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10 Easy Ways to Tackle a Decluttering Project

Clutter can be stressful. Try a few simple changes to create a sense of calm in your home—and your head!

Pile clothes for donation in a decluttering project
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Marie Kondo, the famous master of “the art of tidying up,” recently revealed that since the birth of her third child, she no longer cleans every day. Which leads us to wonder, do we have  unreasonable standards for our own clutter management at home?

However we feel about Kondo’s formerly stringent ideas for “tidying,” we know that keeping an organized space is a key factor in overall mental well-being. The reasons range from knowing how to find things without digging through drawers and closets, to breathing easier knowing you’re surrounded with things that are useful and pleasurable to you.

The New York Times recently explored the connection between clutter and mental health, including tips for how to think about managing your own piles of stuff, especially when it feels overwhelming. So, how to tackle a big decluttering project?

1)  Work in Categories

KC Davis, a licensed professional counselor and author of How to Keep House While Drowning, told The Times she recommends “five-things tidying,”a method where everything is matched with one of five categories: trash, laundry, dishes, things that have a place, and things that don’t have a place. During any one clutter-clearing session, limit yourself to just one of those categories to keep overwhelm at bay.

2)  Make Cleaning an Easy Habit

Much like closing down a restaurant or retail store for the night, Davis suggests having a routine for the end of your day that involves some easy, satisfying tasks. Maybe it’s having the coffee pot clean and ready to help you wake up in the morning.

3)  Notice Your “Problem” Spots

Spend a few days paying attention to areas in your home that constantly demand attention, like the bathroom shelf that always overflows with products. Or the snack wrappers that never quite make it to the trash can. Without judgment, notice what is taking up most of your attention, and then brainstorm easy solutions (like a small trash can under your desk) that can catch the issue before it gets too big.

4)  Normalize (Some) Clutter

None of us should set a goal of having a completely clutter-free existence. Stacks of books on the end table, for example, is a sign that a reader lives here, not a mess to be tidied up. Have some grace with yourself and note what “clutter” actually serves your life, and what would feel good to release.

5)  Set a (Short) Timer

Five, eight, 10, or 20 minutes are all acceptable amounts of time to spend chipping away at a cluttered area in your home. Progress is progress, whether it’s incremental or one-and-done. Be patient with the big picture of your clutter-clearing needs, and you’ll feel accomplished when you hear the ding of the alarm bell. A decluttering project does not have be finished in a day!

6)  Adjust Your Expectations

Davis writes with compassion for those who struggle with feelings of shame and sadness about their spaces. She advises slowing down and adjusting your expectations, like using paper plates if washing dishes feels unmanageable or changing what “folded laundry” means to prioritize clean clothes over beautifully folded ones.

7)  Care for Yourself

You don’t exist just to manage your space—you are a full human being who deserves to be rested, nourished, purposeful, and loved. Make sure your focus isn’t solely on your piles of old bills, but is also on ways that you can find joy and peace in each day.

8)  Manage Your “Decision-Fatigue”

People who are deeply stressed can experience what psychologists call “decision-fatigue,” a feeling of exhaustion when faced with decisions that to an outsider might seem like a low-stakes choice. If this resonates with your experience, consider shortening the time you’re working on clutter-clearing, or the amount of work you’re tackling all at once.

9)  Get Help

Whether you recruit a trusted friend or family member, or hire a home organizing professional, you do not have to be alone in your journey toward a calmer home. Define a specific job to take on, like clearing out a pantry closet or dresser drawer, and bring in someone who will support you emotionally and even make it fun time together.

10) Embrace the Physical Activity

Maybe you’ve also been struggling lately to fit a regular workout into your routine. Lean into the physical aspect of clutter-clearing to feel like you’re meeting two goals at once by relocating some stacks of books or bringing bags of clothes to the donation bin. Even running the vacuum or washing the dishes is physical activity—celebrate yourself for getting moving while you clean up.

How do you go about tackling a decluttering project?

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