How to declutter your home
On the face of it, decluttering sounds simple enough. Take some time out, align your trinkets in neat little rows and get back to whatever it was you’d rather be doing.
But that’s just it: do you really need all those little trinkets? And just how many pairs of jeans are too many? There comes a point when tidying isn’t enough – you actually need to bite the bullet and get rid.
Of course, that’s easier said than done – especially when emotional attachment comes into play. Take Jessica, an account manager and mother from Huddersfield as an example. Even though she had the luxury of a walk-in wardrobe at home, it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to find the things she needed. Although this took precious time out of her day, she was anxious not to throw away items that may one day come in use.
To help Jessica and millions like her, we got in touch with Kate Ibbotson, professional clutter coach from A Tidy Mind, to help kick-start the decluttering process. Within a day Kate was able to bring the ruthless side out of Jessica, leading to a substantial ‘recycle’ and ‘sell’ pile. She even got Parcelforce out to remove a particularly cumbersome item that, believe it or not, she’d only used once.
Now it’s time to apply Kate’s advice to your own busy spaces. Working together with Parcelforce Worldwide, she’s provided all the tips and motivation you need to get started on this page.
- Why do some people find clutter so hard to deal with?
- How to choose an approach
- Visualisation and planning
- Starting the decluttering processes
- How to decide whether to get rid of something
- What to do with old stuff
- Staying organised
Why do some people find clutter so hard to deal with?
Clutter is often a result of delayed decision-making. You may think ‘I’ll put this here for now’, or I’ll deal with that later’. Over time, this leads to overflowing surfaces, bags full of random items and clothes jumbled up at the bottom of the wardrobe. Then there are those three little words, ‘just in case,’ which you can apply to almost anything. But holding onto items just in case you need them at some unknown point in the future is not a decision to keep them at all, but a decision not to make a decision – if you can get your head around that. It’s easy to tell yourself that it’s just stuff and not as important as other life admin, but this procrastination can see your clutter build up to the point where it feels like too much to deal with. Or perhaps it’s that you don't know where to start or how to structure your decluttering session. You try to do too much in one day and feel so exhausted that you give up, delaying the process. And if you’re not sure where to donate or recycle certain items, this can cause you to put it off for even longer.
How to choose an approach
First things first, figure out how you’re going to go about your decluttering. An approach you may not have considered is decluttering by category. Recommended in Marie Kondo’s best-selling book ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’, this approach requires you to find every item in a particular category (books, clothes, toys, DIY and tools, kitchenware etc) from every room of the house, and lay them out together in one place. The advantage of this method is that when you see how many items you have in each category, it’ll be easier to identify which ones you no longer want, need or enjoy, and dispose of them accordingly. It’s great for people living on their own or as a couple in a smaller house or flat. However, don’t start with sentimental categories, as these items are more difficult to throw out due to the emotional element they contain. Instead, focus on low-emotion categories such as kitchenware or toiletries until you have built up your ‘decluttering muscle’. The second approach, and the most logical for many people, is to tackle one room at a time. This is great for those in larger homes and families (although teenagers may not appreciate you piling up their beloved possessions on the living room floor). Bear in mind that it’s not realistic to tackle a whole room in a day. You’ll get there, but it may take some time. Start small with a single drawer or cupboard and work your way up.
Visualisation and planning
The next step is to visualise how you want your home to look by the end of your clearout. For inspiration, check out interior design magazines, websites such as Houzz.com or Pinterest. Try to picture each room separately and imagine how much better you’d feel if it was free from clutter. As well as the emotional incentives, consider the practical benefits too – the house will be easier and less time-consuming to keep clean, it’ll be quicker to find things, and you’ll have more space to display those items which truly bring you joy. Being mindful of these thoughts should help to keep you motivated when having to make tough decisions about what stuff you need to get rid of. Once you have an idea of how much clutter you need to clear out, take some time to write a plan. It doesn’t need to be long or detailed – just some bullet points to outline your priorities and goals. For instance, you might write ‘I want to eat at a clear dining table each evening’ or ‘I want to be able to find a specific piece of paperwork within minutes’.
Starting the decluttering process
Before you get stuck in, clear some space either on the floor or your bed to make room for a sorting area. You need enough space for five piles: Keep; Donate; Throw Away (which you might want to subcategorise into recycling vs rubbish); Store/Out of Season; and Action (items to return to someone else, sell, repair, etc). A Maybe pile is not recommended – this is a time for decision-making. Some items may need to be boxed up and stored, such as holiday clothes or children’s toys to be kept for future additions to the family. Only do this if you fully intend to reuse these one day, and label the boxes so that you can see at a glance what's inside. Once you’ve finished making your piles, make sure you see the full decluttering process through. Items in the Keep pile should be returned neatly to their assigned homes and the Throw Away belongings removed from the house before making a plan for the rest. Any items you intend to sell should be photographed and listed on your chosen selling site straight away.
How to decide whether to get rid of something
Making decisions about whether or not to let something go is a common obstacle that gets in the way of a straight-forward declutter. To help you out, here are some important questions to ask yourself during the process.
When did you last use it?
If the item in question has a practical function (clothes/tools/gadgets) and you haven’t used it in more than six months, you probably don’t need it. If you really do need that item in the future, you’ll likely be able to buy a replacement on eBay or from a charity shop at a relatively low cost.
How much is it worth to you today?
Many people hold on to items because of how much they paid for it originally, even if it’s outdated. But the key thing to consider is whether it adds value to your life today. Ask yourself whether you would buy it now if you didn’t already own it, and if not, it may not be worth keeping. The money has already been spent and you’re unlikely to get that back, so it could be better to cut your losses.
Does the item truly make you happy?
William Morris once said, ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’. With anything decorative, ornamental or not in any way useful, think about whether it brings you real joy or happiness, and whether it adds value or meaning to your life. If the answer is no, then get rid of it, and make room for those items which you have attachments to, such as family photographs, heirlooms or works of art you particularly love. You should also resist the urge to hold onto an item out of guilt or obligation.
Do you have something else which does the same job?
This is often true of kitchen equipment. If you’ve got a blender and a juicer, do you really need both? Recipe books can also get in the way, especially when the only two recipes you actually use are available online. Carrier bags are another example – recycle those dozens of single use bags, replacing them with a few bags for life. They’re sturdier and most supermarkets will replace them once they get worn out or broken.
What to do with old stuff
With the exception of a few legal documents, there’s not much we need to keep in paper form – but still so many of us have drawers overflowing with receipts, utility bills and other letters. Use your mobile phone to take photos of these documents before organising them into cloud-based storage such as Dropbox or iCloud, or download them onto a hard drive. Instruction manuals are bulky and mostly irrelevant – record the serial numbers in a document on your PC or laptop for you to access later if you need to. A quick online search of the make, model and/or serial number will usually bring up instruction manuals for the item. If you’re not tech-savvy or simply prefer to have hard copies, gather everything important and store it in a single home file separated into categories.
There are myriad ways to sell online, whether you’re getting rid of large items such as furniture that could be collected by a local buyer or small to medium-sized goods which can go in the post. By selling items on a worldwide marketplace site such as eBay, you have the best chance of selling something at its true value - but there are an increasing number of alternatives to eBay. You can also choose to sell through websites that specialise in things such as CDs, videos and DVDs, often in bulk. Generally, you will be required to enter or scan each item’s barcode on your smartphone, then the company will give you an estimated price and arrange for a courier service to collect the items. More information can be found on the Money Saving Expert website.
Car boot sales
These events are great for selling a variety of items at one time – but they can be time-consuming and you may not get the best price. Many sellers also find themselves returning home with unsold items. If your main aim is to get rid of as much as possible and you aren’t worried about how much money you make back, car boot sales are a good option, and you can always make it more fun by doing it with a friend.
Giving your unwanted things to charity shops is a rewarding experience, and many places take items that are unsuitable for sale (worn clothing, damaged books, etc) as they sell them on to recycling companies. However, some shops don’t take electrical items, so check on the charity’s website or call them before taking your donations along. Think outside the box when it comes to deciding what to donate, as animal shelters may well be glad of your old towels and duvets, after school clubs could appreciate arts and crafts, and food banks will be happy to accept unwanted food and drink.
Most councils offer recycling services at the local tip, and some will even have collection points for larger items. Visit the gov.uk website to find out more about what’s available in your area.
What are the benefits of paying a professional to deal with clutter?
As someone who’s objective about your belongings, it can help to call in a professional to help you declutter. They can keep you on task and ask practical questions, motivating you during the moments you feel overwhelmed. They can create a structured system that you can follow and estimate how long it will take to tackle a particular area. They can also donate items to various charities and projects, and advise on recycling and whether it's worth selling certain items. In addition, they’ll have expert knowledge on storage solutions and interior design to help you get the most out of your new space. Crucially, they’ll know which organisational system to put in place to keep your home free from clutter in future. Visit www.apdo.co.uk to find an accredited and fully insured Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers member in your locality.
Staying on top of your progress is a separate battle. Good organisation is the key to avoiding the future build-up of clutter – read on for our top tips and rules.
If you can’t see it, you won’t use it
It’s amazing how quickly a junk drawer can turn into a junk room. As soon as you allow an area to get out of control, you’re more likely to add to it again and again, so make sure that when you open your cupboards, wardrobes or drawers, you can see all your possessions at a glance. This will also help you to stop overfilling spaces.
Use the ‘one touch’ rule
Otherwise known as the ‘only handle it once’ (OHIO) rule, this is great way to stay on top of post and paperwork. If you can deal with it then and there, do it – it may not take that long as you think, and it’ll vastly simplify your life in the long run. If you’re short on time, file the document in a dedicated area and schedule a time to look at it later.
Create a kitchen command station
The kitchen is usually the main hub in any household. Creating a kitchen command station with a place for sorting post, an action tray for anything under the ‘one touch’ rule, a charging station, a calendar and somewhere to keep notes helps you to rule the roost with complete efficiency.
Assign a place for items you’re taking out
Homes see a constant turnover of stuff. If you let things build up for too long, you’ll soon find yourself inundated. However, belongings will become much easier to organise if you have a designated spot in your home that all family members can add to. These items can then be donated to charity or sold for a bit of extra cash.
Rid yourself of ‘decision fatigue’
When we have too many decisions to make, we can suffer from what psychologists call ‘decision fatigue’, which hampers our productivity. There’s a reason why many CEOs have so few clothes – to minimise the number of decisions they have to make in the morning. When our wardrobes are stuffed full of garments, we tend to rebel and become more likely to buy more. A good way to combat this is to employ the ‘one-in-one-out’ rule, which sees you getting rid of something each time you make a purchase to prevent impulse buying. Letting go of possessions can be difficult, but just reading this article is the first step in your journey towards a tidier home.