Learning how to reduce clutter is one of the best things you can do for your home and your peace of mind. These steps get it under control.
Close your eyes and imagine your home as you’d like it to be. Chances are, it’s serene, clean, and clutter-free. And there’s also a good chance that what you see when you open your eyes is nothing like what you just imagined.
How much of your day-to-day stress and dissatisfaction comes from the difference between what you’d like your home to be and what it’s really like? For most of us, that gap is a major source of stress. Let’s get it –and your home’s clutter — under control.
Why Is Decluttering so Hard?
Too often, we think of reducing clutter as a project. We tell ourselves we’re going to deal with it one afternoon, or maybe even one weekend. And maybe we actually have a little success. Remember all those bags of stuff you hauled to the curb in 2020 when we all had time to deal with the mess? But here it is, a year later, and your home is probably starting to feel cramped again.
How to Get A Clutter-Free Home
If you’re ready to break the cluttered/decluttered cycle, read on. But understand first, this isn’t about setting aside a weekend to go through your home top to bottom. It’s not about buying pretty containers or labels or making things Instagram-worthy. It’s about dealing with and getting rid of clutter throughout the day, so you can go to bed each night feeling proud of your home.
DON’T Think of It as a Project
If you’ve ever tried shedding a few pounds, you know it wasn’t an overnight process but a series of choices made day after day. Getting rid of clutter happens the same way. The problem is, we often think of reducing clutter as a one-time event, but you don’t lose weight (or write a research paper, or plan a wedding) in one afternoon or weekend. You do it a little at a time. Methodically. That’s how you need to work at reducing clutter, too.
DO Think of It as a Process
When you think of reducing clutter as a process, every step you take toward your goal is empowering. Instead of ignoring your home’s clutter because it feels overwhelming, you start recognizing and dealing with it. The mess no longer feels overwhelming but, rather, like something you can set right in a few moments. And those small wins over clutter give you the confidence to keep at it until the two versions of your home — the one you pictured and the one you live in — match.
How Do I Reduce Clutter in My Home?
It Starts With This Daily Habit
What if an easy, 3-minute exercise every morning made you stronger for the rest of the day and increased the likelihood you’d make good health-related decisions all day long. Would you make time to do it? Or would you skip it because it was something your parents told you to do and, by gosh, you’re an adult now and can do whatever you want? (*foot stamp*)
That’s what making your bed every morning can do for your home. Stop rolling your eyes and bear with me. When your bed is unmade, your whole bedroom looks messy. Seeing that kind of mess reinforces the fear that you can’t get your home under control. And at the end of the day, climbing into a wad of unkempt sheets makes you feel like a slob.
But making your bed every morning is an exercise in self-discipline that starts your day with a small win. When it’s done, the sense of accomplishment gets that sweet dopamine flowing to boost your happiness. And that surge of satisfaction can also energize you to accomplish more and reduce clutter all day long. It only takes two or three minutes. Please don’t skip it.
Declutter This Spot Next
Keep that clutter-free state of mind going by keeping your bathroom countertop tidy. It is, after all, the next thing you’ll probably see after making your bed. A cluttered bathroom counter attracts grime and looks horrible. It’s also more difficult to clean.
- Discard what you don’t like. Throw away products you don’t like or never use. If you don’t want to toss them, check Facebook for your local Buy Nothing group. It’s a great way to reduce clutter by rehoming it.
- Assign everyone a bathroom drawer or basket for their toiletries. If you’re short on cabinet space, vertical surfaces can provide additional storage. Add wall shelves or hang baskets from the ceiling, or use over-the-door organizers with pockets.
- Store extras elsewhere. Duplicates or spare products add to bathroom clutter. Store them in a closet, in your pantry, or even in a box under the bed.
- Don’t leave styling tools on the bathroom vanity. A heat-proof rack inside a cabinet door lets you stash them as soon as you’re done. (I use this one*.)
- Minimize the decor. Bathrooms are germy places. Get rid of clutter on the counter by removing decor that attracts dust or which can’t be tossed in the dishwasher.
An uncluttered bathroom sets the tone for the day. Putting your things away after use strengthens your self-discipline and keeps that dopamine flowing. Together, these actions prompt your brain to continue seeking small wins. It’ll start reminding you to put away other clutter like the oven mitts you wore while cooking or the shoes you took off at the front door.
Do This Throughout the Day
Home cleaning and organizing experts, including me, harp on the importance of keeping your kitchen sink clean and free of dirty dishes. There’s a good reason we do, but so many people think it’s just a clichéd piece of advice. And that’s fine — it keeps us in business!
But if you want to get rid of your home’s clutter, here’s why you need to keep your sink empty. When you let dishes pile up, everyone in your home will keep adding to the pile. Eventually, the mess will spread to your counters and table. Then your entire kitchen looks (and smells) dirty, and whatever wins you had reducing clutter in the morning will feel long gone.
To keep your winning streak going, take charge of your kitchen sink.
- Empty the dishwasher or dish rack every morning. It takes five minutes to put away clean dishes, so get it done while the coffee brews or the kids are getting ready for school. This will keep your string of successes going and makes it easier to stay on top of dishes throughout the day.
- Wash or rinse dishes immediately after use. If you have a dishwasher, load dishes directly into it after use. No dishwasher? Tuck a soap-filled dishwashing wand in a kitchen sink caddy, so it’s easy to clean plates and glasses right away.
- Scrub the sink after dinner. Washing your sink with soap and water at the end of the day is enough to get rid of food residue that can attract household pests. If you want to set up your next morning for success, make it part of a nightly kitchen cleaning routine.
Pick the Spot
You start reducing clutter in your home by choosing a spot to work on. A “spot” means just that: a counter, a cupboard, a drawer. A spot is not an entire room or floor of your home. To decide where to start, here are some questions to consider.
- Does clutter make you feel embarrassed when other people see it? If so, then choose spots in rooms that visitors will see. For example, the pile of shoes in your entryway, the pile of laundry on your sofa, or the messy counters in any bathroom they might use.
- Does clutter make it difficult for you to relax? If that’s the case, focus on spots where you like to spend time unwinding. If that’s the living room, focus on picking up the kids’ toys from the floor or tidying the table next to your favorite reading chair. More into scrolling your phone in your room? Declutter your nightstand.
- Does clutter get in the way when you’re trying to cook? Start decluttering the cupboards so it’s easier to put things away, then declutter the countertops.
Make it a Daily Habit
Learning any new habit takes time. If you leave it entirely up to your brain, it won’t remind you until you’re in bed and trying to fall asleep. Now, if you’re already struggling with insomnia, fine: get up and start decluttering. Chances are your brain will decide it really would prefer going to sleep.
For everyone else, it’s a good idea to set a daily decluttering reminder for the first few weeks until you’ve decluttered the main spots in your home. Literally, set an appointment. If you use a phone app or planner to track your routine, add decluttering to your daily schedule. If you just go with the flow, make it a pre-bedtime thing. But do it without fail every day.
What to do during your daily decluttering appointment: Grab a laundry basket or another container you can easily carry and head to the spot where you want to reduce clutter.
- Toss any trash you find. You should have a wastebasket in every room, anyway, which makes this is an easy step.
- Pick up stuff that’s out of place. If something’s in the wrong room, toss it in your basket.
- Straighten things that stay. Once you’ve removed the trash and things that don’t belong, make sure everything else is stuff you actually want to keep in that spot. Remember, the more minimal your decor, the cleaner your home looks, and the easier it is to clean. So really be ruthless about deciding what’s clutter and what’s not.
- Hold family members accountable. If you keep finding your kid’s shoes next to the sofa or toys on the floor, have them earn their stuff back by doing some age-appropriate chores. That way, they’ll learn that leaving a mess means extra work for them, too.
The Final Step
Starting your day by making your bed gives you a morning jolt of dopamine-triggered happiness. This next step provides a nightcap of it, sending you to slumberland with a sense of accomplishment and pride. And it’s easy, too! All you have to do is walk through your home and notice what’s looking right.
Does your reading nook look cozy now that you’ve tidied the table? Is the bathroom feeling spa-like thanks to those clean counters? Can you smell that scented candle now that the sink isn’t full of dirty dishes?
Stroll through and savor the things you’re pleased with, and remind yourself you’ve got plans to get to the rest, so there’s no need to worry. The more good things you find, the more good things you’ll be inspired to accomplish. And that’s how you get hooked on the habit of decluttering your home.