7 strategies to clear clutter

Decluttering is about simplifying and streamlining, keeping only what is needed and useful. If you’re craving clear surfaces and have no idea where to start, Elsa Samuel has got you covered with these seven strategies that work.

1. Start small and organise by category

Leo Babauta of ZenHabits.com, suggests to start with just five minutes a day as opposed to a huge decluttering session, as tackling clutter is an overwhelming task. Clothes, books, paperwork, the pantry – these are all great categories to start clearing out. Work your way around the house and before you know it, you’ll wake up to an uncluttered home.

2. Only handle it once

Dr Gerald Nestadt, Director of the Johns Hopkins OCD clinic in Maryland, in an issue of The Johns Hopkins Depression and Anxiety Bulletin offered the ‘OHIO rule: Only handle it once’. If you pick something up, make a decision then and there about it, and either put it where it belongs or discard it. Don’t move one thing from one pile to another pile, again and again.

3. Does it spark joy?

Japanese organising master, Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, tells us to only surround ourselves by items that ‘spark joy’. It all comes down to one question: Does your stuff make you happy? “If it does, keep it,” she writes. “If not, dispose of it.” So if something, like a dress you wore once in the last year, doesn’t genuinely bring you joy, don’t justify its place in your wardrobe. Thank it and donate it to your local Good Sammy’s store.

4. Dealing with sentimental clutter

Nostalgia and guilt ties us to our sentimental stuff. When Joshua Millburn, of The Minimalists’, mother passed away, he packed everything that reminded him of her. He quickly realised the emotional burden this caused him and realised our memories are within us (not in a cardboard box). “An item that is sentimental for us can be an item that is useful for someone else”, said  Millburn. He scanned photos, donated most items and noticed how freeing it was to let go – mentally and emotionally.

5. There is a place for everything

Sydney-based professional organiser Deanne Sharp’s motto is, ‘there’s a place for everything’. In her family, even the kids know this. Clutter and mess build-up can be managed if we simply put things back in place after each use, where it belongs. Sharp encourages parents to train their kids (as little as two and half years old) to start putting their toys away or their shoes in the cupboard, instead of dumping it on the floor after school.

6. Create a 20 minute nightly ritual

Make a firm plan to do a 20 minute tidy up ritual at home. Choose to clean the kitchen before going to bed or picking up stuff and putting it back where it lives. Make this ritual enjoyable, by popping your headphones on and listening to a podcast – one show will easily get you through the nightly sweep. Before you know it, your ritual will become a habit and maybe one that your family copies.

7. Purge regularly

Decluttering is not the end result. You’ve got to maintain it. Instead of editing your belongings when you’re about to move house, try making it a regular effort. Books you’ve read and won’t read again, clothing that no longer fits or that you don’t like, toys your kids have moved on from, kitchen equipment you never use – keep an eye on it regularly and donate stuff you no longer need.

Elsa Samuel

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