We all have clutter. Even the most organized of us has a hidden junk drawer or stash of old T-shirts that haven’t been worn in years. While it can be hard to find the time or energy to sort and organize, it can also be incredibly helpful, freeing and even therapeutic.
Study after study shows the negative effects clutter can have on our minds. For instance, a report from UCLA found clutter can strongly influence our moods and stress levels. Another study from Princeton University concluded that clutter actually limits our ability to focus.
But most of us don’t need studies — we know from personal experience the discomfort clutter can cause. A cluttered room or piles of mess can make us feel irritated and unable to deal — it’s easier to ignore it. But once we finally face and conquer those piles of papers or forgotten junk, it’s such a good feeling.
What’s more, getting organized can help save time: When you can reach into a drawer and pull out the right lid for your leftover container right away, instead of digging around for it, your weeknight dinner cleanup goes faster. Same goes for finding important paperwork, two matching gloves, or your snow pants — when you know where everything is and can access it quickly, life is easier.
Ready to start conquering the clutter? We’ve gone room by room with advice for what to eliminate, and how to organize what’s left. Tackle one room each month, and before long, you’ll be on your way to living a simpler, happier life.
Living & Bedroom
Consider these items that might be occupying space in your most lived-in rooms.
Picture frames, figurines and bad art:
It’s hard to let go of memorabilia and décor because they can bring back good memories (that trip to Jamaica, your college dorm room). But too much décor in any room can be overwhelming. Select your very favorites to display, then pass along the rest to a friend who will appreciate it, a young person decorating a new living space, or the thrift store.
Piles of paper:
Maybe it’s not in your living room — but if you’re like most of us, somewhere in your house you have built up piles of paper. Go through them, tucking special cards or notes into photo storage boxes or scrapbooks and filing important papers in an organized filing cabinet, then recycle or shred the rest.
Spend an hour going through your closet, trying on items you haven’t worn in a while. Does it fit? Is it stained, torn or otherwise damaged? If it doesn’t fit or it’s permanently damaged, get rid of it (there are many places to donate undamaged clothing; some also accept damaged items for recycling. For more information, see our guide on page 15). If it needs a repair, put it in a pile to take care of immediately. Place items you’re uncertain about in a box and mark it with the date. If you haven’t dug anything out of it six months later, donate whatever is in the box without looking at it again. This is also a good opportunity to host a swap party. Ask a group of friends to gather their unwanted items, then get together and trade.
Shoes, accessories and jewelry:
Use the same process for accessories, shoes and jewelry — if you don’t wear it often and it’s not an heirloom, pass it along to someone who can cherish and use it.
We all have books that are near and dear to our hearts, but most of us also have a few we don’t love on our shelves. Take a few minutes to go through your books. Donate those you don’t care about to your local library or thrift store, sell them to a used bookstore or online, or consider setting up a book swap/donation day with friends or at your office.
Extra blankets, sheets, pillows and other linens:
It’s easy to accumulate blankets and extra sets of linens over the years. When we get new ones, we usually don’t toss the old ones. Collect up your linens, wash them and donate to a local shelter. Or, pass them along to someone living on their own who will be happy not to spend the money on new linens. If you end up throwing off half the pillows from your bed to the floor, maybe it’s time for fewer pillows.
If you’re saving it because of an idea, take a picture, or look up the article on the magazine’s website and bookmark it (Mother Earth Living’s archive is available on a space-saving flash drive). You can donate used periodicals to women’s shelters, retirement communities or nursing homes, or to schools or daycares for use in crafts.
Kitchen & Bathroom
These rooms serve us best when we prioritize efficiency and functionality.
Mismatched storage containers:
Do you have 20-something lids and only two containers that fit them? Stop storing all that junk in your valuable cabinet space. Get rid of anything you’re no longer using. Then, organize your lids and containers with one of the many organizers specifically for this purpose, and never dig through your cabinet again. Some plastic containers may be recyclable. For others, look for places to donate. One creative idea: Donate excess lids to a local school or daycare, where they make perfect paint-mixing containers.
Excess cooking utensils:
According to the website Epicurious.com, we each need four spatulas: a wood turner, a rubber spatula, a stainless steel version for the grill, and a fish spatula. Make sure you have one durable, high-quality version of each type, then donate the rest. Hint: Add a few old cooking spoons to your gardening supplies; they’re great for planting season.
Cups, mugs and water bottles:
It’s common to get logoed water bottles, mugs or plastic cups from events, companies, trade shows, and all sorts of other places. And while a nice metal bottle with a lid is great to have on hand, you probably don’t need 10 of them. Plastic isn’t the ideal material for beverage containers, as it can leach chemicals such as BPA and phthalates, especially as it ages. Go through your cups, mugs and bottles, and keep only the ones you really enjoy using. Donate the rest.
Untouched gadgets and odd-shaped pans:
Weird and quirky kitchen gadgets are popular gifts, but we usually don’t need them. If you have anything you haven’t used more than once, it’s not worth the space it’s taking. It can also be easy to accumulate pans in sizes we don’t need, especially because pans are often sold in sets. Instead of letting them take up space, give them away.
Food you’ll never eat:
Maybe you were cooking an unusual recipe you’ve never made again or bought something because it was on sale. Either way, go through your food pantries and drawers and identify food you aren’t likely to eat, or items such as spices or cake decorations that are expired. If it’s still good and is unopened, donate it to a food pantry. If it’s expired, you’ll have to toss it.
Dispose of them properly. Many police stations offer prescription pill drop-offs. Otherwise, the FDA recommends mixing unused medicines (not crushed up) with unpalatable substances such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds, placing the mix in a sealed plastic bag, and disposing of it with household trash. Scratch out identifying information on prescription pill bottles before getting rid of them.
Makeup, perfume, personal-care products:
All of these items expire, and quality is greatly reduced over time. Clear the clutter of endless bottles by getting rid of nearly empty items. Glass perfume bottles with spray tops can be reused for DIY perfumes or room mists: Fill it with water, a splash of vodka or witch hazel, and 20 drops of your favorite essential oil (or a blend). Shake and spray.
If you can’t stand the thought of tossing these, cut them up into rags, perfect for cleaning or the garage. To make your own set of reusable counter wipes, cut up old towels (or sheets) into small squares. Put them into a lidded container with a mix of half water, half vinegar and essential oils (try tea tree or citrus). Use them to wipe countertop messes, toss them in the wash, and repeat.
Unused, wrapped travel soaps are perfect to donate to men’s and women’s shelters, where people often stay on a temporary basis. Call ahead to make sure your local shelter is in need, then pass them along for this worthy cause.
It’s easy to tuck away and forget about things in our storage spaces. Give your home (and mind) room to breathe by clearing them out.
Baby items and old toys:
Our children’s things can be hard to part with. It’s good to save a few favorite items, but the rest can go to better use by being given to a family who needs them. If you’d like to convert baby clothes into a keepsake, consider making or commissioning a memory quilt. Etsy store MaidenJane offers made-to-order, custom memory blankets. Visit etsy.com/shop/maidenjane. As for toys, unless you have vintage ones that will be worth hundreds some day, donate unused toys to shelters, church daycares or parents on a budget. Sorting through old toys and donating them to others makes a good learning experience for children.
Everyone has that place in their house where things go to die. Put these items on a “free” site such as Craigslist or The Freecycle Network, noting the required repairs. If no one bites, it’s time to recycle them.
VHS and CD collections:
Thanks to technology, these space-eaters are no longer necessary. There are many ways to inexpensively access music online, such as subscriptions to Apple Music, Spotify or Pandora. And movies are cheap to rent, or free to check out from the library. CDs can easily be digitized by importing your music into iTunes on your computer, or paying a service to digitize your collection for you. Used media stores and online services such as cashforcds.com may buy them from you (also check out Amazon’s trade-in program, where you can trade old music, movies, cameras, video games, phones, books and more for Amazon gift cards). Otherwise, donate or recycle them.
A quick Google search will help you find places to safely dispose of paint (and other chemicals) in your area. Hold on to one jar of each color currently in your home for touch-ups. Beyond that, get rid of it.
Bikes and sporting equipment:
Deflated balls, bent equipment, broken bikes— go through these items and determine which you are likely to use again, which are in need of repair, and what you can get rid of. If you only ski once every two years, it might be worth it to rent skis and free up your storage space. Same with bikes: If you have broken bikes that you can’t ride, repair them or give them away. Look for a bike co-op in your area, or ask your closest bike shop for suggestions on where to donate. Many people know how to repair bikes, and broken bikes are often snatched up quickly on giveaway sites such as Craigslist and Freecycle.
Play equipment and outdoor furniture:
If you don’t use them on a regular basis, give these items a better home. Fix them up (a coat of paint or stain goes a long way) and offer play equipment to schools, nonprofit daycares, women’s shelters or church playgrounds; donate outdoor furniture to retirement homes or thrift stores.
Garden and lawn care items:
Do you have stacks of unused plant containers and other garden items you don’t use? Sort through them and save the ones that are truly in good shape — then give away the others. If you don’t want to donate them, consider planting flowers or culinary herbs in old containers to give as gifts to teachers, neighbors or dinner party hosts. Don’t forget to clear out your lawn-care products while you’re at it. These products have an expiration date. Grass seed, fertilizers and similar items all lose their effectiveness over time.
Published on Dec 9, 2016
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