Rumor has it there are people to whom home organization and decluttering are instinctive skills. When they buy something they bring it home, immediately finding (and often labeling) a spot for it on their perfectly neat shelves, then purge another item to keep their stuff from creeping up and taking over their house.
I’m not one of them.
For me, home organization is an ongoing process that I never think I’ll see the end of. For years, it felt like I was continually organizing and decluttering my kids’ toys. As they grew, that effort evolved into dealing with the constant onslaught of school papers.
Now that my youngest is a teenager he’s in his room more often than not, and that means the rest of the house stays far neater than ever before.
Don’t get me wrong: if you were to walk in the door you’d see my house is clean and what you could see, even if you walked through the kitchen, looks organized. But down in the basement (where we store winter clothing, holiday decorations, and those massive packages of dry goods and paper products from Costco) it’s a whole ‘nother story.
That’s my project for the next month: getting my basement organized by purging the clutter and properly storing what’s left. With the holidays coming, I can’t put this off much longer or I won’t be able to reach our Christmas tree and ornaments when I need them!
But here’s something I won’t be doing…
For the past year, people have been buzzing about copy Marie Kondo’s book Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in which she directs people to declutter by category, not by room. Deal with your entire family’s clothing one day, is one of her tips, then purge books another day, knickknacks on a third, etc.
While I think Ms. Kondo has some good suggestions in her book — getting rid of things that don’t bring you joy, for example — this category-based style of decluttering doesn’t work for me. Maybe it works in a 1,300 square foot home (that’s the average house size in Japan) but I’m dealing with a home three times that size!
Throwing everyone’s clothes in one pile to sort through would not only take up an entire room, it would also involve so many trips up and down the stairs that I wouldn’t be able to move for days.
So I’m going to follow the same tips that served me well for the past thirty-plus years, that kept my house organized even when I was homeschooling my son years ago, and that work in all of the other rooms of our home… but haven’t been put to use in the basement.
If you’d like to join in by decluttering a room or two in your home, here are five tips to get you started.
How To Declutter ANY Room
1. Do a surface purge first. Build momentum and see instant results by getting rid of obvious trash and clutter right away. Grab a trash bag and, starting at the door of the room, work your way to the left. As you go, toss any obvious trash into the bag: crumpled paper, old magazines, broken items, etc. Don’t bother opening cupboards or drawers yet, just throw out what’s sitting right there but needs to go.
2. Now do a deeper purge. Rather than zooming all around the room, at this point you need to mentally divide it into sections: this corner, that entertainment center, this closet, etc. Start with the least cluttered area so you keep your momentum, and go through its contents with three boxes marked RETURN, DONATE and TRASH nearby. As you work item-by-item deciding what to keep and what to get rid of, ask yourself:
- Is this the room it actually belongs in?
- Have we used this in the last year?
- Is the cost of maintaining it worth the space it’s taking up?
- Is it sentimental but can’t be remembered with just a picture?
- Do we really love it?
If you can’t answer YES to at least one of the foregoing questions, then the item goes in one of your three boxes. If it belongs in another room, put it in the box marked RETURN. If it’s in good shape but you can’t answer “yes” to one of the questions, then put it in the DONATE box. If it’s not in good shape then it’s trash.
You may find a box filling up before you’ve finished decluttering the room. Don’t stop to deal with it! Set it aside and get another box, label it, and keep going. You don’t want to get distracted, or you might run out of energy before you’ve completely decluttered the room.
3. Deal with the boxes. Once you’ve worked your way completely around the room, decluttering every cupboard and drawer, it’s time to deal with the boxes. Toss the trash, return what belongs in other rooms, then take the DONATE boxes to your car so they’re out of your house. The next time you leave the house make a point of stopping by your local charity so you can drop off your donations, and don’t forget to get a receipt for your tax deduction!
4. Arrange what’s left. When you’ve properly purged your clutter you’ll have much more space. If the room is still crowded, chances are you need to do another deep purge and, this time, be ruthless with yourself when deciding whether you really love something or not. (This is what Marie Kondo means when she says to ask yourself if something brings you joy. Why give up space in the home you pay for to objects that don’t make you happy?)
When arranging what’s left you have more questions to ask yourself:
- Is this where I usually look for the item?
- Is it heavy enough that I should store it lower so no one gets hurt if it falls?
- Do I use it so often that it should go at eye-level?
- Are there other items like this that should all be stored together?
- Is this item’s spot so perfect that I should label the location so my family knows to put it here?
5. Choose containers wisely. Some items are just messes waiting to happen unless they’re stored in a container. For the most part, I try to avoid baskets: you can’t see their contents and in our house that means it’s going to turn into a catch-all. If you’re cleaning an area with a lot of small items — like hair clips and barrettes in the bathroom, throw blankets in the living room, or seasoning packets in the kitchen — it will stay tidier if you group things into containers.
Things that you need quick access to on a regular basis (like hair clips) will do best in a container that doesn’t have a lid, while throw blankets gather less pet hair stored in a container with a lid. (We use a storage bench for ours.) Whatever you choose, consider labeling containers your kids will be accessing so they know where things can be found and, just as importantly, where they should be returned.