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Your Super Simple Guide to Decluttering

There are a lot of really complex decluttering guides out there with 10-15 steps. I'm a simple process kind of gal (and a bit of an organization nut) so let's make this easy. Whether you are moving because you are buying or selling a home or because you just want to rid your home of stuff you haven’t used in years, I’ve got you covered with my decluttering guide.

I'm not sure if it is the intense desire to nest but Ive been on an absolute decluttering binge lately. Plus, it is waaaaay easier to keep your house clean if you have less stuff to deal with. The end goal is for everything to have a “home” so to speak so you don’t have random objects lingering around the house (aka the return of the clutter). While some advocate for one massive decluttering binge, to be honest, that’s not super realistic for our personal situation. As much as I would LOVE to take off a week of work to “get my life together”, most of my organization and decluttering comes in spurts. I’ve broken down the process into five easy steps so that you can get started, whether you’re starting small with a single drawer or closet or tackling your whole house at once.

1. Pick a Space: First step seems obvious…decide exactly what you are decluttering. Have 15-20 minutes? Tackle the junk drawer. Have an hour or two? Maybe a whole room. Consider what you feel comfortable with and what you have time for. You don’t want to pull everything out and realize you can’t finish because well…that’s just more clutter. And it tends to get worse before it gets better if you know what I mean. This is the space I chose, the dreaded office closet. It is on the main level of our house right off of the kitchen so it has become the space where we toss items quickly to get them out of sight. It's also where we hold our larger "small" kitchen appliances because they don't fit anywhere else. See...complete disaster...

2. Assess the Area: The goal with decluttering is to solve a problem, not just toss items into cute storage bins only to have to do it again in a month because nothing actually changed about the space. Lets be honest, I'm definitely guilty but it's frustrating to have to declutter the same exact space over and over again. Who has time for that? So, to make your decluttering efforts more permanent, consider the following before you start to get to work:

  • How did it get cluttered in the first place? – Is the space a catch-all for random objects; is it unorganized; is it functioning how you want; what would you like to keep here?

  • What problem do you need to solve? - Simply creating organized piles of the items in the space will probably just result in the reappearance of clutter again in a few weeks; think about how you can prevent the clutter from accumulating again. Are you using the space in the right way for your needs? Do you need to re-invent or further organize the space? How can you optimize the space you have?

Our office closet was a huge catch-all for random objects. We had a couple bins in the closet but they didn't fit well (I'm looking at you giant plastic drawer) so very few things actually ended up inside their intended storage containers. So, I knew we needed more functional storage for the space.

3. Remove the Items from the space and sort: Take all items out so that you can see them. I like to do this all at once. It does create a mess, so it helps to have a cleared work space to start with (i.e. table, countertop or other open surface). Once you have all the items out where you can see them, sort them into categories of the following:

  • Keep – same space: items that function well in the space that you plan on keeping there

  • Keep – store elsewhere: items that would function better elsewhere, seasonal items that might need to be stored away, etc.

  • Donate or Sell: items that no longer serve you or that you have not used in months but still serve their purpose and could be useful to someone else

  • Toss (recycle or trash): broken or damaged items; items that no longer serve their intended purpose

You can definitely make your sorting strategy more complex than this but honestly, I don’t think it’s necessary. The most important thing is to make a decision and stick to it. Be ruthless. No “maybe” pile here. Those things are dangerous. They grow quickly and are typically filled with items you really don’t need to keep if you’re really being honest if yourself. If you’re really really struggling with certain items then box them up and place them out of sight. If you don’t miss them or go looking for them later then you can safely toss in a month or two. The truth is though, unless an item is seasonal, if you’ve not used it in months or you’re waiting for that magical time you finally need it, you can probably toss or donate. Your goal is to hone in on the items you want remaining in the space before moving forward with the process. Removing everything else first will help you focus in on the items left and how you can store them optimally to minimize the return of clutter. You don’t want to organize things into a space that don’t function or serve you well there.

I was able to toss or relocate a good number of items in this closet. I went through the dog supplies and tossed expired treats and medications and relocated some of the other random items that ended up housed in there.

4. Create a System: Next to getting rid of things that no longer serve you, this is easily the second most important step. Without a functional system, it will be easy for the space to return to its previously disorganized and cluttered state. Go back to your answers during your area assessment and try to answer those questions here. Solve those problems and you have a much higher likelihood of things actually staying organized and clutter free. Some common problems to consider solving include:

  • Lack of Storage – Free floating items without a “home” invite other free-floating items to join them. Having a designated place for things make it clear where they go, not just to you but others in your home. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy expensive storage solutions. Although, this girl could definitely live in the Container Store. You likely already have some storage bins or baskets in your home. Try to use what you have or stick to lower cost (but still attractive) options.

  • Convenience – are the items convenient to put away or do you have to work to do it? If so, the space will again return to a cluttered mess in no time. Case and point, in our office closet we had a storage drawer for dog items that was too big for the closet. So, to get it to fit in the closet we had to store it sideways and on the top shelf. Guess how many items actually made it into their designated bin? Zero. When you’re in a rush you’re not going to move mountains to place things back in a difficult space. Make it easy on yourself and you’re much more likely to actually stick with it.

  • Location – Similar to convenience, storing items close to where you actually use or need them is critical to making sure those things actually go back to where they’re supposed to. If you’re storing something upstairs that you typically use downstairs, odds are, it won’t make it back to its designated space. Try to relocate items so that they’re nearby and stored with other like items. That way, you’re not having to search multiple locations for similar things. It will limit your frustration and make things much easier to find quickly.

5. Put Everything Back – well the items you’ve intended to keep anyways. Now that you have created a system, place items back in the space utilizing that system. Don't feel like you have to go out and buy super expensive or elaborate storage containers. You can often use a lot of things you already have around your home! The good news is that you’ve already done all the hard work...this should be the easy part. Still, it’s easy to get lazy here towards the end and quickly toss items into the space. Resist the urge! It’s also helpful to label any storage bins you are using so that others know where items are supposed to go too. You don’t want to be the clutter police and getting the rest of the family in on putting things back in place is crucial to prevent the clutter from building again.

The result! For this project, I elected for plastic bins because they are easy to wipe down (most of the items still in the closet are cleaning, dog and overflow kitchen supplies). Plastic bins are also super cheap (I got the smaller ones at Target for $5 each) and I already had a few on hand.

Once done, step back and enjoy the view. It’s incredibly satisfying isn’t it? Take your after picture and post it. Tag me so I can admire too!

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My name is Lindsay Walston.

I'm a healthcare provider turned real estate agent with an eye for luxurious details. Let me show you how to create (or find!) a beautiful and functional home, no matter your budget.  Want to learn more?

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