Is clutter encroaching on your space, your sanity and your happiness? Conquering clutter is not as difficult as you think. Here are seven simple tips that will help you fight clutter like a pro:
- Start smart. Begin by creating three piles: Throw Away, Give Away and Put Away. For each pile, use trash bags, empty boxes, laundry baskets or whatever works. As you sort, every item that doesn’t go back into the drawer or shelf you are cleaning gets placed in one of the three piles. Notice Set Aside to Think About Later is NOT one of the piles!
- Take small bites. Especially if you are feeling overwhelmed. Tackle one drawer or shelf at a time. Alternatively, set the timer (choose a time between 20 minutes and an hour) and declutter until the time is up. By working consistently—even if it’s only one drawer a day—in a few weeks you will have decluttered several rooms from top to bottom. Also, make a point to spend a minute or two each evening tidying up problem areas. Such small efforts, done consistently, can pay big dividends.
- Don’t multitask. Our stuff is interconnected, so it’s easy to get sidetracked. When you find a book in the family room that belongs in the den, don’t stop to make space on that bookshelf. Place it in the Put Away pile and keep going. The den is some other day’s project. Finish one room or space before tackling another, or you’ll never finish either one.
- Dump it. To be a gold-star declutterer, you must empty the entire drawer or shelf, wipe it down, then put back only the items that really belong there. Just rooting through and plucking out a thing or two isn’t enough. And there’s something satisfying about dust-free, cobweb-free, crumb-free drawers—even for un-neat-freaks like me.
- Be systematic. Once you’ve selected a place to start, move through that room in order—one drawer, shelf or piece of furniture to the next. Don’t jump around and don’t skip areas. Whatever is next, face it.
- Identify the problem. If a certain area or type of item is always a clutter problem, ask yourself why. Do you need a better storage space or container? Are certain things stored in inconvenient places? For example, if you hate putting tools back in the basement, consider having a small tool box in the kitchen or garage. If your kids hate messing with coat hangers, try installing a row of pegs. If a wrinkled shirt hangs in the laundry room for six months before you get around to ironing it, consider a wrinkle-free-clothing only rule.
- Finish strong. When you’re done decluttering for the day, put the Throw Away items in the trash can, (yes, right away. No second guessing!) place the Give Away items in a suitable container for transporting, and put the items in the Put Away pile where they belong. If the item doesn’t have a home, at least put it in the room you think it belongs in.
Having trouble deciding what to keep?
- Don’t keep trash. You are not Oscar the Grouch. If it’s broken, bent, ripped, stained or out-dated, toss it!
- Classify and conquer. Sometimes identifying why something qualifies as clutter can help. Click here for a post on 12 Types of Clutter.
- Try a virtual move. Pretend you are relocating and must pack the entire house. Ask yourself, “would I bother packing this item?” If the answer is no, don’t keep it.
- Apply the One Year Test. If you haven’t used it or worn it in the past year, consider getting rid of it. If you struggle to part with it, ask yourself if it falls into the Good Intentions clutter category.
Not sure what to do with the items in your Give Away pile? Consider the following:
- If yard sale-ing is your thing, collect all your Give Away items and hold a sale. (Just promise to take everything that doesn’t sell to Goodwill! Do not allow it back in your house!)
- Consignment shops. Another way to recoup a few dollars. Less profit, but less work, too.
- Sell it on E-bay or Criag’s List, especially if you have something worth a few bucks, like furniture, china or jewelry. Not tech-savvy? Ask around, there may be someone you know who sells stuff on E-bay as a sideline.
- Give it to friends or relatives. (But don’t just dump a box on their front porch and flee the scene. Offer to let them look through the pile and take what they want.)
- Donate it to a non-profit secondhand store, like Goodwill or Re Uzit, that gives proceeds to charity. If you ask, they may give you a receipt for tax purposes.
- Your local library probably accepts donations of books, magazines, CDs and DVDs. Just be aware that they only need relatively current materials. If a book is more than fifteen years old, the library probably doesn’t want it. Take older materials to a secondhand shop instead.
Great work! Don’t forget to celebrate your progress.
Take a moment to admire your clutter-free spaces. Just be aware that other family members may not notice, or think to praise your efforts. You are decluttering for your sanity, not to earn kudos from others. So smile, pat yourself on the back, and carry on.