I had to reach out to Maria Veltman after I heard her story. She's a fellow blogger and writes frugaliving.wordpress.com. Maria's a stay-at-home mom with one young son and a husband who is working full time and going to school. Sounds pretty unexceptional so far...but here's the story: Maria's family lives on $2,000 a month, sometimes less. Considering the median income for a US family is around $50K I had to learn more.
The most intriguing part of this story is Maria has made it her goal not to feel deprived. In her words:
I wanted to figure out how we could live in keeping with our values of sustainable living and low-environmental impact, maintaining good health (as we do not have health care), becoming debt-free, and simplifying our lives. I didn't want to have to cut out organic and/or local foods out of our diet simply because they were more costly because I believe that our dollar is our vote, and I decided to cut credit out of my life (my husband has a harder time of it) because I firmly believe that any kind of debt is slavery. So, "Living [Frugally] Well" is a journal of sorts following our journey of learning how to remain close to these values.
Since Maria is an expert at managing her family's finances, I wanted her to help out with a simple, inexpensive way to declutter. Here is Maria's system.
Step 1. Visualize the cluttered space as it might look without clutter or as you would like it to look (perhaps with a new piece of furniture or art on the wall). Close your eyes and pay attention to how you feel as you enter your "new" room. Hold on to this feeling as it will serve as motivation when you don't feel very motivated.
Step 2. Plan to do only a little at a time. You are only you, you don't have a team of 10 people working with you. There is nothing like feeling overwhelmed when you realize that you've been doing it for 4 hours and aren't even half done, and need to end it so you can make dinner and now you have a bigger mess than when you started.
Step 3. get three boxes, containers, anything, really, and mark/designate them as "Keep", "Sell/Donate", and "Trash/Recycle".
Step 4. Sort accordingly. The rules that apply to each pile are as follows:
-Keep: You love and/or use it frequently.
-Sell/Donate: You don't love and/or don't use it frequently.
-Trash/Recycle: No one could possibly love it or use it (in it's current state).
You might break up your decluttering into little missions - a trash-collecting mission, a sell/donate mission, a mission to find a nice place to keep your cherished possessions
Step 5. Remember the old adage, "a place for everything, and everything in it's place". This only applies to the "Keep" pile/box, as well as things that enter and exit your house regularly (like mail or library books). Once you've created enough space for everything that's important to you, putting it back will be a habit that can grow on you (you already do this with the milk, I'm sure).
Finally, surround yourself only with those things that you truly love and use. The more you have a space that you love, the more you'll want to keep it that way. The more you keep it that way, the easier and quicker it will be.