How To De-Junk In A Whirlwind

Photo submitted by April Perry

Ready to start the new year with an organized house?  It seems to be the dream of every mother who currently finds herself knee-deep in empty toy boxes, stained Christmas sweaters, and half-eaten plates of cookies.  Productivity specialists even suggest that “New Year’s Resolutions” really aren’t that important.  What’s better is creating the space in your life for new ideas, projects, and relationships to flourish.

So today we’re going to get specific.  How do you create that blissful haven of “a place for everything and everything in its place” when you’re living in a whirlwind of children and “life”? This post isn’t for the weak. It’s going to take some serious work. If you’re committed to organizing your home-I’m talking the whole thing–and if you really want your mind to feel clear and ready to take on new responsibilities, this is one way to do it.

I know that challenges will come up. Maybe you have a sick child or you’re in the first months of a hard pregnancy. Maybe you’re working full time or helping an aged parent. You don’t have to do this in one fell swoop–or even within the month. Together, we’re going to turn that house of chaos into the calm, orderly home of your dreams.

Step One: Accept that your mess is the product of actively building a family.

You never imagine your bathroom looking like this:

Photo submitted by April Perry

But life is busy. The above photo is the effect of recharging a drill, prepping a home improvement project, cleaning a child’s infected earlobe, sorting bathtub toys, finishing up a four-mile run (not mine), getting ready for the day, and brushing teeth. Messes are part of life, so wasting time feeling angry about them won’t help. Instead, let’s figure out how to tame them.

Step Two: If there’s any possible way you can read the very best de-junking book ever, please do.

I’ve written about this book time and time again.  It’s called, “It’s Here . . . Somewhere“.  I love it. I recommend you read it cover to cover and implement every step.  But if you know you won’t get to that, I’ve done my best to sum it up below in steps three through ten.

Step Three: Identify what you want.  

I got out a white board a few weeks ago and wrote out my vision for “Perry Family – Project De-Junk”:

Photo submitted by April Perry

I also listed the order in which I would conquer the house–starting with the Master closet, bedroom, and bathroom, and ending with the garage.

So far so good?

Step Four: Your de-junking calendar.

You probably can’t stop your whirlwind for a month while you dig out of the clutter, but when can you do this? Get out your calendar, clear off everything possible, and then schedule one or two rooms per week (more if you’re feeling ultra-motivated, less if you’re feeling overwhelmed). If you have to re-work the schedule because you’re cranky and sleep-deprived, that’s okay. But keep this as a top priority, okay?

Here’s a sample calendar from “It’s Here . . . Somewhere.” You can see how they note which room will be organized each evening (and the dinner plans, as well):

Photo submitted by April Perry

Step Five: For each room you de-junk, follow this process:

  • Divide the room into several smaller sections, and then work clock-wise. In our Kitchen, I do the fridge, pantry, bookshelves, and then each cupboard separately.
  • Take everything out, and then put back only the best items. Ask, “Does this bless my home?” and “Is this where I go to find this item?” (We had tons of hair clips in the kitchen cupboard, but I always look for them in the bathroom–so that’s where I moved them.)
  • Anything that doesn’t answer the questions above goes to the trash, into a basket labeled, “Somewhere Else,” or to charity. The “Somewhere Else” items will be distributed to the rooms where they do belong, and the charitable donations can be put into a big pile in the garage and scheduled for pick-up.

Step Six: Let your children be a part of this.

While cleaning my closet, I found tons of baby supplies and maternity clothes that I simply (and sadly) don’t need anymore. My children gathered with me on the floor of my bedroom, helped me sort, and played with the pacifiers we found:

Photo submitted by April Perry

My girls loved ooh-ing and ahh-ing over each outfit and piece of baby gear:


Photo submitted by April PerryYes, it takes longer to involve the family. Yes, children are sometimes frustrating but this is teaching them vital skills. Their college roommates and future spouses will thank you.

My daughter has been de-junking with me for almost 12 years, and now she even organizes on her own. She cleaned our entire pantry top to bottom last month!

Photo submitted by April Perry

Step Seven: Track additional tasks on your context-based lists.

While you’re doing this de-junking, you’re going to find about a zillion things that need to be done. (This is why we procrastinate . . . because we don’t like seeing what we need to do, right?)

Simply keep a notepad with you where you can record all these things, and then add them to context-based lists (computer work, errands, at-home work, phone calls, and agendas).

When I cleaned my master bathroom, I noticed that the light fixture was embarrassingly rusty. My friend Marci suggested I spray-paint it, so I need to go buy spray paint. But I don’t know what kind to get, so really, my Next Action is to call my friend to get more information. I added “Call Marci” to my phone call list, and now I can just relax.

Photo submitted by April Perry

I also noticed that my 12-year-old needs a few storage containers for her art supplies, we’re out of light bulbs, my boys’ curtains have faded from blue to yellow, the kitchen cupboards need new shelf paper, I need a painter to fix the holes around our fireplace, and I’ve got to start remembering to water our plants.

These realizations don’t stress me out anymore because I have somewhere to put them.

Step Eight: Create a maintenance plan as you go.

The family will inevitably un-do your work, and that’s frustrating. So once you clean a room–commit to working with your family for two minutes at the end of each day to keep it looking nice. Every six months or so, you’ll probably want to do another de-junk (because clothes get out-grown, toys need to be rotated, etc.), but show your children how to put things in the right places, and you’ll be amazed at how excited you’ll feel when you open your newly-organized “junk drawer”:

Photo submitted by April Perry

I also noticed that my 12-year-old needs a few storage containers for her art supplies, we’re out of light bulbs, my boys’ curtains have faded from blue to yellow, the kitchen cupboards need new shelf paper, I need a painter to fix the holes around our fireplace, and I’ve got to start remembering to water our plants.

These realizations don’t stress me out anymore because I have somewhere to put them.

Step Nine: Don’t give up.  

This is hard work, but it’s not impossible.  Pick a starting point. Move from room to room. Conquer that list–every drawer, every cabinet, every closet.  If you feel overwhelmed, then make the bites smaller.  Do a half of a drawer or a section of a closet.

This is going to give you a new lease on life. Living in a whirlwind might be your reality, but the house doesn’t have to look that way.  Exciting things await us in the new year.  Let’s get ready.


QUESTION: What other de-junking tips do you have to share?

CHALLENGE: Start right now by writing out your vision for an organized home.

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  1. mom of 3 says

    Love these suggestions, can’t wait to try it out. So… what do you do if your husband’s not on the same page as you as far as getting rid of stuff… he struggles to part with things. Any tips?

    • April Perry says

      Good question! When there’s a difference of opinion, I just focus on getting rid of all the stuff that I personally have control over. And I try to keep my husband’s things in a safe place where I won’t be tempted to de-junk them. Typically, though, as soon as my husband sees how nice the house feels when it’s de-junked, he starts wanting to get rid of things, as well. Good luck!

  2. FlowaPowa says

    Love this article! I love making lists… lists rock my world! I also find that collecting boxes from gifts helps when I’m aiming to organize my drawers (kitchen, bedroom, study, bathroom, etc.) because then I can compartmentalize everything into its rightful place. It makes finding things very easy and as anal as it is… I know where EVERYTHING in my house is, and when something is truly lost. My college roommate also taught me that de-cluttering means keeping open space and so I aim to always have the dining table and kitchen countertops clear of things that do not need to be there. Helps me stay organized!

    • April Perry says

      I love your idea about collecting boxes from gifts. Do you have photos posted anywhere of those? I could use some inspiration in that area. Knowing where everything is definitely saves my sanity, as well. Thanks so much for your thoughts and kind words!

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