Simple Strategies to Clean Up Clutter

My sister and her family recently downsized into a smaller home. The furniture that fit well in their old house made their new rooms seem cluttered and crammed with bulky pieces that didn’t belong.

They decided to get rid of much of their furniture and purchase pieces that complimented their new space. In the process, they sold, gave away, recycled and threw out a good portion of the clutter they had accumulated over the years. By helping my sister go through this process, I learned valuable strategies that can work for any family.

Set Small Goals

Decluttering your space can seem overwhelming, especially if you have a variety of piles all over the house. One way to restore a feeling of peace is to do what I like to call “Save a Room.” Designate one room in your home as the storage space. With the other people who live in your home, choose one room to clear out at a time. Leave only those items that you all want to remain the room, and put all of the other items in the designated storage space. The only things allowed in the cleaned-out room are those agreed upon by everyone who initially helped clean it out. Later, you can decide what to do with the items in the storage space.

This is an easy way to establish and keep clutter-free zones, but the idea of a designated storage space may be impractical or overwhelming. As you clean out one room at a time, immediately give away, recycle and throw out items that you no longer need or want. When you finish a room, do something fun for a reward – this could be seeing a movie, going out for a meal or taking a hike.

A Place for Everything…

My husband and I established a simple rule early in our marriage – put stuff where it belongs. This removes the question “Where is my —–?” and keeps clutter from inhabiting the entire house.

There are several items that have specific homes – cell phones and chargers, keys, spare change, and pens – but other items are harder to corral. These can include newspapers, school papers, small toys, markers, crayons, scissors, mail, and magazines, to name a few. My family would probably leave these all over the house if I hadn’t already set up specific systems to take care of them.

For example, there are separate baskets for mail, coupons, and school papers. There’s a basket in each bathroom for magazines. Each family member has a bin that hangs on the wall in the kitchen to collect miscellaneous items that I find strewn around the house which then get cleaned out each week. If you find the same types of things in different places in your home, it might be time to set up a designated area.

Choose a Calendar

While we’re on the subject of paper-specific clutter, consider setting up a calendar that everyone can access. This can be in the form of a bulletin board, a dry-erase calendar, or a 12-month variety that hangs on a wall. Banish excessive sticky notes and reminders by putting all pertinent information in that calendar space, then look there every day.

If you have computer-savvy family members, consider using an online calendar program for everyone to use. Set up different colors for each participant and set up automatic reminders for important appointments and events. When a piece of paper comes into your life, put the pertinent information onto the calendar and then recycle that potential clutter!

Reuse, Regift, Recycle

Photo by Chris Satchwell

It’s important to evaluate carefully whether or not to keep something while you’re going through your clutter. There might be an old bookcase or basket that you find and really want to use, but there’s probably many items that you won’t need.

While sifting through the piles, keep a couple of bags, bins or boxes handy. One is for regifting and one is for recycling. While there is the duty of graciously thanking someone when you receive a gift, there’s no obligation to keep every single gift that passes through your hands. My sister had gifts she had never opened or used. Put these new items in a special place to use for housewarming, birthday gifts or Christmas gifts when appropriate, before going out to buy something.

The second bin is for recycling, which in this case means selling at a garage sale or donating to an organization that can sell them in thrift stores. Don’t forget to keep any documentation you receive to use as a tax write-off, and make a list of donated items directly on the receipt.

Avoid “Just in Case”

It’s tempting to keep things “just in case.” I might need the dress pants that I wore five years ago that no longer fit…WRONG. I’m not going to use them again, and I’m not going to need them again.

To get around the “Just in Case,” bag or box up the items that you want to keep for this particular reason and put them in the attic or basement for about a month. During that time, if there’s something you legitimately want or need from that supply, go get it. Otherwise, get rid of it.

These simple strategies for decluttering take a little time and effort, but pay off with maximum peace and simplicity!

Kelly Wilson is a busy mom, freelance writer, and an expert at saving money. Obsessed with finding the best deal, she never goes anywhere without a coupon. She is the author of Live Cheap & Free! Strategies to Thrive in Tough Economic Times, as well as numerous articles and short stories for children and adults. Kelly lives with her husband and two small children in Portland, Oregon.

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