“I don’t know where to start.” This is the initial reaction of most people who have recognized the need for change in some area of life. It marks the threshold between a 2 and a 3 on the Readiness Scale. It can be overwhelming and discouraging to experience a moment of clarity and see the results of years living on autopilot. This? Was not according to plan. This was not intentional. If I had known this was going to happen, I would have made these changes long ago. I just never knew what to do. In the arena of clutter and space clearing, it helps to focus on a single square foot at a time.
When I started running, I couldn’t make it around the block. On my first day, I had to walk part of the way, and then lie on the floor until the black spots in my vision faded. I decided I would measure my progress by running one sidewalk square farther each day. I was sure I could do that much, even if I was dizzy or had a headache or a skinned knee. As it turned out, I made progress far more quickly than I had dreamed possible, because I started out with a modest, unimpressive goal. I went from 1/3 mile on my first day to a marathon four years later. The point of this story is not to let the marathon so much as cross your mind on Day One. (I didn’t! Are you kidding?) The point is to choose a goal you know you can and will do every single day, no matter how rotten you feel. One sidewalk square a day was going to add up to more total miles by the end of the year than waiting to “feel like” the kind of athlete who ran long distances. One square foot at a time is going to take you to a cleared house and the ability to declare it DONE.
How big is one square foot? Perhaps you have a ruler or a tape measure. (Do you know where it is?) I am recommending a way of creating a metric that shows you have made measurable progress. A ruler serendipitously happened to appear at the table while I was writing this! I asked to borrow it for a minute, and measured the distance from my elbow to my wrist, which is roughly 11 inches. Your forearm might be similar. After a day or two, you can probably eyeball a square foot, or close enough for practical purposes.
One square foot could be next to (or inside) your kitchen sink. It could be on your bathroom counter. It could be on your nightstand or dresser. It could be a section of hallway floor, or the space closest to the front door. It could be part of a shelf in the linen closet. It could be the top of the dryer. It could be found on the passenger seat of your car. It could be found on a chair or your desk at work. Square feet are everywhere, aren’t they?
Where do you start? It doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter where you start because all of it needs to be done. There are no rules. You only need to please yourself, unless you live with others, in which case you can earn some brownie points and please them, too, if you like. Start wherever it makes sense to you to start.
Part of how it “got like this” is that the 24 hours we all get each day is being stretched too thin. Your time is allocated in such a way that not enough is left to beautify your surroundings and give yourself the proper home that you deserve. One of the reasons we are focusing on doing a small amount each day is that we need to redistribute our time, making sure we leave space for ourselves. When I finished uncluttering my life, I found that it only takes 40 minutes, five days a week, to stay on top of every possible chore. (Not counting cooking, which I enjoy, and therefore does not qualify as a chore). There were definitely days I spent longer than that purging papers or going through boxes or organizing closets. Not anymore. My house looks the way I want it to look every day. I love it.
I’m willing to bet that hidden inside of you is someone who loves beauty and the finer things in life. There is a hidden home waiting for you to find it. You have the power to arrange your surroundings the way you want them to be, and to exert your aesthetic preferences. This means more than individual items that are pretty or interesting; it means entire rooms. It doesn’t matter what you choose as long as it is chosen, as long as it’s intentional. Maybe you are a “failed perfectionist,” meaning that you strongly prefer things a certain way, but feel that it isn’t worth the time until you know you can get it exactly right. You’re a shadow artist and your talents are a secret. I am here to tell you that your time is now. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have a strong desire for something better. You are ready to start. You’ll keep going because you want to know what DONE will look like.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.