Ever feel like you’re drowning in stuff? If you're feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed by indecision over what to keep and what to bin, then we're here to help with our expert guide on how to declutter your home.
Downsizing can often help: it's far better to have a few of the best induction pans, rather than a cupboard stuffed full of old cooking utensils, or a strong capsule wardrobe, that won't leave you rifling through closets stuffed with old clothes.
It pays to get better at this because living and working in cluttered surroundings can have a detrimental effect on our emotional wellbeing. Just simply ordering your cosmetics with some nifty makeup storage units, or organizing your kitchen can create an all-mighty feeling of satisfaction. And there's a science behind that.
"Clutter impacts on our energy levels, stealing our focus," says organizing expert Cory Cook. Cory specializes in time management and productivity, which many of us struggle with in our daily lives.
"Too much clutter and we feel overwhelmed, anxious and distracted."
So if you're wondering how to organize your life more generally, decluttering your home is a good place to start. Similarly, if you're planning on an annual spring clean, you'll want to declutter before you start scrubbing. Ready to start sorting? Here are some quick and easy tips to help you along the way.
How to declutter your home: 10 easy tips
1. Assign a box for essentials
Kate Ibbotson, Founder of A Tidy Mind, advises that you store essentials in a box in a place that you can easily access. Not only does this remove clutter from other places, it means you won't throw them out during a zealous clean-up.
"Assign a box or dish for your essential items," she says. "When you return home, you need a place to put items such as your wallet, phone, keys, diary and the other miscellaneous contents of your bag (emptying your bag daily will ensure you avoid cluttering it up). I recommend an attractive, roomy box kept on a shelf in the kitchen. This will reduce clutter and save you time searching for these items the next morning."
2. Group similar items together
Lisa Pantling, APDO (opens in new tab)’s Membership Director and founder of Clutter Free Living (opens in new tab) advises grouping together similar items. When you see how many of each item you own, it can help you understand the ones you can get rid of. After all, who needs five can openers?
"Like with like is a great mantra for sorting and organizing, sometimes getting straight into decluttering can feel a little overwhelming, so if you start by simply grouping similar items you can make the rooms look a great deal tidier, while also preparing items in categories ready to go through when you are ready," she says.
"This can also help you decide which are the 'best' or 'favorite' items to keep," she says. "If you have lots of similar t-shirts, for instance, you might be able to let go of any that don't fit or feel great when you wear them, any that are damaged or a bit bobbly and be left just with those that are the best of the collection."
3. Follow the "4D method" - do, ditch, delegate, defer
The 4D method is often used in project or time management, but Julie Stevens, APDO (opens in new tab)'s Professional Development Director and founder of Younique Designs Ltd (opens in new tab) swears by it as a decluttering method too.
"For every item that you touch, ask yourself - is this something that needs doing, ditching, delegating, or deferring? Allocate a container (box) for each D and set aside time to deal with the contents. Hint: The ditch box is more often than not simple rubbish or recycling so can be dealt with really quickly and is an instant win."
Anything in the "do" box, you'll want to keep and store away. If you live with others, put anything of theirs into the "delegate" box for them to sort.
Your problem clutter can sit in the 'defer' box. Keep it there, only bringing the items out when you need them. It will quickly become clear what's essential and what's not.
Stevens advises starting in one room and working for 30 minutes a day using this method. You'll be surprised how easy it is to detect the things you want to ditch. Depending on what the items are, you'll want to consider donating or recycling, rather than putting them in the trash can.
4. Set a timer
Decluttering can seem like a mammoth task, so consider tackling it in short, productive bursts. Set your phone to alert you in 15 minutes and see how much clutter you can sort in that time. You’ll be surprised!
If you aim for just 15 minutes a day, you'll soon see a big difference.
5. Focus on one shelf or cupboard a day
Tackle a small area of your home each day, starting with the small stuff. If you're short on time, empty your shelves, kitchen cupboards, and drawers and put anything that doesn’t belong in a pile until you can find it a home. Put everything else back and organize it by category.
You can store this 'pile' in a box, bag, or storage unit out of the way until you have time to organize your miscellaneous items. But avoid letting these 'piles' add up: the last thing you want is more clutter! This is a great tactic when it comes to working out how to clean a bathroom, or how to organize your pantry.
6. Get rid of clothing you haven't worn for the last year
If you haven’t used an item for a year and can’t see it being used in the next one, then sell, recycle or donate to a charity shop. Check out our handy guide on how to sell clothes online if you're looking to generate extra cash.
Once you've decluttered your wardrobe, think about swapping your hangers around so the hooks face outwards. When you wear the items, put the hangers back so the hooks face the wall. After one year, consider donating or recycling any clothing on hangers where the hook is still facing outwards, as you'll know that you haven't worn them over the past year.
Of course, there are exceptions. For example, you might reserve your best designer heels and best designer bags for special occasions. Similarly, your favorite designer frocks might only get an outing every few years. In which case, just ensure these items are stored carefully, ideally in garment bags in a well-ventilated space. Check out our dedicated guide on how to organize your closet to ensure your closet is not only free from clutter but super organized so you don't have to declutter it again in the near future.
7. Carefully assess sentimental items
Sentimental items are the trickiest ones to get rid of. It might be that you've inherited some gold jewelry you never wear, or that you have stashes of old clothes that mean something to you. You don't need to get rid of all of these items but do carefully assess how much value they hold to you, and if you can preserve those memories in other ways.
Marie Bateson, APDO (opens in new tab)'s Volunteers Director and Owner of Cut the Clutter (opens in new tab) recommends thinking about alternative ways to honor late loved ones or special memories. "The memories are not attached to the items however, they may prompt them, but they will always live in your head," she says.
"Articles of clothing can be made into all sorts of things. Teddies, cushions, patchworks, or even fabric hearts that you can hang around the home or garden." You can also repurpose jewelry, which can be taken apart, resized, or remodeled, meaning you can still wear a piece that includes part of the original item.
"Sell the items and reinvest the proceeds in some way to honor the memory," she adds. "You could buy a memory box, a picture frame, a shrub or tree for the garden, something for the grave or donate the money to a good cause that would have made the owner happy."
Before you do donate, sell or remodel anything, remember to take a photo of it, advises Bateson. You can set up a folder on your phone or computer so you can return to it at any time if you want to jog your memory.
8. Ask if items 'spark joy'
This mantra by Marie Kondo was popularised in 2019 following her Netflix show, and the advice still stands.
"Use this criterion to decide what to keep," says decluttering guru Marie Kondo, author of Spark Joy, An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying.
"Hold the item firmly in both hands and pay attention to how your body responds. If it doesn’t bring you joy, you will notice that your body feels heavier. Remember that you are not choosing what to discard but rather what to keep."
9. Remove something old every time you buy something new
Removing something old for every new thing you bring into your home. For instance, if you’ve bought a new umbrella, then do you need your old one? If you've bought a sparkly new classic white t-shirt, it might be time to get rid of one of your old, greying ones. Throw, or donate duplicate items immediately, as they'll quickly accumulate otherwise.
10. Buy storage
After you've finished decluttering, nifty storage items like drawer dividers can help you keep the place in order. But ensure you buy these after you declutter, advises Pantling, as you'll otherwise pack away old, superfluous items.
"You can use any old phone boxes, shoe boxes, or gift boxes as drawer dividers or cupboard organizers, and that will help keep your new categories in order. If you want to get fancy then there are lots of decorative boxes and baskets to suit all budgets," she says.
Ibbotson also sings the praises of drawer dividers. "Utilize draw dividers or open containers. These can be used to separate items in any drawer, cupboard or shelf. You don’t need to spend a lot – open shoe boxes or Tupperware works well. Just don’t bother with a lid, as this adds work."
Decluttering tips for the kitchen counter
- Gather the clutter and sort it into piles: action, file, and recycle/shred list
- Keep smaller items such as coupons, tickets and receipts in jam jars
- Re-pin your notice board, only keeping stuff that’s relevant to the current month - put future notices in a plastic wallet
- Keep a pretty mug for pens and scissors, but don’t let it get too full - think stylish and useful
Decluttering tips for the bathroom
- Give each family member a drawer, tub, or shelf in the cabinet and insist that anything not put back will be binned
- Plastic or perspex trays and small tubs that can sit inside drawers will keep smaller bits together
- Bin any bottles past their sell-by date, then pop any unopened ones in a box and store elsewhere (the garage or bottom of wardrobe), and only bring in once those half-started ones are empty
- Invest in storage solutions: here are our favorite bathroom storage ideas
Decluttering tips for the bedroom
- Make the most of the space underneath your bed with a smart design. Choose a divan base with pull-out drawers or a lift-up ottoman bed. These are gas-powered, making them easy to open
- Tidy your bedside table every morning after making the bed, taking glasses, finished books and so on away
- Limit tech and its associated cables. If you rely on your phone as an alarm clock, then take time to tidy the cable out of sight with a few cable ties.
Anna is an editor and journalist, specializing in SEO and digital content production. First carving her career in communications and advertising agencies in Berlin and Barcelona, Anna's former life saw her work for film studios and inside a fashion house, before she moved to Metro.co.uk (opens in new tab) where her career highlights include heading up the SEO desk during the Covid-19 pandemic. Anna's published work ranges from culture and films to human interest features and live news coverage.
In her spare time, she enjoys watching movies, discovering the next big thing in music, traveling, online shopping, and poring over poetry and magazines. When she's not consuming those things, she's probably writing about them.
Originally from Glasgow, Anna has lived in Berlin, Barcelona, and London, not to mention stints in Guernsey and Athens. When she's not struggling to navigate a new language, she's always chasing the next hot trend and perfect black dress (you can never have too many).
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