how to declutter your home

Cardboard boxes with items inside.

Out of sight, out of mind, or so the adage goes.

But you can go on dumping the excess of daily life into drawers, piling it in the basement, or tossing it in a box for only so long.

Sooner or later, the drawers will get stuck; the basement walkway will disappear, the box will overflow.

And the already space-crunched surfaces in your home will be teeming with stuff. What's the solution?  Begin by clearing out what you can, finding a place for what's left, and creating a system for organizing the new things that come through your doors.

Here's how to declutter your home and create systems for organizing new arrivals.

Consider the Relevance of Items Inside To Declutter Your Home 

The 19th-century English designer William Morris once said, "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

It is still sound advice, although it may seem hard-hearted: Who really wants to pitch the kids' favorite old toys or toss old outdated but still comfortable clothes?

Although there's no need to throw out everything that fails to fit into Morris's two categories, you should still be selective. To decide what to keep and what to discard to declutter your home, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I used or enjoyed this item recently?
  • Does someone in the family attach personal value to it?
  • Would I save it if my house were burning down?
  • Will I need it in the future?

If you've answered "no" to all of these questions, congratulate yourself. You've identified something you can eliminate to declutter your home.

Where to Begin to Declutter Your Home

Where should you begin? Wherever the results will have the most visible impact. If you normally enter your home through the living room, tackle that room first. If you come in through the garage, kitchen, or dining room, begin your job there.

To declutter your home, start by bringing in five boxes or plastic lawn-and-leaf bags into the first room or entrance area.

  • fill one container with items that belong in other rooms
  • a second with items you can give away
  • a third with items to be stored
  • the fourth with the items you plan to toss out or recycle
  • the fifth with all those things you want to include in your next garage sale.

Don't Make Your First Session a Marathon

Don't plan to declutter your home in one marathon. Instead, break down the jobs into small, manageable tasks. You're more likely to tackle a smaller job than you are to allot an entire Saturday to organizing the whole house. 

Go around the room or target area, starting from the highest point and working your way to the floor. As you declutter your home, give each item you encounter - furniture, pictures on the wall, and items tucked in cabinets and drawers - careful consideration as to its usefulness or sentimental value to you and your family.

If you can bear to live without the item, put it in the proper box or bag. Make a list of any large furnishings to be removed or relocated.

When your boxes or bags are brimming, or you've given the area a thorough once-over, return displaced items to their proper rooms. 

Make an appointment with your favorite charity to cart off the giveaways, or take the initiative and haul them away yourself. (Be sure to get a receipt for tax 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 weeks ahead and pencil in a specific date. 

Pack Up Items Going Into Storage

Transfer the items you'll be storing into sturdy filing boxes or thick cardboard cartons from a moving company. Or, take advantage of trunks or large suitcases that are sitting empty in your garage or attic.

Make sure each container closes tightly to keep out dust, insects, and moisture, and label the boxes so you won't have to open them later to know what's inside.

For easier stacking, consider boxes of a similar size. Put the ones containing items you probably won't need this year or next in the least accessible spots.

Stash boxes containing items you may need in the months ahead in the most reachable places.

Keep a record of what is going where in your storage area, so that you're able to get to items when you need them.

Finding Places for the Keepers

As your walls and floors begin to reappear, take a good look around the room, and consider how to organize the keepers. Items should take up residence where they are most convenient for you instead of where they are traditionally kept.

  • Store batteries in the family room or the bedrooms where the kids' toys are, instead of in a kitchen drawer.
  • Stash items that are usually used together - such as holiday decorations - in the same place rather than scattered in closets throughout your home.
  • And why keep summer shorts and winter ski wear in the same box? You'll probably never use both at the same time.
  • Place things you often use in the most convenient spot. Put your frequently used pots and saucepans in the front of the kitchen cupboard, so you don't have to rifle through the pie plates or saucepans to get to them.
  • Store gaming DVDs together on a waist-high living room shelf where they're easy to reach, instead of in an overhead cabinet or under the TV.

Obvious, yes, but as you discover more logical ways to declutter your home, you may realize that you've been doing things the hard way until now. 

Show It or Hide It

For those treasures that are meant to be seen, there are ways to display them attractively and compactly.

Collections of small, decorative objects require a bit of togetherness to give them a more significant impact in the room - and to free up more precious space.

To declutter your home group items with similar color, texture, shape, or theme together on tabletops or shelves rather than scattered about the room.

Control tabletop turmoil by corralling the smallest items in interesting containers, baskets, or boxes, where they'll make a stronger statement.

Make the most of your shelves - they're the ultimate weapons for combatting clutter. If you don't have enough shelves, you can easily add a few more above dressers and consoles.

They're terrific for organizing books, baskets, and bric-a-brac - those things you use occasionally or can't bear to part with.

Weigh the benefits of extra-high shelf space against the realization that you'll probably need a stepladder whenever you want to retrieve those items - and when you need to dust.

Are any of your possessions worth keeping but not worth looking at every day? If you're planning to add furnishings to your newly streamlined home, consider pieces that offer storage space.

Next time you go shopping for living room furniture, look for coffee tables with drawers or cabinets underneath.

How to Control Future Clutter

Make these strategies a part of your life to control clutter in the future:

  • Emergency clutter holder: Strategically place a basket, bin, or crate in your home's high-traffic areas - such as the kitchen or entryway - to keep mail, paperwork, and other small essentials from cluttering countertops and passageways. When you have a free moment, empty the hopper, returning each item to its proper place.
  • 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.
  • When you bring home a new shirt, a kitchen decoration, or a toy for the kids, resolve to store, recycle, give away, or toss another item that's past its prime.
  • Make putting away playthings a part of your child's nightly bedtime ritual.
  • Set aside 15 minutes each day to return mislaid books, magazines, cups, and so forth to their rightful homes.

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