Decluttering comes with great benefits, both practical and related to your mental well-being. It’s important to learn how to start decluttering and how to keep your home neat and tidy long-term. Living in a well-organized home, where there’s no clutter, and every item has its designated spot, makes home cleaning and maintenance easier. A decluttered home also positively impacts your mental clarity, productivity and overall quality of life.

Clutter accumulates insidiously, month after month, with every expired pill bottle in your medicine cabinet and with every novelty mug you purchase just because, until it takes over a big portion of your living space. That’s why we all need to be proactive when it comes to accumulating clutter and perform the regular task of sorting through possessions and discarding what is no longer useful and needed.

However, decluttering is no easy feat. Not only does it take time to go through all possessions, but parting ways with some of them, particularly sentimental belongings, can be difficult for many. Moreover, in some cases, no matter how thoroughly you declutter, there simply isn’t enough storage space at home to ensure an airy, tidy interior. Fortunately, there are solutions for each and every situation, from giving a new life to sentimental items to renting a self storage unit for items you don’t use on a daily basis.

If you decided that your home needs a good decluttering session, you’re in the right place. Our detailed guide will take you through the preliminary stages of the decluttering process and through some inspiring decluttering methods, thus helping you identify the right strategy for you. We also included details on how to tackle the actual decluttering process depending on your household composition and preferences. Let’s start with the beginning.

What is clutter?

To be able to start your decluttering journey, we first need to define what clutter is. This also helps us understand why excessive clutter has such a negative impact on the quality of our life. Clutter is not toys occasionally scattered around the floor when you have children, or a plate left on the countertop. That’s just living, and that’s normal. It’s impossible for most of us to maintain a spotless home 24/7, nor should we aim for that.

Woman overwhelmed by clutter

Therefore, clutter encompasses more than a few items scattered around—it extends to any accumulation of items that disrupt the flow and functionality of our environment. It can manifest in various forms, from piles of clothes in the closet to an overflow of documents on the desk. However, clutter is not solely defined by the quantity of possessions but also by their impact on our well-being and productivity. It creates visual noise and mental clutter, leading to stress, anxiety and inefficiency in our daily lives.

Recognizing clutter involves acknowledging the excess and identifying items that no longer serve a purpose or bring value to our lives. By gaining clarity on what constitutes as clutter, we can embark on a journey of decluttering, reclaiming space and restoring balance to our surroundings and minds.

How to start decluttering

Starting to declutter can be overwhelming, and many of us are intimidated by the magnitude of the task. However, there are strategies that will make the entire decluttering process a lot more manageable. Divide the intimidating job of decluttering your entire home into smaller, more manageable objectives, and you’ll be able to enjoy a neat and tidy home in no time. Divide and conquer is a strategy that works wonders when it comes to decluttering.

1. Assess Your Space

Start by assessing each area of your home that needs decluttering. Identify problem areas like closets, cabinets or specific rooms that need attention. Make a list of these problem areas to ensure you don’t forget anything once you begin to declutter.

2. Prioritize

Identify what bothers you the most about the clutter in your home. Is it the bursting closets or the overfilled garage? Focus on these areas first for an immediate sense of accomplishment. Not only are you simplifying your life right from the start, but you are also starting the process on the right foot and setting the stage for further success.

3. Break it down

Divide the decluttering process into smaller tasks. For example, instead of going at the entire living room, focus on decluttering the bookshelves first. If, by the time you are done with the bookshelves, you still have some time and energy left, you can move to the next task, such as sorting through your DVDs. Beginning with smaller projects allows you to build momentum and ensures a strong finish.

4. Set specific goals

Set clear, quantitative goals. Instead of saying, “I want to declutter my closet,” aim for “I want to donate at least half of my clothes.” Or “I want to donate all the clothing, shoes, and accessories I haven’t used in the past 12 months.” With a clear, measurable objective in mind, you’ll be able to measure your progress effectively.

cardboard boxes for decluttering

5. Set a clear timeline

Dedicating an entire weekend to the sole purpose of decluttering your entire home might work for some. However, for most of us, it might not be the right solution. Determine a realistic timeline for achieving each goal. Consider factors like your schedule, the amount of clutter and how much time you can dedicate to this project.

6. Gather the supplies you’ll need

Decluttering is not simply getting rid of excess stuff, but, more importantly, organizing the items that you actually need and use on a daily basis in a way that ensures easy access to them. So, for the organizing part of your decluttering journey, get proper supplies such as storage boxes, baskets, containers, pegboards, clothes hangers and anything else you might need.

Go through every room and make a list of both the cleaning and the organizing supplies you’ll most likely need, so that by the time you start, you have everything at hand.

7. Celebrate the wins

Celebrate your achievements along the way. Whether it's decluttering a room or completing a specific task, acknowledge your progress to stay motivated. However, it’s equally important to be flexible and willing to adjust your goals as you go. If you find that a particular goal is too ambitious or not relevant anymore, modify it to better suit your needs.

Find the decluttering method that suits you best

Decluttering is not a “one size fits all” type of activity. You need to find what works for you. Start by trying some of the decluttering methods made famous by influencers and professional organizers. Below, we have listed some of the most interesting and most popular home decluttering and organizing methods. Even if none of them resonates with you 100%, you’ll still be able to cherry pick tips and tricks from each and come up with your own strategy.

1. The KonMari Method

Woman folding clothes

The KonMari Method, created by Marie Kondo, focuses on tidying up your living space by keeping only items that "spark joy." You need to approach the decluttering process with a positive and determined mindset, understanding that it will bring long-term benefits. Try to visualize your ideal lifestyle and how a tidy space will help you achieve it. This vision will guide your decision-making process.

Marie Kondo advises us to tidy by category, not by location. Instead of decluttering room by room, sort through your belongings by category in the following order: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous items and sentimental items. Pick up each item and ask yourself if it brings you joy. If it does, keep it; if it doesn't, thank it for its service and let it go. Start with easier categories and move on to more challenging ones. This builds your decision-making skills and helps you tackle sentimental items more effectively.

After decluttering, organize your remaining items in a way that is easy to maintain. Marie Kondo emphasizes storing items vertically to save space and improve visibility.

2. The Four-Box Method

This straightforward decluttering method has been around for a while, and it’s not associated with a certain professional organizer. However, a lot of them are recommending it, and for good reasons. It’s easy to understand, easy to put into practice, and it allows you to work on one room, one section of a room or your entire home, depending on time and preference. The essence of the method is the four boxes, labeled with the following categories: Keep, Donate, Trash and Relocate. Pick up each item and decide which of the four boxes it belongs in:

  • Keep: Items you use regularly, or that hold significant value to you.
  • Donate: Items in good condition that you no longer need or want, which can be given to charity or others.
  • Trash: Items that are broken, damaged or unusable.
  • Relocate: Items that are out of place and need to be moved to their proper location within your home, or to a storage unit.

Once you've sorted all items, promptly deal with the Donate, Trash and Relocate boxes. Take donations to the appropriate place, dispose of trash and put relocated items in their correct spots.

3. The Becker method

Kitchen shelf full of tableware

The Becker method, developed by Joshua Becker, is a practical approach to decluttering that emphasizes minimalism and intentional living.

  • Start with the easy stuff: Begin decluttering with less sentimental and easier-to-decide items, such as duplicates and things you rarely use. This helps build momentum and confidence.
  • Make quick decisions: Spend no more than a few seconds deciding whether to keep, donate or discard each item. This prevents overthinking and speeds up the process.
  • Focus on benefits: Keep in mind the benefits of decluttering, such as a more organized home, reduced stress, and more time for what truly matters. This motivation helps you stay committed.
  • Tackle one room at a time: Concentrate on decluttering one room or space before moving on to the next. This prevents feeling overwhelmed and ensures thoroughness.
  • Set physical limits: Define the physical space each category of items can occupy, such as a specific number of hangers for clothes or a set shelf for books. This helps maintain boundaries and avoid re-accumulation.
  • Evaluate your lifestyle: Regularly assess your living space and belongings to ensure they align with your current needs and values. Let go of items that no longer serve a purpose.

4. The FlyLady method

The FlyLady decluttering method was developed by Marla Cilley (aka the FlyLady) and is a great choice for those who don’t have the time or the patience to dedicate entire days to this process. If you have 15 minutes available each day, you’re good to go. Here’s what the FlyLady suggests:

  • Establish routines: Begin by creating simple daily routines to maintain order. This includes tasks like making your bed, shining your sink and doing a quick tidy-up each evening.
  • Declutter in zones: Divide your home into zones and focus on one zone per week. Spend 15 minutes a day decluttering the current zone. This systematic approach ensures your entire home gets attention over time.
  • Use a timer: Set a timer for 15 minutes to keep decluttering sessions manageable and prevent burnout. Work as efficiently as possible within that time, then stop and take a break.
  • The 27-fling boogie: Quickly go through your home and find 27 items to throw away and 27 items to donate or give away. This fun, fast-paced activity helps reduce clutter without overthinking.
  • Eliminate hot spots: Identify "hot spots" where clutter tends to accumulate and tackle them daily for a few minutes to keep them under control. This prevents small messes from becoming overwhelming.
  • Focus on progress, not perfection: Embrace the idea that progress is more important than perfection. Small, consistent efforts add up to significant improvements over time.

The decluttering process can now begin

Now that you have defined your goals, gathered the supplies you need and chosen a decluttering method that works for you, it’s time to start decluttering. To help you with the process, we came up with advice for different situations, types of families and stages of life. After all, decluttering when you have small kids is very different from doing the same when you are an empty nester. With that in mind, we devised some sets of advice that apply to the most common instances of why people decide to declutter, such as changes in family size or moving to a smaller home,

Decluttering for families with children

box with kids toys donate written on it

Space is a huge challenge for families with children. Not only do kids need an entire arsenal of items, from dedicated furniture and accessories during the baby stage to clothing, toys and so on, but they also regularly outgrow everything. Hence, you need to declutter regularly to stay on top of things. Here are some of the things that parents should keep in mind when decluttering:

  • Depending on the age of the children, it could be a good idea to involve them in the decluttering process. Ask them to help you select the toys, books and clothing that they outgrew and explain the principle of donating the items we no longer need to others. This way, you prevent the tantrums and meltdowns that might occur if the kids notice some of their stuff gone but without understanding what happened to it. Also, it will instill generosity in your children from an early age.
  • If you plan to expand your family (or if you have family and close friends who will do so soon), it makes sense to save baby accessories, furniture, clothing and toys. The best strategy is to separate everything by age (for example, all the stuff for babies up to six months packed together) and put them in self storage. Keeping them at home is usually not an option, as they will take up a lot of your existing storage space.
  • Make sure that everything that you pack and store for future use is clean and dry – otherwise, they might incur damage while in storage that will render them unusable.

Decluttering for empty nesters

That’s another type of decluttering that revolves around children – but, this time, grownup children that left the nest for good. This usually leaves parents with plenty of extra stuff and with the fun dilemma of what to do with the spare bedrooms. So, a thorough decluttering session, usually followed by a home remodeling spree, is rather typical for empty nesters – here are some suggestions on how to streamline this process.

  • Set up a video call – or, if you and your children live nearby, a visit – to get through the possessions they still have at your home. If there are things they want and need (clothing, books, memorabilia, sentimental items and so on), pack and ship those to them, or insist they pick them on the spot. Otherwise, those boxes will still be in your garage ten years later.
  • You might stumble upon a lot of sentimental items you simply don't feel like letting go of. One main thing to keep in mind is that you are letting go of objects and not your memories. Secondly, there are many ways to repurpose your sentimental items so that you honor them and without having to deal with clutter. You can digitize old photos and other visual memorabilia, or you can frame and display them or create albums and collages.
  • Start the decluttering process with a clear plan in mind for the spare rooms. This will help you decide what furniture should stay and which must go.

Decluttering for newlyweds or new couples moving in together

Couple moving in

This is one of the first practical tasks you need to navigate as a couple – so it’s important that the operation is a real success.

  • Decluttering when moving in together should be done first individually, then as a couple. Since you’re starting a new chapter in your life, now is a perfect moment to get rid of personal clutter, from the T-shirts you had since college to the mismatched furniture you picked up along the way.
  • Whether you are both moving to a new home, or one of you moves to the other’s home, you’ll probably have doubles for a lot of items such as furniture, appliances, kitchenware and so on. And here’s where decluttering as a couple comes into focus. Get together and decide which items are good to go for your common household. As for the rest, sell, donate or recycle, depending on the situation. Just make sure you don’t fill your shared space with lots and lots of redundant belongings.
  • Equally important is to still make space for each other’s favorite things. Decluttering as a new couple means that both of you must sacrifice some, but also keep some. So, each of you should get veto rights on some items that are truly important and significant to you.

Decluttering for downsizing

Moving to a smaller home means that, inevitably, you need to give up on some of your belongings, so a thorough decluttering session is a must – here’s how to tackle it:

  • Choose the furniture that you would like to take with you when moving. Make sure, though, that the furniture will fit into your new home. The best way to find out is by having the measurements of the rooms in your new home at hand. Drawing a small plan to scale for each room will help you visualize how well your existing furniture suits your new space. There are even various apps and websites that can help with that.
  • Or, even better, you can use tape to contour the furniture on the floors of your new, smaller home – it’s an excellent way of deciding whether a piece will fit into a certain room properly or if it takes up way too much space. Either way, don’t forget to measure the door frames as well, just to ensure you can get the furniture and appliances through the doors.
  • If you have duplicates of various household items, like tools, appliances, kitchenware and so on, pick your favorite/the newest/the best of the bunch and get rid of the rest. The same goes for other items, including the usual suspects of owning too many: bedsheets, bedspreads, pillows, towels and so on. Select just a few from each category for your new home. Not only is this saving space in your already smaller home, but it also saves you mental space and makes your life easier.

Decluttering for retirees

Couple of retirees moving cardboard box

Your golden years shouldn’t be dedicated to cleaning, organizing and managing stuff at home. Start this new and exciting stage of life by making sure you are not overwhelmed by possessions and you can easily and safely maintain a neat and tidy interior.

  • Look at your possessions through various lenses, including how much time it takes to clean/maintain them and how much you are using them, and use that information when decluttering.
  • You probably have various family heirlooms and other possessions you intend to pass on to children and grandchildren. Now is the perfect time to do so. However, try not to get offended if some of your gifts get refused. Things that are important or significant to you might not hold the same value for the younger generations. So, it’s a good idea to have an alternate plan, especially if we’re talking about bulky items such as furniture.
  • Stop saving the things that you love for future special occasions, and start using them now, whether it’s clothing, household items or other belongings. This way, you can get rid of a lot of a lot of your old stuff and enjoy the pretty and new ones.

Managing digital clutter

Person with smartphone

The burden of clutter extends beyond physical objects. Digital clutter can overwhelm as much as actual clutter and can seriously impact your mental well-being. If your digital files, emails and photos are out of control and creating stress in your life, it really pays off to take a few afternoons and get it all under control.

  • Determine where your digital clutter resides (emails, files, photos, apps, bookmarks, etc.) and decide what you want to achieve (e.g., a clean desktop; an organized email inbox).
  • Unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters and promotional emails and set up filters and rules to automatically sort incoming emails. Delete unneeded or unimportant emails regularly and archive important ones.
  • Use a clear and logical system for naming and organizing your document folders, and make sure you keep personal and work-related folders separately. Store your files in the cloud (e.g., Google Drive, Dropbox) to access them from any device. However, it’s also recommended that you regularly back up important files and photos to an external hard drive.
  • Photos are also getting hard to manage these days, as many of us take hundreds of photos each month. Go back and erase the photos you took with an immediate purpose in mind (like, for example, taking a picture of a product to remember the price, the model, or the store). Organize the important pictures (the ones you want to keep) by date, event and category. Don’t forget to back them up on an external hard drive as well. Although cloud storage is as safe as it can be, having a physical backup for the most important ones is still prudent. It’s also a good decluttering strategy, as it stimulates you to regularly sort through your pictures and erase the unimportant ones from your phone.
  • Phone apps can also generate stress and make you lose time, so you should be proactive about uninstalling the ones you no longer use (or those you associate with poor mental health outcomes). A good strategy is to group similar apps into folders or categories.

Life after decluttering: organizing and storage solutions

You put a lot of time and effort into decluttering, so obviously, you want to enjoy the fruits of your labor for as long as possible. Having multi-functional furniture pieces and identifying proper storage solutions for your home can provide invaluable help in your efforts to maximize the available space.

Multipurpose furniture

  • Murphy beds: These versatile beds are ideal for double-duty rooms (think home office/guest bedroom), preventing your home from feeling cluttered by massive furniture pieces.

small apartment interior

  • Storage beds and sofas: Beds with built-in drawers or sofas with hidden compartments provide additional storage for items like bedding, seasonal clothing or toys.
  • Foldable wall desks: These desks can be folded away when not in use, creating a more spacious and organized environment.
  • Convertible coffee tables: Coffee tables that can be extended into desks or dining tables are perfect for small spaces, allowing for multifunctional use without the clutter of multiple pieces of furniture.

Vertical Storage Solutions

  • Floor-to-ceiling shelves: Utilizing vertical space with tall shelving units helps store a large number of items without taking up valuable floor space. From books and collectibles to electronics, toys or work-related files, one such system can significantly help with maintaining other surfaces in your home free of clutter.
  • Wall-mounted pegboards: Pegboards can be customized with hooks, baskets and shelves to store a variety of items. They are especially handy in kitchens, garages or craft rooms for organizing tools and supplies.
  • Over-the-door organizers: These organizers make use of the often-overlooked space behind doors. They are ideal for storing shoes, accessories, cleaning supplies or pantry items, keeping them easily accessible but out of sight.

Underutilized spaces

Go through your home another time, trying to identify new spaces that could be used for storage. From closets and cabinets that could be organized better to areas you haven’t yet considered for storage, there’s probably still some unexploited storage potential in your home.

  • The space under the stairs often goes unused, yet it holds great potential for storage solutions. By converting this area into built-in cabinets, drawers or shelves, you can create a highly efficient storage system. Alternatively, this space can be transformed into a cozy reading nook with built-in bookshelves, making the most of every inch.

storage space under the stairs

  • Attics and basements, often underutilized or relegated to storing forgotten items, can be transformed into organized storage spaces with thoughtful planning and appropriate storage solutions. In the attic, consider installing shelves along the walls and using clear, labeled bins to keep items visible and easily accessible. Adding insulation and proper ventilation can also turn the attic into a more suitable environment for storing delicate items. Basements, with their typically larger square footage, can accommodate bulkier items and seasonal gear.
  • Optimize closet space with shelving, hanging organizers and bins to store clothing, shoes and other items efficiently. Using the same type hangers and clear storage boxes can make it easier to find what you need.
  • Install pull-out shelves, lazy Susans or vertical dividers in cabinets to make better use of the space and keep items organized. This works well in kitchens and bathrooms where cabinet space can be limited.
  • Under-bed storage: Utilize the space under your bed with storage bins, drawers or vacuum-sealed bags. This area is perfect for storing out-of-season clothes, extra bedding, or other items you don't need daily access to.

Self storage options

Self storage facilities offer a practical solution for both temporary and long-term storage needs, providing a secure space to store items that don't fit in your home, helping you maintain it neat, tidy, and decluttered.

Woman entering self storage unit

How self storage helps maintain an uncluttered home

These facilities come in a variety of sizes and can accommodate everything from small personal items to large pieces of furniture and even vehicles. We all have belongings we don’t use on daily basis, but still want to hold on to. We’re talking here about stuff like seasonal items, holiday decorations, extra furniture and appliances, sport-related gear, tools and so on. Such items take up a lot of space in your home, making it difficult to maintain it neat and tidy. By renting a self storage unit located close to your home, on the other hand, you can keep all that safely tucked away until you need it again – while still enjoying plenty of space in your own home.

One of the main benefits of self-storage is the flexibility it offers; you can rent a unit for as short or as long a period as you need. You can also opt for climate-controlled units, which are ideal for storing sensitive items like electronics, documents and antiques, protecting them from extreme temperatures and humidity.

Choosing the right facility

Selecting the right self-storage facility involves considering several key factors to ensure your belongings are safe and accessible. Location is a critical factor; you’ll want a facility that is conveniently located near your home or office for easy access. Security is another paramount concern; look for facilities that offer robust security features such as gated access, surveillance cameras, and on-site staff. Additionally, consider the facility’s access hours and customer reviews to ensure you choose a reputable and reliable storage provider.

Packing and storing your belongings in self storage

Efficiently packing and storing your items in a self-storage unit can help maximize space and ensure your belongings remain in good condition. Start by categorizing items and packing them into sturdy, labeled boxes. Use packing materials such as bubble wrap, packing paper and moving blankets to protect fragile items. For optimal organization, create an inventory list and label each box with its contents and the room it belongs to. Stack boxes strategically, placing heavier boxes on the bottom and lighter ones on top. Place frequently needed items near the front of the unit for easy access. Additionally, avoid overpacking boxes to prevent damage and ensure they are easy to lift and move.

Self storage is a generally affordable option

The cost of self-storage can vary significantly depending on the location, size of the unit, and additional features like climate control. For example, in New York City, where space is at a premium, the monthly cost for a 10x10 unit, which is one of the most popular unit sizes, can be substantially higher compared to other cities, often reaching premium prices. On the West Coast, cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles typically see high prices due to the competitive real estate market.

In contrast, cities like Dallas and Phoenix offer more affordable rates for similar-sized units, reflecting the greater availability of self storage space. In smaller cities or more rural areas, like Boise or Louisville, storage unit prices are generally more budget friendly. However, for virtually all locations, renting a self storage unit to keep items you don’t use on daily bases is significantly more affordable than getting a larger home.

Develop sustainable shopping habits to keep your home clutter-free long term

To keep your home clutter-free long term, you need to develop sustainable habits that prevent the accumulation of unnecessary items. These strategies are great not only for keeping clutter under control but also for keeping your bank account under control.

One effective strategy is to implement a "one in, one out" rule, where you commit to donating or discarding one item for every new item you bring into your home. This helps keep your possessions in balance and prevents excess. You should also focus on quality over quantity, ensuring that you invest in items that are durable and truly needed, thus reducing the frequency of replacements and unnecessary purchases.

Establishing a schedule for periodic decluttering is crucial for maintaining a tidy and organized home. Set aside specific times, such as at the start of each season or on a monthly basis, to go through your possessions and identify items that are no longer needed or used. This proactive approach prevents the slow buildup of clutter and makes the task less overwhelming.

Adopting a mindful approach to purchasing and acquiring new items is equally important. Before making a purchase, consider whether the item is truly necessary and if it will add value to your life. Avoid impulsive buys by implementing a waiting period, such as 24 hours, before making a decision. You should also favor experiences and consumables over physical items to reduce the accumulation of possessions.

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Decluttering your home is more than just tidying up; it's about creating a space that supports your well-being, productivity, and overall quality of life. By understanding what clutter is, breaking down the decluttering process into manageable steps, and choosing a method that works for you, you can transform your living environment. Whether you're a family with young children, an empty nester, a newlywed or someone looking to downsize, there are tailored strategies to help you achieve and maintain a clutter-free home.

Additionally, incorporating multi-functional furniture and smart storage solutions can ensure your space remains organized and efficient long-term. Don’t forget about managing digital clutter and developing sustainable shopping habits to prevent future accumulation.

Embrace the journey of decluttering as a way to reclaim your space and simplify your life. Celebrate your progress, be flexible with your goals, and remember that every small step brings you closer to a more serene and enjoyable home. Start today and experience the profound benefits of a decluttered, organized living space.

Author

Maria Gatea is a real estate and lifestyle editor for Yardi with a background in Journalism and Communication. After covering business and finance-related topics as a freelance writer for 15 years, she is now focusing on researching and writing about the real estate industry. You may contact Maria via email.

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