Reducing clutter is one of the best things you can do for your home and your sanity. For many of us, it’s also one of the most challenging things to do.
Too often we think of reducing clutter as a project, something we need to schedule an entire afternoon (or even a weekend) to do. Then we put it off because we’re too busy to find the time we think reducing clutter requires.
The result? Our homes get even more chaotic, our closets and cupboards and drawers get crammed full of more stuff, and it feels like we’ll never be clutter-free.
Worse yet, we feel like failures, and every messy surface, every pile of junk seems to confirm this. Home stops feeling like a refuge and more like a personal accusation.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
By changing how you think about reducing clutter, and performing a few quick daily tasks, you can free yourself from disorder and get a clutter-free, comfortable home.
Reducing Clutter: Tips and How-Tos
First, Change Your Mindset
If you’ve ever tried shedding a few pounds, you know it wasn’t an overnight process, but a series of choices made one at a time, day after day until you reached your goal. Then, having achieved your goal weight, you must continue making conscious choices — though not as many, or as rigidly as before.
Reducing clutter happens the same way.
Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who’ve never had to lose weight. Perhaps, you’ve trained for a 5k run, written a research paper, planned a birthday party or wedding, or created a homeschool curriculum. Whatever the big task, you achieved your goal because you broke it into smaller steps and made a deliberate daily decision to work toward your goal.
That’s the mindset needed to get rid of the clutter.
See, far too often we think of reducing clutter as a one-time event, but you didn’t lose weight (or train for that 5k, write your research paper, or plan your wedding) all in the course of one long afternoon or weekend. You did it a little at a time, methodically. That’s how you need to work at reducing clutter, too.
Next, Adopt This Routine
When you begin thinking of reducing clutter as a process, every step you take toward your goal is empowering.
1. Make Your Bed. Seriously.
I know it doesn’t seem like making the bed does anything to reduce clutter, but bear with me. When your bed is unmade, your entire bedroom looks like a mess. Sure, you can close the door, so you don’t see it, but at the end of a long day, you’re faced with a disheveled bedroom that reinforces the fear you can’t get your home under control.
I’ve written before about how making your bed can change your life, and that’s particularly true when you’re committing to reducing clutter throughout your home. Starting your day by making your bed sets your intention to be a tidy person. It only takes two or three minutes. Don’t skip it.
2. Keep Bathroom Counters Clear
A cluttered bathroom counter attracts grime and looks horrible. Instead of leaving your hairbrush and toiletries out where everyone has to look at them, put them away as soon as you’ve finished getting ready for the day.
Think that takes too much time? Then consider using a “day basket” to hold everything you need in the morning. When you’re done, sweep it all back into the basket and chuck it under the sink. Voila, clutter-free counter.
That clean bathroom counter breaks the clutter blindness we sometimes develop. Soon, your brain will start reminding you of other things you should put away after use, like the oven mitts you wore while cooking, or the coat you tossed on the dining table when you got home from work.
3. Keep the Kitchen Sink Empty at ALL Times
You will never, ever have a clutter-free kitchen if your sink is continuously full of dirty dishes. Why? Because the next time someone uses a glass or a plate, they’re going to set it on the kitchen counter since there’s nowhere else for it to go.
That glass or plate will get joined by more dishes, perhaps even food wrappers or other trash. Soon, the mess spreads to other counters, too. Meanwhile, you’ve got nowhere to wash fruits and vegetables, fill a pot, or drain pasta.
Keeping the kitchen sink empty also sends a message to family members that it’s not their dumping ground. No one feels sorry about adding more thing to a pile. Enforcing an empty kitchen sink rule means everyone must deal with their dirty dishes right away, leaving you less work to do.
4. Process Paperwork PRONTO
Dishes aren’t the only things that seem to multiply on kitchen counters. So does paperwork. The mail, newspapers and store circulars, and notes from your kids’ school — all can make an otherwise clean kitchen look like a mess.
Make processing paperwork a daily habit by making it an easy thing to do. Keep a shredder near your kitchen trash can, so you can quickly dispose of sensitive documents. Sort the rest at the same time, tossing trash and making a decision about what to do with the rest.
Sign permission slips right away and put them in your child’s backpack. Schedule payments for bills when they arrive — most online bill-paying systems let you pick a date in the future if necessary. If you still write checks to make payments, do it right away — you can always wait to mail it off until payday, but you’ll have dealt with the paperwork.
5. Tackle ONE New Spot Every Day
A “spot” means just that: a counter, a cupboard, a drawer. A spot is not an entire room or floor of your home. Make a 15-minute appointment on your calendar with yourself daily and use that time to address whatever place is bothering you the most that day.
Perhaps you’re tired of hunting around for lids to match your food storage containers. Use your 15 minutes to pair all of them up, discard extras, wipe the shelf or drawer where you keep them and put them away neatly.
Maybe it’s the junk on the coffee table that’s driving you crazy? Use your 15 minutes to sort the trash and pick out what belongs elsewhere. Wipe the table top, toss the trash, and put the rest away.
Repeat that daily in 15-minute bursts, and you’ll make huge strides in reducing clutter throughout your home.
Finally, Notice What’s Working
Make a point to notice what’s looking right in your home. Pay attention to what you’ve accomplished. I like to do this following my nightly kitchen cleanup routine. Taking a moment to appreciate what looks good motivates me to keep going.
This is important!
When you’ve been living in chaos for a long time, it’s easy to lose sight of the progress you’ve made. All you see is how much there’s left to deal with, not the clutter-free coffee table, or the way you’ve paired up all of your socks and tidied your sock drawer. When you climb into bed, your mind starts racing with all of the places left to work on, the messes and piles you’ve not purged yet.
If you’ve truly changed your mindset about dealing with clutter, you won’t give in to that anxiety. Oh, it might still pop into your head, but you can combat it by reminding yourself of the things you’ve accomplished in those 15-minute appointments with yourself.
You’ll know, too, that whatever cluttered area your mind is focusing on is the very spot you should deal with the next day.
After that? Well, as the shampoo bottle says, it’s just “lather, rinse, repeat.” You can do it!
NOTE: This post first appeared on September 21, 2016. It has been revised for republication.