Get in the Zone: Divide and Conquer

I’m so proud of myself. I have an unofficial trademark phrase: Zone Decluttering. This is my go-to phrase in response to comments like “I’d love to organize (declutter, simplify, etc.) my house but I have no idea where to start.”  Zone decluttering, baby. I. Do. It. Every. Day.

My journey of turning my house into a haven and, subsequently, my more simplified life started when I realized I was creating my own chaos by buying things I didn’t need. I also kept things I didn’t need. Even after that, I planned how to purchase more of what I didn’t need. Couple my excess materials with the fact I don’t like to dust, and you’ve got one irritated mama. Spending all day dusting and cleaning things I didn’t need (and for that matter…really didn’t even like) was my pivotal moment. I knew that simply buying more containers and labels (my fetish, btw) was not a viable plan anymore. After all, my stuff was organized. I just didn’t need it. I decided to eat this elephant one little bite at a time. I divided my house in ‘zones’ and then numbered them in order of the most to the least energy draining.

Here’s my very first zone list:

1) Bedroom closet: Invoke the ‘white hanger theory’
2) Living room: Pair down knicknacks and reduce furniture
3) Kitchen: Reduce gadgets, utensils, and stemware (my other fetish)
4) Laundry room: Reduce to one type of soap, softener, and eliminate excess cleaning supplies (Marry as many partially empties as possible?)
5) Office: Reduce office supplies, books, and eliminate ‘paper piles’
6) Garage: Reduce holiday decorations, clear out ‘old memories’, stop with the couponing stockpile.

Truthfully, the garage should have been first because it was the messiest and it was the place I housed all the things I organized into fancy clear bins with precise labels.  But, it was too overwhelming and I needed to get some success under my belt. (Yes, it kinda looked like this.  And yes, I should have gotten rid of most of it years ago.)

I started with my clothes closet. For some reason, getting rid of clothes has never been hard for me.
It took me about a year to work through all six zones, and honestly, I really need to get in that garage again. Maybe this weekend when my husband is out of town (Hehee: Kidding). First rule of decluttering:  Don’t get rid of things that do not belong to you. I learned this the hard way.

Once you have your list of projects, break each project into its own ‘zone’ – a ‘micro-zone’, if you will. A zone is an area (counter tops, cabinets, pantry), room sections (right side, left side) or items (small appliances, utensils, dishware). My ‘zones’ started with items. Here’s an example of how I first decluttered my kitchen:

1) Zone 1: Appliances and gadgets. Get all the small appliances, gadgets and cooking utensils out and on the counter. Once they are out in plain view, you’ll realize that you have two or more of some things and will realize you have things you never use. In my case, I found six large pitchers.  I got rid of four. I also got rid of my George Foreman Grill. I hardly used it and when I did, never liked the taste of the food anyway. Out it went. I decided to keep the waffle maker. First, it’s not ‘mine’. My husband loves this waffle maker. Secondly, while I don’t make waffles often…I do love them and wanted to make them when ever I wanted. Once I had everything in its proper box (donate, sell, store) I reorganized my cabinets. I was pleased with the amount of space I had.  Next project please.

2) Zone 2: Pantry items. A year before this project, I had started down the dangerous extreme couponing path and was storing items we’d probably never eat…and many items that had expired. Everything came out of the cabinets so I could see what I had. Then I divided it out:  “Donate to food pantry”, “Throw away” (yes…throwing away expired food is like chucking $5 bills down the drain) and “Use this month”.  Finished with that, I went to Pinterest and All Recipes and started finding recipes that utilized the ingredients I had. (Intervention fact: I am a Pinning Fanatic.)

3) Zone 3: Glassware/Stemware. Once upon a time, I was a bit of a lush. Kidding, but I really did like stemware and I liked entertaining. Now I still like entertaining, but realized that a nice tumbler can serve as a wine glass and a water glass. A great mason jar makes one heck of a sweet tea vessel. And finally…lets not kid anyone here…my martini’s are really just a bunch of fruit juices laced with vodka, so no martini glass is really needed when the tumbler serves the same purpose. In the end, I donated 24 wine glasses, 8 martini glasses, 13 coffee mugs (not stemware, I know, but I was on a roll…), 10 highball glasses, 2 shakers, 2 champagne flutes, and too-many-to-count shotglasses to a local thrift store. Ahhhh. With that zone cleaned up, I poured myself a drink and relaxed.

This entire process took about 3 weekends. Six days of my life. That is nothing when I consider how many weekends I’ve gained by not owning (cleaning, organizing and storing…) these unnecessary items.  Now I don’t ever feel overwhelmed in my kitchen. Occasionally, it does look like a tornado went through it (I like to bake…and I have an infant. The two responsibilities sometimes demand my attention at the same time.) When this happens, I just use zone cleaning to zip it back into shape. I divide my kitchen into zones (sections) and focus on one at a time. With my baby, this process might take me a an hour because I have to work in ten minute intervals, but that’s okay. Last weekend I decided to bake brownies while also trying to feed the baby. By the way, I don’t recommend this.

Good luck with re-zoning your house (room, closet, cabinet, whatever….). Would LOVE to see your project list and hear about your progress.

5 thoughts on “Get in the Zone: Divide and Conquer

  1. I did something similar. My process started in the living room. I had needed a new book to read, but everything on my shelves had already been read. I kept almost everything I ever read and liked thinking I’d read it again, but this day every book I picked up I still remembered and didn’t want to read it. I sat back and realized I was also tired of dusting the books and bookcase. I began to take down each book and begin to read the first page, if I remembered the storyline it was gone. I ended up with 20 books when done and this huge bookcase staring at me. I made one phone call and it was sold. Then it was the TV, I never watched it, but it was still there because I was tired of explaining to people who tried to give me TVs why I didn’t want them. It was time. Out went the TV and the stand, then everything that had been associated with it.

    At this point no matter how I rearranged the furniture it felt like one empty room. I couldn’t stand the feel of it but knew other spaces needed attention, and so it began. By the time I was done, what needed a 14 foot moving truck to move me in was reduced to two car loads and a friends truck to deliver the bed and a small table.

    I jumped over to look at the pictures at Diy Design Fanatic and couldn’t help but be saddened by the comment about a week of vacation time being spent on cleaning out and organizing the space. I think it’s a shame we have so much stuff we need to take what little time off from our jobs we can get to organize our stuff.

    • Oh, Lois…me, too! (regarding DIY Design). I mean, I appreciate those who help others organize, but if I could get back all the money I spent at The Container Store, the Dollar Tree, and have my vacations back…I would have taken this path so many years ago. Pinterest is full of ‘organizing tips’ but I always think “If you didn’t have all that stuff you wouldn’t need to organize it!” Thanks for reading.

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