I have no problem getting rid of stuff, but the process feels never-ending. No matter how often I purge my clothes, books, and mementos, I never go deep enough; if something is out of sight and packed away, I ignore it and tell myself I'll deal with it later. I only declutter what I can see.
But I've maxed out places to hide stuff. The sparse closet space in my New York apartment has reached maximum capacity, and I know I should clear out most of what's in there. That task seemed incredibly daunting until I read New Order: A Decluttering Handbook For Creative Folks (and Everyone Else) ($14) by professional declutterer Fay Wolf.
The subtitle intrigued me: what exactly is decluttering for creative folks? I still can't define it, but the New Order method resonates with me. The author herself is a creative type (she's a legit actress who also writes music), and she's not a minimalist who preaches a stringent system. Her approach is about reducing chaos so you can focus on more important things, like creative pursuits.
Although many people swear by the KonMari method, Marie Kondo's books don't resonate with me. Kondo has developed a devoted fandom (check out our KonMari-inspired challenge), but her way isn't the only way to get your life in order. Here are seven valuable lessons I learned from New Order.
Resist the Cute Containers
Right away, Wolf warns: "Your first step is not to go to the store to buy organizing products." Though she offers a few product recommendations later on, she advises not to buy anything until you know what you need. For out-of-sight places, she suggests using what you have lying around; transforming an iPhone box into a drawer divider, for instance. She's aware that most apartment-dwellers don't have spacious closets or entryways, and her method for sorting stuff is easy to execute even in a small apartment.
Just Start Somewhere
Though "just start" sounds obvious, I was comforted by Fay's advice to tackle one area at a time. Whether you're going through boxes of photos or kitchen drawers, the "staging area" remains the same: a section of your house devoted to five sorting bins that are clearly labeled. You can use laundry baskets, brown paper bags, or straight-up piles, as long as you label them. When you've finished in one area, take care of what's in the bins and move on to the next area.
Maybes Are OK
The goal of New Order isn't just reducing the amount of stuff in your house but putting it in the right place. This starts with the sorting bins, labeled with the action you need to take: donate, trash, recycle, shred, and "other rooms." You can also improvise with categories like "return to Mom's house," "bring to work," or a "maybe" pile of things you can't quite make a decision on. As someone who spends way too much time looking for stuff, I find that the "sorting" aspect of New Order really speaks to me.
Consider a Range of Emotions
While Marie Kondo recommends getting rid of things that don't bring you joy, Fay offers 15 questions that appeal to a range of emotions, such as:
- "If something reminds you of a happy memory, how many other possessions remind you of that same memory?"
- "Are you keeping it out of guilt?"
- "Would it make someone else happier than it makes you?"
Labeling Is Everything
I do my best to label things, but it never seems to help. New Order made me realize why: my labels are too vague. Fay suggests being as specific as possible. For instance, "tea lights and cocktail napkins" instead of "party stuff." I already follow this method when I move, listing out specific items on my moving boxes, and it's incredibly helpful. So why not do it for everything?
The most helpful tips in New Order focus on what to do with all of your paper: bills, important papers, and so on. Fay offers suggestions on how to cut down on the paper bills and catalogs flooding your house, but we all know that achieving a truly paperless life is easier said than done. To prevent piles from growing bigger and more neglected, Fay suggests enlisting "middlemen" — temporary homes for papers you need to deal with. You might have several middlemen for different categories: to pay ASAP, to file, to shred, etc. Just know that the kitchen table is off limits. Try mounted wall files, clipboards, or vertical magazine files. That way the papers aren't out of sight, but they also don't look like a big mess.
Declutter Your Tasks, Too
Fay acknowledges that many of us fear decluttering because it just takes too much time — not just the initial purging but also the upkeep. The New Order system is designed to make decluttering easy to maintain. The book is full of creative solutions: apps that make your life more efficient and suggestions on what to outsource, like laundry and grocery shopping. Saying you "don't have time" to get organized is no longer an excuse.