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Getting organised begins with decluttering

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

There's reason why your space has gotten to the point of being where you are today. Simply put, there are things in the space that shouldn't be there. Things that have gravitated to that space because they either never had a home of their own, or you have too many items trying to take pride of place. The best way to tackle an over crowded space is to declutter.

Your space may be a cupboard, a bookshelf, a room. Maybe it's the fridge, medicine cabinet or toy storage area. Whatever the space, the decluttering process is the same.


What is the purpose for the space you are wanting to organise?

Take a moment to look at the space and the items that are in there.

As an example, let's say you're wanting to tidy up the linen cupboard. Take a look inside the cupboard and see what is currently in the space. Should the space just be for linens, or are you also keeping other items such as medical supplies or toilet paper? Perhaps the cupboard has become the go-to place for batteries or light bulbs. If the space is multi-purposed, it's important to later provide a zone that's dedicated for that item. If you don't have an allocated zone, things will get dumped in the space again.

The photos used in this post have been shared with permission from my client, Heidi. Heidi is a family daycare educator in Queensland. Her outdoor storage shed was overflowing with a variety of items. There were plastic tubs filled with daycare resources, bags of unknown content, and things that didn't belong. Her shelving units were also filled with a variety of play equipment, prams and portable beds. Heidi reached out to me for some hands-on assistance.

Heidi identified that she wanted to use her shed for not just the storing of family daycare supplies and resources, but also a place where she can set up an art table for the children, and where they can ride their bikes when its hot outside. Heidi had a dream for her space, which gave us direction for how we needed to proceed.


While it's not essential to take photos of your space before you start the decluttering process, taking photos now will give you something to look back on when comparing the end results.


Prepare an area that you'll be able to use for sorting. If you don't have a space immediately next to the area you're planning to organise, consider taking items to another space and setting yourself up there for sorting.

Your sorting space needs to have four zones

  1. Keep

  2. Trash

  3. Donate

  4. Doesn't belong


Start the decluttering process by focusing on one box, one shelf or one area at a time.

Sort through them by identify what you want to KEEP, what is RUBBISH, what can be DONATED, and what should be RE-HOMED ie items that belong somewhere else.

  • Items to keep are to be grouped in a pile.

  • Trash can go straight into the bin.

  • Donatable items can be put aside and dealt with later.

  • Items that don't belong, ie items that don't meet your identified purpose for the space, are to go into a group or pile that you will deal with later. If you stop everything so you can rehome them now, you're distracting yourself from the task at hand.


Don't empty out the entire cupboard in one hit, or dump out your entire wardrobe of clothes onto your bed, unless of course there's only a small amount of things that you need to go through.

You've most likely heard the saying "don't bite off more than you can chew"; it means that you should not take on a task that's bigger than what you can manage. Taking on too much, or taking too big a bite, can bring about anxiety and the feeling of overwhelm.

By starting small and working through one box, shelf or area at a time, you are giving yourself more control. Starting small allows you to action the items you have at hand, and gives you more flexibility to press-pause in the event that you need to stop everything and resume at a later time.

At Heidi's place, we started with the table top, then the boxed items that were next to and behind the table.


Wipe down empty shelves and surfaces as you go. When the first shelf is empty and has been cleaned, begin work on the second shelf. Repeat the process of removing all of the items from that shelf and sort them into groups - Keep, Trash, Donate, and Doesn't belong. Wipe down the shelf when it has been cleared.


During the decluttering process, remember to take a moment to check in with yourself. Evaluate if you think you can keep going, if you need a short break, or if you’ve had enough for the day and need to stop. If at any time you feel overwhelmed by the decluttering process and you need to stop, then stop.

If someone is working with you to help you get organised, make sure to check in with them, to ensure that they are doing okay or whether they need a break.

If you need to stop, that's okay. The decluttering process is the biggest part of getting organised, so well done to you for achieving what you have so far.

  • Place your KEPT items onto one of the cleaned shelves.

  • Unsorted items can also be returned to the shelves as long as they are stored separate from the KEPT items.

  • Trash bins can be taken to the dumpster, or council collection bin.

  • Items to donate can be bagged up and put into the car, so you can drop them to the local charity donation centre.

  • Items that don't belong can either be taken to their rightful home, or left in a pile that you can action later.


Once you have finished sorted everything, and you've organised things into one of the four categories, it's time to go through your KEPT pile.

Look at the items that you've kept and the quantity you have. Look at the available space in your cupboard and assign a zone for your items.

If you're sorting linen, assign a space where you want things to go. Are you grouping and storing sheets by size or season? Are you putting pillow cases with the sheet sets or will they have a space of their own? Set up your shelves in a way that makes sense to you. Remember: the shelves at your waist and shoulder height are where you should store items that you access often.

After sorting and cleaning out the items that were in the middle of the shed, we focused on the shelving along the back wall. Content from those shelves were sorted, and the shelves were wiped down.

Heidi wanted one of her shelving units to have a dedicated space for Christmas decorations, and another unit to be for stationery and craft supplies. We assigned shelves specifically for these items, with the craft supplies located closer to the shed entry, for easy access.

The Christmas items were assigned two top shelves plus the very top of the storage unit. Kept items needed to be able to sit comfortably on the shelf within the allocated space. If the Christmas items exceeded the available storage space, then culling was required.


There are so many different types of storage containers, totes, bags and what-nots that you can buy to help get your things organised, but don't be fooled into buying these pretty things before you have actually done the decluttering process and know what items you need to store.

You may think you need to have fancy boxes in order to get organised, but that's not true, and buying before you declutter will actually cost you time and money.

When you go through the declutter process, you'll find that you will have empty containers that you can utilise when putting your kept items back in place. Start with containers you can find around the house – old shoe boxes, tubs and clean food containers. Use whatever you can access. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just practical.


Now's the time to go through your KEPT items. Group like with like and place them into containers or directly onto the shelf.

Don't rush out to buy new containers just so you can have everything looking pretty. Not yet.

Where possible, keep using the temporary storage solutions and containers you have for at least a week. During this time you'll find the right storage solution and layout that works for you.

You’ll probably rearrange things a few times before you find the best fit. You may discover that drawers would work better in the space rather than open shelves, or perhaps a lazy Susan or a caddy would be better than a basket.

As a Certified Organizational Specialist, I follow the ClutterBug philosophy for organising. The ClutterBug philosophy is founded on the idea that there are four types of organising styles, each focusing on distinct needs with visual and practical organisation. Take the free ClutterBug quiz to discover your organising style >

Heidi identified that she likes to have things in clear containers. Since the decluttering process emptied out a lot of clear tubs, we were able to transfer kept items out of their solid containers and into clear.


Now that you've discovered what works and what doesn't, you can now upgrade your storage containers to something more suitable for you and your space. If you need help to identify the best products for your needs, I'd be happy to offer some guidance.


Congratulations! You're now at the end of your decluttering and organising project. Take photos of your efforts and compare them with the photos taken before.


If you need hands-on assistance with getting your space organised, or some advice on products that can help you in the organising process, contact The Organised Educator for your free initial consultation. | @TheOrganisedEducator | Mobile 0407 221 012

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It was honestly a joy to see the transformation and to realise I was actually making a change that could last. Two days later, my Donate pile is halved and will be gone this weekend. I'm so grateful for the assistance, grace and professionalism given me. This is what's left to go.

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