5 Step System to Decluttering Your Life

Are you feeling stressed? Or overwhelmed? Or just like you’re trying to survive every day?

And even more so now that you’re a mom?

I used to have it all together before kids.

Why now am I constantly feeling a sense of anxiety? Is it the kids? Did it get worse going from two to three kids? What is going on?

I finally figured it out.

It’s not the kids. Yes, they are a lot of work, but they are also a lot of joy.

It’s the stuff.

My battle wasn’t trying to control my kids, it was trying to control the clutter. The mess. The dishes. The laundry. The million little toys, stuffed animals and plastic cups.

I was a mess because my house was a mess.

And I took it out on my kids. Because I couldn’t yell at the cups to go wash themselves, I would yell at the kids.

I would feel frustrated, overwhelmed and just unhappy.

All the stuff was suffocating my motherhood.

When it finally clicked that I wasn’t mad at my kids, but mad at all the cleaning I had to do, the stuff had to go.

Baby number three changed everything. Hubby and I were now outnumbered, so we had to put in place systems.

We’re both Industrial Engineers and thought, heck, if these systems work for Fortune 100 companies, I bet they can work for a family of five too.

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How to declutter and organize tips for your life

How to Declutter Systematically – 5S Method

Toyota uses a system called Lean Six Sigma. One of the first methods is called 5S, this happens before applying any of the advanced techniques.

It’s basically a systematic method to cleaning up and sustaining the process.

It works magically on manufacturing floors. Think of a workstation on the car assembly line. If you’re putting together a wheel and you grab a wrench, you don’t want there to be 14 different types of wrenches. You need to grab the right one for the job. It would be great if it was color coded to match the bolt you’re tightening too.

Think of your home as your workstation. You need the right tools to manage your home. If you have too many tools, or tools that do not work, you’re going to become frustrated, waste time and create defects.

You have to change your mindset. Your home is not a storage place, it’s a living space. It’s a space to make your life work, not to create work.

Let’s get into the 5S system. It stands for:

  1. Sort
  2. Straighten
  3. Shine
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain

#1 Sort

This is the most important and one of the hardest steps. Sort through your items and decide what you absolutely need and/or love, and get rid of anything unnecessary.

Make three bins, one for keep, one for donate, and one for trash.

If you decide to keep an item, ask yourself why you’re holding on to it.

Is it worth the cost of holding on to it? Remember, something doesn’t just cost the initial price you paid for it. It also takes time, money and mental space to hold on to it. You’ll have to move it around from room to room, clean around it, think about it, put it in storage, and then rebuy it if you forgot you had it. Is it worth all that extra cost?

Here’s a quick little example of what happened to me recently.

I finally cleaned out the boxes under my bed and found a box full of baby boy clothes. Probably $100+ worth of cute little tshirts and body suits, all size 0-6 months. And my baby boy is now 14 months old.

Nothing will fit him anymore. The entire box will be donated.

I had no idea I had a box full of baby boy clothes under my bed.

You may not see it directly, but all the stuff is costing you a lot of money and frustration.

Questions to help you get rid of stuff and declutter:

  • Does this bring me joy? (thank you Marie Kondo!)
  • Do I really need this?
  • Am I holding on to it because of fear or guilt?
  • Can someone else use this?
  • Have I used this in the last year?

Sorting is the hardest part of the process. Don’t give up. Once you’re through this battle, the rest of the process is easy.

What if it’s just too hard to let go?

What if you just can’t let something go? What if you’re holding on to a part of yourself or a dream that you can’t let go?

  • It may be outfits from before you become a mom.
  • Or memories from college.
  • Or tiny baby clothes you hope to one day use.

If it’s too difficult, put it in a box. Revisit the box in a few months and see if you’re strong enough to let it go then.

If these are truly irreplaceable memories or treasures, put them on display, use them, and let them bring you joy.

If you’re holding on to something because you just can’t let go. Remember how important it is to live in the present.

Like Winnie the Pooh says, “Any day spent with you is my favorite day. So today is my new favorite day.”

Let’s show the people we see today (our kids, our spouse) that we want to be with them. And not that we want to live in the past or in a future dream.

Alrighty, if you’re come this far, you’re through the hardest part of decluttering. Let’s move on to the fun, and easier, parts!

#2 Straighten (Organize)

Once you’ve sorted through your things and you only have the necessary items in your home, it’s time to organize.

Assign a place to every item.

If your drawers, closest or cabinets are too full and things don’t all fit – get rid of more stuff.

Do not go buy boxes and containers to store the excess things. It is impossible to hold on to everything in your life.

Things are meant to be used and enjoyed. If you’re not using it, maybe someone else could.

Don’t skip ahead to this step too quickly. Too many times people aren’t really minimizing or declutting, they’re just moving things from one box to another.

Instead of “Kon Mari”, they are “Kon Mooving.”

My friend posted that on Facebook and I couldn’t help but share it with you too!

It will be so much easier to allocate a place to everything, if you don’t have a million things.

#3 Shine

Oh my favorite part! Cleaning. It’s cathartic to me.

After you’ve sorted through your things and you’ve organized the essentials, you get to make the place shine!

And trust me, it’s going to be a joy to do it. You won’t have to move things around as you clean and feel like you’re not getting anywhere.

If you’re house is decluttered and organized, cleaning is a breeze.

It will take you less than half the time to clean up the house. You’ll have more time to play with your kids and relax.

You’ll have more mental capacity. This benefit in itself is one of my main motivators for minimizing. Running a successful business from home with three little kids under 5 years old takes a lot of mental strength.

If I’m constantly thinking about the clutter, I can’t focus on my business and family.

I only have so much mental strength each day, I need to guard my mental health just as much as my physical health.

#4 Standardize

Most people never get to this step. They declutter, organize and clean. And then they stop.

You have to implement a standard system to keep things in order. The easiest method to use is Visual Management.

Visual Management – “Visual management is a huge part of Lean Manufacturing and the Toyota Production System. It is one of the simplest tools and often overlooked, due to it’s simplicity. As the name implies Visual Management is the ability to manage everything in your factory (and support areas) visually. “- source.

You’ll have to be a little creative here, but as moms, I know you have it in you! You already use visual management with your kids, take for example this chore chart for kids.

Everyone can visually see which chores have been done and how each kid is performing. Simple. Easy. Visual management. And it keeps everyone on the same page.

Let’s apply that to your home too!

You can be creative in how you apply this to your home. This is what we do.

Standard Laundry System

For our laundry, we have designated baskets that live in the laundry room. Once one basket is full, it has to be washed, dried and put away. #visualmanagement

My girls, 4.5 years old and 3 years old, both help me sort the laundry into the right baskets. They know green = girls, blue = baby, white= mom, black = dad.

If they see laundry laying around, I can ask them to go place it into the right basket.

I try to involve them as much as possible. And they feel proud if they can contribute and understand the process.

Standard Daily Schedule

We have a simple work/life schedule that we follow as a family.

It’s a simple chart that shows the kids when mommy is working and when daddy is working. It also keeps John and I accountable and focused.

Standard Plastic Cups and Plates

We used to have 30+ little plastic cups and plates. Until one day I just had enough. And I recalled a wonderful Catholic mom of 9+ children sharing that she color coded her children’s cups and plates.

So I followed her great advice.

My oldest girl has one pink cup and one pink plate. My middle child is green, with one green plate and one green plastic cup. And baby boy, well, he still has a few bottles, but he’ll be blue when he’s ready.

No longer am I finding half empty plastic cups all over the house.

If the toddler wants a cup of water, she needs to go find her green cup so I can fill it up.

It cuts down on clutter, dishes and gives the little ones a small responsibly.

There are countless ways you can standardize your life.

Just use the quote by Benjamin Franklin, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”

#5 Sustain

Oh golly, this is a biggie. How do you actually make all this hard work “stick”? How do you prevent the stuff from creeping back into the house?

This could be the toughest part of 5S.

Now that you have a clean, tidy home, it could be easy to find a spot for a new knickknack from Target.

Don’t fall into the trap of filling up the empty space. Enjoy the mental capacity, freedom and peace it gives you.

Remember that for every item you purchase, you’ll have to take care of it. And that takes time, effort and energy.

In order to sustain all of your hard work, you’ll have to get your family on board. And hopefully they’ve been helping along all five steps.

To really sustain a clean, tidy and stress free home, you’ll need to commit to this new lifestyle.

Have a quick weekly family/spouse meeting where you discuss how to improve and sustain all of your hard work. Be open to their suggestions and keep them involved. It takes team work.

Help your kids establish healthy habits from a young age. This process will teach them place value on experiences and people, not on accumulating more and more things.

I want my kids to know that life isn’t a race to the biggest house or nicest car. (We’re actually downsizing, selling one car and moving into a town home soon #freedom #fulltimefamily)

Life is meant to be lived and experienced. And besides, the most beautiful things aren’t man made.

How Do You Declutter?

Do you have a system you follow when you declutter? How do you sustain it? Do you use visual management?

Please share in the comments below, I’m excited to see what you do!

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5 thoughts on “5 Step System to Decluttering Your Life”

  1. Nice Post! I love how you have taken what you know so well and made it relevant to your everyday lives! I also love that the kids are invested in the process. How great for them and for the family!

  2. This is simple and brilliant! I wouldn’t think about, how silly of me. When I was working I optimized everything however at home chaos was natural. But it doesn’t have to! Just put the systems in place. Thanks for the tips!

  3. This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read about de-cluttering and why it’s so important!! I am a de-cluttering need. It started when I was 10 years old. I loved to declutter and clean my school backpack, my desk, my locker, my room, my bathroom, the refrigerator and whatever else I could get my hands on. I was sooooo proud of my clean, organized, de-cluttered spaces. My parents would show my room to people who came over!!

    This post simplified and explains the process beautifully! Right on

  4. Hi Suzi
    I love how you talk about having things color-coded – so important for small kids… but useful for tired parents!
    I also agree that using business / management tools in our homes can work well. I remember my sister-in-law saying a friend had wondered how she kept track of toys borrowed from a toy library. Her response? “It’s my job!” 😉
    Thanks for the tips!

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