How to Painlessly Declutter Your Home and Keep It Organized
My family is full of people, pets, and activity. If we're not careful, we can collect a lot of clutter. We have to keep on top of the problem every day to stop it from getting out of control. Since the people in my family are all very busy, we also need to make it as convenient as possible to put items in their right places, ready to keep, recycle, or discard.
Another technique that we use for maintaining order is to produce less clutter that needs to be removed. Living a simpler and more frugal life can reduce disorder, save money, and help the environment.
An organized home makes life less stressful. It also enables people to deal with jobs efficiently and creates a pleasant place to relax. If the floors and rooms are very cluttered, clearing them makes the home safer. In addition, it makes them easier to clean and may improve health.
According to the Oxford Dictionaries, to "declutter" means to remove unnecessary items from an untidy or overcrowded place. Decluttering increases space, improves organization and efficiency, and generally creates a more pleasant environment.
Tidy Up Carefully but Not Obsessively
Removing clutter is certainly important, but I think it's also important that people don't become obsessive about preventing clutter buildup. Don't remove a child's toy when he or she is likely to return to it in the near future, for example, or the materials being used for an enjoyable project that you will return to very soon. Unless disorder is a very serious problem in your home, tidying up shouldn't become the focus of your life.
In addition, some things that may look like clutter to someone else may have great personal significance for you and should be kept, as the video below shows. If something is irreplaceable and important, don't get rid of it. The narrator in one of the other videos suggests placing sentimental items in a box and then moving them out of the way before starting the decluttering process. This would give you the psychological reassurance that even while you are discarding items, you still have what is irreplaceable in your life.
Tips for Major Decluttering
If an area of your home is so cluttered that you develop a feeling of hopelessness when you look at it, you need a ruthless plan of action. To help you handle the intimidating problem, declutter for a small amount of time daily. If you break your decluttering time into small, relatively painless sessions you may find it less overwhelming.
Tidy for a Short Time
Tidy at a specific time of day for a limited period. For example, work for only ten minutes in the evenings on a weekday and in the mornings on the weekend—or whatever fits into your schedule—and work hard during that small amount of time. Set a timer with an alarm if that helps. Tidy until the alarm rings. If you're "drowning in clutter", you may want to work for a shorter time than ten minutes, as the video below suggests. The decluttering must be done regularly in order to be effective.
Do a Clean Sweep
During a tidying session, walk into the cluttered space and pick up every time that you see as you move through the area. Place each item in an appropriate bag, box, or pile for disposal, recycling, or placement in the proper storage area. Keep as little as possible. If something’s been hidden in a pile of clutter for a long time you’ve been able to live successfully without it, so it’s unlikely to be important. Enlist the help of other people in your home if you can. Multiple people tidying for ten minutes can accomplish a lot.
Avoid Clutter Redistribution
It's important that clutter isn't simply redistributed in the home and that it doesn't return to its former area. At the end of the decluttering session, empty the collection bags or boxes and remove any objects in piles. The items should be placed in a garbage bin, a recycling box, or their correct storage area. They must be removed from the home or stored correctly before the next sweep of the cluttered area.
Perseverance is necessary when major decluttering is needed. Practical or emotional support from others can be very helpful. This support can often be obtained from family, friends, and online acquaintances.
Clear Visible Surfaces First
Clear visible surfaces such as floors, tables, and desks first. Ideally, the items should be placed in their proper location very soon after they are collected, as mentioned above. If you have no drawers or cupboards to put things in because they’re cluttered or disorganized, however, put the items that you want to save in a storage bin—or bins—but only for a while. Just clearing surfaces and floors, getting rid of some stuff, and placing things that you want to keep in a closed container will create order and give you a sense of accomplishment.
Don't place items that you want to keep in bags, unless this is the only possibility. Bags create an atmosphere of clutter, which may not be good for morale, while storage bins with lids create a sense of order. The bins should be emptied as soon as permanent storage places are organized, however. They can be reused for other purposes later. Stackable bins take up less space when stored. I often find inexpensive ones on sale in my local stores.
Boxes can also be used to store items temporarily, though they may not be as psychologically effective as bins with lids. They may be recyclable, easier to obtain, and cheaper than storage boxes, however.
When it’s time to tidy hidden clutter, tidy one drawer, one cupboard, or one shelf at a time. Consider buying drawer, cupboard, or closet organizers to create even more order.
Tips for Keeping a Home Tidy
Once your home is decluttered, it’s important to keep it that way so that you don’t have to repeat a major tidying effort. Place containers next to spots where clutter is likely to appear so that even when you’re tired or in a hurry you can collect items for recycling. For example, place a container or containers:
- by the toilet to collect the empty toilet paper roles
- in the kitchen to collect cans, packages, bottles, and plastic bags (If you use plastic bags, remember that they can be recycled in some areas. If they can't be recycled, use another type of bag.)
- by a work desk to collect discarded paper
- by your favourite chair to collect newspapers and magazines
- by the computer desk to collect empty ink cartridges
- by your desk or mail slot to collect mail (to reduce clutter and to make sure that you don’t lose an important item)
Clutter should be discarded responsibly, as the video below discusses. Recycling and giving unwanted items in good condition to friends are two ways to do this.
When referring to lifestyle, minimalism means living with a limited number of possessions. While living with less isn't essential in order to reduce clutter, it can be very helpful.
Adopt a Minimalist Lifestyle
If there’s a continual stream of new things coming into your home, there must be a continual stream of items leaving the home. If this equilibrium isn't reached, you’ll soon form clutter. If many new items are entering your home every day, you might want to consider adding a dose of minimalism to your lifestyle. This will not only reduce disorder but also save money. It's not necessary to become an extreme minimalist in order to solve a clutter problem, but removing unnecessary items from your home and preventing their reappearance could be helpful.
Apart from essential food, toiletries, medicines, cleaning products, basic clothing, and items of special significance, every time you bring something home, try to recycle or donate something else. The recycled item should preferably be similar to the one that was bought. For example, if you buy a new magazine, think about recycling an old one. Better still, give the magazine to a friend so that they can enjoy it or borrow magazines from a library instead of buying them.
It might be a good idea to think about your purchases and decide how many of them are really necessary. Of course, if something is essential for the lives of people or pets it must be obtained. Items that provide entertainment and enable relaxation are necessary as well. You might be surprised by how many purchases you can eliminate, though.
Your local library's website could be a wonderful source of free entertainment. Libraries often provide access to newspapers, magazines, books, audiobooks, music, and sometimes even movies. Their websites can provide information and fun without clutter buildup.
Go Digital to Reduce Paper
Internet access has many benefits for someone trying to reduce clutter. If you have a computer, consider subscribing to digital versions of newspapers and magazines instead of buying paper versions. You may be able to read them for free if your local library subscribes to them.
If a free or inexpensive e-book is available, think about donating or recycling the equivalent paper book (unless it has great personal importance to you). Buy e-books or download free ones instead of buying paper books whenever this is possible. Make sure that you back up your e-books in multiple places to avoid losing them.
Many bills can be paid online and many forms can be filled out online, so paper versions of these documents aren't required. Security is an important consideration with activities like these, though. It's important to remember to pay bills regularly when you don't get a physical reminder in your mailbox. Some companies send email reminders, but not all do.
A lot of free paper products—community newspapers, flyers etc.—are delivered to my home. They build up rapidly and are one of the worst forms of clutter, especially if the pages of the newspapers separate and get redistributed by my dogs or cats. I’ve made a rule that when new flyers or newspapers are delivered I must recycle the old ones, even if they haven’t been read—no exceptions. The newspapers can be read online.
Tangled wires and cables from electronic devices can not only create clutter but also be dangerous for people and pets. Organizing them in some way is important.
Make Recycling a Regular Part of Your Life
Recycling is a great way to get rid of unwanted things. Check what types of products your nearest recycling depot will accept. If the price is acceptable, always try to buy products in recyclable containers. Within walking distance of my home, there’s a supermarket that has recycling bins for bottles, bags, and packaging. There’s also a bottle/packaging depot in the same shopping centre. My goal is to never visit the supermarket without taking something to be recycled.
In my neighbourhood, curbside pickup of objects for recycling is available on garbage collection day. I don't even have to sort items for this pickup. They all go into a blue recycling bin and a yellow mixed paper bag. The city is trying to make recycling as easy as possible, which is a worthy goal.
Consider donating items that are in good condition but no longer used. If you have clothes that you never wear or that no longer fit you, donate them to a charity organization. There may be a charity collection bin for clothing in your area. If so, try to make use of it. Clean and donate children’s toys which have been outgrown or are no longer popular. Remember that animal shelters welcome donations, too. Even damaged linens could be useful for them.
Search for places in your community that accept electronic devices and empty ink cartridges for recycling and make use of them. Also look for organizations that will pick up large items for disposal and contact them if you need to get rid of big things.
Using Repurposed Items in Crafts
A new and interesting trend is to use recyclable or unwanted materials in crafts. This can be a fun, creative, and useful process. The video below shows how to decorate a food container with rolled-up magazines. The finished product looks lovely, although it might be better to use something that is more environmentally friendly than plastic-covered wire for the decoration. The nice thing about the project is that it not only recycles magazines and a food or coffee can but also makes a container to store clutter.
Craft projects can be creative and fulfilling and can also produce useful items. They may also create clutter. This could be classified as good clutter, though, as long as it doesn't hinder the creative process. Crafts are a good reminder that disorder isn't always bad. It might be possible to reduce the mess created by projects in progress by restricting activities to one area. This area could a particular table or a special room.
A Routine at the End of the Day
In the evening as bedtime approaches, I like to do a very quick survey of my home. I put things on a table, countertop, or floor back in their proper place if they don't belong where they are or if they won't be needed the next morning. Evening is a time to unwind from the activity and the stress of the day, so I don't do any heavy duty work then (assuming I'm not working on a decluttering project). In my family, the best way to prevent clutter buildup is to do small jobs regularly.
Once you’ve got an organization system in place your clutter problem should be solved, provided you keep using the system that you’ve created. It’s important to make your decluttering method very easy to use so that a busy life doesn’t get in the way of your efforts to keep your home clutter-free or your ability to enjoy life.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Linda Crampton