5 Simple Steps to Clearing the Clutter (painlessly)

By Ali Luke

January 23, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

For a lot of us, the answer to most of these questions is unfortunately “yes”…

Keeping your surroundings tidy and organized might sound like a chore, but it’s actually one of the best ways to obtain peace of mind and a calmer outlook on life. Here’s how to make tidying and decluttering as painless as possible.

  1. Schedule Some Time
    Like everything else on your to-do list, “tidy the house” will only get done if you schedule some time for it. Tasks like tidying, organizing and cleaning are incredibly easy to put off, because they’re rarely urgent… until, of course, you lose that very important report, your passport or your car keys.

You could schedule a whole day or weekend to have a big spring clean, but you’ll probably find yourself slacking after a couple of hours of work. Instead, try giving yourself a target of just half an hour of non-stop tidying each day for a week. You’ll be surprised just how much you can get through.

  • Concentrate On One Place
    One big mistake when tidying is to try to do a bit of everything at once. Focus on getting one place completely cleared and organized; this will give you an instant motivational boost! (This is like the idea of creating a debt snowball, where you pay off the smallest debts first in order to gather momentum before tackling the larger ones.) A great place to start is your desk, as a cluttered desk will drag your mood down whenever you’re working at it. In an hour you could: 
    • Empty out all the desk drawers.
      • Bin anything you no longer need or any rubbish (candy bar wrappers, old receipts…)
      • Put items you haven’t used in over two months into storage somewhere else (how often do you really use your Christmas card stampers?)
      • File important papers, such as invoices and receipts. 
  • Make sure all the drawers are clean (wipe with a cloth and detergent if necessary) before replacing the items you do need, neatly, in them. 
  • Take everything from the top of the desk.
    • File papers in appropriate folders, especially any which have been piled up for days.
    • Make sure your inbox and outbox haven’t become storage containers for a mishmash of paper.
    • Check that pens and other items of stationary are working (refill staplers, replace glue sticks). 
  • Clean the top of your desk
    • Wash up any mugs or other food containers
    • Where possible, store items in the space cleared in your desk drawers: having an empty desk is much more relaxing than having a cluttered one.
    • Get some cable ties (the ties which come with freezer bags for food should work) and fasten computer cables neatly.

That might look like a long list, but it shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes if you work fast.

  • Tackle Something Each Day
    Once you’ve sorted out your desk, try moving on to some of these areas, most of which should take only 30-60 minutes to sort out:
    • Your closet and drawers of clothing (what can go to a charity or thrift store? What can be kept elsewhere until the appropriate season?) 
  • Storage space under your bed (can you dispose of items you no longer use? Can you put anything up in the attic?) 
  • Your kitchen cupboards (bin out of date foods, make a note of anything that needs replacing). 
  • Your bathroom – how many bottles do you really need around the bath or shower? 

Keep up the momentum by doing some tidying each day. Even if you’re really short of time, you can manage ten minutes to declutter a drawer.

  • Keep Up Your Enthusiasm
    If you’ve been living in clutter for a long time, you might have a way to go before it’s properly tidy. Keep yourself enthusiastic about decluttering by: 
    • Getting other family members involved. This makes it much easy to “blitz” through a lot of work. 
  • Putting on your favorite music while tidying. Something with a fast beat helps if you’re trying to get it all done quickly! 
  • Look at the progress you’ve made so far. Aren’t you happier now you’ve got a clear desk and a tidy closet? Doesn’t it make daily life much easier when you don’t have to waste precious time hunting for something you’ve misplaced under all the clutter? 
  • If you find yourself reluctant to part with items that you rarely or never use, why not sell them on ebay and spend the extra cash on something you really want? 
  • Don’t Undo Your Good Work
    Once you’ve got things to a tidy state, it won’t require much effort to keep them that way. Make sure that you get yourself into good habits so that things stay automatically tidy. For most people, this means making sure that items get tidied back to their proper places after use and spending a little time each week doing any extra tidying.

Here’s some tips that help to maintain a decluttered home:

    • Have a place for everything (especially items such as keys and important documents). Get into the habit of putting things away as soon as you’ve finished using them. For example, always put your keys back on their hook as soon as you come home. 
  • Make children responsible for clearing away their own toys, books, games and so on. Toys and games can become clutter when there’s no set place to store them: try buying a couple of big boxes or crates to put everything away in once it’s been played with. 

Good luck with your tidying! If you’ve got a great decluttering tip, why not share it with us in the comments?

Written on 1/23/2009 by Ali Hale. Ali runs Alpha Student, a blog packed with academic, financial and practical tips to help students get the most out of their time at university. Photo Credit: lorda
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