Whether we like it or not, stuff accumulates in our homes. Consumer goods, mail, school work, important papers – we bring theses things into our lives almost unknowingly, until we realize we’re suffocating in the clutter. Taking the time to seriously declutter will alleviate that burden from your life and put more time back in your day. That’s what this ultimate decluttering guide is all about.
Decluttering is a deeply personal experience. No two families are the same when it comes to personalities… and their clutter.
So with this making this ultimate decluttering guide, I want you to consider four things:
- Decluttering does NOT equal minimalism. Decluttering allows you to get rid of the excess that interferes with your life. It gives you room to breath again in your own space. Decluttering is not meant to take you down to the essentials only (unless that’s what you want to do). Keep what you love and get rid of what you dislike or don’t use.
- Decluttering is a not a chore. While going through all of your things can be overwhelming and seem like a chore that you’ll never get around to finishing, think about things that are actual chores that keep your house together – laundry, cooking, cleaning up, mowing the lawn. Those are chores. Decluttering is a project. If you do it well, you’ll only need to do a big and thorough declutter once.
- Decluttering and organizing your home takes time. What I mean by “time” is that it is a process. It could take you just a weekend if you live in a small space, or it could take you two months if you have a big home or busy schedule.
- Do NOT stop. Decluttering your entire home might take you a while but please, do not stop. Do not give up. You started decluttering for a reason. Let’s achieve your goals. Once you achieve a full home declutter, you’ll fully feel the weight removed from your shoulders.
When you set off decluttering, just thinking “oh yeah, I need to get rid of some things here and there…” won’t cut it. Sure, you probably need to get rid of stuff (that’s the point of decluttering, right?), but why do you want to declutter?
Establish your BIG WHY.
Why declutter now? What do you hope to gain by having a clutter-free home?
Write this down!
Set a realistic end date goal.
By setting an end-date or due date for your decluttering project, you’re giving yourself some form of accountability. Be real with yourself. Unless you can take a week off work and send the kiddos to grandma’s house, you’ll need a month (or two) to complete your declutter.
Put this date in your phone and on your family calendar.
Set a daily goal.
The easiest daily decluttering goal to set is time. By designating one full hour a day to commit to decluttering, you’ll be able to reach your end-date goal on time. One un-distracted hour where your phone is face down in the other room, the kids are in bed (or playing by themselves), the TV is off, and you have your plan is what I’m getting at here. Once you get in the routine of setting this time aside, it will become easier.
Decluttering with your family
Before we dive head first into this decluttering guide, it is very important to remember your family. I’m talking about the people who live with you, that you see everyday, and whose stuff may or may not be all over your living room right now. They have a say in this too.
Let your family know what you would like to do and what your end goal is. Ask them to help you in the process with their own belongings and to support you.
But do not, DO NOT discard another family member’s personal belongings without them knowing. What is trash to you could be a precious something to your child or spouse.
Encourage your children to sort through their things and decide on what to give to other kids (through donating). Unless your kids are still preschool age or younger, they should have some say in what stay and what goes when it comes to their personal possessions.
Same for your spouse. They may not want to declutter at all! So no touching their things! Lead by example and declutter your own items first. They may soon follow.
The Ultimate Decluttering Guide
Where do I even start?
Start small. Start in the smallest place you can think of. No, not your closet or the bathroom with all the shelves, cabinets, and hanging rods. Start in the car!
Grab a small trash sack and another bucket or bag of sorts and head out to your car (the second bag is for what you need to bring back into the house). Remove car seats and other bulky items from your car. Gather the trash and dispose of it. Next grab all the items that need to go back into the house (shoes, toys, etc) or into the garage (like sports equipment). Use that second bag of your’s to take everything inside. Then vacuum. Just a household vacuum will work, no need to get fancy either and detail the car. We’re just getting the crud out. Everything that is left inside the car should actually belong in the car. Find homes inside your house for the items you removed.
Room by Room Decluttering Guide – The Less Mess Way
Starting with the cars, you’ll work room by room decluttering. Going room by room creates less of a mess throughout the house. And if you’re biting this project off in small one hour chunks, this is the optimal way (in my experience).
When working room by room, it is important to do two things while decluttering:
- Do a quick pick up of the room you’ll be working in. Before you start your decluttering time block, go around the room and find things that don’t belong – dishes, cups, clothing, etc – and put them where they belong. They don’t need to be in their final, organized home. The item should just be in the same area as its companions. I find it so much easier to actually cull my belongings when the space doesn’t have any “visitor” items.
- Find all like items in the room. Similar to the KonMari method, find all like items in the room you are currently decluttering. For example, find all of the video games, movies, and CDs while working in the living room. Or all underpants, bras, pajamas, and lounge wear while decluttering your dresser drawers. When in the playroom (or play area of the house) find all of your children’s toys, then decide what to keep.
This plan is for a typical American home. If you have rooms in your home that aren’t on this list, add them in next to their closest match (living room is similar to a media or game room, etc).
Sample room by room decluttering guide
- Closets and dressers (clothing)
- All cabinets, shelves, makeup bags, and any other place you store toiletries
- Cleaning supply cabinet
- Medicine cabinet
- Linen closet
- Under the bed, nightstands, any other furniture, decor
- Kids’ rooms
- Clothing (if not previously completed), under the bed, nightstands, other furniture, decor, toys
- Office/guest room
- Coat closet
- Laundry room
- Living room
- entertainment center, bookshelves, end tables, coffee tables/storage ottomans, decor, fireplace mantle
- Dining room
- China cabinet, hutch, buffet
- Any other cabinets that contain food, fridge, freezer (see guide on Pantry Inventory)
- Junk drawers
- Under the kitchen sink
- All cabinets, under oven, and anywhere else you store dishes, serving items or smaller appliances
- Garage and storage sheds
- Sentimental items
Sentimental items are LAST. When you are decluttering your home, you might find these in throughout your space. Collect them and put them aside to declutter at the end of your journey. You’ll have built up decluttering endurance and grit to deal with your sentimental items.
Questions to ask while decluttering:
A big part of decluttering is guiding yourself through your items and making decisions on each one. While it can be overwhelming in the beginning, these questions will help ground you in your decision making process.
- Is it broken or damaged in some way?
- Do I have duplicates?
- Have I used this in the last year?
- Does it fit my current needs?
- Does this item bring me joy or make my life better in some way?
It is best to be ruthless and honest with yourself while following this decluttering guide. If you aren’t honest in your thoughts about your items, you won’t get very far.
Where to put decluttered items?
Have a designated space for all of your decluttered items to go while you wait to have a garage sale or give them away. Similarly, make sure your family knows which pile is which. These boxes and bags should be in an out-of-the-way space like a closet or the garage.
Your decluttered items should not:
- Be in the way of your current decluttering project
- Get removed by you or a family member and put back into your space to keep
As an example, let’s work in the living room. It’s a big space, but you’re up the to the challenge handling just one hour (sometimes more if you can manage) at a time. But with a big space, comes a lot of stuff. How do you go about keeping your decluttered items away from the ones you plan on keeping?
Go in armed with a trash bag for the actual trash and boxes for things that can be donated or sold. At the end of your decluttering time for the day, take the trash bag to your large outdoor trash bin. Place your box of items you’re getting rid of into your pre-designated space. If your box isn’t full, you can use it again tomorrow and the next day until it is full. But don’t leave it out! You might be tempted to pull a discarded item out. You’re being ruthless, remember?!
Get rid of decluttered items as quickly as you can. Set a sale date if you want a yard sale. Or make weekly runs to the donation center with your boxes of pre-loved goodies.
As for the items you are keeping, place them where you would like their “temporary” home to be. “Temporary” meaning the place in which they will sit in your home before you get your whole home organized. (We’ll get to that later!) In a majority of cases, this is where you found the item while decluttering.
“This is so overwhelming!”
Often times, I see mamas that are overwhelmed by clutter and by the prospect of decluttering their entire home. I get it.
Three years ago, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of things in our home. But honestly, I didn’t realize that until I found minimalism and saw how people lived with fewer things. We’re on the “minimal-ish” side of minimalism and we still do some maintenance decluttering every year.
If you’ve gotten this far into this monster of a decluttering guide, I applaud you. Because you’ve taken the time to commit to just learning about decluttering your home, you’re already one step closer. Here’s what to do next:
- Write down your BIG WHY. Why do you want to live with less clutter in your home?
- Talk to your spouse and family for support. They don’t have to declutter with you, but they can support you in getting rid of your personal items (see above).
- Just start. Start in that small space of your car and continue in the smaller spaces. One by one you’ll check them off your list. And then, you’ll realize you are in a declutter groove! Way to go!
Organizing after you declutter
An organized home makes me want to actually be home. I know where things are and I don’t have to rummage around a closet to find what I need. Sure, owning less than you previously did will help tremendously, but so will being organized.
Here are six of my organizing rules:
- DO NOT go buy any fancy organizational tool. Generally, you can make all the spaces in your home work for you with what you already have on hand.
- Make sure similar things are stored together
- Items used everyday should be stored in a “one touch” area. Meaning, that you should only have to touch one thing (like a cabinet door or drawer) to retrieve the item. Not dig around to the back of the cupboard.
- Get the family on board with organizing in ways that make sense for everyone.
- If your family (or yourself) has a hard time remembering where things go, or remembering to return items to their home in general, label cabinets and closets with sticky notes. Note what’s inside each one. You will all get the hang of it.
- Once everything has a home and is organized, then you should see what other organizational tools you need. Do you need small jars for push pins and paper clips on your desk? Baskets for snacks in the kitchen? Often the best organizational items are baskets and jars which are both really inexpensive or upcycled from packaging.
Thanks so much for sticking around and reading this entire decluttering guide! Stay tuned for more on decluttering specific spaces and roadblocks we all encounter!