If you've ever sat down to pay bills at a cluttered desk or frantically search for a suit in a bulging closet, you know how frustrating it can be to have too little space for the things you use.
It probably comes as no surprise that the secret to getting organized is taking an orderly approach to everything from your home office to your walk-in closet: Prune away the excess, stow what's left in logical places and resolve to keep clutter from building up again.
What may be surprising, however, is how much clutter cleaning and organizing can be accomplished in a single well-focused weekend. These tips to declutter your home can help you make it happen.
Begin your clutter cleaning in the room where you and your family spend the most time.
You'll need five boxes or plastic lawn-and-leaf bags to get started: one for items belonging in other rooms, a second with items to give away, a third with items to store, the fourth for items to toss or recycle and the fifth for all those things to include in your next garage sale.
To decide what to keep and what to discard, ask yourself: Have I used or enjoyed this item recently? Does someone in the family attach a personal value to it? Will I need it in the future?
If you answer "no" to all these questions, congratulate yourself - you've identified something you can eliminate to help clear clutter fast. Place this item in the appropriate box or bag.
Go around the room or target area, starting from the highest point and working to the floor. Carefully consider the usefulness or sentimental value of each item you encounter - furniture, pictures on the wall and items tucked in cabinets and drawers - applying the questions above.
Then put the item into the proper box or bag. Make a list of any large furnishings to be removed or relocated.
When you've given your home a thorough once-over, return displaced items to their proper rooms. Make an appointment with your favorite charity to cart off the giveaways, or haul them away yourself. Don't forget to get a receipt for tax-deduction purposes.
Recycle or toss broken or unusable items. If you're going the garage sale route, check your calendar for a good Saturday or Sunday in the fall, and pencil in a date. Transfer the items you'll be storing into sturdy filing boxes from an office supply store or thick cardboard cartons from a moving company.
Or take advantage of trunks or are suitcases sitting empty in your garage or attic. Make sure each container closes tightly to keep out dust, insects and moisture, and label the containers so you won't have to open them after to know what's inside.
Where to put the selections that survived the clutter cutting? Where they are most convenient for you.
Store batteries in the family room or the bedrooms, where the kids' toys are, instead of in a kitchen drawer, where they are traditionally kept. The trick to organization is stashing items normally used together, such as holiday decorations, in the same place rather than scattering them in closets throughout your home.
Place things you use often in the most convenient spot. Put your frequently used pasta pots and saucepans in the front of the kitchen cupboard so you don't have to rifle through the pie plates or sauce pans to get to them.
Now that you're proud to invite friends and family to your newly organized home, how do you keep it that way? First, for each new item you bring to your home, resolve toss, recycle or give away a similar item.
Second, create a place for everything, and make sure you and your family do their best to put everything in its place. Since you won't always have time to organize, place catch-all baskets in your home's busiest rooms to hold keys, receipts, mail and other items until you can find the time to organize them.
This will keep your kitchen counters and table from looking cluttered and provide a bordered space to keep those odds and ends in check.
Finally, make organizing a part of your daily routine. Place baskets at the bottom and top of the stairs to hold things that belong on another floor; take one or more items with you when going up or down.
Make putting away playthings a part of your child's nightly bedtime ritual. And do your part at night, too: Spend an extra minute hanging up your coat, folding your T-shirt or sweater, and putting away your pants and shoes before you put out the night-light.