There are a number of reasons why you might have chosen to read this guide. Perhaps you are tired of listening to your best friend regurgitating Marie Kondo tips that she learned from binge-watching the Netflix series.
Perhaps you are on a mission to streamline your lifestyle and cut down on the amount of housework you have to do (by eliminating clutter, the average home requires 40% less housework!).
Perhaps your clutter has got out of control and you can no longer find your tennis shoes/cat/kitchen!
According to NAPO (the National Association of Professional Organisers — yes, it’s a real thing!), we spend the equivalent of around 12 days a year looking for things we can’t find. If you could free up those 12 wasted days, and reduce your housework by 40%, and end the closet-shame, think about how much easier life would be. Not only would life be easier, but you may also be healthier.
A study conducted at Indiana University, discovered that people who live in clean houses are healthier than those who have untidy homes.
No more emergency tidying when someone is coming round (and then finding boxes of things you shoved under the bed months later when you are looking for something else). No more avoiding rooms because you just don’t know where to start. No more buying take-out because the kitchen is just so cluttered that cooking is a chore.
No more excuses.
Table of Contents
You know that stressed, frustrated feeling you get when you look around at the clutter and just don’t know how to fix it? As you declutter, those feelings untangle and dissipate.
Every time you clear a space, you are clearing your mind. Follow this guide and it will take you step-by-step to where you want to be.
Here are some of the most popular, tried-and-tested decluttering methods to suit everyone:
Take each room at a time and work methodically through it until it is completely decluttered. Anything that belongs in another room gets taken to that room to be dealt with when its turn comes. Perfect if you have problem rooms you need to focus on.
Rather than working one room at a time, you can deal with a certain type of clutter at a time, such as a paperwork overload or clothing clutter. This is ideal if you can identify a very specific clutter problem you want to tackle.
The Kon Mari Method
Popular decluttering guru Marie Kondo has created the Kon Mari method, a technique which has gained millions of followers by focusing on the wellbeing benefits of a tidy home. Gather together all of the clutter in your home, ask yourself if each individual item ‘sparks joy’, and eliminate the unnecessary things that you are hoarding.
Swedish Death Cleaning
This is the process of prioritizing and organizing your belongings, usually as you age, so that you leave behind only the things you wish to. The technique is increasingly popular with people of all ages as it involves the positive approach of deciding what is truly important.
Just 10 Things Technique
Simply take a bag or box and fill it with 10 things that you do not need. They may be recycled, binned or donated, but they must leave your home as soon as possible. Make it a regular habit and you will soon see and feel the difference.
Moving Forward Technique
We all accumulate things that are no longer relevant to our lives. Get rid of books you are no longer interested in, clothes that no longer fit, souvenirs from times you don’t care to remember, and move forward.
Before we jump into our decluttering system, here are some general tips that will help you get motivated, stay on track, and make the most efficient use of your time.
- Make a small start on the decluttering by picking up 5 items right now and getting rid of them by giving them away, recycling or binning them. Enjoy the feeling you get from having made a start and recognize how much better it would feel to do this with the entire home! This is a good tip if you tend to procrastinate.
- Be sensible about sentiment; if your house is covered in kids’ art or photographs, take pictures of each piece and then store it away in the attic or a scrapbook. Downscale by holding onto a couple of cups and saucers rather than the whole 40 piece tea set that your great-auntie left you.
- Are you surrounded by half-finished things? Get a couple of ‘project boxes’ for the things you truly must keep and store each project and everything it requires inside. If you haven’t made any progress with a project in 3 months, then get rid of it.
- Stop the flow of paper! If you are a gatherer of leaflets, catalogs, and mail, then it is time to change. Open your mail beside the recycling bin and get rid of unwanted things immediately. Take pictures of receipts, instructions, notices, and leaflets so you have the information you need without the paper.
- Make a list of local places that need donations. This is particularly helpful if you feel guilty about getting rid of things; by decluttering you could be helping others. Listing charities, hospitals, and residential homes will give you an added sense of purpose.
- Keep a box in your car so that it is as easy as possible to take unused things out of your home and get them to where they can be useful! Each time you pass a goodwill store, simply take the box in.
- Seeing double? Make a list of things you know you have two of. If you could always find the item when you needed it, would you need another? Nobody needs 5 pairs of scissors! Get rid of duplicates and spares.
- Think creatively to maximize the potential of every space. Is there space under your bed for storage boxes of out-of-season clothes? How about hooks on the back of your doors? Storage baskets on top of the bookcase? Shelves in an awkwardly shaped alcove?
- Never give up your valuable space to accommodate someone else’s clutter. Give back books and clothes you have borrowed, return belongings to your ex, make your brother come round and pick up his bicycle… anything taking up space in your home should be yours.
- It is perfectly acceptable to put a waste-paper bin in any room that needs it. If you find yourself gathering trash off the floor or other surfaces, then it’s time to add a bin to the room.
- Learn to love the label — if a label on a box makes you more likely to remember what it contains and put things back in it, indulge in some pretty labels and pens and get to work.
- Refuse to hoard — if you are holding onto clothes to make memory cushions, storing up corks to make a notice board, or hanging onto craft materials for a hypothetical scrapbook, be honest about whether you truly have time and motivation or if it would actually feel good to let go.
YOUR DECLUTTERING SYSTEM
It is important to decide what you want to achieve before you start.
Visualize what you want your home to look like and how it would change your life. Imagine getting up in the morning and not having to rifle through piles of clothes. Picture how much easier life would be and how much time you would save.
Decide on a timescale. Without this decision, you are much more likely to procrastinate or give up. Make a firm commitment and be specific. Instead of saying, “I’d like the closets to be tidier,” say “By the end of the month, I will donate every unwanted item from our closets and organize the storage so it works effectively for us.”
The Handy 5 Box Rule
We are going to keep this really simple. All you need to begin are 5 bags or boxes to sort the clutter:
- Trash: anything that is broken, damaged or unusable should be thrown away.
- Recycling: recycle wherever possible.
- Sell: ask yourself if it is really worth the time and effort listing lower-value items and if not, donate instead.
- Donate: donate to a charity or pass things along to friends. Enjoy the opportunity to help others as you streamline your home.
- Keep: these should be things you either need or love. Be ruthless. If something needs to be fixed, only keep it if it’s worth fixing and you truly intend to.
Get Rid of It!
According to the NAPO, “72% of Americans believe they would gain more space in their homes by purging unused items, but 41%… haven’t decluttered for over a year”.
Until those bags are out of your home, they are technically still clutter!
- Immediately take the trash to the bin; this is going to make the biggest difference to your home.
- Take recycling to the nearest recycling center as soon as possible, even if it means making a special trip.
- Starting with the higher value items, list everything for sale as soon as possible. Set yourself a deadline — if it isn’t sold within a month, it gets donated.
- Put the box of donations in your car and drop them off at the soonest opportunity. Putting them in the car means getting them out of the house and you’ll be much more likely to actually donate them.
- Divide things that are to be kept into those that should be stored away, and those you need regular access to. Items that can be stored should be packed away and safely stowed in the attic, basement, or garage. Items you want to keep should have a specific place where they belong. Give every item a home, and it will be much more likely to be returned there!
ROOM BY ROOM DECLUTTERING TIPS
Whether you have problem rooms that are crying out for decluttering or you want to work through your entire home, the way you approach different spaces will be different. Let’s take a look at some more specific decluttering tips for each room.
Decluttering the Kitchen
A tidy kitchen could not only make cooking more enjoyable, but it could have a positive effect on the food choices you make. “Research shows that cluttered kitchens prompted people to eat 44% more of their snack food than a kitchen that was organized and decluttered” (NAPO).
- Free up bench space by mounting a rack on the wall or on the back of a cupboard door for easy access to small containers such as spices.
- Simple hooks can be used to wall-mount brushes, dustpans, and mops.
- Cut down on plastic bags. We all have too many. A plastic bag dispenser is incredibly space-saving for the reusable bags you choose to keep.
- To save floor space in a smaller kitchen, place the waste bin inside a cupboard.
- Place half-shelves into kitchen cupboards to give you twice the storage and make it easier to see exactly what you have.
- It is amazing how dinnerware builds up — get rid of any odd plates, chipped bowls and ask yourself if you really need 26 mugs for a household of four people.
- Cull your gadget collection — if you haven’t used an item in the past six months, you are unlikely to really need it. Do you really need an olive-stone-remover or a fish de-scaler?
- Increase your chances of putting things where they belong by storing your most-used items in the most easily accessed places. It will make it easier to prepare food, and easier to clear away.
Decluttering the Bedroom
Believe it or not, a tidy bedroom could give you that great nights’ sleep you are after! “Research shows that people [who declutter their bedroom] may sleep better at night.”
- Simplify your nightstand by removing anything that you don’t need right by your bed.
- Make the most of your drawers by using dividers to create more useable spaces for storing smaller items.
- Use a jewelry tree or small hooks to easily store jewelry.
- Over-door hangers or hooks are a great way to keep bathrobes and cardigans off the floor/bed/chair and within easy reach.
- Store shoes and bags that you only use for special occasions or spare bedding/blankets inside your luggage and stow under the bed or in the bottom of a cupboard.
- Minimize your vanity clutter by getting rid of any cosmetics and accessories that are old or unwanted. Throw them out or pass them to a friend.
- Keep appliances such as hairdryers, straighteners or curlers in a basket with the accessories you might need when using them.
- Do you really need a chair in the bedroom? If it is only ever used as a place to drape clothes or stack books, then get rid of it and enjoy more floor space.
Decluttering the Kids Rooms
Of all the rooms in the house, kids’ rooms are probably the places that accumulate the most unwanted clutter, simply because children develop so quickly that before you know it they have grown out of the toys, clothing, and books that just months ago they were growing into!
- Kids grow out of clothes quickly; only keep items that fit well. Items that are too big should be stored in a box under the bed or on top of the wardrobe — label the box with the size.
- Display kids’ collections on photo shelves on the walls, or in transparent craft-storage boxes so they can see their treasures without covering every available surface.
- Use cheap poster frames to display a few of their favorite posters/works of art, rather than having lots of torn pictures peeling off the walls.
- Children grow out of books as well as clothes — regularly ask them to choose books to donate to younger children, and then move them to a younger child’s room or donate to charity.
- When you buy a toy with many pieces, buy a lidded box that it fits into. Small individual boxes are easier to access than big mixed toyboxes that need to be tipped out.
- Memory boxes are fantastic; let the child choose the most precious items to keep.
- Soft toys can be stored in handy nets or toy hammocks on the walls.
- Install hooks at the child’s level so they can reach them easily.
Decluttering the Entrance Hall
As the first place you see when you enter the home, the entrance hall is an important place. If it is messy and cluttered, your mood instantly alters. Of course, because it is the first place you reach, it also can become a dumping ground for coats, shoes, and countless other things.
- A large basket for outdoor shoes will keep them all in one place and keep floors clean and clear.
- A bowl in the entrance hall is handy for spare change and keys, eliminating the frantic morning search for car keys.
- Label coat hooks with names, and add another row of hooks below to hang bags or baskets for hats/gloves/scarves, etc.
- Make use of wasted space in the entrance hall with slimline storage units or bookcases. Even a narrow or shallow storage unit can be useful.
- A two-part system with an inbox for important mail and a wastepaper basket for junk mail to be recycled/binned will cut down on paper clutter.
- A noticeboard in the entrance hall is a great place to post reminders, lists, and notes as it is the last thing you see before you leave the house.
- Cut down on photo clutter on surfaces by turning your hallway wall or staircase wall into a photo gallery.
- An ottoman or storage bench is an ideal place to stow bags or toys out of sight.
Decluttering the Home Office
Whether you work from home or have a study for keeping on top of paperwork, it is difficult to keep the home office from absorbing clutter from other rooms. A tidy office boosts productivity and puts an end to procrastination!
- Keep family clutter out of the office space — remove everything not required for work.
- Cables, chargers and leads can be a hazard as well as a major source of clutter; a cable sorter is invaluable (no more detangling!).
- Test your stationery — you might be surprised at how many pens don’t work and how many notebooks are filled. Throw away anything no longer useful; never return a dry pen to the pen pot.
- Check for duplicates of documents; there is no point having paper copies of documents already stored digitally.
- Shred unwanted paperwork immediately — shredded paper doesn’t join a pile of unsorted paperwork!
- Clear your noticeboard every Monday — a cluttered noticeboard is pointless as we simply ignore it. Keep just 10 tacks to pin things up and don’t buy any more.
- Keep a cloth or some cleaning wipes in the office so you can easily and quickly wipe down surfaces — the home office is one of the places we often forget to clean.
- Arrange your desk drawers for maximum productivity. Put the items you use most frequently into the top drawer, and those you use rarely into the bottom. Every Monday get rid of things from the bottom drawer that you haven’t used.
Decluttering the Living Room
As the room where you are most likely to spend time relaxing, it makes sense to declutter and keep it tidy so that it is easier and more enjoyable to hang out in. The living room is for living, it doesn’t have to be an empty space, but great storage and display areas will transform the way you live in it.
- Look up for unused space — ensure storage units and bookcases offer you maximum storage by extending them all the way to the ceiling using additional shelves or boxes.
- Choose a coffee table or side table with storage inside for toys, blankets, or other bulky items.
- Wall-mount the television and install a shelf below for electronics so you can ditch the bulky storage unit in favor of more floor space.
- Reduce the number of photographs, postcards, and other paper mementos and swap for a multi-aperture frame on the wall or album.
- Cut down on unnecessary furnishings — get rid of surplus scatter cushions, curtains that pool on the floor and stick to just one rug.
- Instead of displaying everything you own, cut back on ornaments and knick-knacks by getting rid of those you don’t absolutely love, and storing half of them away so that you can rotate your display.
- Get rid of unwanted magazines and get hold of some magazine files for any you really want to keep.
- Keep a basket in the living room that is for things that belong upstairs. When it is full, take it up and put everything away.
Decluttering the Laundry Room
The laundry room can be crucial for keeping your home free from clothing clutter. Whether you have a small laundry station or a larger room to work with, streamlining this area can cut down the time you spend sorting, washing, drying, and folding.
- Simplify your cleaning supplies by sticking to a couple of quality, multi-purpose cleaning products, and reusable cloths. Store them in a bucket and take them with you from room to room as you clean.
- Wall-mounted ironing boards and irons save space and are less likely to get damaged.
- If you don’t already have kitchen cupboards in the laundry room, make the most of wall space above the worktop with wall units or shelves with storage boxes
- Don’t let odd socks, things that need mending and stained items clutter the workspace; peg odd socks up to await matches and get rid of items that are beyond use.
- Don’t hang clothes from chairs or door handles; install a clothes rail so that you can safely hang clothes and prevent them from getting wrinkled or dusty.
- Keep a handheld vacuum cleaner in the laundry room for getting rid of lint, fluff, and dust.
- Put a spare change jar in the laundry area — save any coins left in pockets towards a treat.
- Separate baskets for lights, darks, and delicates mean you can stop sorting laundry piles on the floor or bench.
Decluttering the Bathroom
Most of us have too many lotions and potions in our bathrooms, and you might be surprised how many items are hiding away in cabinets or on shelves that you are not intending to use! Save valuable space, cut down on dust and create a relaxing haven in your bathroom.
- Empty your medicine cabinet, throwing away anything that you don’t use or that may be past its best.
- Store the items you use most often at eye level for easy access.
- If you buy multiple items or stock up on supplies when they are on offer, keep them in a separate lidded box until they’re needed.
- Eliminate unnecessary decorative items — does the smallest room in the house really need decorative bottles or wooden boats taking up space?
- Minimize window clutter — if you have privacy glass, you don’t really need a blind in the bathroom.
- Utilize the space under your sink with a cupboard that hides the pedestal.
- Choose mirrored bathroom cupboards instead of having a mirror on the wall.
- Every bathroom should have a bin — store small bin liners in the room so it is easy to quickly empty it.
We all have far more clothes than we really need (and yet it often feels like we’ve nothing to wear!) Being more careful about what we keep and what we buy can transform how we feel about our closets, and that can change how we feel about the way we look. “In 1930, the average American woman owned nine outfits. Today, that figure is 30 outfits – one for every day of the month.” (NAPO)
- Declutter clothing by type, start with something simple like the underwear drawer; finish it before you move on.
- Turn all of your clothes hangers one way. Each time you wear something, return it to the closet with the hanger the other way around. You’ll be surprised to find how many items weren’t worn after 3 months — time to donate!
- Roll or fold items and place them vertically instead of horizontally (as if ‘filing’ them) so you can see what you have without making a mess.
- Tie hangers also come in very handy for scarves and belts, and can save you valuable space that would otherwise be lost.
- Store small handbags inside larger bags (once you have donated any you no longer want or use!)
- If items often fall off hangers, opt for velvet coated hangers that are designed to be non-slip.
- Utilize unused space below hanging racks by placing a shoe-rack in the bottom of the wardrobe.
- Make the most of the top of your closet — a shelf in a built-in closet or boxes on top of a wardrobe can make a huge difference to your available storage.
Decluttering the Garage
The garage can become the ultimate storage area for things that we don’t quite know what to do with, projects we haven’t got around to or things the children have outgrown. Garage space can make up a large proportion of the space you own, so why waste it? “60 percent of parents admit they’ve been unable to park their car in the garage due to their overflowing belongings”. (NAPO)
- Utilize old wardrobes and chests of drawers in the garage to store items.
- A peg-board provides excellent versatile storage for tools and cables and is easy to make.
- Re-use glass jars to store screws and other small items. They look great labeled and lined up.
- Use heavy-duty hooks to keep larger garden tools safely off the floor.
- Bicycles can be easily mounted on the wall to increase the usable floor space.
- Throw away old, unwanted, or damaged outdoor toys. Store smaller toys such as bats and balls in wheeled storage bins that can be easily pushed outside when needed.
- Offer outgrown bicycles, scooters, and other toys to charity or quickly sell them on. These are always in high demand and often show little wear.
- Don’t let your garage become a dumping ground for items you don’t know what to do with! Don’t keep things ‘just in case’. Either let it go to someone who needs it, or dump it — few things are more valuable than the space you are freeing up!
Decluttering the Attic and Basement
If you dread the thought of going into the attic or basement because of the seemingly endless number of things you might find, then you can be sure there is stuff hiding away that you no longer need or want. If you can’t even get into these areas properly, then it is time to rid your home of unwanted clutter and reclaim your space.
- These are well-known ‘junk amnesia’ areas — if you find something you didn’t know you had, then you don’t need it!
- Start by getting rid of the largest items, this will clear space for you to work and give you a motivational sense of accomplishment.
- Make decisions — don’t leave anything for ‘later’. The key to sorting out problem areas such as attics and basements is working methodically, fully dealing with each item as you reach it.
- Invest in strong, wheeled storage boxes; the wheels will enable you to maneuver them easily when you are looking for something.
- Don’t neglect these areas when it comes to effective storage — cheap storage furniture (nobody will see it!) transforms the space, giving you easier access than piles on the floor!
- Ensure you have good lighting in areas that tend to be dark. This will help you identify clutter before it can build up.
- Everything in the attic and basement should be clearly labeled so that you don’t undo your decluttering when searching for something.
- Vacuum as you go — the attic and basement tend to be the dustiest parts of the home, and this can make it unpleasant work. Clean as you go; it will be much more rewarding.
FUTURE-PROOF YOUR HOME FROM CLUTTER
Once you have decluttered, it is essential that you set in place good habits so that you don’t end up back in the same situation again. When you future-proof your home from clutter, you spend less time tidying and more time enjoying your home. That’s not to say that no clutter will ever build up again — of course it will, but with these management strategies it will be so much easier to eliminate!
- Look around, if you see an item that does not have an official, designated home where it should stay, then give it one and stick to it.
- Commit to buying better. Instead of opting for cheap throwaway fashion, choose quality pieces that are classic and versatile. Be more selective and choose quality over quantity.
- Admire your work. When you have decluttered an area, spend time in it and make a genuine commitment to keeping it clutter-free.
- Invite people round. There is nothing that makes you more suddenly aware of clutter than an eminent visitor. It is also a chance to enjoy your home without embarrassment.
- Don’t get sucked in with multibuy offers for products you don’t need. It is not a saving if it costs you your space.
- Have a ‘one-in-one-out’ rule for decorative items. Only buy something if you love it enough to replace an existing belonging. This will automatically make you more selective.
- Allow yourself one junk drawer — just make sure that once it is full, you clear it out.
- Eliminate paper wherever possible; opt for paperless billing, email receipts, and digital manuals.