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How to declutter your home in 5 steps

black and white Zolo custom image of a clutter free home office with yellow rug and a bike

Have you ever looked around the room and thought, “The dog really destroyed this place,” before remembering that you don’t have a dog? Or maybe you do have a dog and everything is in its place, but you still feel overwhelmed by all of your stuff. Odds are it’s because of clutter. But don’t worry, we’re here to tell you exactly how to declutter your home. In this piece, you will learn:

  • The importance of decluttering your home
  • How to live a clutter-free life in five steps
  • Tips and tricks for the decluttering process
  • What to do now that your home is free from clutter

So where did we start? 

We spoke with mental health and organizational experts about the correlation between clutter and anxiety. Pre-COVID-19, 5% of Canadians reported high to extreme anxiety levels. As of early May, that number has quadrupled to 20%. And Canadians with kids at home are 41% more likely to note feelings of anxiety. With 4.7 million Canadians who usually work in the office now adjusting to working from home, you may find career anxieties and office clutter taking over your personal space. And more of us working from home is just one important reason to declutter! 

Why should you declutter your home

two pie shaped graphs illustrating the relationship between clutter and COVID 19

Getting rid of clutter can impact your physical and emotional health. That feeling you have when you can’t think straight and blame it on the ever-growing mess around you is absolutely valid. It’s common to be overwhelmed when your home feels like a disorganized storage unit. Thankfully, decluttering can help ease stress. Lucy Milligan Wahl, owner of organizing company LMW Edits, has seen immediate effects on her clients’ mental health after helping them declutter: “I often see a literal physical change in the way they carry themselves, and even their facial expressions…one client even told me she felt like she’d lost ten pounds!” 

There’s a point where our clutter takes on a life of its own, personifying our inner anxieties and giving them a voice. When clutter begins to represent the pent up negativity in our lives, it’s time to kick it out (last we’ve checked, it’s not paying rent). “My clients often tell me that they feel like their clutter has voices,” Lucy tells us. She notes that “by decluttering we’re removing those voices and allowing the client to give their attention to the things…that really matter.”

How to declutter your home in 5 steps

header_5 simple decluttering methods

Now that you’re ready to reorganize, you’re probably overwhelmed and not sure where to start. Don’t worry, it’s a big project and we’ve all been there. Here’s how you can declutter your home in just five steps.

Decluttering your home can be emotional, but once you’ve finished, you’ll feel amazing. Psychologist Dr. Loretta Breuning says successful decluttering triggers happy chemicals within our brains: “When you set a decluttering goal and reach it, you stimulate your dopamine. You can set tiny decluttering goals daily and stimulate dopamine regularly.”

1. Map it out

Looking at all that clutter is stressful, so instead, look at a piece of paper or whiteboard first. Create a checklist of all the rooms you want to approach and a timeline for when you’ll clear the clutter. Having a map to refer back to is beneficial to help keep you on track. 

2. Think minimalist

Have you used this item in the past six months? No? Then you’re probably not going to use it any time soon. When we say “think minimalist,” we mean to let go of items that you have no use for, rather than becoming a full-out minimalist (unless that’s your goal). It’s okay to admit to yourself that you have more things than you need. Getting rid of the items that you haven’t touched in months is one of the most important steps to decluttering your home.

3. Get organized

Now that you’ve identified which items are taking up space, it’s time to get organized. The best way to organize your clutter is by utilizing a decluttering method. Five of our favourite methods include:

The four box method

Classic and effective, the four box method never lets us down. Begin by distributing your clutter into four boxes labelled keep, throw away, donate and storage. After that, look to the label on each box to determine your next step.

The closet hanger method

Turn all the hangers in your closet so that the hooks are pointing towards you. Whenever you wear something, put it back onto the hanger and face the hook away. After three to six months, any hook still facing towards you is holding something that you don’t wear.

The KonMarie Method

When you use the KonMarie Method — a way to remove unwanted items using a method outlined by Japanese organizational guru Marie Kondo — you declutter by category rather than by location. Start with your clothes, books, papers and miscellaneous items, saving sentimental items for last. If an item no longer sparks joy, thank it for its service and get rid of it. 

The minimalist game

With this method, the amount of items you declutter corresponds to the date. On the first day of the month, you get rid of one item. On the second day of the month, you get rid of two items. At the end of a 31-day month, you’ll have gotten rid of a total of 496 items.

The one-a-day method

Similar to the minimalist game, but with a bit less intensity, the one-a-day method is essentially what it sounds like. Each day, you get rid of one item. You can plan to do this method over a month, a few months or even an entire year.

4. Throw out or donate your clutter

After you’ve used one of the methods mentioned in the previous step, you probably have some giant boxes or trash bags full of items that need to be disposed of, moved to storage or donated. Rather than let those boxes sit in your trunk or garage for months at a time, mark a day on your calendar dedicated to officially getting rid of the clutter. You can’t truly say you’re done until the clutter is out of your life for good.

5. Enjoy your clutter-free home

Sit back, relax and enjoy your newly clean space. That dopamine you feel being released into your brain is congratulating you on a job well done. Decluttering your home is no easy task, but here you are in your clutter-free space. While you’re celebrating your hard work, consider hanging up a printable to commemorate your success.

picture that says breathe inside a frame on a desk with scissors, pencils, plants, and a mirror

Frame this printable and set it on top of your home office desk. Every morning when you get ready to log in for work, you’ll be greeted with a reminder of how much you’ve accomplished with your last declutter project. 

5 decluttering tips

header_clutter impacts our wellness

Still feeling overwhelmed when thinking about decluttering your home? We understand the amount of time it takes to wrap your head around starting the process.  Just as interior designer and advisory board member for Home Life Digest, Caitlyn Davidian, said, “Our home is a space for us to flourish in, to personalize and to respect.” So here are a few extra tips on working towards turning your home into your personal oasis.

1. Don’t confuse value with cost

It’s easy for us to get caught in a cycle of thinking, “I can’t get rid of this, it was expensive!” But we also have to acknowledge that sometimes we buy expensive things that we never end up using. Cost aside, does this item have any personal value to you? If not, or if it’s very little, it’s best to put it in the “donate” or “sell” pile. 

2. When did you last use it?

Haven’t worn that pair of pants in your closet in almost a year? Wondering why you have a plant mister and no plants? It’s a sign. Donate them to someone who will put them to good use. 

3. Start small

Decluttering your home can be overwhelming. You might want to tackle the big items first, but it’s better to start small and work your way up. Maybe you have collectible items but no collection to add them to. Or small decorative items that you don’t like anymore. After you get rid of those, then you can move onto bigger items like the armchair you’ve been trying to get rid of for a year.

4. Give it time

When getting in the rhythm of decluttering, we can get a little too excited and end up moving too quickly. So before you permanently get rid of anything, sleep on it. If you toss and turn over that one sentimental gift you got from your grandmother that you accidentally put in the trash, you still have time to retrieve it.

5. Keep flat surfaces clear

Flat surfaces are clutter magnets. Instead of leaving items on counters and tables, create sections within drawers and cabinets where your things can remain organized and easy to find.

What to do with your clutter-free home

header_were around clutter more

So you’ve decluttered your home — now what? Well, with all this extra space, you’re now able to successfully think things through without feeling the clutter make its way into your thoughts. Here are four things you can do with your clutter-free home.

1. Sustainable living

You’ve cleaned up your space, now use it for good! Optimize your clutter-free home for sustainable living by utilizing your free space to install a rainwater collection tank, insulating your walls and floors and even maximizing the amount of natural sunlight you get by creating larger south-facing windows.

2. Mindful meditation

A clean home makes it easier to have a clean mind. Take a moment to breathe — literally. Make use of your extra space by rolling out your yoga mat, assuming lotus position and breathing in fresh positivity. 

3. Start your home maintenance project

Those home maintenance tasks you’ve been putting off due to stress? Well, what better time to start them than now? Roll up your sleeves and address that leaky faucet, the squeaky door and that hole in your drywall.

4. Keep it clean

Yeah, it’s obvious, but it’s the hardest part! Keeping your decluttered home clean means putting things away every time. Not putting it on your counter and dealing with it later, but now. A clutter-free home is an ongoing project that requires declutter decisions every day. It may seem like a lot now, but once you get in the habit, your home will remain clutter-free 365 days of the year!

While minimalism isn’t for everyone, a decluttered home is great for your mental health and overall well being. While adjusting to a work-from-home environment, we can make our lives easier and keep our anxieties minimal when the clutter in our homes isn’t another added stressor. So grab your sorting boxes, tie up your hair and keep your vacuum cleaner nearby — it’s time to get decluttering!

Image of Romana King

Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer, real estate expert and the current Director of Content at Zolo. Romana has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including CBC.ca, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and The Toronto Star. Among her achievements, Romana won silver for her annual Where to Buy Now real estate package in the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. In 2015, she won a SABEW Business Journalism award. When she was editor of CI Top Broker, Romana helped guide her team to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and in 2011, she was part of a small team that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards.