how to declutter

Using Organizers to Keep Drawers Free of Clutter: Everything You Need to Know

Is Too Much ‘Stuff’ Draining You?

The magazine rack is overflowing, the dining room table holds a week’s worth of mail, the stairs are an obstacle course, and you’re pretty sure it’s official: You need some help with clutter control!

Too much stuff can drain you, frustrate you, and make it difficult to get things done. Here are some top tips from experts on how to control that clutter.

Define Clutter?

Figure out what qualifies as clutter. “Other people can’t decide what is clutter for you,” says Cynthia Townley Ewer of Richland, Wash., the editor of the website Organized Home.

Peter Walsh is a professional organizer and used to host the TV show Clean Sweep. He divides clutter into two general types: visual and physical. “Memory” clutter is stuff that reminds us of important events, like old school programs or newspaper clippings. “Someday” clutter refers to items you won’t toss because you think you might need them someday.

Walsh says that clutter control is about balance. If you have too much stuff, it will drag you back to the past or pull you into the future, and then you can’t live in the present.


Clutter, Control, and Your Health

Clients who are called to cluttered homes and offices say that their energy is drained; they can’t find things. It’s beginning to interfere with important parts of life – such as getting to work on time or navigating stairs.

“A lot of people express that they are overwhelmed,” says Lynne Gilberg, a professional organizer in West Los Angeles. “They become nonfunctional and nonproductive,” she says. That’s when they call her in desperation.

Clutter is bad for your health. Too much clutter can be a fire hazard. Dust, mold, and animal dander collected in cluttered homes are all bad for allergies and asthma.

People use words like “suffocating” and “I can’t breathe” when they see clutter, says Walsh. Clutter can be a physical manifestation of mental health, says Walsh. People who are overwhelmed with “memory” clutter may have an undue preoccupation with things in the past and become depressed. He says that people can’t throw out physical items because they worry they will need them in the future, giving them unnecessary anxiety.

How To Control Clutter? Start With a Vision

Instead of handing his clients a to-do list and a schedule to get the clutter in control, Walsh first asks his clients to ask themselves: “What is the vision for the life I want?” That becomes the criteria for what you decide to keep.

You may need to put the TV or computer in another room if you want the bedroom to be a calm, restful place to spend time with your partner.

Instead of asking, “What do I need for the house?” ask, “What do I want from this space?” You’ll soon figure out what’s clutter and what’s not.

Control Clutter

How To Control Clutter? The Decision Dilemma

Work on your decision-making skills, and you’re on your way to getting rid of clutter. “What clutter is, is ducking decisions or refusing to make them,” Townley Ewer says. So when the mail comes in, for example, decide right then whether to keep or throw it out. “Do bills online so there’s less clutter in the house,” suggests Ewer. Toss old magazines, and know that you can look up articles online or go to the library if you really need them later.

When something comes in, something must go out. If you buy new clothes, part with some old ones. Ewer did that to combat her “twinset habit.” If she buys one twin set, she will donate two old ones. “Once I started doing that, I stopped buying them,” she says.

How To Control Clutter? A Little at a Time

Cluttered clients often think they have to clean the entire house in a fell swoop, but clutter control isn’t all or nothing. “Create a pocket of order,” suggests Cindy Glovinsky, MSW, a psychotherapist and professional organizer in Ann Arbor, Mich. Start small: Tackle one room or even one bookshelf at a time. Cleaning the clutter from drawers? Don’t dump the whole drawer. It’s too overwhelming. Instead, take out items that can be thrown away, then things you can give to Goodwill.

Making a list of parameters can help when you’re deciding what to keep and what to throw out. For instance, when cleaning your closet, you might decide to throw out stained or torn clothing, clothes you haven’t worn for six months, or items that don’t fit.

Once you’ve learned how to get rid of the clutter, shift to maintenance mode. Make an appointment with yourself for clutter maintenance, Gilberg says. “Literally write it on the calendar.” If you keep your calendar electronically, set up clutter control as a recurring appointment.

How To Control Clutter? The Benefits

As people start to control the clutter, they start taking better care of themselves. Their attitude improves, maybe because they’re not rushing around so much looking for car keys buried in rubble or bills that are misplaced.

“As people clean, their energy seems to rise.” And “once clutter is cleaned up, some people begin to work on other issues.” A client of hers, a professor unhappy with their job, got a better position once the clutter was under control. Another, so overweight they were housebound, joined an online self-help group after the clutter was cleared away.

“I think when people see they can have an effect on their lives in one area, they begin to take action in other areas of their lives,” Glovinsky says.


Why Do You Have a Clutter Problem In The First Place?

You own one too many things.

This may be the most undeniable reason for any kind of clutter, but it is also typically the one we encounter the most difficulty with. It’s hard to find clothes that we want to wear even though we have a cornucopia of good outfits in our closet, so we go shopping for new ones. We opt to buy new tools because it is difficult to find screwdrivers in a garage full of stuff. We enjoy finding good buys at garage sales, so we keep every little thing in our already packed basement until we eventually find the perfect place for it in our house. We often don’t want to throw away things because we have emotional attachments to them. One too many of something will always result in more clutter.

Let’s work on it: Think of how many of the items do you need to keep in your household? Ask yourself, “how many do I really need?”

Trying to organize the unnecessary clutter you have is futile, you cannot and you will not get anywhere with it. The only solution to this problem is to get rid of what you don’t need right now, and what you will not need in the next couple of weeks. Start with getting rid of at least 10 items a day. If you have an emotional attachment to the things you do not have space for, try to find ingenious ways to retain the memories without the need to keep every single thing on display.

Things to get rid of ASAP:

  • Old newspapers and magazines
  • Extra cookware and all small appliances that haven’t been used in a while
  • Expired products
  • Broken items that you have never had the time to fix
  • Etra linens, just keep two pairs for each bed
  • Outdated technology like CDs, DVDs, or VHS tapes

You are in the midst of transitioning

Whenever you try to change your routine, experience a stressful time, end or start a new work, have a baby, go through a financial difficulty, move to another home, get sick or have any other life-altering experience. Clutter multiplies.

We have the tendency to let stuff pile up because we think we will have the time to sort everything out once the situation “settles down.”

Let’s work on it: Start with something small. Ask yourself, “how often do I use it?”

Do not waste time waiting for optimal circumstances. For example, life is an ongoing series of changes, so look for simple means to get stuff in order even during the hectic seasons. Focus on the parts that give you the most frustration every day, like your closet or dresser. 

Make this day a bit better by taking a few minutes to declutter and organize the things you use daily.

How to declutter in under five minutes:

  • Walk around your house with a box in hand and put any misplaced items inside. Put everything back in its original place as you keep going through each room.
  • Pick a small section to declutter. Throw anything you don’t need or that doesn’t belong in the chosen section. Then organize what’s left.
  • Have a box for things you want to donate. Search your home for things you would like to donate to charity. Remember that our goal here is to get rid of excess clutter, so thinking of replacing the ones you will give away with new ones is not the way to go.

You do not have an organizational systems

If you are lost on where to place something, you’ll end up setting it down anywhere. Those areas will eventually become magnets for more clutter.

Let’s work on it: Analyze the issue and address it. Ask yourself, “when was the last time I used this?”

Stop and think when you notice yourself putting things in a clutter spot. Why do you keep putting things there rather than putting them back to where they belong? There are probably piles of bills on the study table because you do not have a recycling or a bill-paying system. There are probably papers and coats on the kitchen table since your kids do not have a specific place to store and organize them.

After you analyze why the problem is happening, come up with a new method to fix it.

Sample of organizational methods that can make a difference in how you control clutter:

  • A spot for keys and other small trinkets
  • Coat hooks at the entryway
  • Neatly stowed away fridge and pantry
  • A laundry schedule

how to declutter
Young woman carrying stack pile of dirty laundry clothes. Girl cleaning tidying in studio.

You want everything to be perfect

How could someone who seeks perfection have clutter? Being a perfectionist will paralyze us. While we are aware we have clutter, we do not feel confident to perfectly deal with it, so we don’t do anything. We might not have the perfect organizational system yet; we don’t have time to clean out the entire closet or can’t decide what is most important to do first.

Let’s work on it: Learn how to get through the rut

Tell yourself your work doesn’t need to be perfect; it just needs to be better than it was. You may never have enough time to clean up or reorganize an entire room at once, but try spending 15 minutes a day tackling one small area like a counter or tabletop. Just start with something and make it better than before.

More ideas to get out of a clutter rut:

  • Visualize your room and make a mental note of things you want and things you don’t want. Doing this ahead of time can help cut down on the decluttering process.
  • Create to-do lists. Start with tasks that are attainable at the moment. Setting realistic goals for yourself will help keep clutter at bay. You’ll also feel satisfaction every time you can cross a task off the list.
  • Make sure everyone in your family is on board. If you spend your weekend decluttering, it will be a disaster the next day. It’s about building a decluttered life which means making it happen daily.

Take your first step in decluttering your life with excitement. There is a beautiful world of freedom and fresh breath hiding behind that clutter. Deciding how to declutter your home is up to you.

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