What Is Clutter?
First things first – what is ‘clutter’ exactly?
The word ‘clutter’ generally refers to a collection of things lying around in an untidy mess, often in a place where it may not belong.
Ok, so what does it matter? Is a bit of mess in the world such a big deal? Is it important to ‘declutter’?
Well, living in a cluttered home is a small problem in the grand scheme of things, sure. But if you think that your environment does not affect your mood and your health in any way, think again.
Many psychologists and social scientists recognize clutter as a very significant, but often unrecognized source of stress and anxiety in our lives.
So, yes – mess creates stress.
And we’re not just talking about the physical clutter of dirty clothes on the floor, the half-drunk cups of coffee and juice that seem to end up on every available flat surface, or the masses of paper and documents that can be found in every drawer and cupboard in the house.
There is also the invisible mental and emotional clutter of unfinished tasks, unmade decisions and unknown outcomes that plague the modern mind.
Both physical and mental clutter in your life can have a huge impact on your wellbeing, so if you can sort out your clutter, you can improve your wellbeing.
Stands to reason, right?
A clutter-free life is an organized life.
And is an organized life a better life?
Yes. No. Maybe. Sometimes. Depends.
You can decide that for yourself. But for me, given the fact that there are so many things in the world that are beyond our control, I think it make sense to take care of the little things we can control, especially if the result is an improvement in our quality of life.
Are you with me here? 🙂
After precious time, something that I value greatly is a comfortable living environment.
My world and my mood just seems so much better when everything around me is neat and clean and organized.
The whole point of decluttering is not to completely change the way you live your life, but to improve your mood and your focus and create an environment in which you can make more room and time for living your life to the full.
Decluttering doesn’t mean that you need to go full-on minimalist, but you do need to create yourself some space.
Like anything that makes life better, this may require some changes in your habits. And changing habits requires some commitment.
You might think that life is too short to worry about getting organized and you might be right.
But when you understand the freedom that decluttering and organizing your life can bring, you will definitely think again.
The home is a physical extension of your mental and emotional self and a reflection of your personality.
Consider that every item you have takes up physical space in your house and with it, energetic space in your mind.
Most of us know the feeling of wearing clothes that look good on us and the confidence and power that can bring. The same feeling can be had when we are present in a clean and tidy environment, especially if it is the place where we live.
I realize that for a lot of people, decluttering and organizing their homes might seem quite a way down their list of priorities and I get it – doing this kind of thing can be a big, fat hassle.
But, trust me when I say that it will never be as bad as you imagine and you might even enjoy the process.
But even if you don’t enjoy the process, you’re for sure going to enjoy the result of a clean, neat and tidy living space!
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The Decluttering Process
There are three parts to the decluttering process. First and foremost, there is the removal of existing clutter.
The second part is the creation of systems to prevent or minimize any future clutter.
And thirdly, there is the maintenance mode of living in a clutter-free zone, which if done successfully, will mean you never have to go through the first part again!
The biggest job by far will be the removal of existing clutter, but here’s how you can make it as simple as possible . . .
Removal Of Existing Clutter
Decluttering can be a pretty big project, especially if it has been a while since you have had a good clear-out.
So, where to start? How to tackle it?
Before you start, the first thing you need to accept is that it is unlikely to be a one-day job. It’s a process.
And the simplest way to attack this process is in a methodical and systematic way, the easiest and most efficient of which is probably a room-by-room approach.
But before you do this, I would suggest an initial general sweep of the house to take care of the superficial stuff.
1) Empty your bins
First task of the challenge is to empty every bin and wastepaper basket in the house. While you are at it, check each room and pick up any soda cans, pizza boxes, tissue paper, newspapers, etc and ditch them too.
If you don’t do this already as part of your daily routine, start now. Doing this simple task every day as part of the on-going declutter tactic will make a difference very quickly.
2) Return stuff to where it belongs
When you take a look around your house, you mind find that a lot of the temporary homes you gave things have become permanent homes. I’m looking right now at a pile of papers I left on a cupboard while I found some time to deal with them. That was a month ago. They’re still on the cupboard and I still haven’t dealt with them. This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about!
Plates, bowls, empty coffee cups and half-full glasses of juice seem to get left in every room of our house. And as soon as you tidy them up, a new one reappears. We’ve thought about just having one cup and bowl per person to solve this, but for now, we’ll stick with the seek and return strategy. Back to the kitchen with ya!
3) Have an interim drawer or basket
If you have paperwork, letters, bills that require attention, put them all in a basket or drawer until you have time to deal with them. View this as a kind of old fashioned ‘in’ tray you might have on an office desk.
Dedicate a time to address this stuff – give it your full attention in the the time you have blocked out and don’t try and fit it in while you are doing something else.
When it comes to the process of decluttering each of the rooms and spaces in your home, you’re basically making one three decisions on your clutter:
- KEEP – and put in a designated place
- THROW – recycle, give away, sell or discard
- STORE – box up and place in garage, attic or designated storage area
If you’re keeping it, there next step is to find an appropriate home for it and create a system that prevents it from happening again, otherwise, you’re not really addressing the problem.
If you’re storing it, make sure it is in a dedicated storage space like the attic, basement or garage.
Four great questions you can ask yourself that will help you make a decision are:
- Do I actually use this currently?
- How long since I last used it?
- Am I likely to use it again in the future?
- Will I miss it if it’s gone?
Top Tips For Decluttering Each Room
If you had to choose only one room in the house to be free of clutter, it should be the bedroom. The bedroom should be your little oasis from the craziness of the outside world. It’s where we might spend the most time resting, relaxing and “nurturing the relationship” with our partner.
It’s the one place where at the end of the day you should be able to sleep easily and it’s the place where our day begins on waking.
Related: How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep
So, it’s quite an important place and for that reason, we should respect it and make every effort to ensure we create the most suitable environment possible for resting.
How you do that will come down to your own personal tastes in colour, design, textiles, furnishings and the resources available to you, but the one element that all bedrooms should have in common is: no clutter!
Start with the drawers. Take everything out and check that it actually belongs there. If it does, do you still need it or can it go?
Once you have sorted out the essential from the clutter, put it back and try using containers or dividers to keep everything tidy from now on.
Make sure all the flat surfaces are clear and tidy.
Make use of spaces under the bed and elsewhere.
The next place to hit in the bedroom is the closet.
I think everyone is guilty of having clothes in their closet that they just never wear – or maybe never even worn.
A great system to keep a check on this is to start with all of your clothes hanging with the hangers facing back-to-front. Now, if you wear that item of clothing, make sure you return it with the hanger facing the right way.
Check your closet in a few months and see how many items of clothing are still hanging on hangers facing back-to-front. That is all the stuff you don’t wear.
Now it’s time to make the decision about whether or not to keep those items and make room for something new.
Home Office/Desk/Work Space
You may have a room in your house that acts as a dedicated office. Or it could be a desk located in your living room. Or you might simply plonk yourself down with your laptop wherever you fancy at the time. But wherever or how ever you work at home, the chances are, you have some sort of space dedicated to work, filing, etc.
I’ve heard it said that a messy desk is the sign of a genius, but given that less than 1% of the world’s population falls into the category of ‘genius’, it’s unlikely that this excuse will apply to you.
Sorry, I know that All Sussed readers are super smart, but to me, using the claim that you’re a genius as an excuse for a messy desk is really just a cover for laziness!
So how to make sure you keep your workspace super-organized and clutter-free?
The biggest culprit in this part of the house is usually paper, be it documents, bills, receipts or whatever, so start there.
Empty all of the drawers and storage spaces and collect anything on paper. First sort out everything you need to keep from anything you don’t. If you have things that you need to keep, use a filing system to store it, but don’t necessarily need it in hardcopy, why not scan it and keep it on your computer?
You can also digitalize your kids artwork as an alternative to the more permanent (and sometimes regretful) solution of consigning most of it to the dustbin.
Another option is an app like Artkive.
Get yourself some in/out trays and use them so you can attend to them during a time you have blocked out in your schedule.
Keep your desk tidy. Anything that you do not use frequently should be stored in a drawer, cupboard or the appropriate file or box.
Tidy up your cords. Cords, cables and wires running everywhere is a pet peeve of mine. Make good use of gang plugs/power strips and try one of these solutions to keep the cables nice and neat.
The kitchen is generally the most used and lived-in room of the house for most families. Not everyone has the luxury of a spacious kitchen, but it is still possible to keep clutter-free surfaces, even in a smaller kitchen.
Firstly, locate and remove anything that does not belong in your kitchen. Letters, documents, kids toys, car engines, etc.
Clear the countertops to leave only the essential items that you use on a daily basis. Basically, aim for just the knife block, kettle, coffee maker and the kind of ingredients you use daily, stored in mason jars or similar.
Store everything else in cupboards.
If you have stuff in your cupboards that you never use, don’t be afraid to get rid of it or at least store it somewhere else.
Space in the bathroom is often limited. Consider these tips to make full use of the space you have:
- Check for expired products and remove (there are actually dedicated website tools that you can use like this one)
- Move towels to the bathroom, so they are always on hand
- Under sink storage space can be useful
- Make use of dividers, having organisers, etc.
After the kitchen, this is often the room in which people spend the most time. Use the same general sweep technique here and consider the following:
- Add more storage
- Use baskets and boxes
- Remove excess ornaments and decorations
Creating A System
Once you have removed your clutter, you need to implement systems to minimize future clutter. This can be easier said than done, particularly if you have children, but it is not impossible with some carefully thought-out storage solutions that fit in with your life and your schedule.
Remember: what works for one person may not be great for another.
For example, think about where you naturally drop things when you walk through the door.
Keys. Coat. Handbag. Wallet.
Do these things just get dumped on the nearest surface? What if you had hooks or a tray specifically for your keys or a dedicated space for your handbag(s), purse and wallet?
Maintaining A Clutter-Free Life
Once you have been through the pain of completely decluttering your life, the easiest way to stay on top of it is to dedicate a few minutes every day to maintaining your newly-found, clutter-free existence.
Do the 3 activities listed in the general sweep above on a daily basis and make sure everyone in the house is on board with the system and know what goes where.
Other Types Of Decluttering
Transforming a cluttered environment to a clean and tidy space can lift your mood quickly, as you’ve physically changed the world around you. You can see that the offending clutter that was there before has now been removed.
However, there can be additional forms of clutter in your life that are not so obvious and can remain hidden. For example, your mind, your finances and your digital life can all fall victim to the cluttering effect if you don’t stay on top of them.
Here are some tips on dealing with this ‘hidden clutter’.
A cluttered mind is one that frets about the future and ruminates over every little stress and situation.
A cluttered mind is restless and unfocused.
Dealing with all the physical and digital clutter can have a hugely positive impact on you mentally, but there are techniques you can introduce specifically to declutter your mind.
Remove the negative language and thoughts and frame life in a positive way. It’s ok to feel sad or disappointed or frustrated sometimes, but when that becomes your default setting, you need to change things.
Work on you self-confidence. Challenge yourself to succeed and relish the tasks you set yourself.
Related: 8 Easy Ways To Boost Self-Confidence
Sometimes you’ve got to schedule some mental time just for yourself. That doesn’t mean you need to be sitting in the lotus position on top of a mountain – thankfully, there are forms of meditation you can easily incorporate into your life that are much easier than you may think.
Practising mindfulness, for example, is a great place to start. Check out our post to find out how.
Stop worrying and ruminating.
Keep a journal. Writing down the things you are worried about and the emotions you are feeling can be very therapeutic and help you to let go of them and approach your thoughts much more objectively.
Putting plans and ideas down on paper (or in Word document) can help you to organize and evaluate them and transform them from an idea to an actionable plan.
Be more decisive whenever you can. Keeping your mental inbox clean by making decisions quickly. Make the decision, execute the task and move on. Procrastination rarely helps and creating a back-log of tasks requiring action will only make you ineffective.
There are some areas of your life where decision-making processes can be pretty much put auto pilot – like what to eat for breakfast or what you are going to wear to work, so it’s a good idea to set up a schedule or routine for these parts of your life.
Some people might find that toast on Monday, cereal on Tuesday, etc, is too structured and boring, but taking care of this mundane stuff frees up your mind for the more important things on your agenda for the day.
Learning to prioritize is one of the best things you can do to declutter your mind, so try to organize daily tasks without getting distracted or trying to complete a hundred different tasks at the same time.
In a previous corporate existence, I remember being shown Stephen Covey’s “Time Management Matrix” and the “Eisenhower Box” to help understand how to prioritize tasks.
The Eisenhower Box
Here’s what an Eisenhower Box looks like below. You basically assign each of your tasks to one of the quadrants and attack them accordingly. Visualizing it seems to make things easier.
Messy finances can be a huge source of hassle and stress. And sorting out personal finances is a probably one of the most common areas of procrastination for a lot of people.
But actually, getting a grip on your finances might be easier than you think. You certainly don’t need to be super financially savvy to do so.
Related: How Financially Savvy Are You?
Like most things, all that is required is a bit of commitment and some structure. The main areas of personal finance that often require some ‘decluttering’ include:
- Dealing with debt
- Creating a monthly budget
- Saving up an emergency fund
- Automating your bill payments
- Automating your saving
- Transferring credit card balances to consolidate debt
We’ve written a few posts (see below) that will help you manage these issues effectively, so be sure to check them out when you have finished reading this one.
Related: How To Get Out Of Debt In 5 Steps
Related: How To Create A Budget That Works
Our digital lives are not immune to the Clutter Monster either.
In fact, the volume of photos, emails and files we can accrue on our phones and laptops in even a short space of time can be quite remarkable. Moreover, the volume of non-essential stuff can quickly bury the stuff we actually need, which can be inconvenient at best.
So, when it comes to your phone and laptop:
- Delete unwanted all photos, videos or move them to the Cloud/external storage
- Delete unused apps – I just deleted 21 apps I never use only yesterday!
- Delete old email messages
- Unsubscribe from emails and social media updates
Another form of digital clutter is social media generally.
Many people spend (or arguably, waste?) huge amounts of time scrolling though social media platforms, checking notifications and posting messages, but do you really have a handle on how much of your precious time each day is spent doing this?
It might shock you.
Apps that tell you how manage the amount of time you spend on social media can be useful tools to help you declutter your social media activity. Examples include:
- Social Fever
So, there you have our tips on decluttering your life. Let us know what works for you and please do share any tips you have yourself.