19 Ways to Beat Clutter Forever

Nesting on 03.18.11

Photo: Clarkston SCAMP/Creative Commons

We all have them: Those secret junk drawers, packed-to-the-brim closets, and attics bursting with...well, what exactly is all that stuff? It's clutter -- and it's in your way. These 19 tips will help you take your home from cramped to comfortable while freeing up plenty of space for your family to enjoy.

Get Started

1. Go to the source. If you're overwhelmed by clutter, then the last thing you need is more of, well, anything. The less stuff you bring into your house -- and that includes new purses, your kids' books, and your husband's tools -- the less you'll have to sort and store. 

2. Think small. If a house-wide de-cluttering seems overwhelming, start by getting rid of one item each week -- preferably something that you can put out for the trash. If you set it aside promising to "drop it off later at the thrift store," it will probably end up back in your house before you ever get to Goodwill.

3. Remember: Free isn't always free. You might not have to hand over your credit card for those hand-me-downs, but you'll pay when it comes to clutter. Unless someone's handing over a good-condition item that you were already planning to buy now, say no thank you. (The key word is now: Full-size backpacks that your preschoolers "could use in in middle school" are a no go.)

4. Avoid items that only have one use. Unclutterer calls these "unitaskers" -- all those kitchen gadgets, impulse buys, and junk drawer-fillers that don't work anywhere else in your house. (Really -- do you need a meatballer, or could you use your hands?) 

 

Go Room by Room

5. Install a family closet. If piles of clean clothes waiting to be folded, hung, and neatly put in drawers are hampering your organizational mojo, try turning spare space into a family closet: You can put clean outfits away as soon as they're out of the dryer, and save the hassle of going from closet to closet.

6. E-Organize your office. Not only will paying bills online and scanning your important papers help you keep your office space more efficient and eco-friendly, it will also do away with stacks of papers on the counters, desktops, and side tables.

7. Check nooks and crannies. Spending a few minutes organizing and clearing out your home's small spaces -- medicine cabinets, cleaning supply closets, the refrigerator, the space under the sink -- can make a big difference; you'd be surprised how much space those old eyeshadows, dirty sponges, and almost-empty laundry detergent containers can take up.

8. Target storage spaces. Basements, attics, and garages are prime hiding spots for things you don't need but don't know how to get rid of, like obsolete electronics, old paint, and broken toys. Look up your town's trash drop-off point and electronics recycling schedule, and clear out some storage space for holiday decorations, sporting equipment, and other items that really belong there.

9. Weed your wardrobe. We know you really, sincerely think you are going to fit into those jeans again, or that someday you'll find a shirt that matches that cardigan. So if it's easier to trim down your closet in steps, try filling a bag with clothes you haven't worn for the last two years -- and then putting the bag at the back of your closet. If you ever find that shirt or squeeze into those jeans, you can still get to the bag -- and if not, you'll have them already packed and ready to go next time you're de-cluttering.

10. Don't fight your habits. If your family always leaves their shoes by the front door, get a bin or rack to keep them neat. If your husband piles the mail on the banister, put a shredder and a paper recycling container in your hallway. Pay attention to how you use your space and then change your organization to fit your habits -- instead of the other way around.

 

Get it Out of the House

11. Buy it back. "Guerilla" clutter busters suggest putting all the items you don't use at least once a week into a pile. Count them, and then give yourself one-quarter as many pennies. Use the pennies to buy back items from your pile: You'll get rid of 3/4 of the stuff you don't use while prioritizing the rest. 

12. Take a picture. If you're holding on to items that you don't use because you get the warm-and-fuzzies when you see them, take a pictures. It will last longer, take up less space, and bring back all the same memories.

13. Enlist a friend. You may be too sentimental to throw away those faded, brittle corsages from four years of high school dances -- but you can guarantee you have a friend that's not. Let her talk you out of keeping clutter just for nostalgia's sake (but before you throw it away, see number 12).

14. Swap it. One woman's clutter is another's much-needed clothing, toys, books, or housewares. Set up a trade with your friends or family and know that the stuff your kids have grown out of is going to someone who'll use it -- while you can bring in that new bike, kid-sized sleeping bag, or little black dress you've been needing.

 

Make Organizing a Habit (Not a Chore)

15. Follow the One-Minute Rule. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, suggests that you never let a chore that takes one minute or less go undone: The means sorting the mail, putting the cereal back in the closet, hanging up coats, and putting pillows back on the couch before you leave the room. (Via Unclutterer)  

16. Keep moving. Cleaning up the entire house after the kids are in bed is the last thing on your mind when Don Draper and a glass of wine are calling your name. So throughout the day, every time you leave a room, pick up one thing that doesn't belong there and put it in the room you are going to. (Encourage the kids to do the same.)

17. Manage what's left. If every single thing in your house has a home, then you're less likely to buy doubles of what you already own -- and less likely to bring in items that would mess up your pristine system. 

18. Set a date. Find a local thrift store -- preferably one that picks up -- and put them on speed dial; then set aside a time each month to check for things you can give away. (Try doing that in combo with another monthly chore -- like paying the cable bill -- so you don't forget.)

19. Don't drive yourself crazy. Your house doesn't have to look like a magazine spread all the time -- in fact, it rarely will. If it's functional, comfortable, and usable, then consider your de-cluttering a job well done.

 

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