33 Ways to Declutter Your Life (and Keep It That Way!)
The sheer act of decluttering can be absolutely overwhelming—especially if you live in a home with cluttered bedrooms, overcrowded kitchen cabinets and bins labeled "Holiday" that are actually filled with soccer balls. We get it, editing down your life is easier said than done. But decluttering can make you feel mentally, physically and emotionally clear. And we believe it's worth it.
To help you on your decluttering journey, we spoke to organization and decluttering experts who have seen it all. These experts are sharing their favorite words of wisdom to help demystify decluttering once and for all, so you can truly tackle tidying up with the confidence of Marie Kondo. A cleaner, clutter-free life is just ahead. For guidance on what clutter you need to kick to the curb, check out 23 Things You Should Toss from Your Closet Forever.
Break down your to-do list.
When editing down your life, to-do lists have a habit of getting out of hand. If you're starting to feel overwhelmed, "break projects down into small sequential steps," says Susie Hayman, owner of InYourBizness and current president of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO). "Use time limits so that you stay on track and always note deadlines." For even more organization, keep a portable digital copy of your to-do list so you can view it or add to it while you're on the go.
Start with the smallest decluttering tasks.
Perhaps you've followed the opposite advice when tackling your to-do list, but with decluttering, start with the simpler tasks. "Always do the easiest categories or areas first. Then move on to the next easiest thing, then the next," says Laura Cattano, owner of Organization Design. Besides building momentum in your journey, this method also helps you feel more confident in your editing choices when it gets to the really hard, sentimental objects. To help you decide what items to say goodbye to, check out 50 Items No Man Over 40 Should Have in His Home.
Practice the two-minute rule.
April Stratmeyer, communications manager of Pocket Prep, likes to break up her tidying up into smaller chunks. "If something will take less than two minutes to complete, do it, and do it now," she explains. "While doing it, I remind myself that this is eliminating future duties and stress." Need inspiration for activities to start with? This rule works for anything from cleaning dishes to hanging up clean laundry.
Don't wait to toss something you know you don't want.
You might not realize it yet, but there is something in your home that you already know you want to toss. "Get rid of it now," advises Cattano. "You'll be amazed at how the energy of your space changes just by getting those things out which then gives you a boost to get out even more things." Take a look around your home and notice the donation bags you have set aside, outgrown clothing or broken appliances. You probably already had the intent of getting rid of them and now is the time.
Make split decluttering decisions.
"When editing, don't think too long about anything," Cattano says. This means, if something is causing you to doubt yourself, keep it, group it with like objects and move on. "Some things are easy to look at as an individual item and you know whether to keep or get rid of it, and other things are easier when you look at everything you have in that category." Once you have everything in categories, take another look at exactly how much you own and your answer will be much clearer. To see if you're keeping common clutter, check out 40 Things to Purge from Your Life After 40, According to Organizing Pros.
Ask more specific questions than "Should I keep this or toss it?"
According to Laura Kinsella, CEO of Urban Organyze, there's typically one question when it comes to decluttering: Should I keep this or toss it? But don't feel pigeon-holed into using this as your only question. "While that approach works for some, others feel the panic of a finite answer, which results in postponed decisions, leaving clutter exactly where it is," Kinsella says. Instead, she suggests asking questions that will help you get out of feeling stuck, like: Would I buy this item again today? Does this item bring up good feelings or bad ones? Does this reflect or represent who I am now? Answer no to these questions, and you should probably mark this item as clutter.
Follow the S.E.E.Y.A.
For Katrina Teeple, founder and CEO of Operation Organization, the best decluttering starts with her S.E.E.Y.A. method. Ask yourself five questions: Is your item S (Sucking your energy?), E (Excessive?), E (Emotionally draining?), Y (You don't love it?), A (An eye sore?). If you answer yes to even one of these small questions, you can say "see ya" to it and either throw it away or donate it. If you're looking for some organizing assistance, check out 15 Organizing Products Your Inner Neat Freak Will Love in 2020.
Be a finisher.
"Organized people start and finish tasks as they go whenever possible," Teeple says. If you find yourself getting distracted while decluttering, reframe the way you see your projects. You don't have to do it all in one day. Instead, finish the smaller tasks first and resist doing anything part way. Before you know it, you'll be finishing all the projects you thought you couldn't.
If it's covered in dust, it's time to go.
"If an item is covered in dust, it's typically regarded as something that either no longer has purpose to us, or we've outgrown," Kinsella says. Sometimes, these are the items that have found their way to the back of the closet, like a pair of special occasion shoes. Other times, it's a piece of workout gear that you bought when you were really into pilates last summer. "When we let the items do the talking, it's clear what stays and what needs to go."
Create a command center by your entryway.
We're willing to bet that you've had those moments when you do a double take on your way out the door. To avoid forgetting daily necessities, "hang a simple medicine cabinet by your entryway and use it to keep sunscreen, bug spray, extra keys, pens and post-it notes, earbuds or anything you can think of to get you out the door fast," suggests Ann Dooley, owner of Simple Joy with Ann. This will keep clutter from piling up around the house when you have a central location by the door—and it will make your mornings much smoother too. If you're looking for a piece that will help organize your entryway, check out 15 Target Storage Accessories That Will Marie Kondo Your Home in 2020.
Make a mail station.
If the surface by your front door is cluttered with unopened white envelopes, it might be time to create a mail station. "Just like email, we need an inbox," Kinsella says. "Corral all mail to a small tray wherever it naturally tends to pile up the most." For important mail, like bills and invitations, you might find it necessary to create a filing system. As for junkmail? "That should land straight into recycling (or the shredder if it's sensitive)." she adds. This way, your home won't have random envelopes pestering you to bundle your cable.
Constantly finding crumpled up receipts at the bottom of your bag? Toss the ones you don't need, such as anything from quick snack runs or weekend errands. Minimalism coach Rose Lounsbury suggests keeping anything related to taxes, anything big ticket, or possible returns. "If you're struggling to let go, try a scanning app like Scanner Pro to digitize receipts and upload them to Google Drive or Dropbox," she adds.
Recycle papers ASAP.
Before papers even enter your home, sort, recycle, and toss them. Amy Tokos, owner of Freshly Organized and president-elect of NAPO, says you can easily do this by keeping a recycling bin next to the main entrance of your home. This way, you can say goodbye to them as soon as you walk through the door. This works for junk mail, random signage and anything you can simply take a picture of on your phone.
Keep your most helpful documents handy.
If you find yourself returning to a list, file, or document that's particularly helpful in any aspect of your life, Hayman suggests keeping these. "Use desktop file sorters or baskets to organize your files." Alternatively, you can also use your email to reserve your documents in one digital location.
Do an electronic detox.
When your laptop downloads folder is an endless scroll of documents, it's time for a major digital declutter. Hayman says to prioritize what you need to keep most. "For those documents and emails you need to keep, create folders, categorized just as you would for a paper file." Then, you can move on to the rest of your downloads. Drop them in your digital recycling bin and let them float away into digital nothingness. If you need a paper trail, Hayman recommends printing your files and keeping them for anyone who might not have computer access.
Keep a permanent donation box.
If you feel like you always return to the same outfits over and over again, your closet might need some TLC. "Having a donation box at the ready makes it oh-so easy to quickly declutter those outgrown sweaters and unloved leggings," says Lounsbury. As soon as your box is full, just empty everything into trash bags and load them in the front seat of your car so you can donate them to your favorite local charity the next time you're running errands.
Have a no-buy month.
Sometimes, the easiest way to declutter is to avoid bringing the clutter into your home in the first place. Tokos suggests having a no-buy month. During this time, you can buy consumable items, like food, but nothing that can classify itself as junk. To Tokos, "a pause in items entering your house can give you an opportunity to thin things out."
Ditch duplicate utensils.
According to Lousbury, this one is a pillar to living a more minimalist lifestyle. "Not even an octopus needs 8 spatulas and 15 wooden spoons," she reasons. Instead, select your absolute favorite—AKA the ones you always tend to use—and declutter the rest. Less utensils lying around in your drawers makes for a much less stressful cooking and baking experience.
Hide away spare linens.
For the kind of linens you won't be using everyday, such as guest pillows or spare comforters, try stowing them in suitcases. "These are lightweight and can be easily removed when you need the suitcases," says Dooley. Alternatively, she suggests you can also use your suitcases for heavy winter parkas and seasonal blankets. Afterall, you probably won't need that parka in spring.
Invest in reusable or multipurpose items.
Some items take up way more space than they need to. Instead of decluttering the things you use on an everyday basis, just think about the space they take up. For instance, Dooley suggests: "Use kitchen towels and cleaning clothes instead of paper towels, switch to an all-in-one shampoo and body bar soap, and use a nesting bowl set with lids that can be used for eating, mixing, storing, and serving."
Keep your trash bags in your trash can.
Your trash cans are probably the least of your decluttering worries, but trust us when we say they are ripe with opportunity. "I always recommend people take the trash bags out of the boxes and keep the bags at the bottom of the trash can," Dooley says. "If they follow KonMari, they can fold plastic grocery bags and keep them in a small box." This way, you can always know that a new trash liner is in close reach when you empty the trash. Saving time + saving space = a win for everyone.
Put collapsible bins in the trunk of your car.
Your car is essentially an extension of your home, but that doesn't mean you should keep it filled with everything you could ever possibly need. Just keep the bare essentials. For this, Dooley suggests keeping collapsible bins in the trunk. "You can designate one for items that need to go back in the house, and one for outgoing such as a return or package to mail," she says. Bonus: repurpose an old shoe box to keep reusable grocery bags.
Hang your long clothes to the left of your closet and your short ones on the right.
If you're a fan of the KonMari Method of decluttering, you might be familiar with this one. Dooley says it's especially important when it comes to keeping a closet decluttered. "Hang your clothes with the longest on the left and shortest on the right," she explains. According to KonMari, this helps you feel more positive. As for that spare space you create below the clothing on the right side? "Add a small 3 drawer dresser or tiered shoe rack to maximize that open space. Or use small cubbies to store bags and purses."
Say goodbye to single socks.
Your sock drawer is probably filled with errant single socks missing their pairs. It's likely that you're not even using them, so there's no reason to hold onto them. "You'll feel a weight lifted if you bite the bullet and chuck single socks," says professional organizer Tova Weinstock. "They're only taking valuable space in your drawers and causing a mess." Once you've decluttered and you're down to just pairs, you can reorganize your drawer and group your pairs together.
Get rid of uninspiring photos.
Brace yourself for this tip. "People get mad at me for this one, but I think old photos should be thrown away," says Weinstock. If you're holding onto old, blurry prints that don't hold any sentimental value, it's time to get rid of them. If you're still resistant to getting rid of images, try scanning and uploading them to a digital album before getting rid of the less sentimental ones. "It can be refreshing to condense six old albums into four with the photos that you actually like."
Eliminate "just-in-case" hardware.
"That extra screw and installation instructions that came with the dresser you built 5 years ago? It's safe to let those go," Weinstock says. If you have a buildup of old manuals (which you can easily find online) and loose hardware that came with furniture assembly, the safe bet is to let them go. In the rare case that you'll actually need those pieces in the future, you can always find replacements. Some furniture stores even offer replacement hardware for free.
Liz Jenkins, owner of Fresh Space, says the key to a clean and clutter-free garage is to zone off areas based on your needs. "For example, if you've got kids in sports, create a sport zone to hold balls, bats, bags, and other gear," she says. You can also create zones for gardening, cleaning and woodworking. But this tip works for more than just garages—try integrating the method into other areas of the home, like the mudroom and playroom.
Ah labels, the oldest and trustiest organization device. To keep everything extremely clear, Jenkins suggests using oversized labels. "This means you can see things at a distance even if the lighting isn't great," she says. This is a great tip for decluttering areas like basements and garages that get inundated the most with junk.
Don't ignore under-the-bed storage.
Even the cleanest people probably have a thing or two stashed underneath the bed. It's an easy place to store the items we don't need everyday. But according to Cattano, this could do more harm than good. "So many people have sleeping issues, and I think having dusty stuff is not helping." To clean it out, use a dust rag or paper towel and some cleaning spray. Pull out and wipe down everything from under the bed before putting them back.
Ask a friend for help.
Decluttering doesn't have to be a solo venture. Personal life coach Christine Hassler actually recommends making it an activity with a friend. "Everyone has a friend who's really good at organizing who's not emotionally attached to your things." Your friend will be more willing to let go of items that you're not sure of, plus your closest friends will be able to note the things they've seen you wear or use.
Practice the 30-day rule.
If you haven't looked at it or thought about it for 30 days, get rid of it. There is of course one exception Hassler has to this rule, which is seasonal items. "You don't need to throw away your winter clothes in the summer because you haven't worn them for 30 days. Focus on those summer clothes and think back to what you really didn't wear in the winter." Besides this, Hassler suggests looking at expiration dates (such as food in your pantry, old cosmetics or old magazines) are also key to let go.
Ditch the junk drawer.
We all have that one drawer. Whether you directly label it as your junk drawer or not, you can likely live without it. "A really bold move is not even to look at it and throw it away," Hassler says. If you aren't quite ready to do that, remove everything from your drawer and only put back the things you know you use every day, like scissors or nail files.
Live like you travel.
When you're vacationing, you probably only bring the essentials. Hassler says this might be the way to see what you need and what you don't. "On the next trip, really look at what you use on a daily basis. The things you didn't bring when you travelled, you really didn't need them." So when you get home, you can probably feel comfortable getting rid of them as well.
Additional reporting by Adam Bible