If the mess in your home feels overwhelming, and you don’t know where to begin dealing with it, this three-step approach to ending clutter for good will help.
Which is not to say that you won’t have to make some effort. Cleaning fairies don’t exist, after all. But following these steps will make it easy to identify what needs to go, get rid of it, and keep clutter out of your home. Plus, it will only take 15 minutes per day.
Ending Clutter for Good
Decluttering Can Feel Overwhelming
The most significant obstacle to getting rid of clutter is that most of us make a big deal out of it. We look at our crowded kitchen counters or our jam-packed bedroom closets and think we have to set aside an afternoon or even an entire weekend to deal with them.
Since it seems overwhelming, we put off dealing with the clutter, and it continues to grow. Soon, the mess takes over the kitchen table and maybe even a chair or two. The jumble in our bedroom closet spreads to the bedroom floor, the top of the dresser — anywhere where there’s space.
And what happens? You start feeling stressed because clutter bombards your mind with too many things. You feel guilty for letting it get that way. And yet you feel too drained to deal with it. We’ve all been there.
Narrow Your Focus to Overcome the Anxiety
There’s an adage, which I discuss in my book 30 Days to a Clean and Organized House, about the best way to eat an elephant.
The answer: one bite at a time. In other words, you don’t think about the enormity of the beast. You don’t think about how miserable you’re going to be the entire time. You certainly don’t think about how long it’s going to take you to do it.
You just grab a fork (or whatever implement you’d need to eat an elephant) and start in… one. bite. at. a. time.
The same thing is true about dealing with a cluttered home. Once you get the hang of this approach to ending clutter for good, you won’t even have to think about it. It will merely be part of your average day and, by doing it day after day, you’ll have eaten that elephant — I mean, conquered that clutter.
How to Declutter a Room
These steps are in order for a reason. It’s not merely because the 1-2-3 approach is catchy, though it is and that helps you remember it.
These steps to ending clutter are arranged to tackle the mess in short bursts without becoming distracted, overwhelmed, or bored.
Choose One Priority
Pick ONE area to tackle. If your home isn’t too bad to start with, work on one room that you can’t stand seeing messy. If you’re dealing with a lot of clutter, choose just one area in a room that is bothering you the most.
The point is to start with something that personally affects you — not your kids’ room, not your spouse’s dresser drawers, nothing that involves sorting through someone else’s stuff.
This is about letting you see the rewards of your effort from the onset, which will help you stay motivated.
The First Two Minutes
Stand in that room, or face that intolerably cluttered area, and spend two nonstop frantic minutes grabbing everything that’s trash.
Don’t think about it. Don’t debate yourself whether it’s something worth holding onto for the future. Don’t start rationalizing about how you might use it someday or that so-and-so might like it — if those things were true, you’d have used it by now or given it to so-and-so.
It’s trash. Treat it as such and toss it.
Three Things to Start
Find three things that belong somewhere else and take them there. Now.
- Kids’ shoes in your family room? Put them in their room.
- Dirty dishes on the coffee table? Take them to the kitchen.
- Library books to return? Put them on your seat in the car, so you remember to deal with them the next time you leave the house.
By limiting your efforts to just three things, you’re getting a start on decluttering the room. But — and this is important — keeping it to just three things doesn’t give your brain a chance to get bored or overwhelmed.
So, before those thoughts start to creep in, it’s time to shift your focus again. How? By going back to the start of the loop.
By this point, you’ve been working for just five to ten minutes. And yet you’ve made progress toward getting rid of clutter!
So, switch to another priority area and spend two more minutes tossing trash non-stop then put away three things that go elsewhere. Wrap up your efforts by moving to yet a third spot and do it one more time.
If you’ve been counting, this has only taken a total of 15-30 minutes — not an overwhelming amount of time at all. Plus, you’ve made progress in three different areas!
Now, make a daily habit of it for a month and you’ll have decluttered your home as easily as 1-2-3. Need help remembering it?
- 1 month of daily work on your decluttering priorities
- 2 minutes spent gathering and tossing trash non-stop
- 3 things gathered in that area and returned to where they belong
How to Keep Your House Decluttered
The three steps above will help you tackle the mess. To keep it from returning, you need to follow three more steps to end clutter for good.
Keep One Bare Surface Per Room
In every room of your house, pick one horizontal surface to keep entirely clutter-free. That means no knickknacks, no frills, no books or papers placed there for “just a second.” Nothing. It stays bare.
Why? Because having one bare horizontal surface will prevent clutter blindness. So, rather than walking into a room and ignoring the mess, your brain will register the contrast between this one bare surface and the clutter on others. That, in turn, will motivate you to keep working on it.
Do a Daily Two-Minute Reset
Every day, spend two minutes in each room of your home picking up trash. Again, don’t get caught up in whether you might something one day or whether so-and-so might like it. If it’s broken, outdated, expired, if you haven’t used it lately, or wouldn’t spend money on buying it today, get rid of it. (Related: 23 Easy Home Organizing Tasks.)
Now, don’t start thinking up objections — this takes just 15 minutes at most. You can do it as part of a daily cleaning routine, or you don’t have to set aside any special time for it — just do it when you walk into a room.
Don’t Bring Home New Clutter
Before you buy anything new, make sure you have three strong reasons for bringing it into your home — but I want it, I like it, or it’s on sale/free aren’t good reasons.
Instead, ask yourself:
- Do I or someone in the family really need this?
- Do we have anything that would work just as well?
- Will we use it regularly?
- Is it worth the money they want for it?
- Do I have a storage spot for it already, so it doesn’t just sit around making the house look cluttered?
- Is it so essential that I won’t mind having to put it away every single day if no one else does?
If you have to talk yourself into a “yes,” or you don’t feel absolute certainty in your answer, don’t bring it home.
It’s easier to go back for something later if you change your mind than it is to make time to deal with an overwhelming mess. Once you understand that crucial difference, you’ll conquer clutter in your home for good.
- Don’t let the thought of decluttering your home overwhelm you. Treat it like eating an elephant: one bite at a time.
- Start in the room that’s bothering you the most. Spend two minutes tossing trash without debating yourself. Then find three things that belong elsewhere and put those away.
- Repeat this process in two other rooms. Do this daily for a month.
- In every room, keep one horizontal surface entirely bare to help prevent clutter blindness.