If your apartment is giving you a headache — you might be wondering how to declutter your home. Getting rid of unwanted items and optimizing your space is daunting — but it’s always well worth the effort when your home and storage solutions function like a well-oiled machine. Not only does it help your day-to-day flow better, but I find it also improves my mental health and well-being.
Don't worry — you won't have to put those margs and mimosas with the girls on hold. I'm not expecting you to spend hours on end like some 21st-century Cinderella out here. Just little and often, with purpose is my motto.
R2G? I spoke to a handful of decluttering and organizing experts to get their best insights on exactly how to declutter your home as efficiently as possible so that you can implement the most efficient organization ideas around, for super-chill surroundings.
Good to know
It can be very overwhelming when you start out — especially if you've left it to your parents in the past. Take the pressure off for the best results, just go one step at a time. Don’t go after the whole house while WFH — because trust me — it will be too much. Do it by room or by area just so you don’t end up with a mountain of mess.
You will need
- A timer — get a stopwatch or use your smartphone's app
- Baskets — there are loads on Amazon
- Acrylic storage — see your stuff with these clear bins
- A label-making machine — Cricut Joy is our fave
- A small printer — digitize your docs
- Recycling bags — for paper, plastic, and reusable materials
- Trash bags — carrier bags will do if you don't have refuse sacks
- Your best trash can/kitchen bin
1. Start with your hallway
Your hallway is the entrance to your home, and one of the first rooms your friends and fam will see as they walk into your space. Yes, it receives a lot of traffic, but having a messy entryway is no excuse when there are tons of hallway storage ideas at your disposal. The last thing you want is for guests to come in and see shoes scattered on the floor, coats draped over the stairs and yesterday's post still littered on your mat. So that's where shoe organizers, console tables, and coat rails all come in handy.
Not all furniture needs to be so 'in your face' either. So if you want a subtle way to scoot away your stuff, look to under the stair ideas. Unless your visitors are very close relatives they shouldn't be wandering into this space anyway. Hello, personal space.
2. Set a proper time duration for the activity
"Decluttering takes time because it involves decision-making every step of the way," explains Anton Giuroiu architect and founder, Homesthetics.net. "You need to decide on a per-item basis if you’re going to keep something or not and that will definitely not always be a fast decision to make."
That being said, Giuroiu suggests you make sure to allocate a proper time window for decluttering. Organizing a bathroom might take as little as half a day if you're not a skincare queen and generally keep your bathroom cabinets tidy.
A whole weekend, on the other hand, might not be enough for larger places like a home office or when organizing a closet. Set your expectations early and make sure that you do not do things in a hurry because you might not be able to declutter properly if you are pressed for time. You could also try the 15-minute declutter method, which will allow you to do a little bit each day.
3. Gather and sort like items
If you are clearing out your closet, put together pants, shirts, handbags, etc.
"Break things down into little categories based on how much time you can spare," says Katherine Lawrence, founder of Space Matters and support organizer for Hoarders on A&E. "If you want to organize your kitchen in 30 minutes a day, then one day pull out all the mugs, the next day sort through glasses, and so on."
4. Categorize what you love, what is useful, and what is practical
It's true what they say: one (wo)man's junk is another man's treasure. So if you're feeling altruistic, giving away your secondhand wares to charity is one way to simplify your space.
"I recommend donating or throwing away anything you haven't worn in six months or used in six months," says Cornell.
"Don't keep things that have a negative emotion attached to them. For example, if you see an item of clothing that you no longer wear and think ‘wish I fit into that’ or ‘wish it looked good on me,’ you do not need to carry those feelings around with you. Out it goes!"
If you have a lot of a certain item, it might take a little more decision-making to cut down your collection… Let’s say you have twenty-five wine glasses (I won't judge) and you and your roomie have a daily glass of wine. Pick two of your best wine glasses to keep. Sometimes you have dinner with six guests, add another four to your keep pile. What if you love glasses that you picked up while on vacation in Europe? Add those four to the keep pile and adjust your kitchen storage accordingly.
"Ten glasses fit nicely on one shelf in your cabinet," points out Lawrence. "Keeping ten glasses checks the requirements of what you love, what you use, and what is practical."
5. Place items in a permanent home that makes sense
Most of us get the idea of a permanent home with socks (dresser drawer), forks (kitchen drawer), coats (closet), etc. So let’s apply this logic to everything else and create a “home” for all the things you own.
"Use labels in drawers and bins as reminders for other family members. Challenge yourself to keep minimizing until everything fits without stacking, shoving, and stuffing." says Lawrence.
Labels don't have to be boring white stickers. You can get super creative with adhesive vinyl labeling made using a Cricut machine to add a more personalized touch to your organization.
6. Make digital copies of your documents
"Papers and other documents account for most of the clutter in anybody’s house," says Giuroiu.
Saying that it's vital to keep a digital duplicate of your papers so that you may search for them digitally when you need them right away, but the physical versions can be kept out of sight and in a secure area.
"Simply ensure that your digital copies are secured from hackers and that your physical copies are stored safely away from floods, fires, and other natural disasters," he adds.
Even the best small printers (and your iPhone) have a copier and scan functions so you can create electronic files from your own home office, rather than lugging your confidential info down to the local library. For items that you do need to have a paper copy of (i.e. your birth certificates), there are some cool home office organization ideas that'll stop your docs from getting dog-eared or accidentally marked with ring marks from your coffee. A good desk organizer can keep these essential records separate from your casual notebook or pad so you won't hurriedly jot down a phone number or address on your legal forms and files.
7. Channel a minimalist mindset
"If you are struggling with any of these steps I give you permission to just chuck stuff," says Lawrence. 'The fewer things you have the less you have to organize!'
It is very difficult to “organize” things that you don’t really like, never use, and do not fit into your living space. So keep donate, recycle, and trash bags handy and fill them up with enthusiasm. Congrats — you just eliminated one more thing you will never have to organize!
On the contrary, if you fancy yourself as a bit of a boss babe and fancy a little side hustle, channel that entrepreneurial side and list things on online marketplaces like eBay or even social markets dedicated to homewares. A few dollars earned here and there can really add up... just don't be tempted to buy more stuff from the income you've made — otherwise, it defeats the object.
8. Utilizing vertical space is key
Create a cleaner aesthetic in both big and small living rooms by taking your furniture off the floor, and considering alternative ideas for living room storage that draw the eye up. These have the secondary advantage of making a compact living room look bigger, plus you can keep small hands (and big paws) away from prized possessions.
"Instead of a bulky bookcase use thin book ledges hung on the wall, instead of a table lamp use wall sconces, and rather than a cold bare floor, lay down a patterned area rug to create more depth," suggests Karin Sun, founder of Crane & Canopy.
"Filling up your vertical space truly makes a difference when it comes to organizing all of your daily essentials around the house."
It's also worth noting that decluttering and displaying items up high are fundamental decorating rules in Feng Shui (the Chinese discipline that boasts benefits to wellbeing). So something as simple as swapping out chunky furniture for some sleek shelving ideas can do wonders for creating a happy home.
8. Opt for a neutral (non-busy) background
With multiple personalities in a single space, things can get busy quickly. "If you have neutral walls and bedding, add character to the space by decorating the space with colorful wall art, shower curtains, throw pillows and throw blankets," says Sun.
White, grey, and beige tend to be good paint colors for the living room if you're putting your property on the market or decorating on a budget. But don't underestimate the power of decluttering to sell your home. By removing your interior identity, prospective buyers might be able to see the potential each room has, which may include a change in the living room layout.
9. Go double duty
"Buy furniture pieces that can serve multiple functions," suggests Sun.
"I love using sideboards in dining rooms that actually have filing cabinet drawers in them. This way, I have a place for all the important documents, and let's face it so many times people end up using their best dining table as a desk so it's nice to have everything in the same space."
Alternatively, some of the best coffee tables can hide away a whole heap of items. If you're a remote worker, a lift-top coffee table should be on your shopping list, as packing away your WFH gear will help you to switch off at the end of the day.
Pro tip: Go easy on yourself when decluttering your home
Nickerson's best tip is: "Don't overthink it. It's pretty easy to justify holding on to something because "it was a gift" or "I paid a lot of money for that". If you aren't using it or wearing it then it's taking up valuable space in your home. Let it go. It's okay!"
"You'll feel so much better once things are simplified. I like to list bigger items on Facebook Marketplace. Price them right to get them out quickly.'"
The biggest decluttering mistake people make Nickerson thinks is down to simply not starting. "Lists like mine can be overwhelming but they don’t have to be! So what if it takes you way longer to accomplish? Get it done on your timeline but get it done."
"Every year, after I go through the clean-out, I get better and better about being intentional in deciding what things I bring into our home. It's a process and unless you’re innately a minimalist, it takes time and consideration to change habits and live differently. Just start."
Where do I start decluttering my house?
When it comes to shortlisting your favorite garms, not having a system in place is one of the biggest clothing storage mistakes you could make. By chopping up this chore into smaller chunks, you're much more likely to sort out the job more swiftly. "Pick one space that you feel needs to function better for you. Don't pick one thing, like 'all of my clothes,' it's too broad and can be overwhelming," says DIY influencer Jessica Nickerson of @househomemade.
"If you do choose your closet, start with one part of it, like getting the t-shirts in order. Then move on to pants. When you break it up into smaller, bite-sized pieces, it can be less stressful. In an effort to keep things easy, I'd also advise to not pulling everything out all at once. What if something pulls you away from the task at hand? Then you have an unfinished project AND a huge mess."
Does clutter make you tired?
Having lots of visual stimuli in the house can cause mental fatigue. The old saying "tidy space, tidy mind" does therefore have some truth in it.
"Clearing the clutter from your house actually helps you clear emotional clutter in your mind too," says Victoria Cornell, founder, and decluttering expert at Motherhood Life Balance. '"Clearing out the clutter also lets you make room for new and positive things."
Where do I start with decluttering my house?
As we mentioned at the start, it's best to start in the place you and your guests will see first: your entryway. Whether you go to college, or have a job — this area sees a lot of traffic. So give yourself some visual respite (and space to navigate in and out of your home).
How do you clear clutter when you're overwhelmed?
Clearing your mind is just as important as clearing your space. Perhaps put some music on a playlist to get you motivated, and make sure you take regular breaks (hydrating in the process). A short (read: short!) time-out will allow you to assess your space so you don't get too swamped. Have a plan of what you intend to do and stick to it. While you might stumble across a few nostalgic possessions along the way, it's important that a trip down memory lane doesn't meddle with your mission.
What is the fastest way to purge clutter?
I find the fastest way to purge clutter is having a clear strategy of where it's going to go. Make time to go to your local thrift shop, and even load up your car's trunk in advance. Or, declutter a day before you know your local authority is going to pick up the trash, so it's not sat in your apartment for too long.