My clients often call on me because they feel unable to start the task of decluttering on their own. They may need to declutter to make their home easier to live in, or because they are downsizing into a smaller home. Whatever the reason, the task seems insurmountable partly because they don’t have a clear idea of how to get going.

One method that I have found particularly helpful is to approach a room or a whole home as a series of layers of stuff. Like peeling an onion, we work through one layer of stuff at a time, starting with what is easy to decide on, then moving onto items that require more thought and to which my clients are more emotionally attached. These may differ from person to person.

The benefit of this approach is that my client becomes accustomed to the decluttering process by making easier decisions first on what to keep or let go. By the time we get to the more important or sentimental items, they find the process less overwhelming and stressful and have improved their decision-making skills.

Here are some examples of items that typically fall on the continuum of easy to difficult to let go:

Outer layer (easy items, mostly to be thrown away) – Broken gadgets/toys/kitchenware, food past its sell by date, old newspapers and magazines, freebie toiletries from hotels, old margarine and yoghurt tubs, stained/torn clothing and worn out shoes.

Middle layers (mixed response, to donate or sell) – Surplus kitchenware and kitchen gadgets, garden tools, everyday furniture, clothing in good condition but that doesn’t fit anymore or is dated, costume jewellery, birthday cards, past work-related papers, novels, supplies for crafting and other hobbies, old technology.

Inner layers (difficulties deciding, to sell or pass on to family or friends) – Personal letters, photographs, expensive clothing items or those worn at a special event, furniture/crockery/silverware/paintings that have a family history, paperwork (financial and personal), collectible or valuable books plus those with personal significance.

Of course, decluttering does not mean getting rid of everything. It is about choosing what is both necessary and important to you in the stage of life that you are at right now.

So if you are battling to get going on your home declutter project, consider starting with the outer layer of the onion, those items that you are not at all attached to emotionally. Then see how you progress from there.

Here’s hoping that ‘peeling your clutter onion’ in this way won’t bring on too many tears!

Vicky Sim is a professional organiser based in Durban, South Africa with a passion for helping her clients to transform their space and simplify their lives.

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