Everyone has a little ‘junk’ lying around the house. OK, some of us may have more than a little. Regardless of how much stuff we have, we can all benefit from getting rid of clutter and excess things we don’t need any more, or things we haven’t even seen in a while. The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) conducted a poll that suggests nearly 65% of Americans feel their home is at least somewhat disorganized.
Clutter, however you define it, can be bad for your health. According to Psychology Today, people tend to feel like life is out of control when they surround themselves with more things than they can manage. The mess causes stress. If you’re not taking care of the clutter in your home, you may not be taking care of yourself either.
When is clutter a problem? For many people clutter can be an energy zapper or they waste inordinate amounts of time looking for things they can’t find. In extreme cases, people may suffer from obesity or depression when a life of consumption extends beyond ‘stuff.’ In hoarding situations, a house full of clutter can cause fire hazards and other health complications when mold and dust are present. But extreme cases are not common.
What is clutter? Clutter is anything you’re keeping around your house that doesn’t add value to your life. Decluttering is all about making room in your home for the things that matter.
Why should you declutter? Many people enjoy decluttering because it relieves stress by providing a sense of control and accomplishment. For others, getting rid of the junk frees up a little extra space in the house that wasn’t there before. Some people may just need to purge before they move to a new house. Whatever your reason for decluttering your home, this ridiculously thorough guide will help you through the process.
Because our guide is ridiculously thorough, we’ve broken it up into three parts. The first part will explain how to declutter any space in your home, giving you the tools you’ll need to be successful at removing the clutter. Part two will walk through decluttering tips room-by-room. With these detailed instructions, clutter will no longer have a place to hide in any room in your home! And the third section will help you keep the clutter away in the future. We recommend bookmarking this page, since you may want to come back to it as you work through decluttering your house (or you can print this page, but we prefer to save trees).
PART 1: How to Declutter Your Home
- Set Goals
Before you get started, make a plan. No matter how many rooms or how much clutter you have to get through, starting with specific goals will help you create a plan that will reduce any frustration as you go. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you get started decluttering your home:
- Write down or make a map of all the rooms and ‘clutter hot-spots’ you want to tackle.
- Give each space a grade based on the severity of the clutter. For example, on a scale of 1 – 3 (3 being the most cluttered), a particularly messy room or closet would get a 3. This will help you prioritize your time.
- Do one room or one space at a time.
- Set completion dates for each phase of your cleanup. Be sure to pick dates that are attainable so you don’t get frustrated. If you make it into a declutter challenge for yourself, it may feel a bit more like a game!
- In addition to completion dates, you should plan time to work on specific areas when you expect decluttering those spaces to take longer than a few hours, such as a basement or a garage.
- Create a Sorting System
As you go through the rooms and spaces in your house, you will need a system for sorting the items you find. You can create your own method, or you can use the popular Three-Box Method of sorting clutter. This method forces you to make a decision item by item, so you don’t end up with a bigger mess than the one you started with.
Gather three boxes or storage bins, label them as follows and follow our tips below:
The Three Box Method:
Empty after you complete a space. Items you keep should go in their newly designated home. Optimally these things should be stored neatly in a container or drawer. Label if desired.
Empty after you complete a space. Store any items you want to give away or sell outside your home – either put them in the vehicle you plan to transport them in or store them temporarily in a garage or on a patio.
Empty into storage containers after you complete a space. As you fill your containers, label them or drop an inventory sheet on top and neatly put them in your storage area.
You have a few options for disposing of items that make their way into the “Get Rid of It” box.
- Recycle: Recyclable glass, plastics and paper can go straight into your recycling bin if you have curbside pickup. Otherwise put your recyclables in bags so you can transport the waste to the nearest recycling drop off location.
- Donate or Freecycle: You can rest easy knowing that something you no longer need is going to a good home. Clothes, shoes and other household items in good condition can be donated to a number of local charities. Or try posting to org: You post what you want to get rid of and people come get it. Your trash is truly another man’s, or woman’s, treasure.
- Have a Garage Sale: If you’re up to the task, you may be able to make a little money off your clutter by having a garage sale. Check to see if your neighborhood or homeowner’s association has a designated garage sale date. Just make sure you begin your declutter process early enough so you can participate – you’ll get more foot traffic that way.
- Rent a Dumpster: This is an affordable, stress-free option, especially if you have a lot to get rid of or larger household items you’re throwing away. We happen to be able to help with this one – we’ll deliver the dumpster to your house, you fill it up and we haul it away. It’s that simple. Thought renting a dumpster is cheaper than you might expect, the cost may be more than you’re willing to spend. See if you have a neighbor or two who will split the dumpster rental with you to lower the cost. Just make sure everyone follows the terms and conditions.
- Commit to Get Rid of the Junk
If you’ve got clutter, we’re certain you have some ‘junk’ you can toss. And while it may not be junk per se, it may no longer be useful. Making the decision to get rid of your old things may actually be the hardest part of decluttering. If you’re like most people, you have trouble getting rid of something that you spent your hard-earned money on, which you once used or loved. Many items you find will have more than just a monetary value –they will stir up memories and have sentimental value. These are real and valid feelings that make it challenging to part with our stuff.
Remember, you have options when it comes to getting rid of clutter, so you don’t have to feel guilty about putting everything in the trash. Mentally prepare yourself for decluttering and keep the following concepts in mind when you are struggling to part with something you haven’t used in a while.
The 80/20 Rule: When it comes to clothing, we generally only wear 20% of the clothes we own 80% of the time. This rule tends to hold true for other things as well, such as video games, computer parts, books, DVDs, toys and more. Your mission is to get rid of the things you don’t use 80% of the time.
Getting Over Sunk Costs. In the world of economics, costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered are referred to as sunk costs. As you go through the items in your house, most things should be considered sunk costs (except for rare situations where an item may have increased in value). Since you cannot get the money back that you spent on that item, you should only think about the value that thing can add to your life in the future. Understanding this concept of sunk costs can help you make more rational decisions about what to keep and what you should toss.
Here are more declutter tips to help you decide what to keep and what to throw away:
See if it works. If whatever treasure you found stashed away in your house doesn’t work, get rid of it. If you want to fix it, then fix it, but don’t let it sit in your house for another month collecting dust.
Think of the last time you used it. If you haven’t used something you come across in the last 6 months, you should probably get rid of it. If you pulled the item out and said, “I’ve been wondering where this was!” you should probably get rid of it. And if you didn’t even know you still had the item in question, you should definitely get rid of it –you didn’t miss it enough to warrant keeping it.
There’s a neat trick you can use with clothing, books and DVDs (pictured below). Over the course of the year, when you use or wear an item put it back facing the opposite direction of the others. This allows you to see what you’ve used and what you haven’t. If you haven’t used or worn something in a year, get rid of it.
Ask yourself if you love it. This may seem obvious, but sometimes we keep things we aren’t completely crazy about. Yes, sometimes we spend money on things we don’t love, and sometimes we don’t return them. But if you don’t love it, and you haven’t used it in more than 6 months, add it to the “Get Rid of It” bin.
Sleep on it. After you’ve made the decision to get rid of some of the clutter in your home, sleep on it. If there’s something you can’t live without, you’ll know in the morning. You can pull it out of the junk bin and put it away.
- Start with Small Decluttering Projects That Feel Big
Before you commit to an entire room, start with a few small projects that will give you a sense of accomplishment when you’re done.