Clutter is a force of nature. When you’re not actively preventing it, it will grow and spread to every room like a living thing with a stubborn survival instinct.
Don’t be overwhelmed if this has happened to you. With a methodical approach and these helpful decluttering tips, you can get a grip on your mess and take steps to inhibit future growth too. Here we break down exactly how to declutter your home, one room at a time.
1. Gather Your Tools
Before you begin, take a look around your space and decide if you’ll be able to store and organize with the furniture you have. Knowing you’ll be discarding stuff, you might see that your drawers, closets and cabinets could use separators or boxes.
If the containers you own now are shabby or mismatched, consider replacing them with stylish storage baskets and bins. Shopping for just a couple of items like this can be a good motivational warm-up — and set you up for long-term success.
Also, think ahead to all the extra stuff that doesn’t have a home. There is always a pile of stuff you know you need readily accessible — no matter how minimalist your life gets. But if you store it an attractive basket or tray, it won’t seem like clutter.
Finally, get yourself some cardboard boxes and garbage bags and pull out that pile of tote bags you have stashed away. These will help you sort between things you want to keep (and put away), discard (trash, recycling and donations/giveaway), or store elsewhere.
2. Get Support
Speaking of motivation, you’re going to want something or someone to listen to as you work. That might mean the other members of your household decluttering along with you. Or you could invite a close friend over to chat while you sort through your drawers — as long as they won’t be scared off by the junk you’ve buried.
If you want to tackle your clutter solo, download a really juicy novel on audiobook or the latest podcast everyone’s bingeing. Then tell yourself you can only listen to it when you’re actively working on this project.
3. Choose Your Timeline
There are experts who will advise you to do all your decluttering at once, so you can really dig into the process and finish with a clean slate. This is great for people who find themselves with large chunks of time. For the rest of us, it’s probably better to declutter gradually — whenever you find yourself with an extra hour or even just 15 minutes.
This can actually be just as effective and may even make it seem less daunting. Our only caution for the incremental approach is not to allow too much time between clean-up sessions. Otherwise, you might find yourself working the same areas over and over without the satisfaction of seeing any progress.
4. Choose Your Order
The most common approach to getting rid of clutter is to go room by room — and, within each room, area by area. Alternatively, you could go through your things category by category, as Tidying Up guru Marie Kondo suggests, organizing all your clothes, then all your papers, etc.
Go with whichever order makes the most sense for you, your stuff and the layout of your home. Those with multi-level houses, for instance, might not want to be running back and forth between rooms to gather all the items in one category.
We’ll organize the rest of this article by room, but you can also apply the same basic structure to a category approach.
5. How to Declutter Your Entryway
Even if you don’t have an actual foyer, start with the place you keep shoes and outerwear when you enter your home and let this be the blueprint for other rooms in the house.
First, sort any outerwear into your “keep” or “discard” containers. These buckets will save you from running from room to room putting stuff away in different places. Try to stay in the area you’re working on and put everything away when you’re done.
Keep in-season items in the entryway and plan to store everything else in other closets. Consider discarding any outerwear you haven’t worn in a year. Make sure all the umbrellas you have aren’t broken. Check your jacket pockets for forgotten items.
Now, see if there’s room for problem-solving in this area. Do you need more hooks for coats? A basket or a decorative box for hats and gloves? A tray for keys and outgoing mail?
When you’re done with this area, you can now put away all that stuff in the keep box.
6. How to Declutter Your Living Room, Family Room and Dining Room
Start by clearing off all the surfaces in the room — tables, entertainment cabinets, that spot by the floor where magazines keep gathering — and sorting them into your containers.
Remove any gadgets or appliances that don’t work. (If you really think you’ll get them fixed, make a box for that, and whatever you haven’t taken for repairs within a week can be recycled.) Zip-tie or tape cords to hide them. Organize your remotes and store them in one caddy or tray.
Now, let’s be realistic about your entertainment: Do you have a bunch of CDs and DVDs even though you stream everything these days? Is there a broken record player you’re keeping around because it looks cool? Are you actually going to read those magazines that came out months ago or that book you bought at a signing last year?
Sticking to analog formats is fine — as long as you actually consume them. Keeping that stuff around because you like the idea of it is another thing. When in doubt, know you have digital options. Those magazine articles will be available online somewhere, but if you think they won’t be, snap a photo of them. You can also digitize other paper items such as fliers, calendars and receipts, either by using your phone or a small scanner.
When it’s time to put everything away, evaluate your storage options again. You could still keep some old magazines in a pretty container.
Prevent this entropy from happening again by unsubscribing from all the catalogs and magazines you don’t read. While you’re at it, call the credit card companies and charities that send you junk mail every week too.
7. How to Declutter Your Kitchen and Pantry
The easiest stuff to discard here is expired food. That’s not just whatever is rotting in the back of the fridge. You might have spices, oils or grains that you don’t even realize are past their prime. Dried spices that have no smell are done. You can also check this site.
Next, go through your cabinets. Some people like to empty everything out, sort and then put it away. When your space is limited, however, you can just go shelf by shelf. Toss any storage containers that don’t have matching lids and consider getting rid of glasses or dishes you use for only one purpose or holiday.
As with your living room, be realistic about your cooking gadgets. You may have things you mean to use but never actually do. You may also have tools that do only one thing — a thing that another, more multipurpose tool (say, a knife or a food processor) can do just as well. Toss the single-purpose tool and see how free you feel!
Use the counter to store only the items you use every day and put everything else in the cabinets, pantry and drawers. For city kitchens with less storage, think about getting pretty sets of pans and canisters that look attractive if they have to sit out.
8. How to Declutter Your Bathroom and Linen Closet
Similar to the kitchen, it’s time to be ruthless about expired cosmetics, soaps and hair are. The makeup you haven’t used in the past year is very likely past its use-by date and full of bacteria. Even soaps and moisturizers can go bad — especially when they’re preservative-free.
If you’re a habitual collector of hotel shampoos and soaps or fancy skincare samples, narrow down to just one set for future travel.
Towels and sheets are another thing people tend to hoard without even realizing it. Think about how often you do laundry, the number of people in your household and the max number of guests you’ll have in your home at once. That probably leaves you with a few extra towels and sheet sets (not to mention pillowcases) that you can toss or donate.
When you’re putting everything away, put the cosmetics and skin care that you use every day in one place. Organize the rest by category. Roll your bath towels so they don’t tumble every time you need to remove one and get a basket for the washcloths and hand towels.
9. How to Declutter Your Bedroom
Though some people like to start with the bedroom, we saved this for last, mostly because you can hide this mess when you have guests over. Again, begin this room by clearing every surface.
After you’re done sorting that stuff, you can move on to your nightstand and dresser. Remember to put the items that belong in other rooms in your “put away” box and deal with them later. It’s too easy to get distracted during this process!
The bedroom is where you’ll likely encounter things you’ve kept for the wrong reasons. Clothing that doesn’t fit but might one day, souvenir tchotchkes that don’t have any real place in the house, that lone sock whose pair you just know you’ll find one day.
There’s also sentimental stuff you can totally keep! We will not judge you for holding onto a dress you haven’t worn in two years. But also know there is probably someone shopping right now at a secondhand clothing store who would love to wear the 10 other things you forgot you owned. Sometimes imagining your items’ future homes can help you let go of them.
Many of us fall into the habit of tossing worn-but-not-dirty clothing onto some available surface, like a chair or chest or, yeah, the floor. To make that pile less of an eyesore, get yourself a separate basket or hamper. A tray for the jewelry, watches and pocket stuff you’re not ready to put away can also make your stuff seem semi-organized, even when it’s not.
Finally, don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t do all of this. Decluttering can be very emotional because our things bring up memories or represent goals we have for ourselves. You may find that even the smallest steps will feel satisfying and make you motivated to do more next time.