How do I declutter my house?

The idea of living a simple life with less stuff sounds attractive to many. But often, they begin to feel overwhelmed, anxious and defeated around the idea of owning less. That’s too bad.

Learning how to declutter your home and (and as a result, decluttering your life) doesn’t need to be as painful as some make it out to be. And the benefits are numerous. If you’re struggling and need guidance on how to declutter, you’ll need to get creative with your plans. Here are several interesting decluttering tips to get you started on decluttering your home:

Start with 5 minutes at a time. 

If you’re new to decluttering, you can slowly build momentum with just five minutes a day.

Baby steps are important. Sure, five minutes will barely make a dent in your mountain, but it’s a start. Celebrate when you’ve made that start!

Then take another five minutes tomorrow. And another the next day. Before you know it, you’ll have cleared a whole closet or a room and then half your house and then who knows? Maybe before long, your house will be even more uncluttered than mine. We’ll have a challenge!

Ask yourself if you love it. 

If you’re struggling to sort an item into a yes or no pile, ask yourself if you love it and whether or not you actually use it. “If the answer is no, it goes away,” Pinsky says. The only exception to this rule is if the piece has sentimental value. In that case, you can neatly store it in a labelled container or bin. “Ninety-nine per cent of the items you get rid of will never cross your mind again,” Pinsky points out. “And on top of it, you will feel 100 times lighter.”

Donate clothes you never wear. 

Designate one bin for items that you can donate to a charitable organization or another person. These should be items you can imagine another person wanting or needing. 

To identify them, simply hang all your clothes with hangers in the reverse direction. After wearing an item, face the hanger in the correct direction. Discard the clothes you never touched after a few months.

As you’re getting ready for work and going through your closet for something to wear, spend a few minutes pulling out ones you haven’t worn in a few months. If they’re seasonal clothes, store them in a box. Get rid of the rest. Do this a little at a time until your closet (and then your drawers) only contains stuff you actually wear.

If you’ve decluttered a bunch of stuff, you might have a “to donate” pile that’s just taking up space in the corner of your room. Take a few minutes to box it up and put it in your trunk. Then tomorrow, drop it off.

Your home is not a museum. Many people subscribe to the unwritten rule that you’re obligated to keep your great-aunt’s dishes, even if you don’t like them, just because she used them. But maybe your great-aunt never liked them either and also felt too guilty to let them go. Things don’t have to become yours simply because they belonged to a relative. You’re not living her life, and you’re not a bad person for giving inherited items away. 

If the acquired stuff is worth money, you may feel bound to it financially: “It’s real silver—I can’t give it away.” Yes, you can. Donate it, document what it’s worth and take it off your taxes. Or give it to another family member who would really like it. Or sell it on eBay. And if you want something enough to keep it, consider it a replacement, not an addition—keep Grandma’s reading lamp, but donate the one you already have. 

Souvenirs from your own life are harder to part with because when you see them, you relive the story: To you, it’s the cashmere V-neck you wore on your first date with the man who would become your husband; to anyone else, it’s just an old sweater full of holes. The key to parting with items suspended in time is not to replay that story. Leave the room, come back in and see what you’re really holding on to—a sweater that’s seen better days. Rule of thumb: If it serves no purpose, let it go. 

Physically getting rid of clutter is an important part of organizing your home. Once you’ve completed the decluttering process, I always suggest getting the items out of the house.

Create a decluttering checklist. 

It’s a lot easier to declutter when you have a visual representation of where you need to get started. You can use our decluttering checklist.

Start a decluttering mission by organizing what you have to do by category. Make a list of categories like clothes, keepsakes, and kids’ items, then tackle one at a time. This will help keep the task from feeling too overwhelming.

Pull everything out of a drawer. 

Just take the drawer out and empty it on a table. Then sort the drawer into three piles: 1) stuff that really should go in the drawer; 2) stuff that belongs elsewhere; 3) stuff to get rid of. Clean the drawer out nice, then put the stuff in the first pile back neatly and orderly. Deal with the other piles immediately!

Purge Your Closet the Smart Way

Turn all the clothes hanging in your closet so that the hangers face back-to-front. For the next six months, if you wear an item of clothing, return it to the closet with the hanger facing the correct way. If you try it on but decide not to wear it, make sure you put it back with the hanger turned backward—no cheating. Be prepared for a shock; you are going to find you own lots of clothes you have no use for. You should seriously consider getting rid of anything you don’t wear regularly. 

Fill an entire trash bag. 

Get a trash bag and fill it as fast as you can with things you can donate at Goodwill.

Designate one basket for items that are simply trash—things that can go into the household trash immediately. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, here’s a technique that will help you slowly eat away at it. I call it the “trash bag tango”, and this is how it goes. You get two trash bags, with the idea here being to clear the superficial clutter from your home. In the first one, you put trash; in the second bag, you put stuff that’s going to a charity or a yard sale, books that you’ve read or clothing that no longer fits you,—and anything else that you just want out of the house. If you do this simple 10-minute routine every day for a week, you’ll notice a difference. Do it every day for two weeks everyone will notice a difference. And do it every day for a month, and you’ll really be on top of the clutter. 

Designate a spot for incoming papers.

Papers often account for a lot of our clutter. This is because we put them in different spots — on the counter, on the table, on our desk, in a drawer, on top of our dresser, in our car. No wonder we can’t find anything! Designate an in-box tray or spot in your home (or at your office, for that matter) and don’t put down papers anywhere but that spot. Got mail? Put it in the inbox. Got school papers? Put it in the inbox. Receipts, warranties, manuals, notices, flyers? In the inbox! This one little change can really transform your paperwork.

Set up some simple folders. 

Sometimes our papers pile up high because we don’t have good places to put them. Create some simple folders with labels for your major bills and similar paperwork. Put them in one spot. Your system doesn’t have to be complete, but keep some extra folders and labels in case you need to quickly create a new file.

If you can’t finish the mail, don’t start the mail. You can’t slice chicken for dinner and sort your bills at the same time, so when you come in the front door with a stack of mail, put it in the basket, box or whatever container you have handy for this purpose. Don’t you have such a container? No wonder there are so many piles of mail around your house. 

When you’re ready, take your mail basket to wherever you deal with paperwork. First, pull out the circulars and flyers and set them aside; you’ll either clip the coupons or put them in the recycling bin—later. Also set aside the catalogues. If you’re shopping for something specific, save them. (Caveat: no multiples. The new catalogue replaces the old one, which gets recycled.) If you’re getting catalogues you never wanted in the first place, pull off the pages with the mailing label and put them aside; that’s an action item for later. Then separate the rest: bills, personal correspondence, time-sensitive invitations, requests for charitable donations, membership renewals, new credit card offers, and so forth. 

Open the bills first, because they represent a relationship that must be honoured; if you want the services, you have to pay for them. All the stuffing that says, “You’ve been selected to receive these free gifts” goes into the recycling bin. All you want is the bill and the return envelope. 

Put any invitations aside; later on, you’ll transfer those into your calendar and send your response.  If there’s room in your home office, have small bins in which to stack bills, invitations and the correspondence you’re keeping.  When you’re done sorting, then you can read your magazines. Or get those back pages you ripped out, call the companies that sent them and tell them what you don’t want—their catalogues. 

Overhaul your systems. 

While the piles on your desk or clutter on the top of your file cabinet are obvious targets for spring cleaning, give thought to the systems that are no longer working effectively. Some of the physical clutter that has piled up may be the result of a policy that is no longer tailored to your company’s current needs. For example, the volume of documents that need to be shredded no longer fit in the one container designated for them. Another area to focus on is your company’s file server. This is a good time to make sure that everyone is following the same document naming and filing protocols.

View your home as a first-time visitor. 

It’s easy to “forget” what your home looks like to a new visitor. Enter your home as if you’re visiting the home of a friend. Write down your first impression on how clean and organized the home is and make changes.

Spend a few minutes visualizing the room. When I’m decluttering, I like to take a moment to take a look at a room and think about how I want it to look. What are the most essential pieces of furniture? What doesn’t belong in the room but has just gravitated there? What is on the floor (hint: only furniture and rugs belong there) and what is on the other flat surfaces? Once I’ve visualized how the room will look uncluttered, and figured out what is essential, I get rid of the rest.

You must see everything in each category sorted in one place. Clear a space and spread out your belongings so you can decide what stays and what goes from each category.

Take before and after photos of a small area. 

Choose one part of your home, like your kitchen counter, and take a photo of a small area. Quickly clean off the items in the photo and take an after photo. Once you see how your home could look, it becomes easier to start decluttering more of your home.

Start small.

Pick a starting point – either the easiest or the most bothersome spot. This might be your middle desk drawer or multiple pen holders on your desk. Once you have successfully tackled this first small area, recognize your accomplishment and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that will ensure—additional schedule time in small chunks to continue decluttering your space. Your progress will be evident, which will motivate you to move through the remaining areas of your office.

Create a “maybe” box. 

Sometimes when you’re going through a pile of stuff, you know exactly what to keep (the stuff you love and use) and what to trash or donate. But then there’s the stuff you don’t use, but think you might want it or need it someday. You can’t bear to get rid of that stuff! So create a “maybe” box, and put this stuff there. Then store the box somewhere hidden, out of the way. Put a note on your calendar six months from now to look in the box. Then pull it out, six months later, and see if it’s anything you really needed. Usually, you can just dump the whole box, because you never needed that stuff.

Sturdy hooks work well for coats, dog leashes, and bags. Make sure the hooks are mounted at arm’s reach for kids’ backpacks and jackets so they can be responsible for their own things. Shoe shelves, cubbies, or labelled bins or baskets will do the trick if you are a no-shoe household. I always encourage my clients to store the majority of shoes in their bedroom closets, so their entryway doesn’t resemble a shoe store.

Use the Four-Box Method. 

Get four boxes and label them: trash, give away, keep, or re-locate. Enter any room in your home and place each item into one of the following boxes. Don’t skip a single item, no matter how insignificant you may think it is. This may take days, weeks, or months, but it will help you see how many items you really own, and you’ll know exactly what to do with each item.

Create a 30-day list. 

The problem with decluttering is that we can declutter our butts off (don’t actually try that — it’s painful), but it just comes back because we buy more stuff. So fight that tendency by nipping it in the bud: don’t buy the things in the first place. Take a minute to create a 30-day list, and every time you want to buy something that’s not absolutely necessary (and no, that new Macbook Air isn’t absolutely necessary), put it on the list with the date it was added to the list. Make a rule never to buy anything (except necessities) unless they’ve been on the list for 30 days. Often you’ll lose the urge to buy the stuff, and you’ll save yourself a lot of money and clutter.

Not sure what you use and what you don’t in your kitchen? Here is a tried and true way to find out. Empty the contents of your kitchen utensils drawer into a cardboard box. For one month, put a utensil back into the drawer only if you take it out of the box to use it. If it’s still in the box after four weeks—you don’t need it. Pass it on to charity. 

Commit Fully to a Decluttering Routine

Consider your washing machine: You’d never fill it with dirty clothes, let it run for 20 minutes then turn it off and let the clothes sit for two days. That would create a stinky mess! So it is with our daily routines: Doing things halfway wreaks havoc. That’s why it’s important to finish each cycle. For example, if you bring a dirty plate into the kitchen, don’t leave it on the counter—put it in the dishwasher! When you pull on sweatpants after work, don’t toss your skirt on the bed—hang it in your closet. … Each of these tasks requires about a minute, which is minimal compared with the time you’d waste later looking for that skirt. 

Get help from a friend. 

Have a friend or family member go through your home and suggest a handful of big items to throw away or give to someone else. If you defend the item and want to keep it, your friend has to agree with your reason. If they don’t agree, it’s time to get rid of it.

Sometimes, we are so attached to our stuff that it’s hard to know when to hold on and when to let go. Ask a friend or family member to help you. Let this person vote “yes” or “no” to clothing, decorative pieces, and other items. Even better, swap services, and agree to go to your friend’s home next to reciprocate.

Teach your kids where things belong. 

This only applies to the parents among us, of course, but if you teach your kids where things go, and start teaching them the habit of putting them there, you’ll go a long way to keeping your house uncluttered. Of course, they won’t learn the habit overnight, so you’ll have to be very very patient with them and just keep teaching them until they’ve got it. And better yet, set the example for them and get into the habit yourself.

Have a conversation with your family or roommate. 

Sometimes the problem isn’t just with us, and it’s with the person or people we live with. An uncluttered home is the result of a shared philosophy of simplicity of all the people living in the house. If you take a few minutes to explain that you really want to have an uncluttered house and that you could use their help, you can go a long way to getting to that point. Try to be persuasive and encouraging rather than nagging and negative. 

Everything has to have a home. 

Once you’ve gotten rid of everything you don’t need or no longer want, organize your belongings so that each and every piece has a designated storage spot. Pinsky recommends making a trip to The Container Store to maintain an organized system.

As you start the spring cleaning process, keep these organizing tips in mind. You’ll immediately boost your productivity and feel better in your space once you have “cleaned” your home! 

 

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