8 Decluttering Tips to Help You Organize Your Home
Clearing the clutter can help you enjoy your home more.
Every night, when a child or young adult lies down and sleeps, their brain begins a process that is known as “synaptic pruning.” According to Healthline, synaptic pruning is when the brain eliminates extra synapses, which are internal structures that allow neurons to transmit electrical or chemical signals to each other. “Synaptic pruning is thought to be the brain’s way of removing connections in the brain that are no longer needed.”
In other words, synaptic pruning is the brain decluttering itself, keeping only what it needs and getting itself into the best possible shape to guide you through the world in the future. The less clutter in the mind, the sharper the focus, the more space to store items, the faster the learning, the more attentive the thinking, the stronger the memory, and on it goes.
In short, decluttering in the brain creates a more organized space, and is arguably the one space you need to declutter the most!
If it works for the brain, it can work for your home
Just as it is with our amazing human cranium, decluttering one’s family room or work space is a great way to improve overall quality of life. Whether it’s a closet space, a coffee table, a cluttered room or a kitchen, one that is clutter-free and organized lends itself to better living.
An office without stacks of paper on the floors and files littering the desk usually yields better professional productivity. A neat and tidy classroom will lead to better educational outcomes. A decluttered bedroom can lead to less stress and better rest. Even when it comes to decor, a well-organized wall space will provide a more elegant look!
Humans love patterns – it’s why we enjoy music, games, many types of artwork, and so on – and we naturally retreat from chaos. When we allow our living spaces to descend into some version of the latter, into the chaos of clutter, we are allowing conditions to exist in which we cannot enjoy our own best existence – and indeed we are creating those conditions. Though clutter does seem to just appear out of thin air at times, it is caused by our own hands.
If your home has become consumed by clutter, don’t give up and accept it, and don’t worry too much about decluttering. Sure, it may seem like an overwhelming prospect to start decluttering, but many people find the process not only tolerable but even enjoyable once they are underway.
And if you don’t find that applying to you, you can always turn to a professional organizer – the job exists for a reason, and there’s no shame in acknowledging you need the help! Also, don’t worry that decluttering your residence will make it feel less like your home. In fact, it will refresh the love you once had for the space.
Clearing Clutter Is Good for the Household, Not Just the Home
The definition of the word “household” is, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
“those who dwell under the same roof and compose a family, also: a social unit composed of those living together in the same dwelling”
See the critical difference between “household” and house or home? It’s not a household without the people. Sure, when you declutter your home it means less dust, more space, clean shelves, organized closets, and the like, but frankly, your house does not care if it is cluttered or not, it’s the people who care. Proper decluttering is not so much about getting rid of things, but about accentuating the things you do keep.
When a playroom is clutter-free, the most cherished kids’ toys can be easier to find and there is more space to play with them. When flat surfaces are cleared, they provide the opportunity to be used for art projects, puzzles, games, and other enjoyable activities. When a living room is neat and organized, it is more inviting for living. In short, your living spaces should be organized spaces because it makes them more welcoming; they should be accessible and ready for use, and the less clutter that’s about, the more you and your family can enjoy your home.
Remember, there is a difference between messiness and clutter. A mess is, by definition, temporary, and provided it is cleaned up when play time or dinner prep or art projects are concluded, a mess is no problem at all. Clutter is persistent; it is part of the space itself until you consciously, proactively deal with it.
The Opposite of Clutter Need Not Be Spartanism
If when you picture an uncluttered room you think of bare walls, empty shelves, simple furniture, and not a toy or book or coffee cup in sight, your mind’s eye is taking things a bit too far. Clutter is, by its definition, a buildup of too much excess stuff, it’s not the existence of any stuff.
Take, for example, the Scandinavian concept of “hygge,” pronounced “hoo-guh,” that in essence means a sensation of coziness, warmth, and wellness. An environment that promotes hygge may involve throw pillows, blankets, a stack of books, a favorite piece of artwork or two, and so on. It involves consciously chosen and placed elements that you will enjoy and appreciate. Creating a hygge-ready space necessitates the presence of things, but things that are in their proper place and not crowded out by clutter.
Now tie in the concept of “Scandinavian design” which was developed in the mid 20th century and is informed by products and architecture with simple, clean lines, functionality as heavily considered as form (looks, e.g.), and an overall fitting together of all elements of a space. Does Scandinavian design have to feel cold and sterile?
Not at all – it just can’t be cluttered.
You will find these good character traits of décor and organization prized in Japan as well, and in Midcentury Modern American design, and in many other places, too. Maybe even in your own home once you clear the clutter? Which it’s time for us to start doing now, thanks to these eight action steps you can take.
When it’s finally time to declutter your life, here are the things to keep in mind as you clear the clutter. Take each decluttering tip to heart – it could really improve the way you feel!
1. Make a Plan: The Decluttering Checklist
The longer you have let clutter build up in your home, the harder it may be to start the decluttering process. And far too often when people do “declutter,” they are really just moving things from one place to another, transferring a mess from a shelf into a messy drawer, a pile of clothes from hall closet floor to a closer stuffed with hanging items that are just as inaccessible, and so on.
If the clutter situation in your home is a pretty bad one, don’t start with the stuff at all, start with pen and paper. (Or phone and note app, computer and Excel, whatever works for you, of course.) List out the problem areas, the spaces available to store things you want to keep, an action plan for things to be jettisoned. There will be trash piles, stuff to give to friends, things to donate, some to sell.
Decluttering may have some cash value – so create systems for where and how you will keep those things that are currently clutter but deemed worthy of being kept.
2. Reduce Redundancy All Around the House
One of the biggest causes of clutter is redundancy. We have an old blanket draped over the couch, we get a newer, bigger, warmer, softer blanket but… the old blanket stays, too. We put up a charming piece of artwork a child painted… then she paints another. And another.
We had a set of six drinking glasses, two broke, so we got a new set of six… but kept the four old ones in the kitchen cabinets, too. And so on. As you work to declutter your home, identify those things of which you have multiple similar versions and only keep the best and/or favorite versions. There are exceptions, of course – got two fire extinguishers? Stick the older one behind the newer one as a backup.
3. Use Tools to Help Maintain the Order
There are dozens of tools and gadgets out there designed to help with home organization (alright hundreds, but many are pretty worthless) and you can and should put them to work for yourself.
These can be things like drawer dividers that help keep a drawer logically organized and tidier, hanging rods that create more storage space and allow for better organization of a closet or large cabinet, bins that can be labeled and stacked, file drawers or file boxes, and on the list goes.
You can use hardware that fits into your existing furniture or storage spaces and you can also acquire new furniture that will allow for better organization, such as a dedicated media and entertainment credenza, ottomans with storage space for blankets, a garbage can and recycling bin caddy, and so forth.
4. Toss Used Household Items That are Easily Replaced
Take a look at the storage space under your sink, on the laundry room shelves, in the cabinet space in the garage, and in any other storage spaces where you allow yourself to stash disposable items such as cleaning supplies, office supplies, hardware such as tacks and nuts and bolts, and ask yourself, honestly, when was the last time you used this or that nearly-empty spray bottle, those neon-colored sheets of printer paper, that baggie of screws and dowels that came with your DIY assembly furniture, and so on.
There are almost surely dozens if not scores of little items like all around your home that you are keeping because some day you just might need them. If they are quite easy to replace with a quick trip to the hardware store or an order online, toss them out.
If ever that time comes where you do need one or two of the things later, remind yourself of just how much clutter you managed to clear in the purge and spending two or three dollars on its replacement won’t seem such an issue.
5. Create a Few Spaces for Clutter
It’s not only OK to have a few spaces in the home that will be cluttered, it’s actually a good thing. Just make sure they are out-of-the-way spaces.
These are things like the junk drawer, the attic bins, the artist studio, and so forth. They are the spaces you tuck away those little objects you want to keep but that really don’t have a logical home. This is that one room you consistently leave a mess because that project is ongoing, and so forth.
Also, it’s a good idea to establish a memory box for every member of the household so they have a place to put sentimental keepsakes without a need to justify the keeping of the item. Make sure a memory box has plenty of free space initially, it will fill up fast.
And it’s OK to get rid of something even if you once thought of it as a keepsake; the memory box can serve as a litmus test – each time you go through it, see if you still want to hold onto this, that, or the other.
6. Be Realistic as You Establish a New Order
If you are an inherently untidy person, don’t aim to have a home that looks like a picture from an IKEA catalog. Set your own standards for an acceptable level of clutter so that you will actually maintain them and won’t feel frustrated with yourself.
And by just the same token, if you are an inherently neat and tidy person that thrives on organization, you need to accept the fact that not everyone in your home may be the same; don’t establish a new baseline for a decluttered existence that will be hard or impossible for others to consistently meet or you invite friction, not stress reduction.
7. Declutter in Stages, Not Fell Swoops
Unless you have an entire week of vacation time free and you are OK with spending all of said time decluttering your home, it’s better to break the process into stages than to try to go about it all at once.
You can start with your closet, or with all closets if you’re feeling ambitious. Then move to the kitchen. Then the garage. Or focus first on drawers all around the house. Or on toys and kid stuff one day, yard and gardening clutter the next.
Not only does breaking the work into steps like this make it more approachable, it also gives you a logical way to shift to another part of the process as needed – no sense decluttering the playroom while the kids are sleeping or clearing excess stuff from the nursery while the baby naps, e.g.
8. Set Up a Rotation of Stuff
Most of us put away our sweaters in the summer and our swimsuits in the winter, but what to do if you have seven or eight swimsuits? And a dozen sweaters? Even when clothing is in season, you can rotate in and out garments on a regular basis, relegating some to the attic or under the bed while others are in the mix, so to speak.
You can rotate in a dozen toys that were high up in a closet and shelve a dozen in which the kids are losing interest. Put snow shovels in the attic or shed in summer and tuck away rakes in winter. And on it goes. You don’t have to get rid of things to get them out of your way.
Beware of Compulsive Decluttering
The act of clearing unneeded objects from your home can indeed be a satisfying, stress-relieving, and even a cathartic experience, especially when it follows a major life change, like a child departing for college, a relationship changing (whether ending or growing stronger with a partner moving toward cohabitation), a death or a birth, and on the list goes. So too can regular decluttering be as good for the soul as it is for the residence (or office space). There’s a reason or ten that spring cleaning became a thing, after all.
But it’s also important to know when your tendency to clear the clutter – or in this case the perceived clutter, more likely – is just too much. Just as hoarding can be a sign of a mental health needing some support (indeed compulsive hoarding is a clinically-diagnosable medical disorder), so too can an insatiable need to declutter the home indicate underlying issues that are matters of your health and wellness, not a matter of your stuff.
If you regularly clear clutter yet can’t seem to find a point at which you are satisfied and can stop, or if your tendencies toward excessive decluttering are negatively affecting other people in your household, it’s time to stop focusing on the shelves and drawers and closets and cabinets and start looking inward, and perhaps with some support.