A few months ago, my husband was out of town for work and I was left to hold down the fort with two kids while also being sick with the flu. 

That long weekend was packed with to-do lists, laundry, grocery shopping and kids' activities. Dirty dishes filled the sink and not a clean bottle was in sight. Burp cloths littered the spit-up covered couch. If there were any clean onesies for my infant son, I certainly couldn't find them. None of that mattered, of course, because we were running late for my stepdaughter's volleyball game.

This was not my finest moment, and I was less than “killing” it as a parent, let alone an adult. 

I realized then that something had to change. I had dreamed of hiring a cleaning crew to scrub my house top to bottom, which would simultaneously scrub away my tension and anxiety. But I knew the relief would only be temporary if I didn’t address the root cause — clutter. Setting out to make my cleaning list, I knew the focus should be on simplification and decluttering.

So I did just that, and it's been bliss ever since. Below is how I did it. 

To start, I picked up Marie Kondo's bestselling book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing." In it, she recommends putting all like items in an area so we are confronted by the amount. She asks the question, “Does this spark joy? If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.”

I began with an area of my home that I accessed every day — my closet. Some of the contents hadn’t been touched in years. How could it be that I had a closet bursting at the seams but nothing to wear? All of my clothes, even the ones hidden in off-season totes, went onto my bed. After repeating the question of “Does this spark joy?” for each and every article of clothing, I was left with a closet of neatly hung clothes and drawers organized with shirts folded into compact squares. Now opening my drawers made me happy, because I was no longer confronted with ill-fitted or outdated items.

My energy and happiness must have been contagious, as my 10-year old step-daughter asked if I could help her organize her room. I provided a brief overview of the steps and immediately she emptied her closet and dresser drawers. Not wanting to hover while she sorted, I let her do this process on her own. Upon returning, there were two distinct piles. From her “keep” pile, a clear sense of style emerged. Given the freedom to let go of gifted or hand-me-down items that didn’t bring her joy, she was left with a closet full of clothes that she loved and would wear.

I replicated this same process with the rest of the belongings in my home: books, paperwork, baby items, toys and kitchen utensils. If it took up square footage, then I had to ask, "Does this bring me joy?" After numerous trips to donation centers, sales transactions through Facebook Marketplace and negotiations with my husband on what should stay or go, our home was finally decluttered.

By shifting our mindset and only bringing into our homes what serves a purpose or brings us joy, we've been able to reduce the amount of clutter in a proactive approach.

Now, when I open the cupboard, I am able to quickly locate a bag of microwave popcorn, nestled in a basket with other snack foods. Once it’s popped, I can walk around the baskets of neatly organized toys and board games to join my family on the couch for a Friday night movie.

With less time spent on picking up after everyone else, I’m given back some precious time to be more present with my family. Sure, things still get unorganized from time to time, but my anxiety and stress levels remain low knowing that everything has a place it belongs.

Decluttering and organizing is so much more than putting items in a donation pile. It’s refreshing our minds, bodies, and spirits — allowing us to just be in the present moment.

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Haley Rogers is a professional organizer and women’s life coach. She uses her personal experiences of decluttering along with her Type A and structured personality to help others simplify their homes and lives. She often taps into her professional experience of advising and project management to keep her clients motivated and on track. Find more about Haley here.

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