The Best 12 Low-Stress Tips for How to Declutter Your Home
Sometimes life becomes busier than expected and the prospect of decluttering, of tidying weeks’ worth of mess, feels overwhelming. We assure you: it’s a feeling we know well, and it can be overcome!
The key to a clutter-free home is in recognizing, and accepting, this unfortunate truth: decluttering is an ongoing task. Solving clutter is a habit. It simply isn’t possible to declutter once and walk away forever. Clutter has a life of its own, and it will keep coming back. There’s no one-time fix, there’s no short-cut. Once you really take that to heart, then accepting ways to deal with it will be easier.
What we want to provide here are 12 tips for tackling this problem with minimal stress. We’re going to have you approach the problem with long-term thinking. You might find suggestions from other sources that tell you to dedicate time every single day or to do your whole house in one go.
These are big, stressful tasks, and are often impractical given how busy our daily lives are. The way to approach the problem of clutter while minimizing stress is to incorporate decluttering into your routine in small ways. All of our tips will have that in mind.
If you’re really feeling overwhelmed, you could take a look at our Where Do I Start Decluttering My House When I Feel Overwhelmed? There we give answers some questions that we hope will let you get started when you really feel like you just can’t.
After reading through these 12 tips we suggest taking a look at both the 30 Day Declutter Challenge and our Best 12 Places to Start Decluttering Your Home which can give you ways to start implementing these tips and building your habits!
And finally, check out our 12 Common Decluttering Mistakes (And How to Solve Them). There we look at some really common issues that we all encounter when we’re trying to make progress with decluttering our homes, along with some suggestions for how you can deal with them.
The Best 12 Tips for How to Declutter with Low Stress
- Focus on small areas, not your whole home.
- Each time you start to declutter a space, finish it.
- Have dedicated places for everything.
- Be consistent; declutter on a schedule.
- Declutter as you go.
- Don’t worry about perfection.
- Don’t ignore drawers, closets, and other “out-of-sight” spaces.
- Have distinct spots for what you have to keep, and what you don’t.
- Use labels on anything with contents that aren’t easily visible.
- Get appropriate storage solutions, like shelving and cabinets.
- Make your storage solutions easily accessible.
- Give away anything you don’t actually use.
Tip 1: Focus On Small Areas, Not Your Whole Home
One of the things that makes decluttering so tough is that, as we’ve said, it never really stops. It’s never finished. So limiting your attention to smaller areas is an easy way to let yourself know that you are actually accomplishing something! It’s not possible to do a one-time elimination of clutter, but you can certainly finish this corner of the bedroom that has had a pile of clothes for weeks, or the entryway to your home that has a mess of mismatched shoes, or the space underneath the bathroom sink that is full of empty bottles of cleaning products. And once you do that space: it’s done! You’ve genuinely accomplished something.
We suggest taking a look at our Best 12 Places to Start Decluttering Your Home, where we suggest some low-hanging fruit for starting to declutter.
Once you get into the long-term-game mindset for decluttering, these little wins will turn out to be all you really need. Consistent tidying of small spaces will keep your home clean forever; the advice telling you to dedicate a large amount of time to a single big clean will not.
Tip 2: Each time you start to declutter a space, finish it.
This is sort of an extension of the first tip. The way to keep your home decluttered long-term is to make sure that you have regular, consistent small wins. That means that you need to make sure you finish whatever you start. What we’re trying to encourage you to do here is to build a habit. So you want to make sure that the habit you’re building is a good one! That wonderful sense of accomplishment you get when you finish a space will act as a positive-reinforcement mechanism in your brain that will actually help you to increase your intrinsic motivation for future related activities. (Here’s a study that shows it!)
Tip 3: Have dedicated places for everything.
One of the main sources of clutter is not having dedicated places for things. Where do the books in your living room go when you aren’t using them? If the answer is “on the coffee table”–you have a looming problem. Where do the Lego bricks go in your child’s bedroom? If the answer is “brushed to the side”–you have a looming problem. One of the keys to a clutter-free home is knowing where things ought to be put when you aren’t using them, and then putting them there.
A simple mini-tip for this is to keep similar things in similar places. Rather than having your frequently used tools (scissors, screwdriver, batteries, etc.) be each in different places in your home, have a single “frequently used tools” drawer.
A final note about this tip: make sure that everyone in your home is aware of where everything goes. You might encounter some resistance to this at first–we’re not sure why, but it seems to happen–but this only works when everyone is on the same page.
Tip 4: Be consistent; declutter on a schedule.
What’s most important about this consistency is that once you’ve finished the entire process once, gone through each room in your home and deliberately decluttered, each subsequent time will be easier. You
While spending a bit of time each day decluttering is an excellent way to keep your home in order, it simply isn’t possible for most people. Most people’s schedules are busy with work, family, and friends, and squeezing in tidying time every single day is impossible. What IS possible, though, is setting aside a particular period of time each week for decluttering and organizing.
This is especially useful if you have children: keeping them on a set schedule makes the task easier for them since they’ll know that at this time on this day we will be tidying. Having these regular expectations is just as important for you. If you already have a time set aside to declutter a space, you will be much more likely to do it than if you’re entering the week simply hoping that time will appear. If your time is left fluid, it’ll very likely get filled with something you find more desirable than decluttering.
We don’t recommend extending this to a monthly schedule; don’t go past one week. When the next date is weeks away you are much more likely to accidentally book something else at that time.
Tip 5: Declutter as you go.
This is our personal favorite tip and its one that we have come to rely heavily on. If you’re walking from your bedroom to the kitchen, and you have a load of laundry that needs to be done, bring that basket of laundry with you. Even if you aren’t going all the way to the laundry room on that particular trip: a task that needed to be done is now half-done with no extra effort. If you’re in the living room and you see a single book or magazine on a table when it should be in its dedicated spot: move it there now. Clutter loves company! That one item that isn’t where it’s supposed to be will very shortly have many friends. If you deal with such things right away, just while you’re already walking past the space, you’ll find that clutter problems that used to be common will simply not happen at all.
Tip 6: Don't worry about perfection.
As we said at the top of this article: decluttering is, for better or worse, an ongoing task. One of the silver linings of that cloud is that when you focus on a space to declutter it, you don’t have to leave it perfect. You do need to finish the space, yes, but consider: if you got the books onto the shelves but not in any particular order, that’s a win; if you got the Lego bricks into a bin but mixed them with other types of blocks, that’s a win; if you put the dirty laundry into the hamper from the floor but didn’t separate whites, that’s a win. The next pass at these tasks will be a bit easier since you’ve already done part of it. What you will find is that over time each task will become easier, since some of your previous work will carry over to the future.
Tip 7: Don't ignore drawers, closets, and other "out-of-sight" spaces.
A source of visible clutter in many homes is actually the accumulation of invisible clutter. If drawers, closets, cupboards, trunks/chests, and other such storage solutions are full of clutter, of things that you don’t really need or even want, you won’t have convenient places to store the things you actually do need and want.
This also happens with things that are put away in places that they shouldn’t be. The result is that you can’t put other things in the places that they should be.
Tip 8: Have distinct spots for what you have to keep, and what you don't.
An earlier tip encouraged you to have a designated place for everything. This is a bit different. What we’re suggesting here is a tip for when you are actually doing your decluttering, rather than an overall tip. When your tidying and sorting a space you should always make sure that you are using the opportunity to think about which things you don’t actually need to keep in your home. Do you really need those twist-ties and rubber bands? Do you really need those old magazines? If you’re working on a space and think “I don’t need this”, set that item aside in a “dispose of this” pile. Whether you’re giving the item away or putting it in the garbage, it needs to go.
Tip 9: Use labels on anything with contents that aren't easily visible.
We have found that one of our sources of accumulated clutter is boxes that have a mystery contents. What’s in there? Nobody knows. And it’s a real pain to try to get into it to see. So…we just leave it. We wouldn’t be surprised if you have some mystery boxes in your home too. But consider: if you have a box full of things that you haven’t even looked at for what might be years, do you really need whatever is in there?
Clear labels go some distance to solving this problem. You don’t need a fancy label maker! Masking tape and a marker will often do just fine. The labels help by making it more difficult to simply ignore the box. Ignoring a mystery box is very easy; ignoring a box that you have clearly labeled “old sweaters” will be more difficult since you can more easily have the thought “maybe I don’t need to hold on to this clothing that nobody will ever wear”.
Tip 10: Get appropriate storage solutions, like shelving and cabinets.
We have numerous articles on storage solution suggestions. We suggest that you take a look at all of our Top Lists. We have lists for your kitchen, your books, your kids’ toys, and also more general ideas for all stuff and for how to use wasted space.
We’d like to emphasize that purchasing new storage solutions is something that you should do only after you have finished decluttering a room. It’s only then that you will know exactly what your needs are. If you finish a room and find that you have a stack of books and no shelves, a pile of kids’ stuffies with no home, or a stack of Lego bricks perilously piled in a corner, then it is appropriate to purchase a solution that fits that space. If you purchase first then you might find that you are finding new things to fill storage solutions–making the long-term problem worse–rather than tailoring your purchases to your needs.
Tip 11: Make your storage solutions easily accessible.
Whatever storage solutions you decide to use to declutter, you need to make sure that they’re easily accessible. We have seen many times great storage solutions that are stuffed away in a basement, or under piles of boxes, or put in sheds. Rather than thinking about how to store things out-of-sight, think about storage solutions that are placed right where they’re needed. If you need scissors in your kitchen, have a place for them in your kitchen, not in a desk or drawer in an office. If you need bags in your laundry room, have a place for them in your laundry room, not just in your kitchen, or vice versa. The less distance there is between the need for storage and the storage itself, the less opportunity there will be for clutter.
Tip 12: Give away anything you don't actually use.
This is one of the toughest tips for many of us. Nostalgia is a powerful force! So is the thought “but I might need this someday!” We’re sorry to say that these are the sources of much of the clutter in our homes. Not only does it mean that you have more things in your home that could become clutter if they aren’t already, it means that the storage you have that could have been used to declutter is occupied by things you don’t actually need. So it’s sort of a double-cause. We cover this topic for clothing in our How to Get Rid of Clothing (For Money).
There are four main ways to dispose of your things:
First, a yard sale. This is a spring cleaning staple for many people, you might be amazed at how well this works. You may even make a few dollars while you’re at it! Unfortunately, it depends strongly on the sort of living situation you find yourself in. Apartment buildings or condos might not have a space for it; certain neighborhoods might not be safe enough. That’s okay! The options below are still available. Do note that if you need to dispose of a very large item, like a table, dresser, that sort of thing, you can simply place it at the side of the road with a piece of paper that says “free to a good home”, and someone will surely take it. Many apartments and condos these days have dedicated spaces for this sort of thing.
Second, donations. Many places accept a very wide variety of items. Since what they do with the money they raise from your donations depends on the charity itself, we don’t want to recommend a particular charity. You should find one whose mission you support. As a bonus: you typically get a tax write-off for the value of your items! For some reasons why you might consider donating, check out our How Donating and Selling Your Old Clothes Benefits Everyone.
Third, sell it at a store. Whether at a brick-and-mortar shop that sells second-hand goods or an online store that does the same, this option is getting more and more popular. Many startups have popped up over the last few years, and there’s always trusty old eBay.
Fourth, the dump. This is the worst of the four options, for a variety of reasons. It increases the planet’s clutter, in a sense. It doesn’t help you, as you get nothing from it as you could if you sell it. And it doesn’t help anyone else, as it could with a donation. We hope you make this a last resort. Still, if you want to declutter and can’t do a yard sale or donation, this is what you’ll have to do.
At first glance, this might not look like a low-stress list. As we said in the introduction: the key to lowering the stress is keeping the problem small. Clutter will never go away without ongoing maintenance, that’s the sad truth. But if you are consistent, and use the simple organizational tips and tricks that we’ve suggested, that ongoing problem will be a small problem. You’ll never have to look at a room that makes you think “this place is too cluttered to even clean, I don’t know where to start!”
The first few weeks will be challenging, just as building any new habit can be challenging. But we assure you: it gets much easier! As you develop the decluttering habit, with appropriate storage solutions, dedicated places for things, etc., you will find that not spending that time will be worse than doing it.