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Getting Rid of Clutter in 10 Quick and Easy Steps

Johnna Kaplan

Decluttering is having a moment—a very long moment. And a lot of people truly enjoy the tasks of sorting, streamlining, and organizing everything they own. But, for others, the whole process is boring, time-consuming, and just generally unappealing. Sure, you want to have a clean home and cut down on the amount of useless stuff you own. (Or maybe you don’t care, but you live with someone who does.) However, you don’t necessarily want to spend a whole weekend separating your wardrobe into piles or color coordinating your pantry.

Luckily, despite what so many books and articles tell you, you don’t really need to follow a complicated procedure to clear your clutter. The following 10 quick and easy deluttering tips can be done at any time and in any order. Completing even a few of these quick tasks will help your living space look better and give you a jump start on cutting the clutter long term.

1. Tackle the Clutter in the Worst Spot First

Tackle the clutter

When it’s out in the open, even one small messy spot—such as a kitchen counter—can make a much larger area look and feel chaotic. (This is why everyone says to make your bed first thing every morning: It has an outsize effect on the look and feel of the room and, by extension, sets you up for your whole day.)

Concentrating on this one spot, first throw away any trash. Then return any items that “live” elsewhere to their proper home. Finally, straighten up what’s left. If it still looks messy, consider the possibility that some of the stuff on the counter doesn’t actually need to be there.

2. Do a Garbage Bag Sweep of Things to Get Rid Of

garbage-bag-sweep-of-clutter

This is exactly what it sounds like: Walk around your room or house with a large garbage bag (or box, whatever works) and throw into it any junk you come across. (This can be sorted later into trash, recycling, or donations, but you don’t have to worry about that now unless it makes it easier for you.)

Junk can include obvious trash, like expired products, plus things you just don’t need in your life anymore, like ancient towels you’d be ashamed to let anyone else use. Also get rid of things you simply don’t like anymore, or anything you’ve been saving “for later” but don’t actively use. Don’t think too hard about any of this. Trust that some part of your brain has been preoccupied with this clutter for so long that you instinctively know what needs to go.

3. Purge Clutter by Pretending You’re Moving

Purging wardrobe clutter

Look at your closet—and anywhere else you store clothing and accessories—and imagine you have to pack it all up because you’re moving in a few weeks. It’s a fresh start, and you don’t want to lug a bunch of boxes full of clothes you never wear.

This doesn’t have to involve a long session of trying everything on or thinking about outfit combinations. Just scan your stuff and—being totally honest—pull out anything that:

  • Doesn’t fit your body or your lifestyle
  • Is damaged and can’t be repaired (or you’re just not going to get it repaired)
  • You don’t like
  • You do like but you never wear

4. Declutter and Organize Like Company is Coming

Declutter your home

What would you do to your home if someone you wanted to impress were coming over in an hour? Or if a TV crew were arriving to interview you for the evening news? You wouldn’t wash the windows or anything extreme, but you’d immediately move to eliminate clutter by cleaning off surfaces and putting everything back in its proper place.

This kind of quick clean-up is a good way to identify items that don’t have a proper place. If you find one, it’s a sign—either that you don’t need that item and can safely get rid of it, or, if it’s something necessary like your car keys, that you need to designate a proper place for it now.

5. Organize by Gathering Similar Items

Organizing by gathering items

You know how some grocery stores display all the chips in one aisle, so it’s easy to find the kind you like, but other grocery stores display the chips at the ends of five different aisles, so you have to wander around checking them all? You have this choice at home too, and the former method makes life much easier.

If you have little stashes of coins in every room from emptying your pockets, or if pens collect on every surface, walk through every room and group these things together. From now on, you have a coin jar in the kitchen where all coins go, and a pen drawer in your desk where pens live, so you can always find one when you need one. It’s much more convenient and, as a bonus, your space will suddenly look much cleaner.

6. Make One Bold Decision to Simplify Your Home

Getting rid of unused stuff

Removing just one major item, like a chair no one sits in or a dusty treadmill no one uses, can make a huge difference in a cluttered room.

Getting rid of a dead-weight object like this not only will free up a surprising amount of physical space, but also will usually jog your brain into a more minimalist mindset that can help you make more decisive decluttering decisions in the future.

7. Ditch the Extra Stuff

decluttering tips

Most people have at least a few duplicate items sitting around, whether they were acquired intentionally or not. And, almost always, only one of these items gets used on a regular basis. Getting rid of the lesser-used dupe is an easy way to eliminate excess stuff in your home.

This doesn’t mean you need to throw away extra tubes of toothpaste or restrict yourself to one pair of black socks. But maybe you have two nearly identical grey sweaters, but you always wear the darker one, or two kitchen gadgets that do very similar jobs. (Parting with these semi-useful duplicate items can be easier if you think about how grateful someone who has no warm sweaters would be to have that pale grey sweater you’re keeping because you might want to wear it again someday.)

8. Keep on Top of Paper Clutter

clear the clutter

Paper clutter seems innocuous, but it can build up quickly. (Have you seen what happens to the mailbox area of an apartment building where people don’t pick up their newspapers?) Corral all the old newspapers, magazines, and junk mail in your home and put them in the recycling bin. Then flip through any other mail that’s still sitting around.

If you’re intimidated by sorting through your bills, don’t worry about that part yet. Just dispose of the stuff you definitely don’t need, like random credit card offers and sales flyers, and store important stuff neatly (that is, not on the kitchen table). Separating it from the spam now will make it a little easier to deal with when you get to it later.

9. Minimize Clutter by Storing Seasonal Items

minimize clutter

One of the easiest ways to eliminate household clutter is to put away seasonal things when they’re not being used. The obvious example of this is storing holiday decorations in a box in the attic until the holiday rolls around again, but it’s also a great strategy for winter coats in July and beach towels in January.

Pack up these seasonal items in storage bins or heavy-duty trash bags and stash them in the basement or at the back of a closet. If you’ve never done this, you may be surprised at how instantly uncluttered your home looks when unused things are kept out of sight and out of mind until they’re needed.

10. Unclutter Your Life and Live by Your Lists

unclutter your life

The best way to eliminate clutter is to prevent it from accumulating in the first place. One technique that will help you do this is to start a shopping list to refer to in the future. Unless it’s an emergency, don’t shop without your list. When you buy something from the list, delete it. When you notice something else you need, add it. Don’t add anything to the list without checking first to make sure you don’t already own it.

On your phone or in a notebook—whichever you will remember to use—make a list with sections for:

  • Food
  • Nonfood grocery store and drugstore items
  • Other household goods
  • Clothes and accessories
  • Any other category of items you buy regularly

And, while you’re at it, get in the habit of jotting down any thoughts you’re holding in your brain, like tasks you need to complete, ideas for future projects, people you want to contact, or things you want to research. Putting these in writing, rather than letting them float around in your mind, is a useful form of mental decluttering. And, when your thoughts are organized, it’s easier to keep your physical environment organized, too.

Half the battle is not becoming overwhelmed by the state of your home or the amount of items that actually are clutter. By taking simple actions like the ones above, you can stay one step ahead of your homemaking chores and create a home—and a life—that serves you well, one small decluttering project at a time.

What was something that you purged in order to declutter your life, then later regretted the decision? Let us know in the comments below.