It takes time to get rid of clutter. A lot of people truly enjoy the tasks of sorting, streamlining and organizing everything they own. But, for others, the whole process is boring 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 decluttering 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. Get Rid of Clutter in the Worst Spot First
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 to Get Rid 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
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. Get Rid of Clutter and Organize Like Company Is Coming
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
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
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
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
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 don’t need, like random credit card offers and sales flyers. 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
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 attic, 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
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:
- 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
- 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 these to get rid of clutter, you can stay one step ahead of your chores and create a home—and a life—that serves you well, one small decluttering project at a time.
How do you get rid of clutter and keep more from building up? Share your tips for decluttering in the comments.
Your suggestions reduce the “overwhelming feelings” associated with decluttering. THANK YOU!
You’re welcome, Christine! We’re happy to help.
Thanks for all the declutter tips. I seem to hold on to things which I think will need later on. Especially clothes I have a hard time parting with them. But this will help me to think that someone is out there who needs clothes and start donating them to the needy
You’re welcome. We’re glad you found the tips useful. Thanks for reading Extra Mile!
Excellent article…this is a constant thorn in my side, especially the paper clutter. There is SO much nowdays and it seems impossible to get off of the repetitive mailing lists. With personal security at such a high risk, I do not like to have my name in trash or recycle bins where someone is likely to intercept that piece of paper. It makes the chore of removing my name nearly an endless task.
I used to roam from room to room and at the end of the day could not see what I had accomplished. Now I concentrate on working in one room only – that way I can see what was done and then I feel a sense of accomplishment. That motivates me to concentrate on one room the next time and has a snowball effect to keep me on task!
That’s a great strategy, Mary! We appreciate your comment.
I am incredibly unorganized. I’ll be the first to admit it. Now when I get my mail I go through it outside! I toss ads, junk mail and flyers in the recycling bin immediately. I don’t bring it in the house at all. Letters or bills I need to open I do then also throw out envelopes. It definitely has helped with my clutter! I also don’t order magazines anymore. I read them at the library if something catches my eye!
Tossing ads, flyers, etc., right into the recycle bin is good advice, Peg. Thank you for sharing!
Keep or toss?
1. What’s the worst that could happen if I got rid of this item?
2. By the time I might need this, will it be obsolete?
3. If I got rid of this and discovered I needed it later, could I replace it?
4. If this place burned down, would I actively work to replace this item?
5. Does this have tax or legal implications?
6. How will it enhance my life to keep this?
Clutter: Anything you own, possess or do that does not enhance your life on a regular basis.
These are great questions to ask, Anne. Thank you for sharing these!
My #1 quickest way to UNLOAD items…I turn on the TV to continuous play of HOARDERS episodes. Although my home is nowhere near that level of collection, the shock value alone is enough for me to clear numerous bags and boxes of stuff.
My #2 option is… I put items into bags and boxes for donation and place them out of sight. In the garage, near the front door ready to take out, etc. The idea is, if I don’t see it within a short time, could be days or even a week or two, ultimately I’ve realized it’s not been used and I forget what’s packed and off it goes to donation.
My #3 is a preventive method I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older. I walk around in the store and when I see something I like, into the cart it goes. I walk around looking at all my wants NOT needs, and when I’m ready to leave I’ve found that I emotionally enjoyed it, while I had ownership in the store but realize I really don’t need it. So either back to the shelf or I hand it off to the cashier. Many times I find I don’t even need to make a purchase.
Thank you for sharing these and commenting, Pam!
I have found AnyList. It’s free. My husband can add to the list. At the store,I cross off items as I put them in the basket.
Thank you for sharing, Fran!
Great suggestions ! Being “old” I’ve had many years to “collect” stuff. Now I try to fill the garbage and recycle cans every week by getting rid of “stuff”. We also have places in our town that collect useful things for the benefit of the less fortunate members of our community. I try to donate the best and better things to them.
Wash your clothes u don’t want take it to Resale shop
We don’t have an attic nor a basement, I don’t know why, so I use the storage bags that can be flattened by sucking the air out of them. Especially for clothes, linens and blankets. I utilize every inch of our closet spaces; and use under the staircase for seasonal boxes stored and marked clearly by the holiday dates. Also we make a few dollars having a yard sale with neighbors. But there is still clutter. A Tough Shed would be ideal.
Great ideas, I have great starting areas. But what about sentimental items from my kids, deceased parents stuff, special memories, etc?
Also electronic items, pictures, letters, files.
I have no concept of neat, but clean yes but not neat and tidy. So therefore I don’t have much company since ashamed of my home. My Mom was a cleaning machine but I didn’t get those genes,
Thanks so much!
Brenda – Thanks for reading and for your great questions. Here’s an article about the sentimental things: How to Declutter Your Home: Nostalgic Items
Take a photo and discard those sentimental items.
My significant other is a clutter bug. He can’t put ANYTHING. away. He’s got to buy 1 thing but instead buys 5. It’s putting a strain on our relationship. HELP!! Any suggestions to motivate him short of moving out to my own place?
I have wanted to declutter for a long time. Need help with high steas where I cannot reach.
Thank you for this strategic approach to decluttering – it is a project that I need to address, so I read every word with great interest.
I find that the biggest challenge is paper. I am a dinosaur and afraid to go paperless, and constantly overwhelmed by what needs keeping and filing, and what can go. The resulting clutter is both constant and visually disruptive to ever feeling organized.
More tips in this area would be greatly appreciated!
Great article…especially loved the list ideas! Planning to organize my phone list accordingly. Thanks!
These ideas are so helpful! I plan to put many of them to good use. I find that if I immediately go through my mail and get rid of any piece that I do not need to keep it now I toss it.
Very helpful. Thank you for the variety, ways I had not thought of.
Thank you for this article! It is very helpful. Sadly, I have been one to keep items that I should have tossed….”because I might (?) have a need for them”. Now is the time to take your points seriously and act. I have just gone through 61 years of photos, etc. and divided them for our adult children. (This was just one step in the process of cleaning out and sharing with the ones who will enjoy them.)
Why is it that 90% of these articles show women doing the “decluttering” of items? I would like to see a man downsize his closet!
I have the same problem, he is a mess. If you find a way please let me know. I myself when I am getting rid of stuff, I ask myself when was the last time I used what ever the item may be, if it has been longer then a year I get rid of it. That help me a lot.
I have a bad clutter problem.
This sounds like a way for me to clean up the mess and enjoy my home again.
This is very helpful information. Have you been peeking into my house?
Thanks for an article very well done!
Ha! Thanks for reading!
Great advice. Now I need to follow that advice. I will make a serious effort. Thanks.
I currently do many of these things. Apparently not enough. I have another suggestion. Donate toys that your children or grandchildren are too old for now. Daycares and preschools may appreciate them. Also the salvation Army or shelters.
I really need these ten steps to get rid of clutter. It’s a never ending task.
And moving forward in my relationship depends on it.
I store my seasonal items in see through tubs with covers. I label them on the top and sides so I know what season they are and what is inside. When it is see through you can tell immediately too. I store these in my attic until I need them. I like changing my bathroom towels and decor seasonally, and because of that, I also put my towels in see through tubs too. It makes it easier to exchange, and I get a change to look at.
Sandra – Great tips! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Great article to organize
Great idea Sandra, the clear see-through tubs. Will get a couple to short my bed sheets and seasonal clothing. Thanks for the tip
Love this, thank you
Appreciate new ways of simplifying life
Jane – Thanks for reading!
Help with high areas, sorry.
I truly need this right now!!! My house is a mess. I love no ce things but I have no order in my life. I chalk it up to, ” I live alone.” My sg d is full so I’ll have to throw things away that I need. What do I do??? Just had my shed redone.