The mind is a terrible thing to clutter. But when you have a cluttered home, it’s hard to de-stress and decompress.
“Think about it,” says Lisa Jacobs, a certified home organizer and the founder of Imagine It Done, a lifestyle consultancy in Roslyn, N.Y.
“When you get up in the morning, if you have clutter right there in your face, it starts your day off on the wrong foot. When you have to start your day by looking for your keys or your phone or your toothbrush, it makes you anxious and you haven’t even left the house yet!”
If you think you don’t have time to clear your clutter, think again. With an action plan from experts, you can bust the clutter in your home in 15-minute chunks every day -- and build yourself an oasis of calm that’s also less of a haven for dust, dirt, and allergens.
Before you de-clutter any space, prepare. You need bags or boxes for four purposes, says Ellen Delap, a professional organizer in Houston:
- Things you will donate to charity
- Things you want to sell at a yard sale, or on Craigslist, Ebay, or freecycle
- Things that belong in another room
- Things headed for the trash
Now you’re ready to de-clutter any room.
When in Doubt About Clutter, Psych Yourself Out
Many home organization experts say “When in doubt, throw it out.” Colorado psychotherapist and organizing consultant Aricia LaFrance isn’t so strict. “It just slows you down and makes you hate organizing,” she says.
Instead, if you have something you don’t wear or use, but are on the fence about parting with it, stick it in a box. Put the box in your garage or attic, and write a future date on it -- one year or six months from now.
“If you really need something from that box, you can go out and get it,” says LaFrance. “When the date comes -- and you need to write it in your calendar -- don’t open the box. Donate it or throw it away.”
Try 15-Minute Clutter Workouts
Get yourself a timer -- a stopwatch or a classic old egg timer. Don’t just use the one on the stove or microwave; you won’t necessarily hear it in the basement or your bedroom.
Set it for 15 minutes. Choose the worst, most cluttered area of your house. It doesn’t need to be a room. It can be a corner, a shelf, the top of the microwave. Jacobs likes to start with the kitchen counter, where everything from bills to magazines to kids’ school projects often pile up. “If you clean up your counter space, you will breathe,” she says.
Sort quickly: bills that need to be paid and kids’ art to be put in their rooms goes in the distribution basket. Three-month-old baby announcements, party invitations, and pieces of fast-food toys go in the trash.
When the timer beeps, you’re done. Once you’ve done this baby step a few times, you can take on bigger spaces and set the timer for an hour to tackle tougher challenges like closets or basements.
Buy Organizing Bins for Clutter
Before purging yourself of unneeded clutter, you may need to buy some needed things: clear plastic bins, of various sizes, along with white first-aid tape.
“These bins are a lifesaver,” says Jacobs. “Proper containers are the #1 remedy of organizing. If they’re clear so that you can see what’s in them, and clearly labeled, you know what you have and where it is.”
Concentrate on Clutter Corners
Besides the kitchen counter, most organizing experts identify hall closets and the front hallway as classic clutter accumulation spots. “The hall closet is usually a horror,” says Jacobs.
Start by getting everything off the floor. When your closet is clogged, things start to accumulate on the floor. Sort these items in your boxes or bags.
Then, hang a canvas hanging shelf on one side of your closet rod. It’s cheaper and easier than buying a closet organizing system. Here, you’ll place all the accessories you need for the time of year: gloves and hats and scarves in winter, baseball caps and sunscreen and water bottles in summer.
On the “overhead” shelf -- the one that’s hard to get to -- put clear plastic bins, neatly labeled, with the stuff that’s out of season. Then, when it’s time to switch seasons, you can just bring down the bins rather than pulling down piles of outerwear and folding and refolding them.
Another organizing challenge: the front hall. “There’s always some spot where you first come into the house -- a table, a desk, a counter, wherever -- where people throw stuff when they come in the door,” says LaFrance. “Wherever that stuff lands -- even if it doesn’t seem to make sense -- put an organizer item there.” Look at what usually goes there and think about what makes sense. You may want an armoire, like LaFrance uses, or lockers, boxes, cubbies, or a hall stand.
“Don’t let this thing become a clutter collector,” she cautions. “Have a place for everything: mail goes here, jackets go there, shoes go there, everybody has a spot to put their stuff.”
For Paper Clutter, Put Up Cork Bulletin Boards
Paper clutters up every household -- lots of paper. Homework assignments, school calendars, kids’ art, photos, invitations, soccer schedules, permission slips, and so on.
Some of it winds up on overflowing refrigerator doors. The rest lands on countertops and dressertops -- or disappears.
The solution: cork. Buy 1’ by 1’ squares of frameless cork, or rolls of bulletin-board cork and cut to fit. Hang them inside the pantry door, the closet door, above your desk, on the wall in the kitchen.
“It’s cheap and it’s eco-friendly -- look for recycled cork,” says Jacobs. “If your child comes home from kindergarten with 10 projects, pin them up on the corkboard prominently for a week. You can throw it away then or put it in a bin for treasures, but your child feels valued.”
Inside the pantry door, you can pin up shopping lists and menus. Above your desk -- or above your child’s desk -- pin up school schedules, calendars, and permission slips. Once a week, purge the corkboards.
Give the Kids Bins for Mementos
When I was a child, my mom would say “Put that away,” and I’d say “But Mom, it doesn’t have an away!” One of the biggest problems in de-cluttering is things that don’t have a particular “home.” To truly declutter, you need to designate an “away” for these challenging items.
Kids’ (and adults’) mementos are often in this category. Where do you put the medal from Little Gym, the old report cards, the trophies, the swim class certificates? You might display things on boards or shelves for awhile, but ultimately they’re replaced by newer items and start to gather dust.
Again, the solution: clear plastic bins. They accommodate items of all shapes and sizes. Get one of a decent size for each child, label it with the child’s name, and put it in the basement or attic. Here, you can store everything from the soccer trophy to the kindergarten sculpture to certificate (put paper items in envelopes labeled by year or age). Then, you can find them easily when you want to stroll down memory lane.
“When your home is cluttered, your brain kind of feels that way too,” says LaFrance. “You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel after just organizing one small part of your house.”