Declutter Now: Simple Rules You Must Follow to Stay Clutter Free

by Sarah Winfrey on 20 February 2014 0 comments

It's almost time for spring cleaning! If you're at all like me, the very prospect of trying to clean the entire house is overwhelming. But this year I was determined to get the job done — and I even did it early, because we just moved and I didn't want to take our extra stuff with us or have it build up right after we moved in. (See also: A One-Month Guide to Spring Cleaning)

As I've tried to determine the best ways to think about handling clutter and then to actually declutter, these are the best tips that I have found. I hope they work for you, too (and, please, if you have any that I've missed here, let me know!).

1. Plan Decluttering Into Your Schedule

Some people prefer to declutter in small stages (anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes a day), while others prefer to set aside an entire day or a weekend. Either way, make your plan and stick to it. Put decluttering into your schedule the same way you would put in a meeting or an appointment. That way, you're more likely to get it done. (See also: A 10 Minute Declutter)

2. Make Rules That Work for You

Nearly everyone who declutters has rules. A few say that everything they haven't used in a year has to go. Others say that they can't buy anything new without getting rid of at least one old thing. Whatever rules you choose, make sure they work for you. Just because something works for a friend or for someone you read online does NOT mean that it will help you.

3. Find Your Unique Motivator

Apparently, there are people out there who get excited about decluttering simply because they don't want to have more stuff. If that's you, then your motivation is built-in to who you are. The rest of us, though, have to find some greater motivation. Plan a garage sale, if the prospect of selling stuff excites you. Or, if you like to help others out, plan a donation day. On the other hand, maybe offer yourself a reward when you finish. This can be anything from a meal at your favorite restaurant to a massage or a get-together with a friend. (See also: 21 Frugal Ways to Reward Yourself)

4. List Areas That Need Work

Decluttering can feel overwhelming, and it's easy to start in one area, then get distracted when you're taking an item somewhere else to put it away, and end up never finishing the first area. Even if you aren't a list person, it can help you to have a visual reminder of all the areas in your home that need decluttering. Then, whether you work your way through them in order or just do what comes naturally, you can check them off as they get cleared.

5. Don't Shop Until You Know What You Need

It's tempting to go to Home Depot or Target and buy a bunch of colorful bins in a bunch of different sizes, but the truth is that you don't know what you need until you've gone through your stuff, gotten rid of what you no longer want or need, and figured out where and how you want to store the rest. Besides, if you buy the bins first, they will just add to the clutter until you bother to use them.

6. Find a Place for Everything

A place for everything and everything in its place… it's an old adage because it's true. Every single thing that you plan to keep needs to have a place. Try to find a balance when it comes to the level of organization you choose, though. For instance, it's good to know which cupboard the frying pans go in, and even which shelf you want them on, but you probably don't need to have a specific order in which you stack them. (See also: Easy Organizing Changes)

7. Find a Logical Place for Everything

It's great to have a place for everything. In fact, it's fabulous. But if you'll never be able to find your stuff, or you'll have to search and search every single time you want something, the places where you're keeping things aren't working. You may have to use some trial and error here. What initially seems like a logical place for an object may not be the first place you think of looking for it later.

8. Find a Usable Place for Everything

In addition to putting things where you expect them to be, you'll also want to put them in places where you will actually go and get them to use them. For instance, it is logical and helpful for us to put my kids' art supplies in the basement. However, our basement is cold and we have found that, in the winter, we don't do art simply because we don't want to go down and get the supplies. If we want to use them, they need to move!

9. If It Doesn't Have a Place, Find One or Toss It

An item that doesn't have a place either isn't important enough for you to set something else aside to give it one, or it somehow doesn't belong with the other things you have. Either way, it is just going to sit around and contribute to cluttering things up again if you don't put it somewhere or get rid of it. (See also: Things to Throw Out Today)

10. Stop at "Good Enough"

Decluttering can take forever. I don't just mean that it can take a long time, but that you could literally organize forever, if you let yourself. Instead of devoting the rest of your life to a task that most of us find annoying, stop when you have achieved a level of organization that works for you. That means you need to think about function. In general, if you can find things when you need them and you don't have piles everywhere, you can probably consider yourself done.

11. Commit to a Work in Progress

This may seem to go against the point I made above. However, I'm not saying that you should continue to declutter and organize the same areas to an infinite level of detail. You will, though, need to continue removing clutter and organizing new items as things get moved or more things come into your home. This means going through your mail every day, helping your kids return toys and other items to their places, and more. Plan to spend 5-15 minutes every day on clutter, in order to remain clutter free.

12. Use the Penicillin Method

Think about already decluttered spaces as being inoculated with Penicillin. This means that, once you have cleared clutter from an area, that area is clutter-free. No matter how bad the clutter may get in other places, that one remains clear. As you move through your home and continue to declutter, you will have more and more spaces that are clear. Eventually, your whole house will be inoculated.

13. Have a Designated Place for New Clutter

Choose a place in your home where you will put everything that doesn't have a home until you can find the time to give it one. This is where the mail goes when you bring it in, where birthday and Christmas gifts get stored until you decide where they go, where items that need to be re-filed or put back in their places get set until you can do that. This way, you will limit the areas of your home that gather clutter, and you will know where to go (and, at a glance, how much work you have to do) when it is time to declutter.

14. Use Baskets for Problem Items

Every night, my husband tosses his keys, wallet, keycard, and whatever else happens to be in his pockets . . . somewhere. Not only are they hard to find after that, but I hate the cluttery way this makes our kitchen/bathroom/bedroom/wherever look. To solve the problem, I put a small basket on a shelf by our door. Now, as soon as he gets home, he puts all of his pocket stuff in there. I don't have to look at it, and he can always find it. As my kids get older, they each have baskets in our main living area, too. This is where they put toys that they brought down from upstairs, snacks they want to finish later, etc.

15. Use Drawer Dividers

You know those things they make for silverware drawers, so you can separate your knives, forks, spoons, etc? Well, they make those for all sorts of drawers. They're great for organizing everything from your socks and underwear to all of the random stuff you keep in your nightstand. It can even help in your junk drawer, so you can actually find the things that you toss in there.

16. Find the Decluttering Philosophy That Works for You

There are a million different ways to think about clutter. Some love the philosophy at Unclutterer. Others respond to the Fly Lady. The point is, there are lots of different ideas and methods online for dealing with clutter and, if you can find the one that works for you, you'll have a lot more success and motivation for decluttering than you might have otherwise.

What's your favorite way to declutter?

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