering vs. Organising – What to do first?

The order of the universe

Let’s be upfront. Declutter first, organise second. How many times I have said this (too many?) and yet it’s one of the main reasons I see humans get stuck when it comes to wanting to create more flow and a calmer energy in our homes.

And creating that calmer, more organised flow is important as we spend A LOT of time at home. Whether it’s sleeping, eating, pottering, creating, Netflixing, creating, or raising the next generation. Stress causes all sorts of nasty things so looking for ways to reduce it in our homes is 100% a worthwhile task.

You can’t organise a space that has no space

You know when you bum out on a game of tetris and you get that creeping feeling that it’s about to end soon and it’s all too late? The coloured bricks are getting higher and higher and it’s getting real hard to try and squish them all in.

The same goes for your stuff. 

If you try to organise before decluttering, you are essentially trying to organise a game of tetris that is already over. Now no analogy is ever perfect, but what I am trying to get you to visualise is that a room full of stuff is always going to be a room full of stuff. There is no where to move anything, there is no room to let the space breathe. You are basically taking blocks and putting them in another space, which you then have to take the item that previously lived there and now have to move elsewhere. And so you end up in a cycle of shifting things around with the same end result. A cluttered space that is sending you clear signals to try another approach.

Decluttering is the ebb, organisation is the flow

Decluttering your space is the hard part. It’s dirty. Physical. Eye-rolling-ly boring at times. Clench-fistingly frustrating at points. Tears brimming from the eyes at the sheer volumes of stuff that never seems to end. And the shame of why you allowed yourself to get here in the first place. 

Decluttering is the ebb of the process. And here’s the best part: it’s not rocket science. Sure, it’s boring and just hard making constant decisions, but you do see the work developing before your eyes. And nobody’s life is in danger if you throw out a toy or even a wedding dress. As you declutter, one pile of who-knows-what has now become 5 little mounds that display your proactive decisions. And that is your proof of effort. It can be hard to move through the volume of stuff, but you are rewarded with instant changes, even if they are small at the start.

And rest assured, it always gets WAY messier before it gets cleaner. 

Once you have removed the items you no longer love or use (clutter), you now have an accurate version of what you own and what needs to go where. You are free to move categories around. Socks, undies and swimmers may best fit into one drawer, whereas big, fluffy jumpers take up one all on their own. You may also find areas that are now empty that can be repurposed for a new category of items. 

After decluttering you will have an appreciation as to why you own what you own. You won’t be stopping and wondering if you really need all 50 swatches of fabric, or wondering how on earth you ended up with 11 pairs of scissors. It will feel easy creating a home for each category and knowing that it all intentionally belongs under your roof.

Organisation is easiest when you know what you have

Once you are fresh out of going through all the stuff you, you will quickly see the size of the categories of stuff you own.

Because there will be more free space (and it doesn’t have to be rooms that are completely empty, it can be as simple as a shelf!) moving your stuff around to find the best flow for the space will be doable as it is filled with the stuff you love.

At its heart, organisation is creating systems that think for you. A tub with a label “Cleaning Products” is a simple system the whole family can get on board with. Same for a linen cupboard with sheet labels on the shelves so even your best mate can grab a single bedsheet.

It’s about creating systems that work harder than you do. And to create effective systems for your stuff requires an intimate knowledge of everything you own. After decluttering you will see that having the snow gear in 4 different areas of the house may be why it’s so annoying to find all the bits and pieces. Or having a basket in each bedroom labelled ‘electrical’ is so you can easily find chargers, cameras, and remotes for that person means you don’t have to answer the same question on repeat: “where is….?”

You CAN organise first, but read this first

For some people who are totally across the stuff they own, it may make sense to just dive into the organisation step and do a spot of decluttering as you go.

However, from my experience decluttering is a process of not simply chucking out trash, but reassessing why you own what you own. Life moves in phases, and some of those phases are part of age progression and some are brought upon by rapid change whether we wanted it or not. Decluttering acts as an audit of your stuff and although it sounds overly simple, sometimes getting rid of 2 pairs of shoes means that you don’t have to invest in new shoe storage. Or moving that one big, floofly winter coat to another closet means you aren’t fighting to see your wardrobe every morning. It can be the small changes that add up and create more flow. 

My last point for decluttering first before diving into the organisation process is that we so often want the end result first without appreciating the effort first.

Those amazing pictures or organised spaces you see on Instagram are the result of careful planning, measuring and assessing how the space works. Okay, maybe those images are a snapshot of time that aren’t really real, but we all have that one friend who has the dream house and pantry we all want. 

To get there you need to know what you own and plan the result. It’s not a copy and paste job but rather asking what bugs you about the space and what would reduce the stress in your home?

Questions that require you to dig a little deeper, but only you can answer. 

Declutter first. Organise second. It’s an order that works.