Decluttering your home can be a massive undertaking, one that sometimes feels too daunting to even attempt.
But like most things in life, the hardest part is getting started. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of no-fail decluttering tips from the experts — certified professional organizers with years of experience under their belts — to help you start decluttering your home and taking control of your space.
1. Before you declutter, visualize what you want your space to look like.
This step is key. Before you start tossing papers in trash bags or stuffing old sweaters in cardboard boxes because you just can’t stand it anymore, take a moment to consider your goal for the space.
Close your eyes and visualize your dream room (or dream closet). What does it look like? What will you use it for? Where is your stuff? How does the space make you feel?
Suzanne O’Donnell of My LA Organizer (pictured above) recommends focusing on the outcome of your decluttering efforts. “If you find a photo in a magazine or online and that photo gives you a sense of peace … translate that into your own space,” says O’Donnell.
Sharon Lowenheim (pictured below), the NYC-based certified professional organizer behind Organizing Goddess, adds that “the more specific you can make [your vision], the more motivated you will feel.”
2. Don’t bring any new items into your home until the decluttering process is complete.
Regina Lark, a certified professional organizer and founder of the LA-based organizing company A Clear Path, stresses the importance of waiting until after you’ve finished decluttering to bring new stuff into your space.
Because you have enough to deal with as it is.
3. Get mentally prepared.
Before you start decluttering, it’s important to understand that the process will take time. “Keep in mind that if the mess didn’t happen overnight, it won’t be fixed that quickly,” says Amy Trager, a Chicago-based certified professional organizer.
“Remind yourself that even baby steps in the right direction are still steps in the right direction. You’ll be that much closer to your end goal.”
4. Gather all the materials you’ll need.
LA-based professional organizer Abbey Claire Keusch recommends keeping trash bags and donation bags on hand, as well as baskets to hold things that belong in another room.
Pro Tip: Live in NYC, Chicago, or DC and have old clothes you’d like to donate and other things you’d like to store?
Schedule a MakeSpace pickup. In addition to picking up, storing, and delivering your stuff back, we’ll also pick up your donation and bring it to a local Goodwill — at no extra charge.
5. Schedule your decluttering session on the calendar.
The experts all agree: The best way to ensure you’ll actually start decluttering is to schedule it on your calendar. Pick a time frame that works best for you, but don’t worry about blocking off a full day for the job.
Lowenheim advises choosing a small chunk of time, whether it’s 15 minutes or three hours, and really going for it. Set a timer if you need to.
Bonus Tip: You can also do what NYC-based professional organizer Anna Bauer recommends and use a to-do list app like Wunderlist to track everything and assign some tasks to your significant other, friends, or family.
6. Start with the space that bothers you the most.
It doesn’t matter if you begin with your bedroom closet, garage, kitchen, or junk drawer. What does matter, according to the expert organizers, is that you start with the part of your home that’s causing you the most stress or anxiety.
Or as Trager puts it: “Whichever space makes you want to slam the door shut and run away.”
Tackling your biggest problem first will make you feel more motivated to continue, says Lowenheim.
Another good method?
Starting with the area that will impact your daily life the most, according to Trager.
7. Then start with what you can see.
Now that you’ve pinpointed your problem area, Keusch recommends easing into the decluttering process by starting with what you can see.
That means visible surfaces like desktops, tops of dressers and tables, or floor space. Once you’ve cleared the clutter from those areas, you can dive into your drawers and cabinets.
That being said …
8. Don’t forget to focus on the big stuff, too.
O’Donnell says the placement of furniture in a space (including your coffee table, sofa, bed, and shelves) can often contribute to visual clutter and make it more difficult to stay organized in the long term.
“If you have too much furniture in a room or there are large toys that haven’t been used in a long time, move those items out first. Reorganize the space and this will invariably motivate you to keep going.”
Plus, clutter ruins your sleep. And who wants that? No one.
9. Tackle one item at a time.
Monica Friel, President and founder of Chicago-based professional organizer company Chaos to Order, advises going through one thing at a time.
“Clutter amounts to postponed decisions,” says Friel. So start making those decisions one T-shirt, magazine, or scrap of paper at a time and progress will happen quickly.
10. Ask yourself the right questions.
“Does this spark joy?”
But the joy method, while effective for most, has its downfalls. “In my experience, that question can be a trap for most folks,” says O’Donnell.
After all, it’s easy to justify why the random cat mug you found in the back recesses of your closet makes you happy, even though you haven’t used it in years.
Lowenheim resorts to a simple, effective motto to determine what items to keep or toss:
“Use it, love it, or lose it.”
Do you use it regularly?
Do you love it, or does it enhance your life in some way (like artwork, photographs, or souvenirs)?
“If the answer to all these questions is no, then consider letting go of the item,” Lowenheim says.
11. Remember your vision and stick to it.
Lark recommends reminding yourself of your vision and hope for your space throughout the decluttering process.
When you’re struggling to decide what to do with your stuff, Lark suggests boiling it down to these two questions:
- What’s in your space right now that will help you achieve your vision?
- What’s in your space right now that will detract from your vision?
If the above questions aren’t enough and you’re still not sure what to keep, store, or toss, don’t worry. Our easy-to-follow decluttering flowchart will help you decide once and for all.
12. Use mantras to keep you going when the decluttering gets hard.
When the decision fatigue sets in and you want to collapse in the pile of too-small summer dresses on your floor, or you can’t seem to let go of the pencil box you think you might need someday, use a mantra.
Friel likes this one: “Your desk is a work surface, not a storage area.”
Your bed is a space for sleeping, not a dirty clothes hamper.
Get the idea?
Here’s another effective mantra for when you need to remind yourself why you’re decluttering in the first place:
“If you keep too much, you can’t find what’s really important,” says Friel.
13. Turn sentimental items into stories.
Sentimental items are among the most difficult to part with, but Friel has a simple strategy that can ease some of your pain and guilt.
She recommends taking a picture of the sentimental item in question and writing a short story about its history and significance. Having the memory of the item, plus a heartfelt written account of its importance, is much more valuable than keeping something you never use or don’t have space for.
After all, “the giver of those items wouldn’t want them to be weighing you down,” says Friel.
14. Give everything a home.
O’Donnell says it’s crucial to find a designated space for every item you own, which is one of the key steps in organizing your home.
15. Ask for help from a professional.
If all else fails, Lowenheim recommends reaching out to a professional organizer for guidance. Having an expert coach you through the decluttering and organizing process can make a world of difference.
And when you figure out what items you’d like to store, schedule a MakeSpace pickup.
We’ll pick up your stuff, store it in our secure and temperature-controlled storage facility, and create an online photo catalog so you always remember what you have in storage.
The best part?
When you need something back, you can simply click the item’s photo and we’ll deliver it to you.
This article was written by Paige Smith, a freelance writer from Orange County, California who specializes in lifestyle, wellness, and travel topics.