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.
How to Declutter Your Home
Here are seven steps for decluttering your home:
— Start simple.
— Recycle, give away or sell items.
— Reward yourself.
— Build momentum.
— Adopt the clutter-free mindset.
— Make it a seasonal project.
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.
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.
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