How to Declutter Your Home
Follow this step-by-step guide to make your home more manageable and organized.
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 best tips for getting rid of clutter, plus reasons a decluttered home can help you thrive.
How to Declutter Your Home
Here are seven steps for decluttering your home:
It's too easy to put off decluttering when you don't dedicate time to the activity. Make an appointment on your calendar, the same way you do for a business meeting or doctor's visit, recommends Rachel Rosenthal, founder of organizing firm Rachel and Company, based in the District of Columbia.
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 you from doing those things smoothly," says Tracy McCubbin, founder of organizing company dClutterfly and author of "Making Space, Clutter Free." 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.
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 them for sale online soon – a pile of items sitting around waiting to be sold is still a pile of clutter in your home.
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 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.
Once you've managed to improve your day-to-day activities with initial decluttering, you'll begin 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.
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.
Even if you stay vigilant about regularly 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.
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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 displayed or books that are collecting dust in a corner. "A good baseline 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 toys kids have outgrown can be donated for a new generation to enjoy.
Know that paper is the hardest. What's 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 accessible through your online accounts, go ahead and shred previously important documents.
Books also fall into the paper 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 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 book sale fundraisers.
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.
Tips for Decluttering Rooms
You may have only a few problem areas in your house, or your clutter may be a consistent issue throughout every room. Consider these tips for different spaces:
Closets and storage. If you tackle overstuffed closets and storage areas first, you’ll free up room for other things that need to go away.
Kitchen. Clear counters will make food prep and eating easier. Give your utensils, dishes, pots and pans a place to be when they’re not in use.
Bedrooms. Clear your bedroom of anything that makes it hard to relax and sleep well at night. Bills, extra storage and even where you charge your laptop may be better moved elsewhere.
Living areas. Furniture can make a space feel just as cluttered as small items on a tabletop. Make sure there are clear walkways for people to move without having to skirt around couches, chairs and coffee tables.
Office. Keep your home office dedicated to work by keeping all distractions from the rest of the house out. If your kid’s toys, boxes meant for storage and dishes from breakfast make their way into your office, be sure to remove them as quickly as possible to keep it a space for productivity rather than a catch-all room.
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The Benefits of Decluttering Your Home
Clutter isn't just about the stuff in your home – it also relates to mental health, overscheduling and disorganization in life.
The Institute for Challenging Disorganization, a nonprofit group made up of professional organizers, productivity specialists and related professionals that taps research from the medical, educational and neuroscience communities, says mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder can be associated with disorganization. It also notes that sentimental attachment, overscheduling and even sleep disorders, among other issues, can go hand in hand with clutter at home.
Decluttering your home may not cure other issues associated with disorganization, but it can help. 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.