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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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In The Other Side of Organized, Linda Samuels, CPO-CD® will encourage you to get organized enough to reduce the stress of life’s details and make time to embrace your passions. Already, thousands of clients and readers have found help and inspiration in her advice, personal reflections on change and connection, and vision of what can be accomplished when you find that sweet spot between chaos and perfection.

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« What is the Best Time Management Question When You Are Overscheduled? | 5 Strong Motivating Reasons to Get Rid of Your Clutter »

How to Edit Clutter the Simple Way

I’m sure you’ve heard the question and response, “How do you eat an elephant?” … “One bite at a time.” Not that we’re eating or want to be eating elephants here, but there is a connection to be made. Managing or handling our accumulation of clutter can be daunting and down right overwhelming (like eating an enormous elephant.) However, similar to other large projects if we break them down into teeny, tiny steps, we can quickly reduce overwhelm and progress forward.


So let me rephrase the question and response.

Q:  How do you edit clutter the simple way?

A:  One drawer and one decision at a time.

In the twenty-five years I’ve been helping my clients to get organized, I’ve seen this prove true time and again. We often start from that “overwhelmed” state. From there we work together one drawer, one surface, or one closet at a time to declutter, to let go, and to get organized. 

It’s always amazing to see how much gets edited out. Clutter has a way of collecting and being stored in deep, dark corners of rooms, containers and drawers, so that we no longer realize it’s there. However, when you begin to dig out drawer-by-drawer and corner-by-corner, it’s incredible to see what is uncovered. Even more fascinating is to see the volume of what we choose to release. 

Clutter has a way of accumulating over time. Things get stored and forgotten. Stuff remains beyond its usefulness. And since things have been hidden away, duplicate items have often been unknowingly purchased. So when we go through the editing process and realize we have 10 spatulas or 25 pairs of black pants or 40 coffee mugs, it makes decision-making and letting go much easier. Let’s be honest. Most of us just don’t need or really want 10 spatulas or 25 pairs of black pants.


To bring this back to the original question…How do you edit clutter the simple way?

Here’s one formula:

  • Work in one small area at a time like a drawer, a counter top, or a closet rack.
  • Group like with like as you edit. It makes decision-making easier when you can see your duplicate items together.
  • Make one decision at a time. If you get stuck on one item, set it aside and move on to something else. Come back at the end of that section and decide before moving to the next area.
  • Be ruthless. Remember that the less you have, the easier it will be to stay organized and find what you need. With less you will feel lighter and less encumbered.

Does this resonate with you? Have you or someone you know experienced clutter editing? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I invite you to join the conversation!





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Reader Comments (18)

The sentence, "Stuff remains beyond it's usefulness." really resonated with me. I have been trying to convince my father to recycle the word processor I used in graduate school over 25 years ago. It has been in it's box in the closet for years taking up space in my parent's apartment. I'm going to read him that line next time I see him--hopefully he'll see the meaning in it and allow me to take the word processor to my recycle center. Wish me luck!

May 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Agin Murray

@Stacey- I hope you can feel me wishing you luck. I'm happy to hear that about the sentence resonating with you. As I know you know, we hear the words when we're ready. I can't wait to hear more about how the phrase sits with your father. And hopefully, it will also resonate with him.

May 21, 2018 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I love the way you broke this process down into easy to follow steps. It's so true that often people simply are unaware of the volume of stuff until you have it collected in one place. Decision making is not always easy but it is always rewarding. Being able to see exactly what you own and being able to put your hands on what you want when you want it is priceless!

May 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Quintana

I agree. Clutter does accumulate over time. I find that areas of the home that get ignored tend to accumulate more than other areas. At least once a year, it's important to visit the areas that you haven't looked at in a while. These areas are usually the ones that can be edited easily since you haven't looked at them.

May 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina Quairoli

@Diane- Thanks so much. I'm glad you found the editing process easy to follow. It's always fascinating to me when I'm working with a client and we group like with like. They are surprised to see how many duplicates they have. And seeing that helps them to easily pick their favorites and let go of the others. You're so right that decision-making can be challenging. In those situations, it helps to have someone else to bounce those questions off of. There's something about saying them out loud with another person there that helps make the deciding easier.

May 21, 2018 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

@Sabrina- We all have those places in our home that things get placed because we just don't know what to do with them. Guest bedrooms, remote closets, basements, attics, and garages can become our dumping grounds or breeding grounds for clutter. I love your suggestion about "visiting" those spaces annually to have a look and do an edit. Sometimes that "time took care of"rule helps us in letting things go.

May 21, 2018 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I find that "not being overwhelmed" is one of the biggest services I bring to my clients. It really does come down to finding a way to tackle the process. It is those small bites of elephant, and when they are small enough, they don't taste so bad:) Key also for me is knowing when to stop. I'm always watching the clock to make sure I've got time to reset things in an orderly fashion until next time. I don't want to feel like we are stopping when things are a mess.

May 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

Seana- You're so right that we help our clients to get past that overwhelmed feeling. When they are overwhelmed, they only see the large project and find it difficult to see those small "bites." You make an excellent point about being cognizant of the time. While we know that sometimes things get worse before they get better, it's important to leave each session in an organized way, even if there's more to be done. That also helps with the feeling overwhelmed piece.

May 21, 2018 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Yes, really it is "one bite at a time". and that is all we can really do is work on one thing at a time. As we say in our Clearing Clutter Support Group Small is Huge and that really just means doing something is better than not doing anything and looking at what you did do. We hope that people can slowly make progress and get out from that overwhelm. One step at a time. Works for us too.

May 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKim


Your statement, “clutter accumulates over time,” is so true! Usually because of deferred decisions. I often start my work with clients organizing one drawer. It gives me time to assess how they make decisions and gives them a chance to exercise their decision-making muscle. From there I gauge how much more they can complete. It might be we keep going one drawer at a time and celebrate the success of each one that is decluttered and organized. Or, from organizing that one drawer successfully, it might move the client into high energy that they want to move on to a whole closet.

May 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Blumer

This is very sage advice (as usual)! Dealing with my filing cabinet is a huge job, so I never try to do it all at once. Instead, I pull out a few files to go through at a time. In most cases, that leads to doing a few more - sometimes quite a few more.

May 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

@Kim- That's such a great call to action: "Small is Huge!" It's so true that doing something is better than doing nothing. Doing small pieces is also more sustainable.

May 21, 2018 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

@Anne- I love how you use the "drawer test" to gauge your clients' decision-making skills while simultaneously letting them exercise their decision-making muscles. It sounds like a great way to get started.

May 21, 2018 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

@Janet- Thank you for your kinds words. I am with you 100% on the filing cabinet editing. It is a huge job because each piece of paper represents a decision. And most cabinets hold thousands of papers (aka decisions to be made.) Unlike editing clothing, when a decision is made to let something go, a lot of physical space opens up. So after working for a short time, you can visibly see the results. Paper is quite different. You have to make a lot more decisions to actually see the progress. Doing a little bit at a time definitely makes it more manageable and less likely to encounter decision fatigue.

May 21, 2018 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Very Nice Post Really Loved It

May 26, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSeoLover

Many thanks.

May 26, 2018 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Hi,Linda.I'm from China, feel so lucky to know you recently, and can't wait to go through all the words in your blog. "Every small step leads to big changes", I'm on the way to change my self, too, and share the joy of less with people around me.

June 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTracy Sun

@Tracy- It's so nice to have you visit here. Wishing you all the best as you pursue the changes you seek.

June 25, 2018 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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