I had a mess on my hands. A five-year mess few people knew about. That mess was my clutter which kept me emotionally bound and unhappy in the environment I created. I remember very well when the clutter started when we lost our first child. I lost the desire to do very much or to try to keep anything tidy. Rule number one, if your friend is a neat freak and suddenly starts not to care, she might be depressed or overwhelmed. I didn’t give people a chance to judge me, so I shut down including shutting our home down to any potentially judgmental visitors. My husband, who was gentle and gracious with me, was understanding but it was his home too. At the time, I didn’t even consider how he felt that not only was clutter taking over but I was shutting out all potential guests. Our home went from a manageable mess, to messy with time, and it was growing messier by the day.

This year, I finally got the courage to start the decluttering process. My sister, LaTara Venise, had teaching material on decluttering. It was what I needed to begin the journey. I read it and was ready to conquer my clutter until it became overwhelming. Maybe I would adjust to how things were and pretend for another year. The clutter, which I did not realize, made me feel too overwhelmed to do anything: Life, ministry, or business. I couldn’t find things, keep up with anything, and I was always on a scavenger hunt for the stuff I misplaced. Midway through the process, I’ve donated seven large bags of clothing and gotten rid of at least seven bags of trash or items I didn’t need. For those of my sister-friends who struggle with keeping your environment clear of clutter, I feel your pain. Clutter can get the best of any of us whether we are overcoming depression/anxiety, navigating grief, dealing with overwhelm at the “mess” that has been created, or simply unsure of where to start to bring order to our environment.

A sister friend of mine asked me to share my strategies, and I am sharing with any sister who may need it.

  1. Start with one or two areas and remain consistent in keeping them clean.

My whole house needed help, and when I read this tip on a decluttering blog, I felt I should tackle everything. Wrong. Clutter isn’t just physical, it is also emotional and psychological. The clutter happened at a space when I was grieving and overwhelmed. Instead of beating yourself up at the vast amount of work to do, start small. I began by folding clothes and washing dishes. I did that, no exaggeration, for about 10 months. Beginning with a small task helps you to build confidence that you can manage your environment.

  1. Pick a focus area to work on, map out the work that needs to be done, and commit to getting it done.

Planning gets a bad rap, but it is helpful when you are decluttering. It lets you know what needs to be done, so you don’t get overwhelmed by saying you don’t know what to do. I’ll include a picture of the simple decluttering list I had on my phone. One weekend, I focused on my guest bedroom. I started with the pair of pants that fit in high school but made leg warmers now. I got the shirts that were cute at one time, but I wondered “What possessed me to get that!” I kept two simple stacks: Items I want or need to keep and items that I needed to find a good home (donate). The items that needed to be kept were given their own place. The things I needed to donate were placed in a bag for donation. If I was unsure of what to do, I put the item to the side. If I still wasn’t sure, I donated the item.

  1. Give yourself breaks because decluttering is also emotional processing.

I know why I allowed clutter to happen. When life happened, I didn’t know how to deal with it anymore. My clutter told a story of my scars and my overwhelm. To clear the clutter away was a huge step, but also a very emotional one. Sometimes I cried, and other times I was ready for a nap. Do the work, but also know when you need to rest.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help When Needed

This is something I didn’t do well because my clutter was shameful to me. At the same time, it is a tip I don’t want you to miss. Sometimes the job is too much to do by yourself. You need a friend to let you know “it’s okay.” Determine what that help looks like for you and then don’t be afraid to reach out.

I’ve included some pictures of my own process to let you know that you can do it too. How can I support you if this is what you are working on as well? Email me at ashley@ashleysauls.com. Be sure to answer the following questions also: 1. What has been the scariest part of dealing with your clutter? 2. Where do you need to be supported to tackle the clutter?

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