How to Declutter Your Home

By Lauren Hailey
Photo by Kim Poole

Knowing how to declutter doesn’t come naturally to all: Maybe you can’t stand the thought of parting with that old box of photos or that shirt you haven’t worn in years (but you want to keep it anyway because it looked so great that one time you wore it). As tempting as it may seem to accept that your life (and home) will always be chaos, know that decluttering your home actually reduces anxiety and stress and minimizes the time you spend cleaning your house on the regular.

Read more: Stress less with a GE warranty.

Whether you’re deciding to live intentionally small or just want see your bedroom floor for the first time in three months, this is your essential list of decluttering tips designed around six cleaning personality types. And don’t worry, we promise you won’t have to hire a professional organizer to make your home clutter-free.

Pillars of decluttering

When determining how to declutter your home, there are certain pillars of decluttering to keep in mind:

  • When decluttering, it’s best to organize your stuff into three piles: one for keeping, one for donating, and one for throwing away.
  • If you haven’t used something in a year, either move it to a more convenient spot where you will use it or get rid of it.
  • To prevent your space from becoming a cluttered mess, store small items (like notepads, pencils, spice jars, books, and medicine) in bins or boxes—not only does this keep surfaces free of clutter, it also makes dusting a whole lot easier.
  • If kids are around, you may want to consider postponing the decluttering process—every single toy becomes a favorite, making it harder to give stuff away. If you want to include your kids in the decluttering process, have them help by picking out five toys they can live without. Give these toys to a friend with smaller children or to used toy drives.

For the sentimentalist

If you tend to get distracted by old birthday cards from your grandparents or drawings from your daughter’s childhood and you want to learn how to declutter without losing memories, then this is the method for you.

We get it. Throwing away or donating sentimental items can be extremely difficult. That drawer of old birthday cards, those bridesmaid dresses you dutifully wore, the silver serving dish you got as a wedding gift but haven’t used once. Just thinking about parting with these items can be too much.

Allow yourself one box for the most valued items and invent ways to repurpose them. For example, frame three favorite drawings from your daughter’s childhood and hang them on your walls or repurpose the serving dish (if it’s small enough) as a table centerpiece.

For the rest of the items, create a donation box to take to a local non-profit. You probably haven’t looked at or touched these items in years and they’ll be better off with someone who will use them. Before giving the box away, take photos of each object to preserve the memory associated with it. Go one step further by scrapbooking the photos. You’ll declutter your space and keep the most important memories close to you.

Photo by Annie Spratt

For the speed declutterer

If you work a 60-hour week and are always on the go, jumping from hot yoga to the PTA, HOA meeting, and local charity, this is the method for you.

Follow this rule: if the act of cleaning up or decluttering would take less than five minutes to complete, do it immediately. This could be as simple as hanging up a shirt, putting a misplaced item in a drawer, or even folding a blanket and putting it in a hamper. You might even find items that you realize don’t have a place in your home. Make the decision to throw it away, give it to a friend, or donate it to a charity. Here are some helpful tips that show you how to declutter your home when pressed for time.

  • You’re short on time, so let’s start with baby steps: Get rid of any junk mail, newspapers, or magazines that have piled up on the counters and coffee table. While you’re at it, get rid of any other garbage you see laying around. This should take about 10 minutes, tops.
  • Get rid of all expired food. Again, this shouldn’t take more than five minutes each week.
  • Choose permanent storage spaces for commonly used items like remote controls, books, coffee mugs, and throw blankets.
  • Take a page out of Oprah’s book and turn all of the hangers in your closet in the reverse direction (this should take less than 10 minutes). After wearing an article, place it back on the hanger and turn the hanger around in the appropriate direction. Each season, assess which clothes you haven’t worn (should take three minutes at most) and donate them to a thrift shop or sell them at a clothing exchange. This is the perfect method for those who don’t have time to go through all of their clothes at once.

For the downsizer

If you’re planning on moving to a smaller space or just want to live a life with fewer things, then this is the method for you.

Moving is one of the best times to declutter since you’re already thinking about what you’ll actually need in your new home. As you pack up your items, go through everything and get rid of duplicative items.

Do you have a blender and NutriBullet? Get rid of the one you use the least. When was the last time you used all 17 pots and pans or wore all 10 of your sweatshirts? Slim down to your top five. Items like your alarm clock probably don’t even get used anymore because of the built-in alarms we have in our phones and watches. Keep only the bare essentials. Whether you’re moving or just want to learn how to declutter your home to intentionally live a smaller life, think of the items that contribute to the functionality of your house.

For bigger items, like a mattress or coffee table, don’t immediately head for the dumpster. Though throwing your mattress in the dumpster might seem like the easiest option, most municipal trash collection services won’t take it because of how heavy and bulky it is. Not to mention, throwing your mattress away is environmentally irresponsible and even illegal in some states. Donate furniture to Habitat for Humanity or find a specialized recycling program that takes bigger items.

Photo by Kari Shea

For the spontaneous declutterer

If you’re struck with the urge to declutter on a random afternoon, then this is the method for you. It is spring cleaning season after all.

Examine why you feel the need to declutter. Do you have too many items strewn around your home or is your stuff just not organized? After figuring out the why, learn how to declutter your home.

If you have too many items:

  1. Following one of the pillars of decluttering, make three piles: one for garbage, one for donating, and one for keeping.
  2. Sort through your things and be intentional about what you actually need to keep (we really don’t think you need to keep all 20 koozies that are currently stuffed into your desk drawer or those expired medications in your medicine cabinet).
  3. Put the garbage pile in a trash bag and carry the donation box out to your car so you can drop it off the next time you go by a Goodwill. For items you’re keeping, put them in the place they’re supposed to go (for example, shoes should be stowed in your closet, loose change should go in a piggy bank, etc.) and don’t just shove them back into their clutter spot—that defeats the purpose of cleaning out these areas in the first place.

If you need to organize:

  1. Pick a room in your home and go through the “clutter spots” (your medicine cabinet, desk drawers that have been stuffed with receipts, cards, and koozies, and hard-to-reach places like under your bed or above the fridge).
  2. Get rid of all the junk in these spots: receipts, cards, wrappers, etc.
  3. For the things you want to keep, consider the functionality of each item, how duplicative it is, and how often you use it. For example, if you never use that old pair of reading glasses, they don’t need to stay tucked in the back of your nightstand—give them away. If you have four portable phone chargers laying around your home, keep one and distribute the rest to friends or family. That old camera may have a lot of photos on it, but when was the last time you actually used it? 
  4. Label storage bins to make it easier for you to find essential items. For example, you could organize your bathroom by separating what you use for your morning and bedtime routines into two bins, or you could separate your pantry by baking ingredients, cooking supplies, staples you use regularly (keep those easily within reach), etc. 

For the natural-born organizer

If you’re a type-A person and can’t stand to see something out of place or you don’t want to mess up the flow of a room, then this is the method for you.

For you, everything just has to have a set place. The way your reading glasses are positioned on your side table. Where the blankets in the living room go—no, they can’t just be sprawled all over the couch. How the silverware is organized in a kitchen drawer. Despite the spectacular organization that is evident in your home, here’s our main piece of advice on how to declutter.

Since you’re already skilled at putting things in the right place, think about functionality. If your house is nicely organized, get rid of the duplicative items or objects that don’t serve a functional purpose. This could mean trimming down on kitchen tools, getting rid of extra coffee mugs, or sorting through linens that are never used.

For the over-achiever

If you’re numbers-driven and need to set and reach goals to feel accomplished, then this is the method for you.

  1. Pick five to 10 main areas of your home that you want to declutter. If you decide to choose 10 areas to declutter in your home, make sure a couple of them are more manageable (like your entryway or linen closet) so you’re not spending a crazy amount of hours decluttering for the next two weeks.
  2. Tackle one problem area each day. For example, you might focus on decluttering the pantry on Monday, your desk on Tuesday, the living room on Wednesday, and so forth.
  3. When it’s time to declutter, start by taking everything off of shelves and out of drawers and putting everything on the floor.
  4. Wipe down empty spaces with a damp rag and remove any dust and debris that’s settled.
  5. Examine each object and put back only what you absolutely love or need—try sorting by grouping items by use.

What to do with the clutter you find

Avoid the dumpster as much as possible when decluttering your home. Here are some of the most common clutter culprits and alternate uses.

  • Pens/markers—If you have children, put pens and markers in a craft bin. You could also drop off these supplies at a local school or bring them to your work.
  • Books—Take books to a local literacy council or school or donate them to a library.
  • Clothes—Goodwill is always a great spot for extra clothes, but consider also battered women’s shelters, churches, or refugee organizations.
  • Furniture—Since most furniture items can’t just be left on the curb, reach out to a local church or non-profit organization to see if there’s a family that needs a mattress, couch, dining room set, etc.

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