The holiday season tends to leave a trail of clutter in its wake. Between decorations, gifts (and their wrapping) and the supplies you put out to host guests, it’s no wonder you’d have a mess on your hands.
As overwhelming as it may seem, it is possible to declutter your space (and set off a New Year’s resolution to be more organized). And you certainly can do better, if you devote some time and attention to getting it right.
Commit to cleaning
Be ready to commit some time to this task. Decluttering is a mess-tackling marathon, not a sprint, and you’ll likely get discouraged (and possibly quit) if you expect to finish it all in a single weekend.
The most important tricks for decluttering are compartmentalizing and sticking to it. Experts say getting distracted or overwhelmed is a sure ticket to organizing failure.
Go through one room at a time, tune out distractions and follow a checklist.
Divide clutter into four categories: “toss,” “keep,” “donate” and “misplaced.” This system will help maintain a steady flow as you move through the room.
Don’t follow through with the action on the box until the room is complete. It can be tempting to put back misplaced items where they belong as you come across them, but that’s the kind of thing that derails decluttering efforts.
Once you’ve completed a room, return the “misplaced” and “keep” items to where they belong. Get rid of the “toss” items, and put “donate” items aside for later.
Hire pro help
You can also turn to the experts for help by hiring a professional organizer. A pro tends to cost between $55 and $100 per hour, but the skills they bring to the table make the cost worthwhile.
If you can’t afford to hire someone for the several hours it would take to organize the average home, consider a shorter consultation. Even if they walk you through just one room, an organizer can teach you the basic skills to bring order to your mess in no time.
Keep clutter at bay
Another tip is to follow the old saying, “a place for everything and everything in its place.” If something goes back to the same place every time, it’s pretty easy to avoid a mess.
Once you’ve got your clutter under control, keep a daily or weekly checklist of things to do that will help maintain your newly ordered surroundings. Get into a routine of resetting rooms when you’re done using them.
Put away books, pencils, toys, craft items or whatever you might be using as soon as you’re done with them. This will quickly become second nature if you make it a regular habit.
10 items in your garage you can toss right now
Broken or duplicate tools
You probably don’t need five hammers, and that broken drill is just collecting dust on a shelf. Take stock of your tool collection, and consolidate so you don’t have an overflowing toolbox (or too many bulky bins filled with tools).
Chances are you have no use for that old clunky computer printer and fax machine from the early ’90s. “If it’s in the garage, there’s a 90% chance that your old CPU is not worth the time it would take you to bring it back up to speed for day-to-day use,” says organizing and storing expert Emma Gordon of Clutter.com. “It’s better to find a recycling program that can take it off your hands.”
Old newspapers, magazines and catalogs
“You’re not going to read these again,” says Gordon. “If they’ve been banished from the house to the garage, they need to go.” If you can’t part with all of them, allow yourself to keep a few special editions or issues. Donate or recycle the rest.
Plastic planter trays
“It’s tempting to keep the trays after popping our spring blooms,” says Gordon. “Unless you’re a regular gardener, there’s no reason to keep these trays after transplanting. Clear them out so you don’t have to deal with spiders or other garage critters that will make a home in them.”
Old paint cans
Face it: You’re not going to use that hideous color of paint anywhere in your house. If you think you might need to touch up any of the rooms in your house, figure out which can of paint goes with which room, and label it with the room (dining room) and color (linen white). Remember that you can’t throw away full (or partially full) paint cans, so you’ll either need to find a hazardous-waste collection site or pour clean kitty litter in the can to dry up any remaining paint before disposing of the kitty litter and paint, and recycling the can.
Unused DIY project materials
While you’re clearing cans from old home-improvement projects, toss out old materials from DIY projects. “Almost every garage in America has a flimsy aluminum paint tray coated in house paint, with a matching roller in a crumpled grocery bag,” Gordon says. “As homeowners, we like to think we’re going to get more than one use out of our paint brushes, trays and other DIY tools, but it’s more likely we’ll forget and buy these items again anyway. The only reason to save otherwise disposable DIY tools would be if you have a project in mind that you plan to tackle soon.”
Old sports equipment
“Toss out balls if they don’t hold air anymore,” says Gordon. Same goes for broken tennis rackets, skis, helmets and more. If one of your kids no longer plays a sport, donate the used gear to a thrift store that accepts sports equipment.
Old shoes and clothes
“I promise you won’t miss the clothes and shoes you’re storing in the garage,” says Gordon. “These are the items that you don’t even have in your weekly outfit rotation, and if they haven’t been kept in an airtight container, they will require a lot of laundering to nix the garage fumes and dust.”
Sadly, your beloved tape collection is now obsolete. “Remember the static or flipping over to the ‘B-side’? Compared to streaming services, these outdated forms of entertainment require a lot of fussing,” says Gordon. “Make a quick list of the albums and movies you consider staples for your household, and plan to purchase in digital format.”
Bring that old chair you’ve been meaning to reupholster for years, or those old and outdated holiday decorations, to the thrift store or a donation center. If you can’t imagine placing them back inside your house anytime soon, you should say goodbye to those pieces.