Woman with moving boxes

When decluttering you should start simple and reward yourself for the effort. (Getty Images)

Unless you're a minimalist, chances are your home is more cluttered than you would like. Disorganization at home is a common problem and can range from a little messiness to a chronic hoarding disorder. And regardless of how untidy and disheveled your space is, decluttering can be a challenge. We've broken down the reasons a decluttered home can help you thrive, plus the best tips for getting rid of clutter.

The Benefits of Decluttering Your Home

Clutter isn't just about the stuff in your home, but it also relates to mental health, overscheduling yourself and lacking an organizational system that works for you.

The Institute for Challenging Disorganization, a nonprofit group dedicated to identifying the causes of disorganization and educating the public on ways to combat it, states that mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder can be associated with disorganization and lead to clutter in your life.

Additionally, the ICD notes sentimental attachment, overscheduling, job loss and even sleep disorders, among other difficulties, can go hand in hand with clutter at home. It's important to be aware of situations that can make it hard to declutter – but it's not impossible.

Decluttering your home can't necessarily cure other issues associated with disorganization, but it can help to get them under control. Plus, you'll find it easier to entertain, clean and prepare your home for the market when you want to move with a tidy, organized space.

[Read: 10 Tips for Making Your Home Instagram-Worthy.]

How to Declutter Your Home

Here are seven steps for decluttering your home:

  • Schedule.
  • Start simple.
  • Recycle, give away or sell items.
  • Reward yourself.
  • Build momentum.
  • Adopt the clutter-free mindset.
  • Make it a seasonal project.

1. Schedule

It's too easy to put off decluttering when you don't create a time dedicated to the activity. Make an appointment that you put on your calendar, in the same way you make reminders for a business meeting or doctor's visit, recommends Rachel Rosenthal, founder of organizing firm Rachel and Company, based in the District of Columbia.

2. Start Simple

Even if you have a ton of work to do, don't try to do too much at once. Know your limits when it comes to how long you can be productive, and avoid overworking "so it doesn't seem like this task that is overwhelming and insurmountable," Rosenthal says.

As for where to get started, choose a spot that will make the biggest impact on your life. "Go through your day … and really pay attention to where your home and your clutter is keeping your from doing those things smoothly," says Tracy McCubbin, founder of organizing company dClutterfly and author of "Making Space, Clutter Free: The Last Book on Decluttering You'll Ever Need." If cluttered kitchen counters mean you're less likely to cook a healthy meal, for example, focus on the kitchen first so daily food prep is less of a daunting task.

3. Recycle, Give Away or Sell Items

As you go room by room, separate out items for proper disposal. Plastic, paper and glass can be recycled, while expired food items and worn-out clothes should be thrown out.

Furniture, clothes and electronics that still look good can either be sold or given away. You can easily drop off items at Goodwill or Salvation Army locations, or even arrange for a pickup if items are too big for you to move easily. If you're planning to sell items, make sure you post the items for sale online soon – a pile of items sitting around waiting to be sold is still a pile of clutter in your home.

4. Reward Yourself

Organizing isn't always fun, so you might as well give yourself a little incentive for getting a bit done. "Start small and give yourself a reward," Rosenthal says. A new bottle of wine, a piece of clothing if you purged a significant amount of your wardrobe or even a nice walk outside can give you the motivation you need to get a segment done.

5. Build Momentum

Once you've managed to improve your day-to-day activities with initial decluttering, you'll find it easy to see the benefits of the effort and keep going in other parts of the house. "If you do one area you're going to want to do your whole house," McCubbin says.

If the cleared kitchen cabinets have already made cooking a meal easier, you'll want to make getting dressed in the morning or doing your nightly skincare routine just as simple by decluttering your closet or bathroom. From there, you can take on bigger spaces like the basement or garage.

6. Adopt the Clutter-Free Mindset

Unfortunately, decluttering isn't just a one-time project. Stuff comes into your house constantly in the form of junk mail, online shopping and birthday or holiday presents. You can avoid overwhelming yourself by continuously tidying and keeping an eye on the state of counters, closets and floor space.

"If you can't clear a room in 20 minutes, the clutter has gotten the upper hand," McCubbin says.

7. Make It a Seasonal Project

Even if you stay vigilant about reducing clutter at home, you'll benefit from dedicating time to decluttering seasonally. "Spring and fall are my go-to if you're going to do it just twice a year," Rosenthal says.

The changes in season make it easier to purge items you didn't end up wearing in the summer or winter, and this keeps a steady flow of unnecessary items leaving your house.

[Read: 5 DIY Backyard Renovations on a Budget.]

More Decluttering Tips

To stay prepared, keep these additional decluttering tips in mind:

  • Be realistic.
  • Prepare emotionally.
  • Know that paper is the hardest.
  • Determine when you need help.

Be realistic. If you haven't used something in a while, get rid of it. That goes for clothes that are stained or don't fit, decor you haven't set out or books that are collecting dust in a corner. "A good base line is, 'Have I used it in the past year?'" Rosenthal says.

Prepare emotionally. Sentimental value is a major reason people have a hard time getting rid of clutter at home. Even if you don't consider yourself particularly attached to many objects, prepare for the emotional toll decluttering can have. "People don’t take into account it's hard work," McCubbin says. "Physically it's hard, and emotionally it's even harder."

Photos can be scanned and uploaded digitally, family heirlooms can be passed on to other relatives who may enjoy them and kids' toys they've outgrown can be donated for a new generation to enjoy.

Know that paper is the hardest. When it comes to the No. 1 thing people struggle to declutter, Rosenthal says it's just about anything made of paper. It may feel weird getting rid of old bank statements or bills because you may need them down the line – but as long as those records are available through your online accounts, go ahead and shred those previously important documents.

Books also fall under this category: "It's hard for people to get rid of books – harder to get rid of than a shoe that's had lots of wear and tear," Rosenthal says. If you like to reread your favorite books or you’ve incorporated them into your decor, there's no need to purge every book you own. But if you're keeping books in boxes or stashed away in storage rooms because you simply don't have room, consider donating them to a local library or organization that does fundraising book sales.

[Read: How to Finish a Basement.]

Know when you need help. Whether you're overwhelmed or simply hate organizing at home, you may need to bring in some outside help. McCubbin describes a telltale sign: "If you're saying, 'For some reason I just can't,' there's something that's not working here and maybe (you) need help."

A family member or friend may be more than happy to provide a third-party perspective to help you part with things you don't need. If you're really struggling, consider hiring a professional organizer.

7 Home Design Rules to Break

Go ahead, think outside the box.

Modern interior of living room with sofa, armchairs, scandinavian style

(Getty Images)

When it comes to interior design for your home, some rules are made to be broken. Whether it’s mixing fabrics or introducing an oversized piece of furniture, it’s possible to achieve a good look when you’re not following all the classic rules of interior design. Thinking outside the box is becoming even more accepted in home design: “Overall, I think there’s just less rules,” says Lee Crowder, design gallery and model branding manager for Darling Homes, a subsidiary of homebuilder Taylor Morrison Inc., based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Here are seven home design rules you can feel empowered to break.

Furniture has a specific place in each room.

Furniture has a specific place in each room.

White luxury bedroom interior

(Getty Images)

Traditional design and the rules of feng shui may tell you to create a U-shape with living room seating or place your bed on a wall opposite the door, but not every space makes following the rules so easy. "Don’t be afraid to break tradition in order to make the most out of what you have,” says Lauren Makk, home editor for Yelp. “Measure the length and height of each wall, and take note of windows, plugs, air ducts and any unusual architectural feature so these features accentuate the furniture you have and vice versa.”

Keep the room looking uniform.

Keep the room looking uniform.

Contemporary  lounge / living room with sofa and ornaments in front of large window with curtains

(Getty Images)

There are those who dislike mixing furniture styles from different decades, but an entire room of midcentury modern can also make it look like you’ve transported back to the 1960s. Don’t be afraid to put a more modern side table next to a traditional armchair, especially if you’re showcasing unique pieces. An antique chair or a coffee table made by a local carpenter may not fit with a uniform design aesthetic, but these pieces offer variety and invite conversation. A survey commissioned by high-end goods online marketplace 1stdibs, released in January, asked 630 interior designers about trends and expectations for 2018. Forty-six percent of respondents said they plan to buy more furniture from artisan craftsmen rather than big-name furniture designers.

Every home needs a dining room.

Every home needs a dining room.

Apartment with white brick wall, sofa, table and pattern rug

(Getty Images)

Even in the age of the open floor plan, many people assume they need to make room for all the traditional spaces on the main floor of a home: living room, dining room and kitchen. But Crowder says in new home construction, builders are encouraging homebuyers to choose a layout based on their preferences and needs. If you never entertain and typically eat in the kitchen, why waste space with a dining table for eight? Instead, that space can fit your interests and needs, whether that’s a home office or study area, a reading nook or spillover seating when you have people over for casual get-togethers.

Keep most walls neutral, but add an accent wall for a splash of color.

Keep most walls neutral, but add an accent wall for a splash of color.

modern living room interior design. 3D rendering concept

(Getty Images)

Longstanding practices often tell homeowners to stick to a neutral wall color, then introduce a fun pop of color on just one wall. While neutral walls may be best for a house on the market, it’s not something you have to stick to while you’re happily living there. “Painting is the quickest and most affordable thing you can do to change your space, but it takes guts to commit to an exciting new shade,” Makk says. “I say take the leap and commit to painting all [four] walls of your space.”

Fixtures and finishes should match.

Fixtures and finishes should match.

Monochrome kitchen detail of black gooseneck tap set in a white marble counter top

(Getty Images)

The trends for metallic lighting fixtures and plumbing hardware throughout the home change every few years, just like preferred color palettes. One year brass is out of style and the next it’s in, but you can’t reasonably be expected to change out all your fixtures to keep up with the times. Instead, embrace the mixed-metal look. “People can step out and do a few more eclectic things than they felt comfortable doing before,” Crowder says. Black or nickel plumbing combined with chrome lighting fixtures work well together, she says.

Don't mix patterns.

Don't mix patterns.

White interior of living room with colorful pillows

(Getty Images)

A decades-old rule that can still be hard to break today is mixing patterns, which some people think looks too busy, particularly when textiles are mixed. But when paired with complementary colors or similar styles, multiple patterns can actually result in a more dynamic look. Mismatched pillows of different patterns that go together can be a simple way to incorporate more than one print into a space, or you can make a bigger statement with printed fabric on a chair or couch, rugs or wall art.

Keep current with trends.

Keep current with trends.

sofa of tissue in a modern living room. 3d rendering

(Getty Images)

While you may be in love with the current design trends you see on HGTV, embracing a style that's uniquely yours will have more longevity with your home design. Designers who responded to the 1stdibs survey reported that clients too often try to follow trends and would be better off diverting from whatever rules are currently en vogue. Makk agrees, noting that “good design is about curating a timeless space that transcends trends and truly reflects your personal aesthetic.”

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Tags: real estate, housing, renting, home improvements

Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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