Where Not to Begin
Don’t plan to start with a major weekend-long purge. Plan to start being the key phrase. A big decluttering weekend can be a great way to make progress, but carving out such a large chunk of time may not be easy to arrange — and if you keep putting off getting started because you’re waiting for a big space to open up on your calendar, you could be waiting a very long time.
Where to Begin
1. Discard a few clothes. Removing some of the clothes and shoes you don’t wear from your closet and drawers is a good first step. By clearing out a bit of space in your bedroom closet, you can then tuck away some of the extra items (jackets, scarves, shoes) cluttering up your entryway, in effect clearing two areas of your home at once. If you’re following the Marie Kondo method of tidying, this is also where she recommends beginning.
How to: Try not to get hung up on winnowing down your entire closet right now; just grab a few no-brainer items that obviously need to go (socks without mates, worn out sneakers, ill-fitting pants), toss them in a bag, and get them out of there.
Next step: If there is now enough room to do so, take the extra coats and shoes from the entryway and put them away neatly in your closet, lightening up the entry. If space is still too tight to add anything, make another pass at your clothes and shoes, and fill a bag with items to sell or give away.
2. Sort a pile of papers. For as much talk as there is about offices going paperless, I find that somehow an awful lot of paper makes its way into the house. Seeing piles of unsorted paperwork while you’re trying to relax or enjoy a meal can create a low but persistent level of stress in the house, so this is a helpful place to begin.
How to: Grab a pile and sort it; if you don’t currently have a filing system set up, just label a few files as you go, keeping the categories broad. When you’re done sorting the first pile, designate one spot to put all incoming paperwork. Place a paper recycling bin beside it and call it a day.
Next step: Collect all the unsorted paperwork from around the house and place it in the designated paper spot. Grab a stack and sort it. Repeat.
3. Organize the junk drawer. An overflowing junk drawer is a drag to look at and can really slow you down when you can’t find what you’re looking for. Junk drawers tend to get overstuffed thanks to a) stuff you really should have thrown away in the first place and b) too many extras of things. For now, focus on a) — the stuff that doesn’t belong at all.
How to: Toss out the instruction manuals, broken rubber bands, pens that don’t write and freebies you never really wanted. If you have a ton of extras (pens, batteries, etc.) that you know you’ll use eventually, just neaten them up and try to make a mental note to not buy any more of those for a long time.
Next step: Separate the useful little items (tape, stamps, flashlight) into a separate drawer or wall organizer so they’re easier to reach and leave the extras (boxes of batteries, stapler refills, lightbulbs) in the drawer. If you need organizers for your neatened-up drawer, jam jars and tupperware are quick (and free!) stand-ins.
4. Shed a piece of furniture. Perhaps you have furniture in the house that isn’t really needed but you put it there simply because you have it. Getting rid of just one piece can free up a lot of space. Also, furniture tends to attract piles of clutter, so one less piece also means one less place for clutter to congregate. If your space feels too tightly packed with furniture, see if you can choose a least-favorite piece to sell or donate to charity.
How to: Take a walk around your home, peeking into every closet and outbuilding, making note of the furniture. Find one piece that’s not being used or isn’t really needed and make a plan to get rid of it. If you plan to give it away, try to drive it to a donation center today. If you want to sell it, place an ad or bring it to a consignment shop today. Don’t wait!
Next step: Follow up with your plan to get rid of the piece of furniture. If you’re having trouble selling it, lower the price or try a different method (Craigslist, eBay, garage sale, consignment shop). Set a reminder on your calendar to take the item to a donation center by a certain date if it doesn’t sell.
5. Give away one thing right now. This is about the power of beginnings: When you have a mountainous task ahead of you, even a relatively small suggestion (like tackling a single drawer or decluttering for five minutes) can feel overwhelming. Instead, go right now and grab one thing you can give away. One thing is not so hard to remove. And even if you removed just one thing each day, after a year that’s 365 things — not too shabby!
How to: Look around the room you’re in and grab the first thing you see that you could give away. It could be a DVD, a book, a candleholder you don’t really like — it doesn’t matter, just grab something quickly! If you don’t see anything, peek in a cupboard or drawer and grab something there. Once you have your one thing, don’t just put it by the door — actually remove it from the house. If you absolutely can’t take it away right now, at least put it outside, or in the car.
Next step: Find one more thing to get rid of and put it in a bag or box to take to a donation center. Each day, add one more item to the container; when it’s full, drop it off. Repeat.
Tell us: Are you having a hard time getting started decluttering?