Decluttering is a job that should be done regularly – but of course, most of us don't have the time to rationalize and reorganize our drawers, cluttered corners, over-stuffed rooms that often. In fact, for many of us, it's a once-a-year, post-Christmas event.
Decluttering a whole house so you can implement your home organizing ideas can seem an incredibly overwhelming task, but if you approach it a little at a time and bit-by-bit, and invest in some excellent storage ideas, it immediately becomes more manageable.
Here, we bring you a range of room-by-room decluttering tips from experts in the field.
Decluttering isn't just about clearing your home of clutter, period. For many of us, decluttering can have a positive impact on mental health. A recent survey of homeowners showed that 44% of us experience ‘mess-stress’ at least weekly and 72% of ‘naturally tidy’ people have experienced stress from an untidy home over the pandemic*. Furthermore, a cluttered house will make your house look cheap.
This is where our decluttering tips come in. Before you start decluttering, get yourself set.
1. Allocate decluttering time
'Start off by allocating some time each day that works within your daily schedule, it could be five, 10 or 30 minutes. I find setting a timer and putting my phone down helps keep distractions at bay and allows me to work through the area swiftly,' advises organizing guru Nicola Lewis of This Girl Can Organise.
'Establish a plan that you will stick to,' say the interiors experts at WeThrift. 'Sit down and have a good think about how you are going to tackle your home organization; think about the day and time you would like to get this done. It would also be ideal to add some achievable and realistic goals – it can be as simple as scheduling 20-30 minutes to clear out a single drawer.
'This is a very productive start to a decluttered home and can help combat procrastination.'
2. Nominate 5 critical areas to declutter
It may be that you don't need to declutter your entire house – or that the thought is overwhelming. In which case, create a critical clutter list to tackle.
'Choose five areas in your home that you want to review,' says Nicola Lewis. Still overwhelmed? Start with just one.
'We recommend starting by dividing clutter into priority categories,' say the experts at WeThrift. 'For example you could start with the bathroom cupboards or your bedroom drawers. Start small and build your way up.
'Once you have created and established this plan, stick to it. It might be tempting to go to another room and start decluttering elsewhere but avoid this as it can decrease your chances of actually getting the job done.'
3. Make a list – and take before and after photos
'Decluttering and organizing can seem overwhelming at first but the good news is, the more you do it, the easier it gets,' advises Kathryn Lord a Home Organiser from More To Organising
'Start by writing a list of the rooms and prioritize the ones you use the most or that cause you the most difficulties. Then within that room, do the same.
'Decluttering is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s easier to break it down into chunks and do little and often rather than try to do everything and lose motivation part way through.
'It is going to look worse before it gets better but if you do before and after photos, you will be able to see the amazing progress you have made.'
4. Decluttering phobia? Ask for help
'Setting yourself the task to declutter your home can be very difficult if organizing is new to you. Find comfort in knowing you can confide in close family and friends to help you to complete this,' advise the interiors experts at WeThrift.
'This decluttering tip can be very helpful since your friends won’t have the same attachment to items like you do, it might help you detach yourself from those said items which will ultimately speed up the process to a clutter free home.'
5. Get donation, recycle, rubbish or 'sell' bags ready
Once you’ve determined the items that no longer serve you, remove them and place them into a donation, upcycle, mend, or sell bags.
'It’s important to ensure your donation bag leaves the house,', says Nicola Lewis, while interior specialists at WeThrift say, 'You can sell unwanted items online, donate them to those in need, upcycle or mend older pieces to make them current and on trend, or recycle your items responsibly.'
'One thing I always do before I start is make sure I have three bags ready: Donate, Recycle and Rubbish,' says Kate Ibbotson, founder of decluttering and organizing service A Tidy Mind. 'I always tell my clients not to have a "maybe" bag instead have an "Action Box" for items that need mending, returning, etc, and a "Memory Box" for anything with a sentimental value.
'Move your decluttered items out of the area and place them in a car (if possible) or at least by the front door. You should aim to donate/recycle/tip your decluttered items as soon as possible,' she continues.
6. Avoid the decluttering to sell cycle?
'It’s perfectly understandable to want to sell second hand items if they promise a good return,' remarks Kate Ibbotson of A Tidy Mind. 'But, be honest about the time it takes to do so and whether you are willing and able to invest the energy. Don’t be one of those people who has bags hanging around for months (or years) containing items which they intend to sell.'
7. Set the scene with music
Before your start, Nicola Lewis recommends you put on some music or play a podcast for motivation and feel good vibes: 'This will take you to your happy place and will make the task more enjoyable.'
8. Shop for storage to neatly organize what you keep
Storage to organize what you keep really varies depending on your needs – and it might be that you don't quite know what you need – from Mason jars to vacuum storage bags – until the decluttering is done. And that's okay – the decluttering is the important part; after it's done, you can assess closet-by-closet, room by room, the storage buys you need to put everything away neatly and in the right place.
9. Find new places for better storage at home
Decluttering isn't just about throwing items away – it's about looking for opportunities to organize and store away everything you want to keep. So ask yourself, is the storage in my home maximized?
The answer to this question might range from rethinking the fittings in a walk-in closet so that it's more efficient and can fit more in, or it may be that you need to utilize areas, such as under a bed, that haven't been used before. Either way, you will certainly need to look for clever storage buys to keep the clutter neat.
The best storage is arranged in subject groups – all out-of-season clothes in one place, for example – and is easily identifiable: labelled or see-through for quick identification. Space-saving options are a must – stackable boxes, vacuum-pack bags, furniture that doubles up as storage, such as an ottoman with lift-up lid. Bear in mind that lids or covers offer better protection from dust, dirt and bugs than open storage, too.
'When space is tight, it’s important to be clever with your storage. Thinking vertically and using space you wouldn’t usually think of, such as some wall-mounted or over-door storage, frees up space on shelves and in cupboards,' advises Simon Glanville, managing director of A Place for Everything.
'Messy wardrobes are a common space waster. Using a modular system that fits the size and shape of your room can help make the most of available space and avoid clutter.'
Another way to approach decluttering via storage is to think big picture.
'Decluttering a cramped room will make it appear larger and free up the floor area. The right choice of storage is key – opt for an open shelving unit with a minimalist frame, which keeps the wall space visible and adds to a tidy, uninterrupted scheme,' advises Victoria Atkin of Atkin and Thyme.
'Choose a larger unit than you think you might need, and place accessories sparingly to maintain a flowing display that draws, but doesn’t pause, the eye. For maximum effect, pick a unit crafted from light, organic materials like natural wood to create a clean, nature-inspired feel that will instantly uplift a tired space.'
10. Take note from Marie Kondo: does it 'spark joy'?
Marie Kondo, the worldwide decluttering maestro, teaches that, though it's hard to part with items we've owned for a long time, working out whether they spark joy can make it easier to let them go.
To do this, ask yourself: why did I keep this in the first place?; does it have sentimental value?; do I use it and will I ever use it again? 'Asking these key questions and being honest with yourself can help you make the choice to keep or let go,' say the experts at Packmate.
However, inevitably, there will be items that you still find hard to let go of. Ms Kondo has a solution that doesn't involve you throwing it away: failing to have a permanent home for your possessions is the most significant (and most common) problem when it comes to keeping your home tidy. This is primarily because it increases clutter – which in turn harms your cleaning efforts, she told us exclusively.
'The biggest reason why people fall back to clutter is because the items that are used aren't put back in their proper place,' she adds.
'Remember to ask yourself prompts like: Do I use this? Do I own something similar? Is it fit for purpose? Could someone else make better use of it?' says Kate Ibbotson of A Tidy Mind.
11. Make space by decluttering storage areas first
'Attics, basements or hard to reach areas at the top of closets are prime locations to stash something quickly to avoid dealing with it. If you’re serious about clearing your clutter, start with these areas first and then you'll have enough space to store things that you actually need,' suggests Kate Ibbotson of A Tidy Mind.
12. Think: decluttering in seasons
Much of your decluttering might well be about looking at what hasn't been packed away but is out of season.
'Take your winter or summer duvet for example, over the months it’s not used, it would be a better solution to store this away in a space-saving and practical way,' say the experts at Packmate.
The same goes for out-of-season coats and clothes, shoes and outdoor or sports' wear. Any of these that can be stored neatly away when they're unlikely to be used for weeks or months will help you declutter your home, even without throwing anything else. Or, with little storage space elsewhere in the house, a closet organized by season can mean you spend less time looking for clothes that suit the weather every morning.
That said, as you swap items into storage boxes by season – from summer to winter and back again – you have a great opportunity to sort what you want to keep for the season ahead from what you don't and can pass on.
13. Work decluttering into your daily routine
'Placing bags or baskets around the home is a great tip for those who lead busy lifestyles and struggle to dedicate time each week to decluttering,' say the experts at Packmate. 'Using this method will help you to keep clutter under control and incorporate it into your daily routine.
'We often come across things we no longer love but have no idea where to put them until we have the time to sort through properly. Clothes, DVDs, toys and much more often stay put. Even with the best of intentions, it can take months to get around to it.
'Simply placing a bag inside your wardrobe to store clothes you don’t wear anymore will keep your hanging space clear, which will make it easier to choose an outfit.'
Use this idea around the house. Once the bags are full it is time to donate or sell them.
14. Invest in good-looking 'clutter' baskets
If the donation-bag-in-closet idea appeals but you want something more permanent and aesthetically pleasing, think: baskets.
'Baskets are perfect for hallway storage of items like hats, gloves, scarves – they’re probably the only ‘breathable’ type of box storage so useful to get the air flowing,' says Craig Sammells of storage specialists Orthex.
'They’re really handy too for items you want to grab as you’re going out of the door, like tissues, sunglasses or wipes. Look for baskets with lids as they’re great for stacking and also those that come with reusable labels – they take the guesswork out of reaching for items when you’re in a rush.
'Think about having a labelled basket for each member of the family, particularly the kids, then they can find their own hats and mittens! If they’re too young to read, you could use their favorite stickers to mark their label or mark with a color.
'Search for baskets that have smooth interior walls – this will help ensure your delicate hats and scarves don’t get snagged when you remove them.'
15. Divide belongings by category before room
'When decluttering, a good piece of advice is to divide your belongings by category, not by room. This would be really helpful when you have all your books, for example, in one place and have the option to evaluate which to take and which to leave,' says Kate Windleton, relocations manager at Strong Move.
16. Start by decluttering a single drawer
'Don't try to declutter your whole house in a week – you'll exhaust and overwhelm yourself,' advises Kate Ibbotson of A Tidy Mind. 'Declutter in bite-size chunks of between 30 minutes and a couple of hours. Focus on contained spaces such as a drawer, cupboard or shelf. Arm yourself with paper and a pen to make notes of "actions" and designate rubbish, recycling and donation bags.'
17. Have a decluttering area
'The easiest way to start decluttering is to completely empty the space you are decluttering onto a flat surface,' advises Kate Ibbotson. 'This gives you the opportunity to give the area you are decluttering a quick clean before your start.'
18. Declutter the kitchen
'Before you do anything, open up all the cabinets and take a good look,' advises Vicky Silverthorn, professional organizer from You Need A Vicky. 'Why? Many people start organizing a kitchen by taking everything out of the cupboards and putting on the countertops. Trust me this will fill the space quicker than you think.
'Instead, take a look at what you have in the cupboards and think to yourself, "Do I really need that serving platter in that space all year round? Or should I put it into home storage and put something more practical there instead for easy access as I use them more frequently?"'
19. Arrange your kitchen like a shop
'Organize your kitchen like a shop – rearrange your cabinets so that you have items with the closest use-by date to the front, and push items with longer dates to the back,' says Vicky Silverthorn, professional organizer. When you do a shop, put the new items at the back. And if you find food that’s about to reach its use-by date that you can’t use, don’t forget to take it to the food bank.'
'With dried foods, I love to have see-through containers as you can easily see what you are running low on,' says Kathryn Lord. 'Always rotate the food within the container so the oldest food gets used up first.'
20. Declutter kitchen appliances
'Any appliances that you don’t use, either commit to using it or get rid,' says home organizer Kathryn Lord. 'That smoothie maker? When did you last use it? Why not always have a smoothie for breakfast with your children on a Sunday, pull out the recipe books or invent your own?'
21. Declutter kitchen drawers and cabinets
The best way to organize kitchen drawers and organize kitchen cabinets is to empty them onto a clear, flat surface, putting aside items you no longer want. Once you have vacuumed and wiped out the drawers, improve the kitchen storage ideas within them to ensure clutter can't get out of hand again.
'Always use kitchen organizers like a utensil divider for organizing kitchen drawers. There’s nothing worse than opening a drawer to items that don’t have a home,' advises Juliette Thomas, Founder & Director, Juliettes Interiors. 'Make sure you organize in a way that will have you finding the things you’re looking for instantly – no one has time to go rummaging in drawers. Have separate sections for utensils that cut, cutlery, graters and zesters.
'Keep the top drawers for the items used the most, and lower drawers for items not so often used. Keep items in sectional order, ie, what their use is by department. This way you can easily know where to quickly find what you’re looking for.
'Have a large pan drawer built into your kitchen to organize pots and pans, preferably close to where you’ll be cooking. Ideally you want your kitchen to function as best as possible, so try to organize your cupboards in an efficient way – for example, having glasses near the drinks area and utensils near the stove. Use pan protectors so you can stack your plans neatly without scratching them which will mean you have more space.'
22. Declutter kitchen countertops
If you want to organize kitchen countertops, decluttering first is essential. 'Keep out what you use on a daily basis. Otherwise, put away other items,' says Juliette Thomas. 'Kitchens are at their best when decluttered giving more surface space to use and an overall tidy, contemporary look to show off the kitchen rather than the clutter. Put away spices, coffee/tea and oils, and so on. Completely declutter.
'Keep surfaces tidy! Make sure there’s a home for everything so nothing gets left on the side.'
23. Declutter the pantry
Organizing a pantry, particularly a large one, and especially organizing deep pantry shelves, is the biggest challenge when tackling kitchen decluttering. The solution is good visibility, says Juliette Thomas, which will stop you buying more than you need.
'Label everything! I love to use jars to store large commodities such as pasta and flour. These look great on the shelves and are practical too. Watch out for the expiry dates and declutter the out-of-date items. Don't over stock. Too much is wasted – we only need one of each item or a refill on the way!'
24. Declutter a bedroom by working out what you have
Decluttering first is crucial when you’re organizing a bedroom and whether you’re looking for closet organization ideas or clothes storage ideas. 'A bedroom should be a clean, calm sanctuary-like retreat. If you have a wardrobe that is brimming over, drawers that won’t close for clothes and a bedside creaking under the weight of bedside books, it’s not going to make you feel relaxed or in control,' says Georgia Metcalfe, co-founder and creative director at The French Bedroom Company, who has teamed up with founder of Declutter on Demand's Lizzie Grant.
Start simple, says Georgia: 'Empty your drawers. Easy, just get everything out, without editing.
Next: 'Categorize. Gather similar items together, lingerie, tops, jumpers, etc. This is the point where you realize what you have and how much of it you actually want – edit if you need to.'
Decide what goes where when organizing clothes, comments Lizzie, 'Whether your clothes should be folded or hung will be dictated in part by what kind of storage you have in your bedroom. However, where possible, delicate materials that are prone to wrinkling should be hung. Bulky items like sweaters and jeans might work better folded in an armoire, and you might have enough drawers to allocate one for each of your underwear, socks, and tights, for example.'
25. Use separators to keep bedroom drawers organized
Lizzie says: ‘Bedroom organizers like drawer dividers are the best organizing tool for your bedroom. They are an essential storage product if you have bedroom drawers.'
This equipment will help you maintain your structure and keep you from straying when in a rush to put away the laundry.
Now, make sure to put everything back. If you’ve devised a new system, expect some teething problems as you get used to it as you may forget where things now live, or even find that you need to move things around. Georgia and Lizzie both stress that 'this will be a work in progress but completely worth it as you begin to get the hang of things and restore peace to your bedroom.'
26. Declutter children's bedrooms
'Always start with the eldest sibling's room first, that way, anything (clothes, toys, books) too small or young for them can be labelled in a box ready for the next child to be ready for them,' advises Kathryn Lord from More To Organising astutely.
27. Declutter children's toys
Organizing toys is always a challenge. 'Rotating toys means you have many fewer toys "in action" and you swap them out,' continues Kathryn Lord. 'This means there is less mess to tidy up but also, too many toys cause overwhelm. It’s hard to know what to play with when there is so much choice and when you swap the toys out, they are more excited to play with the new toys.
'For example, when having small world toys, they don’t need the zoo and the farm out at the same time (unless you want to do a sorting activity)
'I also do this with books. One client texted to say her child has picked up books that he hasn’t for a very long time.
'Checking electronic toys are actually usable makes such a difference to their play. If they do not work, they are taking up valuable space in your home and causing frustration. Storing batteries up high is essential as they are very dangerous when swallowed.'
Good toy storage ideas are vital to keeping decluttered items neat and organized too.
28. Declutter bookshelves
Your once beautiful arranged bookshelf ideas can quickly become overwhelmed and over-stuffed, so it is worth going through them every now and then to discard books you are not going to read again.
Organizing a bookshelf by author or subject can help ensure books stay decluttered and easy to locate, but if you want a decluttered 'look' for them, think color coordinating.
'Color coordinating books makes your place instantly look better,' advises Kathryn Lord, who also goes on to say: 'It helps your child become more independent, too. They know the color of their favorite book and they know where to put it back. As with the toys, rotate them. They don’t all need to be out at once. Even this is just rotating from a high shelf to a low shelf so it’s more accessible for little hands.'
29. Declutter your desk spaces
Organizing a desk for an adult after decluttering ensures they can work efficiently – and feel happy about being at work for long hours. Children's work spaces are no different.
'When your children are doing their homework, to support them to try their best, their desk space needs to be clear from clutter,' advises Kathryn Lord.
'Going through pens can be done together, binning any dried up felt tips. Some pencils need binning if their nib can not be sharpened. Creating a space where they know and can easily find paper and stationery means they can be more successful at their work.'
30. Declutter a bathroom and laundry spaces
Bathrooms get cluttered quickly – half-used shampoo and conditioner, soap dispensers, toothpastes and shower gel, not to mention out-of-date medications, can quickly build up, while old towels tend to languish at the back of a linen cupboard for years. Kathryn Lord suggests these tactics for organizing a bathroom:
'The medicine cupboard always seems overlooked. Checking the dates on these is important. The last thing you want is to have a poorly child and not be able to find the right medicine, or worse, out-of-date medicine that might make your child more ill. It’s best to keep this topped up with all the essentials and go through it every three months. But don’t buy too many of the same thing. After Sun and insect bite cream often expires before it’s fully used.
As for decluttering and organizing a laundry room, Kathryn says:
'This space often gets messy quite quickly because family life is so busy. Having the things you need to hand makes this easier. In the cupboards, store everything so it is visible when you open them. Stain remover is essential with young children's clothes, but if they ever crayon on the walls, toothpaste and elbow grease is the way forward.'
What should you not do when decluttering?
What not to do when decluttering is to begin without a plan – and a realistic vision for what you want to achieve. It's vital to start small in one room and work through that room – or that category, ie, clothes, before you move on. You shouldn't assume that decluttering will be quick – which is why you should attempt small areas at one time; it can take time to declutter properly, and you can only do so properly if you give yourself time.
What else not to do when decluttering? Keep a 'maybe' pile – if you start one of these every time you declutter an area, you will have multiple piles of clutter hanging around. If you find decluttering difficult, don't even think of starting without help – from a friend or professional organizer who can help you be more dispassionate.
How can I stay clutter-free after decluttering?
'Now you’ve removed your home of clutter, you need to keep your home as clutter-free as possible. Take some time to show your family their clutter-free home and set some ground rules for putting stuff away, whether that be with some clutter baskets in each room to sort out on a weekly basis,' advises Chris Wootton, Managing Director of Poppies, a domestic cleaning business.
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Lucy Searle has written about interiors, property and gardens since 1990, working her way around the interiors departments of women's magazines before switching to interiors-only titles in the mid-nineties. She was Associate Editor on Ideal Home, and Launch Editor of 4Homes magazine, before moving into digital in 2007, launching Channel 4's flagship website, Channel4.com/4homes. In 2018, Lucy took on the role of Global Editor in Chief for Realhomes.com, taking the site from a small magazine add-on to a global success. She was asked to repeat that success at Homes & Gardens, where she has also taken on the editorship of the magazine.
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