How to DeClutter the Easy Way – The Mount Vernon Method

Many years ago, struggling with overwhelming clutter and buried under all the stuff I’d collected over the years, I read a book that helped me so much: The Messy’s SuperGuide by Sandra Felton. I discovered reading her book that I was what she called “A Messy”. Once I embraced this and learned my motivation for cleaning, I could apply her system of decluttering the easy way with what she coined as the Mount Vernon Method.

There may be affiliate links in this article. If you click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive compensation. Your price always stays the same, though.

By the way, Sandra Felton still has a few books in print that you can purchase or check out from the library: The New Messies Manual and 5 Days to a Clutter-free House.

First, Find Your Motivation for Cleaning

Before you start cleaning and organizing your house, it’s important to know what motivates you. When company is coming over, my motivation is immediate–to not be embarrassed by my messy house. That used to be my main motivating factor for cleaning. But I couldn’t ever just quickly clean the house because it was covered with clutter.

Negative motivation doesn’t really work for the long term, though. When I pictured my ideal house, it was beautiful. That’s whay I wanted my house to look like–a picture from a magazine. So that is what motivates me to clean and declutter–to have a beautiful home. It makes me happy.

What motivates you to clean and declutter? Maybe you think, “Nothing! That’s why my house is a mess!”

But think about what you would like your house, or kitchen, or office to be like. Or think about what annoys you the most about it.

Are you tired of losing everything?

Would you like to alway know where everything is?

Are you tired of packing up tons of boxes every time you move?

Are you just tired of mess, of always tripping over toys, of having piles of dirty and clean clothes around?

Would you like your closet set up to see all your clothes at once, making it easy to pick out your clothes each day?

Would you like your house to be neat so that it isn’t such a chore to clean? Are you tired of dusting all the tchotchkes that are sitting out on every horizontal surface?

Do you like to entertain and would like your house ready at a moment’s notice for a party?

How would you spend your time if you didn’t have to manage all the stuff that you have? Would you like more free time?

What is it for you?

Take a few minutes to write down 5 things that bug you about your messy house (or room or office) and then a few things about how your dream house would be. That will help you narrow down your motivation.

It may be helpful to read my article, Find Your “WHY” – An Easy Way to Find Your Motivation to Reach Your Goals, and then come back to finish this article.

But I Love My Knick-Knacks (and Books and Photos and…)

Another thing I learned is that a lot of messy people are sentimental. We treasure the photos of loved ones and things that they gave us because we love the person who gave it to us. We leave them out because we like to see them as they remind us of the person who gave them to us. We like to see mementos from vacations and special events. And there can be this feeling in the back of our minds that if we don’t have the pictures or knick-knacks out to be seen, we will forget about the person or the event.

For many years I saved my dad’s favorite sweater that he wore when I was a little firl and my grandma’s robe that she wore for so long that it was held together by safety pins and random stitching. The sight of them brought me back to sweet memories of my childhood with people I loved. But I didn’t keep those ol’ ratty things out on display. I had them in a box of other old childhood memorabilia that I would pull out maybe once a year and go through, feeling all the feels of sentiment as I went through them. Then I’d put them away for another year.

Finally, I decided enough was enough. My kids didn’t want to play with my old toys because they had new better toys–and I was afraid something might happen to them. Silly. And I was never going to make a stuffed teddy bear out of my grandmother’s old robe. So I took a picture of most of the items and threw them away.

Of course, I’ve never needed to go looking for those photos of my treasured items because the memories of them are stored in my mind so well that I don’t need to see them or hold them. I haven’t forgotten my loved ones or the memories of our times together. And I’m free from the weight of storing all that stuff for the rest of my life.

Do you have things that you could get rid of that would free you from the entanglement of stuff and clutter?

Don't just ask what brings me joy. Ask what you can live without.

Marie Kondo Method Doesn’t Always Work

I watched the Marie Kondo Netflix special and I admit that it was inspiring. The main advice that I got from it is to go through ALL the stuff and only keep what brings your joy. Of course, then you have to organize the stuff you keep, but we knew that already, right?

But what if ALL the stuff brings you joy?

As people who tend toward being messy, we also need to ask ourselves, “Can I live without this and still be happy?”

We have to go back to our motivation for having a clean and organized house. Imagine your house with less stuff–neat, organized, and beautiful. Does the thought of that bring you joy? Then use that potential joy as a motivator to getting rid of stuff that you still like.

Sometimes we need to ask if I can only pick one of these, which is my favorite, or which do I use more? Narrow down the selection of what you keep. Ask, if I let go of this and wish I had it back, could I replace it? Knowing the answers to these questions will help us let go of more stuff.

It feels good to donate the things we have that we no longer use.

But This Stuff is Still Useful

Another problem we can have is getting rid of something that is still useful or that we might need one day–even if we don’t use it now. My oldest daughter is not attached to most of her stuff. She tells me that if she gets rid of something that she needs again one day, she can always buy another one. I have to remember that as I sort through my stuff. Most of it is not as precious as I make it out to be. Clutter and the chore of keeping lots of stuff neat is stressful and I have to remember that often it is more stressful to have to live with that stuff than to let it go.

Another helpful way to deal with still-useful stuff that we don’t use anymore is to donate it. Give it to Salvation Army or Goodwill or another thrift store. Someone else will find it and use it more than you are.

Mount Vernon Method of Cleaning

Sandra Felton discovered her method of cleaning while visiting Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s house. What she observed was that all the cleaning people worked in one room at a time together until the whole room was clean. When that room was finished, they moved to the next. When quitting time came, they stopped and restarted at that spot the next day, continuing through the whole house, one room at a time until it was complete.

Ms. Felton applied and adapted this method to her own home and her struggle with clutter and has taught it for many years now. Her method helped me so much to get a handle on the junk in my home.

A cluttered room can be easily decluttered and organized easily with the Mount Vernon Method.

Get Three Boxes

Before you start decluttering, it’s important to have three boxes or containers: One for trash, one for items that belong in another room in the house, and one for give-ways. With all the declutter shows on TV these days, this may seem mundane, but to me it was magical. If left to my own device,s I clean in the “If-you-give-a-mouse-a-cookie” method: Pick up a glass in the living room, take it to the kitchen, set it on the counter, the counter is dirty, wipe it off, come across a book, take it to the office, sit down and check your email,… Haha! You get the picture.

The reason you have three containers is that way you don’t have to leave the room that you’re working on. It really cuts down on distractions and makes your time more productive. If an item belongs in that room, no need to put it in a box. Go ahead and put things away in that room, but go back to the spot you were working on.

When you see that corner neat and clean–and then the next and the next–it is so inspiring! And this method works great whether you are bringing order to an overstuffed garage or kid’s room or if you are maintaining your already-organized home.

Start In The Easiest Spot in the Room

When I was young and had to clean my room, I would get completely overwhelmed. I’m a big-picture person–so I would see the whole room and everything that had to be done at once and got weighed down with the load. I have learned, though, to take one task at a time. When I decided to Mount Vernon-ize my home, I think I started in the coat closet. Though it was packed full, it was small and manageable.

I recommend that you start in the living room–or the easiest room that will make the most impact. Or just the least cluttered room. For me the living room was the easiest room because it had mostly furniture and not a lot of junk. Whatever room you start in, start in the corner that stays the neatest and when you’re finished move to the right or the left around the room. Go all the way around the room first decluttering the whole room, then cleaning, top to bottom.

If your first room takes you one day, a whole week or three weekends, it doesn’t matter. When you’re done for the day, stop and start where you left off the next time you have a chunk of time for decluttering.

You will be amazed at how quickly it really can go when you apply the three box method and stick with one room until it is finished. Before you know it, you will have a completely decluttered room and then can tackle some deep cleaning if desired.

10 Steps to Deep Clean a Room

After Decluttering: 10 Steps to Deep Clean a Room

Some choose to declutter the whole house and then go back and start over doing a deep cleaning. But if your goal is to deep clean a the same time, then once you have decluttered, this is how you would go about deep cleaning the room:

  1. Take down any curtains or window treatments and clean them.
  2. While the curtains are down, clean the windows.
  3. Dust for cobwebs at ceiling height
  4. Dust and Clean ceiling light fixtures.
  5. Dust the furniture, picture frames and any architectural details from top to bottom.
  6. Clean the baseboards.
  7. Sweep or Vacuum the floors, moving the furniture to vacuum underneath and behind.
  8. Vacuum out the sofas and cushions
  9. Spot clean the walls if there are marks or fingerprints on them. (A magic eraser works great for this.)
  10. Lastly, mop your floors if you do not have carpeting.

Get Organized

Once you have decluttered and cleaned, it’s time to organize your things. Reward yourself for a job well done with some organizing bins and such. Having a place for everything to go will make keeping your house neat so much easier.

Like with the decluttering and cleaning, use the Mount Vernon Method to get organized. Start in one room, moving around from closet to cabinet getting everything orderly and organized.

My Favorite Storage Organizers

Here are some of my favorite bins, bags, baskets and holders for organizing to get you started:

Airtight Food Storage Containers

Adjustable Kitchen Drawer Organizer I like this one because you can adjust it to the size of your drawer. And it’s made of durable bamboo.

Back-of-the-Door Storage Rack I used these for many years when my storage closets were too small. Use in your pantry, laundry or broom closet to hold food or cleaners.

Cotton Rope Storage Bins (Great for living room throws, toys, throw pillows, and laundry.)

Metal Baskets (Great for Pantry, Bathroom, Closets and Laundry)

Broom Holder These are great for getting your brooms and small vacuums off of the floor.

Rolling Laundry Organizer If your laundry is in the basement or if you are lucky enough to have a laundry room, this laundry organizer is amazing. Separate your colors or towels or delicates. It saves time and keeps dirty clothes neat.

Large Waterproof Storage Bags (Great for storing extra bedding, towels, seasonal clothes, etc.)

Earring Organizer No more missing and tangled earrings.

Standing Mirror Jewelry Cabinet This is neat because it has space for your perfume and makeup. It has a great full-length mirror and can fit snuggly in a corner of your bedroom or against the wall.

Desk Organizer Whether in your office or kitchen counter top, this will hold all of your office supplies neatly in one place. You’ll always be able to find what you need.

Interlocking Adjustable Drawer Organizers You can move these around to fit the drawers you want to put them in. Great for office or kitchen. They also stack.

You may also like my articles:

How to Remove Odors and Clean the Air in Your House Naturally and Permanently

How to Remove Smoke Smell Caused by Your Fireplace, Woodstove or Cigarettes

5 Easy Ways to Update Your Bedroom without Breaking the Bank



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