How to Declutter Your Home…Even if You’re a Slob at Heart
You dread walking in from work….because you know the disaster that awaits when you walk in the door.
Dirty dishes. Piles of laundry. Toys scattered through the house. Magazines and craft supplies left in random piles.
You feel too embarrassed to invite anyone over.
And feel pangs of jealousy when you walk into friends’ tidy, organized homes.
But take heart.
You can start on a path towards a home you’re proud of today.
Phase 1: Small Wins Add Up to Big, Positive Changes
It’s important to feel you can make headway before you fully dive into declutter mode.
That’s why I’ve included three preliminary steps before you start any hardcore decluttering.
None of these steps are hard.
It’s just a matter of making them part of your routine.
Once you’ve put these steps into practice, you’ll get into the right frame of mind to conquer your clutter once and for all.
Step 1 — Make Up Your Nightly Nest
Getting into a bed where the sheets and blankets are tight, smooth and wrinkle-free is one of life’s little pleasures. And it only takes a couple of minutes.
Looking at your nicely-made bed will give you a sense of accomplishment.
It helps you get your day off right without a lot of effort.
Make this a daily routine for a week. Then get ready to tackle the next step in your mission for a blissful home.
Step 2 — No More Dish Disasters
Coming home to moldy dishes in the sink and counters filled with crap is demoralizing.
Who wants to cook in that mess? That’s one reason people pick up takeout (which gets to be expensive as hell.)
A simple system is all you need to keep your dishes under control.
Rule 1: Put your clean dishes away as soon as the cycle ends if you can.
(Or as soon as is practical.)
It shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes max to put your clean dishes away. (This a perfect task for a kid.)
Rule 2: Put your dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher. No leaving them stacked in the sink for later.
Rule 3: Soak pots while you eat. (Hint: use a bit of cooking spray to make sure food doesn’t stick.)
This makes your pots easy to wipe out, even if you don’t have room in the dishwasher for all of them.
Step 3 — Laundry for the Lazy-at-Heart
Not doing your dishes can cost you plenty purchasing pricey takeout to avoid the mess.
But did you know not keeping on top of your laundry can cost you money too?
When you don’t have a regular laundry routine, you end up purchasing extra clothing to get you through the week.
Whenever you have enough laundry for a full load, do it.
Even if that means washing a daily load to keep up with your family’s dirty clothes.
Doing a load of laundry every day or every other day is much more manageable than giving up your whole weekend just to catch up on the laundry.
And doing laundry means you fold it and put it away, too. (It shouldn’t take more than 10–15 minutes for this task.)
Don’t leave your unfolded laundry piled in a basket, unless you enjoy a wrinkled mess that needs to be ironed.
I know I’d rather spend my time doing something fun with my family instead of ironing…and I’ll bet you would too!
Consistency is the key to keeping laundry under control.
Now that you’ve got routines going for bed making, laundry and dishes, it’s finally time to start your decluttering efforts.
Phase 2: Give Everything a Designated Spot
“One of the main reasons stuff piles up on counters, dining tables, coffee tables and floors is that it’s homeless.”
Pam Young — FlyLady.net
Not having a dedicated space for everything is the perfect recipe for crap accumulation.
It’s all too easy to plop things down wherever you can find space.
Then before you know it, you have piles of random junk everywhere.
But did you know not having a home for everything can also cost you money?
If your stuff is scattered all over the house in piles, you’ll end up purchasing duplicates because you can’t find what you already own.
Even worse, you add even more stuff to your collection of clutter.
So before you begin decluttering, decide where to put your things.
For example, pens will go into a jar in your office, books go in the bookshelf, batteries are kept in a certain desk drawer, etc.
Make yourself a checklist so you can find these items easily when needed.
Phase 3 — Gather Your Weapons of Mess Destruction
Mess won’t stand a chance when you use these simple, inexpensive tools in the war against chaos.
Step 1— Time Your Way to Tidy
Get a timer. It’s your best friend in the war against clutter.
When you look around your house and you feel like the clutter is closing in, here’s what to do.
Pick a single room in your home. Set a timer for a few minutes and pick up what you can before it goes off.
“I hate cleaning, but I can do anything for ten minutes, right? So I set a timer for ten minutes, and I get to washing those dishes. Lo and behold, the timer rings, and the dishes are halfway done. And then I clean the rest of the kitchen, because that was really not so bad. What you’re doing here, really, is just making yourself start. That is half the battle. Actually, that is the whole damn battle.”
Nancy Mitchell — ApartmentTherapy.com
Step 2— The Black and White Solution to Decluttering Dilemmas
Grab yourself a white trash bag and a black trash bag.
Trash goes into the white bag. Items to give to charity go into the black bag.
Why a black bag? Glad you asked.
The black bag prevents anyone from seeing what’s inside and dragging it back out again.
Avoid making a ‘maybe’ pile when decluttering.
It will only add to your indecision and slow you down. Decide in advance that every item is either a keeper, or is trash or a giveaway.
After you’ve finished with your session, don’t take your donation items to the basement or garage.
Take them to Goodwill (or other favourite charity) ASAP.
“ I made a rule for myself. Immediately after a purge sesh, I would bag up all the trash and donation stuff and take it where it needed to go…
This meant the trash went straight out to the trash cans, and the donations went straight to the trunk of my car to be taken to Goodwill later. I even set alarms in my phone for three days after each purge, and that alarm was my deadline — I had to take the stuff to Goodwill by that date or it had to be thrown away. Creating a “no excuses” setup for myself helped me follow through and increased my success for sure.”
Allie Casazza — AllieCasazza.com
Phase 4 — Defuse the Danger Zones
Kitchens, bathrooms, closets and kid’s toys are some of the toughest areas to keep clutter-free and organized.
But don’t let that scare you.
Go slow, tackle one area at-a-time.
All your efforts will begin to snowball fast!
Step 1 — Banish Bursting-at-the-Seams Bathrooms
It can be shocking to realize how much clutter can accumulate in one of the smallest rooms in your home.
Take an inventory of your medications and OTC medicines. If you have expired items, take them back to your pharmacy for safe disposal.
Check for any empty bottles that can be recycled.
Ratty towels past their ‘best before’ date can be cut up and be re purposed into cleaning cloths.
Get items off the counter and back into the medicine cabinet, or under the sink (whichever is appropriate.)
It will be much easier to wipe down your counters without all the clutter.
Step 2 — Kitchen Clutter Curation
The kitchen is a danger zone because most of us have small appliances and gadgets we never use taking up valuable storage space.
Donate/sell your unused small appliances.
Remove items used only seasonally, like Thanksgiving platters, from your main kitchen storage areas.
Place them in a well-marked box you can access when you need them.
“When you tackle your kitchen cabinets and drawers, think about which implements you have to have at hand when you are cooking and which appliances you only use occasionally. The ones that you use least often can be stowed away, leaving adequate space for frequently used ones.”
Emily Green, WorkingMother.com
Trying to decide which gadgets/utensils to keep and which to donate?
Peter Walsh suggests emptying your kitchen drawers and putting your utensils and gadgets into a box.
If you use an item in the box, return it to the drawer it came from.
If there are any items left in the box after 30 days, donate them to charity.
Step 3: Toy Taming Tactics
The best way to deal with out-of-control toy clutter is an all-or-nothing approach.
Once your child is old enough to pick up their own toys, make a rule that when playtime is over, they pick up their toys and put them away.
If the rule gets broken, grab your black trash bag and load up the toys.
It might seem a little mean, but sooner or later kids need to figure out that actions (or lack of them) have consequences.
“Take away toys. When MY room was messy as a child, my mom would go in my room while I was in school and clean it. The difference is that she took away EVERYTHING that was on the floor! I mean, everything. Clothes, toys, anything that was on the floor I had to EARN it back! You can easily start out small. They pick up after themselves when you ask, give them something back. If they are still not getting the hint, take away their better toys, the ones they love. Every child has SOMETHING they REALLY love.”
-Sarah Titus, SarahTitus.com
Getting your kids to pick up their toys is only half of the battle.
It’s guaranteed your kids’ toy collection will grow over time and become unmanageable if you don’t do regular purges.
Donate or give away toys your children have outgrown and no longer play with.
To prevent tears, let your kids decide which toys to let go.
Good timing for these purges is around holidays and birthdays where the kids get new toys as gifts.
Step 4: Be a Closet Commando
No one looks forward to cleaning out the closet.
Many experts say that if you haven’t worn an item in a year, it’s time to donate it.
Sometimes this isn’t because you’re not really sure what items you wear on a regular basis.
One suggestion is to turn all the hangers in your closet backwards. When you wear an item, turn it around.
After a month or two, it will be easy to see which clothing you wear often and which you don’t.
Give your unworn stain-free clothing to charity so it can become a regular part of someone else’s wardrobe.
Phase 5 — End the Paper Chase
Getting a handle on the volume of paper in your house can make a significant difference in the overall level of clutter.
Let’s face it — sorting through piles of paper isn’t fun.
So why not stop the paper clutter before it starts?
“Go paperless. Paper clutter takes up a lot of space and can be harder to get rid of. Start small; get paperless statements for bills and pay online. Go through your stash of manuals and consider tossing any ones you don’t really need, like the manual for the iPod you got in 2005. Scan receipts and important documents rather than keeping hard copies of everything.”
Tracy Black, Redbook.com
Here are some creative ways to tame your paper monsters.
Kid Art Treasures
I’m a mom too. I know how hard it is to let go of your kids’ art treasures.
But what if you could keep them forever without cluttering up your home? Well, you can.
Just scan or take a photo of them.
Create digital folders for each child and the year. Then add them to a jump drive and/or cloud storage so you can look back on them any time.
Holiday/Birthday Cards Control Tactic
There’s no one more sentimental than me, so I get how hard it is to throw out cards from friends and loved ones.
Scanning cards preserves them for prosperity, without cluttering up your home.
How often do you hold on to a magazine or newspaper thinking “I’ll find time to read it later,” Step Step then you never do?
These items tend to pile up fast and get out of control.
So look into getting digital, instead of physical copies of your fav reads.
Eliminate Waste from Paper Bills
Having utility bills and credit card statements mailed to your home makes for a lot of paper clutter.
Instead, get your statements emailed out.
If you’re worried a bill could get lost in your inbox, set up automatic payment via a credit card or bank withdrawal.
Scan all receipts needed to tax purposes to a folder designated for this purpose.
Tax agencies accept scanned receipts in many localities. (Verify with your local tax agency.)
Invest in an E-reader
While nothing replaces the experience of reading a physical book, consider investing in an e-book reader like a Kindle for books you’re unlikely to read more than once.
Especially for those trashy paperback novels. (Don’t pretend like you’re above them.)
E-books are also a good option for kids that read voraciously, because they’re much cheaper than physical books.
Phase 6: Memorabilia Management
The hardest part about decluttering is letting go of items that have sentimental value.
But all too often, we find ourselves holding on to stuff that no longer has purpose in our lives.
Remember That Your Home is Not a Museum for Other People’s Memories
“I can’t let someone else’s memory be what makes me keep them. I have enough of my own memory-laden-clutter to deal with.”
Dana White, ASlobComesClean.com
Parting with an item previously owned by a beloved relative is difficult for many — even if you don’t really love the item.
If an heirloom doesn’t fit into your life, ask other family members if they’d like it.
If there are no takers, sell it or donate it to charity with a clear conscience.
That brings me to another point.
Don’t Store Other People’s Sh*t
Take a look around and see how much stuff you’re storing for others.
If you’ve borrowed something, return it.
Items other people have left with you for safekeeping aren’t your responsibility.
Set a deadline for these items to be picked up.
Warn the owners that their items will be trashed or donated after the deadline.
What About Your Own Memorabilia?
The most difficult memorabilia to get rid of is our own — because certain objects takes us back to important times in our lives.
The teddy bear you won at the fair thirty years ago.
The well-worn concert t-shirt. The ticket stub from a play.
The thing is, your memorabilia isn’t the keeper of your memories
Only your mind is.
Mementos from your own life are harder to part with because when you see them, you relive the story: To you, it’s the cashmere V-neck you wore on your first date with the man who would become your husband; to anyone else, it’s just an old sweater full of holes. The key to parting with items suspended in time is not to replay that story. Leave the room, come back in and see what you’re really holding on to — a sweater that’s seen better days. Rule of thumb: If it serves no purpose, let it go. — Andrew Mellen
Phase 7— Keep Up the Good Fight
You’ve come a long way baby…from an unorganized and chaotic home to one to be proud of.
Now you’ll feel comfortable inviting friends and family over whenever you feel like it.
More than anything, decluttering and being organized is the matter of creating routines for yourself and your family. There really are no secrets.
And if you’re feeling a little disappointed that you’ve done all this work, and your home still doesn’t look like a page out of Better Homes and Gardens, take heart.
Magazines are fantasy. No one actually lives like that.
“Very few people have closets and drawers that resemble those in catalogues…You will ultimately be disappointed if perfection is your goal. The goal is to set up a space that works well for your needs. That is success.”
Nicole Anzia of Neatnik.com
Decluttering is an on-going process.
Now you have the tools and systems in place, it will be much easier in the future.
Your inner slob will want to come out and play once in a while.
That’s okay, as long as you remember to show them who’s boss.
You’ve got this!
About the Author
NormaR is our WeBananas tech blogger. She came to us as a crusty copywriter from the Far North who lives and breathes conversions. In her spare time, she's a diehard Edmonton Oilers fan (sadly), a foodie and a passionate landscape photographer.