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 to us? We start feeling stressed because clutter inundates our minds with too many stimuli.
We feel guilty because we believe we should be able to do something about the mess.
We feel drained every time we look at the problem and trapped because there’s no way to avoid looking at it since it’s everywhere.
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…
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 putting away 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 start thinking about how boring the process is, or how overwhelming it will be to declutter the entire room.
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.
If you followed the advice to spend two minutes picking up trash non-stop and then putting away just three things, 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 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, shifting your deluttering efforts to three separate areas of priority means you’ve made progress without growing bored and giving up.
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
And don’t feel like you have to do it all by yourself, either! Have the kids help you do the 1-2-3 in the morning or after school — it’ll help them understand that picking up after themselves right away is easier than letting it pile up. Or have them do some chores kids can do while you’re doing the 1-2-3 steps, so they don’t start thinking of you as their maid.
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 the 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.
Now, don’t let this turn into another elephant — this will take only 15 minutes or so. You can do it as part of a daily cleaning routine, or when you walk into a room. Make sure your chosen surface is bare while you’re at it.
Say Yes to Three Questions
Before you get anything new, make sure you have three strong reasons for bringing it into your home. First, though, understand that I want it, I like it, or it’s on sale (or free) can’t be any of the 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 on a regular basis?
- 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 day if no one else does?
If you can’t confidently answer yes to at least three of those questions, don’t bring it into your home. If you have to talk yourself into a “yes,” or you don’t feel absolute certainty in your answer, put the thing down and walk away.
It’s easier to come back for something later if you change your mind than it is to make time to deal with an overwhelming mess. Understanding that difference is the ultimate key to ending clutter for good.