Every item cluttering up your home demands some degree of your focus and energy, whether it’s because you have to pick up or clean around it regularly, it’s taking up already limited living space, or simply because every time you see it, you have that fleeting thought of, “Oh, that thing’s still here.” Simply put, a cluttered home causes stress—and after the year we’ve just been through, who needs additional stressors?
If you believe your life could be better with a little less clutter, there’s no time like the start of a new year to eliminate it from your home. Here are some hints and considerations that might help you tackle the chore more efficiently and reclaim some peace of mind:
Reduce before you reorganize
Organizing your possessions is an important measure in creating the open, breathable living space you desire, but if clutter is really starting to cramp your lifestyle, simply sorting it into various canisters, bins, and baskets isn’t really the solution. Chances are you’ll need to divest yourself of some belongings before you can expect your organizing efforts to bear fruit. That doesn’t mean you have to go full-blown minimalist, but it might be time to evaluate the stuff you have and decide which items are really important and which are just taking up space.
Decluttering an entire home can be an overwhelming project, so don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. Take it one room or area at a time and spread out the job over several days. Closets, pantries, and other storage spaces are a good place to start. Clearing out old, never-used items from these locations will free up room for things you decide to keep and need to put away.
Categorize the clutter
As you address the clutter in a room, try to place each item into one of the following—or a similar set of—categories: Keep, Donate/Gift, Recycle, or Throw Away. Create a separate pile for each category, and take immediate action on the items once the sorting is complete. The emphasis here is on “immediate action.” After all, a bag filled with old clothing destined for a local charity is still clutter if you never actually follow through with the donation and leave the bag on the floor.
Evaluate your usage over the past year
A good rule of thumb to follow when decluttering your living space is that any item you haven’t used in the course of a year is a potential candidate for elimination. This is especially true of clothing. If you’ve gone through all four seasons without wearing a particular garment or pair of shoes, it’s probably safe to assume you won’t miss it in the future if it’s donated or thrown away.
Of course, there will always be exceptions to the one-year rule, such as items that are only brought out for very special occasions, but it’s a good way to get started winnowing down the clutter.
Consider relative value and usefulness
If you’re struggling to decide whether to keep or give away something that you occasionally use or think you might use again in the future, ask yourself whether that item could be of much greater use and value in someone else’s life. For example, that old treadmill or elliptical machine gathering dust and serving as a clothes hanger in your spare bedroom could be a tremendous blessing to someone who, perhaps for health reasons, needs home exercise equipment but can’t afford to buy it.
Keep what you love
Cutting the clutter does not mean you have to part with items that bring joy and meaning to your life. If, for instance, you love to read novels and can’t bear to part with any of the books in your collection, go ahead and leave them on the shelf. You can always make deeper cuts in the clutter elsewhere in your home to compensate. On the other hand, if your bookshelves are totally overloaded with tomes and/or you’ve got them piling up all around your living space, you can always sort through the stacks and pack away or donate books you’re fairly certain you won’t be reading again, keeping those that mean the most to you.
Resist impulse buying
Remember, nature abhors a vacuum. All that space you’ve cleared by ridding your home of clutter can be filled right back up again with newly purchased items if you aren’t careful in your future buying. With online shopping making it possible to have virtually any item delivered to your doorstep with just a few mouse clicks, resisting the urge to buy on impulse can be a challenge to say the least. However, it is achievable if you take a thoughtful approach to each potential purchase and ask yourself if it’s something you really need or something you can live without.