Cluttered living room

These Steps Lead to a Mental Shift that Ends Clutter in Your Home

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It’s a Catch-22: living in a cluttered home feels overwhelming, but getting rid of clutter can feel overwhelming, too. Why? Because we make a big deal out of it, turning it into a project we have to find time for, rather than a process we do a little at a time.

Soon, we feel guilty, which leads to stress and shame. Before long, we’re too overwhelmed to do anything at all. Ready to try a different approach? Then let me tell you my strategy to end clutter and all of that angst.

Overcome the Anxiety Bite by Bite

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 how much work is going to take or how miserable it’s going to be. You just grab a fork (or whatever someone would use) and start in… one bite at a time. Just as we’re going to deal with clutter: a little at a time.

How to Declutter a Room

These steps are in order for a reason. It’s not just because the 1-2-3 approach is catchy, though it is and that helps you remember it. The steps are arranged to tackle the mess in short bursts without becoming distracted, overwhelmed, or bored.

Step 1. Choose One Priority

Pick ONE area to tackle. If your home isn’t too bad to start with, work on a room you can’t stand seeing messy. If you’re dealing with a lot of clutter, choose just one area in a room.

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 or making someone else happy. This is about letting you see the rewards of your effort from the onset, which will help you stay motivated.

Step 2. A Two-Minute Frenzy

Now, spend two nonstop, frantic minutes grabbing everything that’s trash. Don’t think about it. Don’t debate about getting the money you spent back through selling it online or in a garage sale. Don’t start rationalizing about how you might use it someday or that a friend might like it.

If any of those things were true, you’d have sold it, used it, or given it away already. It’s trash. Treat it as such and toss it.

Step 3: Put Away Three Things.

Next, find three things that belong somewhere else and take them there. Now. Kids’ shoes in your family room? Chuck 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.

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 three things prevents your brain from feeling bored or overwhelmed. So, before those thoughts start to creep in, it’s time to shift your focus again.

Step 4: Loop Back.

By this point, you’ve been working for five to ten minutes. And yet you’ve made progress toward getting rid of clutter! So, switch to another priority area and repeat the cycle there: a two minute frenzy followed by putting away three things. Now, again because third time’s a charm.

If you’ve been counting, this has only taken a total of 15-30 minutes—not an overwhelming amount of time at all. But you’ve cleaned up three different areas and that’s progress. It is also good enough for one day.

Read That Again.

Making 15-30 minutes of progress is good! You don’t need to declutter your entire home in one day. It’s not a project to take over your life, it’s an ongoing process that’s part of living. Make that mental shift and you’ll be on your way to a decluttered home. Now, let’s talk about keeping that clutter from sneaking back in.

Tips to Keep Your Home Decluttered

Every Room Needs One Bare Surface

Choose a flat surface in each room to keep bare of knickknacks and decor. Nothing even set down “for just a second.” It stays bare 24/7. Why? Because having one bare horizontal surface prevents clutter blindness by forcing your brain to notice the contrast between the clean and cluttered spots.

Do a Daily Two-Minute Reset

Every day, spend two minutes in each room of your home picking up trash. No debating with yourself. 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.

Have Three Reasons for Anything New

Before you buy anything new, make sure you have three strong reasons for bringing it into your home. And, sorry, but I want it, I like it, or it’s on sale (or free) aren’t good reasons. Instead, ask yourself:

  1. Do we truly need this?
  2. Would anything we already have work just as well?
  3. Why do I think we will use it regularly?
  4. Does this seem like a good price considering how often we’ll use it?
  5. Do I know right now where I’m going to put it, so it doesn’t become clutter?
  6. Am I willing to put this away every single day if my family leaves it laying around?

If you have to talk yourself into a “yes,” pass on the purchase. You can always go back later or look for a better deal on the same thing. It’s easier to go back if you still want it later than it is to relax in a home overrun by clutter. Once you understand that crucial difference, you’ll conquer clutter in your home for good.

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  1. Great tips! Thanks!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      My pleasure.

  2. Emily Peters says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! This is probably the easiest method to remember. It’s great because you don’t really need a lot of time and the results will be seen right away. I like to think of the number of times I fill a recycle bin or garbage can in the begining because the room’s transformation isn’t always seen immediately.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      That’s a great thing to focus on, Emily, because you are so right that the change isn’t always readily visible!

  3. I want to give this a try!! Now I have a question for you. Coupons you receive — Do you have a good way to keep track of them and where to put them or what to do with them?? I need help!!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I keep coupons in an organizer and tuck that into my purse so it’s always with me. Before grocery shopping, I plan my menu then look through coupons to see what matches then take those and clip them together to the front of the organizer. While shopping, if I come across any in-store deals I’ll thumb through the coupons in the organizer to see if I can save more.

  4. This has been the best decluttering advise I have heard yet! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience with others! Wonderful blog. (I’m a stay at home mom of many.)

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m so happy to have been of help, Tammy. Best to you and your (many). 🙂

  5. Barbara Hunt says:

    I.LOVE.THIS! And I am printing it off to put in my paper planner as a daily reminder. A million thank yous!!

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