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How to Painlessly Declutter Your Home and Keep It Organized

Linda Crampton is a writer who is interested in frugal living and reducing clutter. Both of these activities are important in her own life.

Decluttering and organization creates space for us to relax and enjoy life at home.

Decluttering and organization creates space for us to relax and enjoy life at home.

Dealing With Clutter Buildup

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 so that they are easy to find in the future or are ready to 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 even improve health.

Clutter in a shed or basement can make things hard to find and can also be a fire hazard.

Clutter in a shed or basement can make things hard to find and can also be a fire hazard.

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 for the reasons described above, 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.

1. Tidy in Short Bursts

Tidy at a specific time of day for a limited period. For example, work for only 10 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 10 minutes, as the video below suggests. The decluttering must be done regularly in order to be effective.

2. 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 10 minutes can accomplish a lot.

3. 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.

4. 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.

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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.

5. Choose Boxes and Bins Instead of Bags

I recommend that you don't place items that you want to keep in bags, unless this is the only possibility. Bags can change their shape and sag. This can create an atmosphere of clutter, which may not be good for morale. Storage bins with lids would be more likely to 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.

6. Periodically Clear Your Hidden Clutter (Drawers, Cupboards, Etc.)

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. Removing everything in the storage space would provide an opportunity to clean it, which would probably enhance the feeling of a fresh start.

A cluttered work desk could interfere with jobs that have to be done. A cluttered painting area may not be so harmful, as long as the clutter doesn't interfere with creativity.

A cluttered work desk could interfere with jobs that have to be done. A cluttered painting area may not be so harmful, as long as the clutter doesn't interfere with creativity.

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 rolls
  • 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.

When You Buy Something New, Donate Something Old

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, borrow magazines from a library instead of buying them, or read them online if this is possible.

Consider Your Purchases Carefully

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.

Go Digital to Reduce Paper

Internet access has many benefits for someone trying to reduce clutter.

  • Digital newspapers and magazines: 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.
  • E-books: 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.
  • Online bill-paying: Many bills can be paid online, and many forms can be filled out online as well, which avoids the need for paper versions of the documents. 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.

Recycle Those Paper Products

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 community newspapers are delivered I must recycle the old ones, even if they haven’t been read—no exceptions. The newspapers can be read online.

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.

Maintain a Balanced Approached

Though reducing clutter is important and minimalism may sound like a great idea, maintaining some kind of balance is necessary. An individual’s personal situation may require adaptations.

For example, if someone doesn’t have a computer and there is no library nearby, a regular newspaper delivery or purchase may be important for them. In some cases, it may be important even if the person has a computer. An individual may enjoy solving the crossword puzzles in the paper, for example. This can be an educational and fun pursuit and is said to be good for the brain. In addition, the print version of the newspaper may contain more information than the online one.

Enjoy the Newspaper, but Recycle It When You're Done

When a newspaper appears in the home on a daily basis, a method of dealing with the potential paper clutter is needed. The less interesting sections of the paper could be recycled after they’ve been examined. The more interesting ones could be kept (at least temporarily) in some type of file box or other container for future reference. When the container is full, it’s probably time to go through it to try to reduce the contents.

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. This is especially important in a home with many devices and electrical cords.

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.

Donations and Other Disposal

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.

Use 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.

Adopt 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.

Decluttering can create a comfortable  environment for relaxation.

Decluttering can create a comfortable environment for relaxation.

© 2011 Linda Crampton


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 03, 2013:

Hi, CelesteK. Thanks for the comment. Good luck with controlling the clutter! Fifteen minutes a day works for me when I have a clutter problem to solve.

CelesteK on March 03, 2013:

Thanks very much for sharing! I have so been struggling with keeping my house clean and I KNOW that the source of all evil is my clutter and not having a place for everything. I often try to break it up into small time slots to tackle the problem, but I see here that its okay if its just 15 minutes a day. Ive been trying to do an hour and it just hasn't been manageable for me. 15 minutes a day is something that I can actually DO, and I wil surface above the clutter eventually!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 14, 2012:

Thank you for the comment and for the share, diplorging! I appreciate them both.

diplorging from Serbia on August 14, 2012:

It's much easier to declutter space then to make it stay that way, but your tips are really helpful. It's great that you recycle as much as you can. Thanks for sharing this, I will share it with my followers.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 22, 2012:

Thank you very much for the visit and comment, A.CreativeThinker. I appreciate your visit!

A.CreativeThinker on January 22, 2012:

You have some good reminders and tips on keeping our home organized and free of clutter. Thanks for sharing. Take care. :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 03, 2011:

I wish decluttering was as easy as picking a cat up, Peggy! I've found that fifteen minutes of clearing clutter can be very effective. I should try the fifteen minute rule for cleaning too! Thank you very much for the comment and the votes.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 03, 2011:

Your idea of using a set amount of time for decluttering each day also works for cleaning. I have read that if each person in a house would seriously do that, a place would stay so much cleaner. Example: blinds, mirrors, windows (and so much more) with 15 minutes of serious cleaning...oh just wish I would follow that suggestion! Haha! As I sit here typing our cat Dusty is on the desk. Does moving cats count as decluttering? :)) Excellent hub! Up and useful votes.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 28, 2011:

Thanks for the comment and for the idea, Kris Heeter. Inviting a professional organizer into a home sounds like a great idea!

Kris Heeter from Indiana on November 28, 2011:

All of these are great suggestions!

I had a professional organizer come out once to help and another tip she gave, especially for the office, is to make a file for everything. Even if it's just one piece of paper that your not sure what to do with, put it in a file folder, give it a name, and file. That really helped me reduce the accumulating piles of paper that I kept saying to myself "I'll deal with it later"

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 28, 2011:

Hi, msviolets. I agree, decluttering does seem like a continuous process! Curbside pickup of stuff I want to recycle is a great help, though. Thanks for commenting.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 28, 2011:

Thank you for the comment, ravenIt04. I have experience decluttering in a family of adults and pets, but not in one containing young children (although the second video in my hub talks about this a little bit). Clearing up after children would be a special kind of challenge!

msviolets on November 28, 2011:

Great ideas here! I was so excited to learn the variety of things my local curbside pick up actually picks my curbside recycle bin tends to be overflowing instead of the bag of "things to do something with". :P

We're working on decluttering seems a neverending process with 4 people in a small home!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 28, 2011:

Hi, Maren Morgan. Thanks a lot for the comment. I get motivated when I decide to do a small amount of decluttering frequently, but not if I have to do a big job all at once!

ravenlt04 from Atlanta, GA on November 28, 2011:

ThePracticalMommy, great suggestions! I love the collection bin ideas and the idea of decluttering for only short periods of time each day to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Now... I have to get my family members on board lol! My husband, for example, gets flustered everyday about the daily messes our family creates. And does anyone have advice about how to maintain a decluttered home with 2 little ones (under 8 years old)?!

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on November 28, 2011:

Thank you, AliciaC. Sometimes my spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, or tired, or distracted. You have motivated me to once again jump in!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 28, 2011:

Thank you, ThePracticalMommy! I appreciate your comment.

Marissa from United States on November 28, 2011:

I like the idea of the clutter containers in every room! Great hub. :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 28, 2011:

I like your idea of taking short breaks from using the computer to do other jobs, such as clearing clutter, vocalcoach! This would be a great way to get work done. Thank you very much for the comment and the votes.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on November 27, 2011:

You must have known that I am in the middle of de-cluttering my home, one room at a time. :) Your ideas are fantastic and I completely agree with "An organized home makes life less stressful" - it truly does!

When I am at the computer, I set my timer for 15 min. intervals. I take a few minutes to give my back a rest and use this time to de-clutter, fold clothes, whatever has to be done. This way, I am taking more computer breaks and breaking up my projects.

I'm a big recylcer and seldom buy new clothing. A great hub Alicia...voted up, useful, interesting and awesome!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 27, 2011:

Thank you for the comment and the votes, tirelesstraveler! My city has curbside recycling once a week too, which is great, but I still take some recycling to the supermarket when I go there.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 27, 2011:

Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, Naomi's Banner. I always seem to be dealing with clutter too, so I try very hard to keep up to date with my recycling.

Judy Specht from California on November 27, 2011:

I like your style. Liked the video of the guy labeling his cords. Great idea. I am enormously lucky in that my city has curb side recycling. I put all the plastics aluminum ,bottles. cans etc into the blue bin. The green waste goes into the green bin both are taken away every Tuesday. Voted up and useful.

Naomi's Banner from United States on November 27, 2011:

Great informative Hub. Clutter has always been a problem for me. I guess that is the way of many creative people. I like your ideas and tend to put them into practice. I especially like then idea of fifteen minutes a day. I can do that. The videos are also helpful.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 27, 2011:

I sometimes have the same problem, Victoria! If I have a very busy week at work it's amazing how much clutter builds up by the end of the week. I try to declutter on a regular basis, but sometimes it's hard to do. That's why I try to think of decluttering techniques that are very easy for me to use even when I'm in a rush.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on November 27, 2011:

I've been working on my bad habits, AliciaC! It does help to spend a few minutes here and there to try to keep up. I tend to let things go for too long until I have a big mess. I'm trying to change my ways! :-)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 27, 2011:

Hi, Victoria. Fifteen minutes is the longest time that I can spare for decluttering! Tidying for such a short time does work, though, if it's done on a regular basis. Thanks for the comment.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on November 27, 2011:

Useful and interesting hub, AliciaC. It would take me forever to declutter, but I want to one day. Right now, I have too many other jobs, including writing on HP! haha. There's so much to keep up with. I declutter an area when it starts to nag at me! I have thought about the 15 minute per day thing. Maybe that would help. Thanks for the hub. A nice reminder of what needs to be done....

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 27, 2011:

Thank you for the comment, Susan. Decluttering rooms can take time, but it's a very worthwhile job!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on November 27, 2011:

I've just today started a list of what I want to declutter, room by room, and hopefully will get it all done.

Very useful hub.

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