How to declutter your home without getting overwhelmed

Wondering how to declutter your home? This task is all about working a bit at a time, to achieve a calm, streamlined space.

Planning how to declutter your home can feel overwhelming and time-consuming – particularly if you live with lots of busy family members, have decades of hoarding under your belt or are downsizing from a large house or flat. But, instead of framing a house declutter as a difficult task requiring you to get rid of things, view it as a chance for a new, calmer start.

In fact, decluttering is often a vital step in creating a more relaxed and efficient living space. Not only can excess clutter make it harder for us to locate important items (especially in a rush), but the feeling of too much mess in your home can also have a negative impact on our mental wellbeing, leaving us stressed and overwhelmed generally.

Woman decluttering clothes in living roomCredit: Andrey Popov/Shutterstock
A good declutter has the power to help with mental wellbeing and improve other areas of your life.

“I think of our homes as our flight decks – places we run our lives from. So, the more organised your home is, the better equipped you are to take flight into the world,” declutter expert and psychotherapist Helen Sanderson tells us.

While we know it’s something we’ll benefit from, it’s tricky to know how to tackle such an undeniably big job. So, we spoke to the experts for their top tips for decluttering your home – including how to deal with sentimental items, and how to stay on top of clutter going forward.

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1. Before you start, consider how a declutter will impact your life

Understand and appreciate the end goal

Whether your home is full to the rafters with clutter, or just a bit too busy for your liking, decluttering and KonMari expert Marine Andre suggests analysing why a declutter is important (or necessary) for you, before getting started.

“My advice is to imagine your ideal lifestyle before you start; think about why you want a clutter-free home, and what it means for your life outside your home,” she says.

Perhaps your cluttered space is prohibiting your grandchildren from spending time at your home, or leaving you too stressed to live a social and active lifestyle outside of your home? “Setting your final objective will help you keep the motivation along the process,” Andre explains.

2. Start with your more practical items

You’ll find this easier than sentimental possessions

As with anything challenging (both emotionally and physically), getting started is usually the first hurdle – and usually, the best way to dive into the task is to start small, working your way up to the more challenging elements.

The same applies to decluttering your home. So decluttering expert Laura Price, who owns The Home Organisation, suggests starting with practical, non-sentimental items. She says, “A kitchen or utility room are normally good options.

“Mismatched Tupperware, expired spices or old cleaning products that never get used are not normally difficult things to make decisions about, so you can make quick and easy progress.”

Spacious kitchen with vintage design, counter with marble top and flowers in metal bucket on it, organized furniture with various crockery, comfortable apartment interiorCredit: Brizmaker/Shutterstock
Start in the kitchen – and choose a category of items to edit, such as spices, crockery or even expired food.

3. Declutter by category – rather than room-by-room

You could choose furniture, clothes or artwork, for example

The choice is ultimately yours, but decluttering the items in your home by category can make the task more manageable. Andre explains: ‘“Decluttering by category helps you to understand how many of each item you have, and whether you need to restock or replace anything.”

And if one category is particularly large, Price reassures that taking it slow is fine – and, often, essential. “Sometimes space or time means you can’t work through a whole category at once. Don’t let this stop you,” she says. “It may just mean that you need a few rounds of decluttering to make sure you have covered absolutely everything.”

4. Make a checklist of problem areas

Choose one as a starting point

Though the goal when planning how to declutter your home is obviously to tackle every nook and cranny, writing down the most overwhelmed areas can help to focus your mind, and remind you of why a declutter is important.

This will be different for everyone, but you may, for example, struggle specifically with a wildly overflowing closet, or a garage that no longer fits your car. Making a list will ensure you don’t forget any of these problematic spots.

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5. Tackle a room that you *need* for practical reasons

Reward your efforts with a new hobby space

Motivation can be a big blocker when it comes to decluttering your home, so Sanderson suggests starting with spaces that you need to use practically – and soon! “Begin with a space you need to liberate for another purpose,” she advises. “This could be creating an art studio, a home office or making space for a guest.”

This external motivation can sometimes be the push that’s needed to start trimming down your belongings, as it’ll allow you to clearly see the positives that the decluttered space will bring to you in the near future.

Wooden crates with dark and colorful yarn and other sewing tools on a wide workspace desk in a bright crafts room interiorCredit: Ground picture/Shutterstock
By decluttering, you could create space for a new crafting area.

6. Sort decluttered items into these four categories

Create piles or label boxes

There will be many items you want to keep throughout your declutter, but the items you want to get rid of are likely to fall into one of four categories. Place each one into these corresponding piles:

Categorising your clutter

Though it’s not ideal, there will absolutely be some things in your home that have no other place than the bin. This may include broken (and dangerous) items, or things that no longer serve a purpose, such as irrelevant paperwork.

These are items that need some tending to, to be functional once more – such as a beloved pair of trousers that needs to be taken in so you can wear them again.

These are items you no longer want, but that may be treasured elsewhere, like a previously beloved dress you know a friend will now get much more use from.

This category should include things that are likely to have monetary value – be it stylish clothing or old electronics that still work well.

Check before you donate

 While charity shops will be happy to accept many of your unwanted items, there are certain things they won’t take. This varies from shop to shop, but it’s common for them to refuse almost anything with a plug, child booster seats, prams, pushchairs and toys without the CE safety label.

Most smaller shops will refuse furniture, so it’s best to go to a specialist. The British Heart Foundation, for example, has specialist furniture and electrical stores.

7. Break the process down into chunks

Set time limits of a few hours

Decluttering an entire home’s worth of possessions isn’t likely to be something you can finish in a day, or even a weekend. “Consider that you’ll need to make a decision about, and deal with (chuck, recycle, donate or keep) every single thing in your home,” Price tells us. “Don’t set yourself up to fail by expecting to be able to whip through it quickly.”

As such, she suggests working in chunks of time instead. “If you can’t dedicate days to the process, don’t worry. It’s often easier to work in two- or three-hour slots and just keep making progress.” It may even be helpful to slot decluttering into your calendar – if you know you’ll have a spare few hours this Sunday, why not book in the time?

Declutter Self Improve Message Text In CalendarCredit: Andrey Popov/Shutterstock
Making a regular diary appointment to declutter can be a good motivator.

8. Complete each category before moving on

Finish one section before you start the next

One of Sanderson’s best pieces of advice for how to declutter your house is to avoid skipping between tasks or rooms, to avoid getting off track.

“The most important thing is to make decisions and complete each area before you move onto the next,” she says. “It can be tempting to dart from one room to another – creating more chaos and getting distracted – but don’t. This will only discourage you and increase your feelings of being overwhelmed.”

9. Declutter sentimental items after some practise

Finish one section before you start the next

Decluttering items that have a great personal meaning is one of the reasons why this process can be so emotionally challenging. That’s why Price recommends dealing with these items closer to the end of your home-decluttering journey.

“Don’t attempt to tackle sentimental items until you’ve had some practise in other areas of your home, and have seen first-hand the positive results,” she says. “When you’re able to think through decisions confidently, move on to those more sentimental items.”

Often, getting rid of sentimental items can make us feel bad – but if they aren’t serving a purpose or bringing you joy (à la Marie Kondo), there’s no need to hold on. “Give yourself permission to not feel guilty about getting rid of something that you don’t really want,” she adds.

10. Display your sentimental items proudly

Special items deserve to be seen

When you’ve decided what sentimental items to keep, make sure that these precious keepsakes don’t sit languishing in a drawer, without being appreciated.

Instead, take steps to remind yourself of their happy memories regularly. Sanderson suggests marking your connection to them by doing one of two things: “You could create a memory box of your most special things, or try framing or displaying items you want to look at and admire.”

And for those items you know it’s time to let go of, she proposes parting with them in a way that helps you to process the emotions you might be feeling. “You may want to create a personalised ceremony as a way of honouring what the items meant to you; this might include lighting a candle, or writing a letter,” she notes.

Scrapbook with black and white photosCredit: Cambridge imprint
If you don’t have a lot of wall or surface space for framed photos, why not create a coffee table scrapbook, like this one by Cambridge Imprint?

11. Have a clear plan for sale – if not, donate

Don’t leave items to languish

Selling items you have decluttered sounds ideal – creating more space and making money has to be a win-win, right? However, selling our possessions isn’t something we always follow through on, in a timely manner. Because of this, Price advises only selling items if you know where to sell them. When you do so, be sure they’ll make you money.

“I only ever recommend that clients sell items if they’re really valuable and the client has a clear plan for the sale,” Price explains. “Can they commit to selling it that weekend? If not, items ‘for sale’ often end up in bags in the corner of a room for months until they ultimately get donated.”

And, remember, that donating can often be a more feel-good option. Price says, “Others will benefit from the things you no longer want, and you will benefit from the fact that you no longer have to think about it.”

12. Realise that you don’t need to declutter alone

Ask friends or hire a professional

Decluttering an entire property can be intense, so having someone else around to talk through each item with you can be invaluable in getting the job done – especially if you do so with loved-ones who share your home, as they will also have a clear opinion on whether to keep or get rid of certain items.

And if you need to call in the professionals, do! “There are loads of professional home organisers who will become your accountability partner and help you reach the other side,” Andre says.

13. Keep on top of clutter as it enters your home

Don’t let it creep back in

Maintaining a clutter-free home is as important as decluttering your space in the first place. And an easy way of doing this, Price advises, is by being strict about what enters your property on a daily basis.

“For example, unsubscribe from free magazines, say no to hand-me-downs from friends and family, and think carefully about what you really need or want before you buy it,” she says.

Green bedroom with built-in storage and en suiteCredit: Sharps
Give everything a home – it will ensure the clutter doesn’t build up again.

14. Ensure every item has a permanent home

Have a place for everything

Another surefire way to keep your newly decluttered home organised is to allocate every item you own a proper home to return to – be it a cupboard, a closet, a wardrobe or a shelf.

Without a home, every item has the potential to add to your clutter, as you’re likely to simply leave it on the floor or a worktop when you’ve finished using it. Avoid this and you’ll avoid the cycle of clutter beginning once again.

15. Celebrate your successes!

Treat yourself and reflect on a job well done

When decluttering your whole home, it can be easy to lose sight of your wins along the way. So, when you’ve finished – or after a significant declutter session is over – take a moment to relish in how far you’ve come. Your celebration might even be as small as pouring yourself a drink and enjoying your calmer surroundings, and how your declutter has positively impacted your life.

Not only will it feel brilliant, but celebrating your achievement will also motivate you to keep going with your declutter if you’re working on it over the space of a few weeks or months.

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Written by Amy Hunt she/her

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