When we think about detoxing and cleansing, this often conjures up images related to internal detoxification—that is eliminating negative and ill elements from our bodies that make us feel sluggish, lethargic, sad, out of sorts, and just simply like something is missing or off in our lives. While internal detoxification is important, it is only part of the process. It is also crucial to think about our external space; how managing the clutter in our physical space around us can bring about many positive benefits. By focusing on both the internal (our bodies) and external (our physical space), we are opening ourselves and our daily lives to a host of positive energy and joyful feelings.

But how exactly do we start this external decluttering, detox process? The first step is to acknowledge what clutter really is and how it affects us. Clutter is simply an accumulation of items no longer needed or that don’t belong in the place they are; all this can cause emotional stress. Clutter is anything that we do not use, do not like, or do not have a place for in our home.

Having too much clutter can be draining. It can complicate our lives by causing us to use our precious time looking for items. Clutter takes up our energy and negatively impacts many areas of our lives. In addition, it also disturbs the beautiful areas of our home and space. Let’s go over some steps on how we can start reducing the clutter in our homes.

  • Plan: Set aside time for clutter-clearing sessions. Some people prefer to work for no more than 30 minutes, while others may find that once they start, they just want to keep going. Do what is best for you. Either way, definitely plan something to treat yourself after each session. Keep in mind that decluttering is hard work, especially on the emotional level.
  • Set aside supplies: Have at least three boxes for each room that you will be working in. Boxes are easier to work with than bags because they have structure and can be stacked vertically in order to maximize space. Note that you may need more than one box for each type below as you sort through all your items. Start by labeling boxes into these three simple categories that will be used for sorting:

Box 1= “In”box. This will be for items that you use, love and truly enjoy. These will be items that you will likely use again and again.

Box 2“Out” box. This will be for items that you might still use but don’t like as much, or it could be for items that are broken or simply don’t get used anymore.

Box 3= “I Don’t Know!” box. This will be for items that you simply can’t decide on right away and would like to spend more time thinking about rather than making a rash decision.

  • Prepare yourself: Organizing and decluttering can be energizing, but it can also be emotionally draining and psychically exhausting. As you embark on the external detoxification process of decluttering, think about what makes you feel good. If you work well with music, play some of your favorite energizing tunes to help motivate you to move around your rooms. Place a vase of fresh flowers near you to inspire the natural beauty in your space or try lighting some fragrant candles with lavender or vanilla for uplifting, energizing and calming mood benefits.
  • Where to start: Since there are many rooms in your home, it can be overwhelming to decide which room to begin with when starting. Ideally, you will want to sort through every item in your room so you know exactly what you have, what you want to keep, and what you want to discard. Start by sorting things into categories (i.e., like with like versus categorizing by color, size or favorite items). It will be a lot easier to sort through your items when you can see how much you have of similar types. When you’re in each room, tackle each by starting with items on the floor; then surfaces like dressers, nightstands and bookshelves; then gradually work into the inside of your closets, drawers and cabinets. Begin by following the order of rooms below—this will help because they are the rooms you are in daily and you will be energized by the immediate effects of your time and effort.

Start in the bedroom. Take out all the items that create visual clutter that do not really belong here or that can be distracting to the relaxing nature of your room. For some people, this may include things like a television, exercise equipment or office/work-related items. Then focus on thoroughly decluttering and cleaning your closets. Pay particular attention to clothing you never wear, sheets/towels you never use, and books you will never read again. Let go of as many items as possible that you have not used in a long time.

Next, focus on the kitchen. Empty out all your drawers; look for items that you have duplicates of, pots and pans that are warped or damaged, and cooking tools or utensils that you no longer use or haven’t used in a long time.

Move to the main entrance of your home. Let go of any objects in your main door area that are not really needed there, such as the recycle bins in full view, piles of clothes and shoes, out-of-season items, or bags of store-bought items that haven’t been put away. Also, think of a way to deal with all the incoming mail so that it has a home the minute it comes through the door—it will either be something you need to act on, file, or discard because it is simply junk mail. A small basket with dividers or three separate containers (labeled with keep, review, discard for instance) by the front door or a landing zone may be a good solution. Always check the discard section for letters that may have accidentally gotten into the junk mail section.

  • Questions to ask yourself: Use the Organizational Tool sidebar to decide what items you would like to keep and which ones you are comfortable with giving away. As you put items in the boxes,ask yourself why you are keeping an item rather than why you should get rid of it. By framing this question in a more positive tone—related to keeping versus discarding—it is easier to think about because it gives you a chance to ponder what you use the item for, when you last used it, if you will use it again, and if you still like it. Sometimes when we move too quickly through the decluttering and start to throw things away too fast, it can lead to regretting a decision; regrets can slow down the process.
  • What to do with each box:

“In” Box: These items will stay in your home and space. As you review the items in this box, consider the amount of surface space you have in your home and if you have space for some of the items in a closet, cabinet or drawer. If you do not find proper space for each and every item in your “In” box, you might have to let some go.

“Out” Box:This box goes out of your home. You could give these items to a local charity, a shelter, give them to friends or arrange a garage sale—there are many options. Just remember that the sooner this box goes out, the better; do not keep it in your home for too long.

“I Don’t Know!” Box: Know that this box may contain items with strong emotional attachment (often entangled with confusion, guilt, and possibly hurtful and painful memories) that you will find difficult to deal with. Know that taking time to evaluate the items in your home can be a very strong clearing of old emotional ties and old emotional patterns. Give yourself time to let go of uncertainty, confusion and guilt related to these items and to remember any emotional ties you have had with your items. This can have a very profound cleansing effect. Just keep placing them in your “I Don’t Know!” box until the day you are ready to deal with the items in this box.

Organizing our physical spaces can have tremendous emotional and psychological effects. By making decisions on the items, we are in control. We can get emotional, angry, frustrated and feel like stopping because it is simply too difficult to make decisions. Know that these feelings are normal. We need to remind ourselves that we are taking a very active and, albeit, difficult and emotional step into evaluating the clutter items in your home.

In order to help avoid future clutter from accumulating in the house, establish an organizational system thatis individually suited. And know that it is perfectly okay to have at least one or two clutter drawers!

Margarita M. Cossuto, Ph.D., is a professional organizer and owner of Living Organized LLC. Cossuto works with a variety of clients in Connecticut and New York. Connect with her at LivingOrganized.com or 203-451-7880. She would like to thank Dr. Ronald G. Shapiro for helpful comments while preparing this article.

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