The 3 stages of decluttering: A quick guide

Well-organized kitchen drawers

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Do you have too many things and not enough space? Do you feel like your life is full of stuff, or that nothing’s in the right place?

If so, then plan to tackle the clutter and get organized. Why? Because managing your clutter can save you time, stress and money.
Tips to declutter your home – and your life

Once you decide you’re going to do it, where do you begin?

When determining where to start, choose the area that causes you the most anxiety and then move on to the next area according to your priority. Or, go room by room, clearing out closets, shelves, and drawers as you go.

Here are suggestions for three stages of decluttering, courtesy of Family Life Educator Cheri Burcham at the University of Illinois Extension.

Decluttering: Stage 1

As you are clearing clutter, ask yourself these questions:

  • When was the last time I used this? (Decide upon your own acceptable time frame — 1 month, 6 months, etc.)
  • How often do I use that?
  • Where do I use it?
  • Do I have more than one; do I need more than one?
  • Is it usable? If so, will I ever use it again?
  • If I didn’t have this item, would it even impact my life?
  • Could someone else use it?

MORE: 18 five-minute decluttering tips to help you get organized

Decluttering: Stage 2

Now look at sorting your items. Have four piles (or boxes), one for each of these:

Garbage: Toss any item that is broken or is a project you never finished.

Donate/Sell/Recycle/Gift: Have a plan for the items to give away or sell and then DO IT. Otherwise, you just created another clutter pile.

Save and put away: Store items near where they will be used.

To be determined (TBD): You may have to keep sorting through these items a couple of times in order to make decisions on the pile. Don’t let your TBD pile become the slightly smaller clutter cluster.

Dining room with backyard pool view
Photo by poyoky/Freepik

ALSO SEE: How can you declutter your house and reclaim your space?

Decluttering: Stage 3

Once you have cleaned out your clutter, use these strategies for staying on top of those areas.

Spurt strategy: Take 5 to 15 minutes sporadically during the day to pick up and put away any stray items.

Prompt put away: If there are any tasks that can be completed immediately, do not put it off. For example, hang up your coat, put your keys on the hook, etc.

Castaway container: If you find something you will no longer use, place it here immediately for donation/resale. Once the container is filled, take the necessary steps to move these items along. Otherwise, this can become a secondary clutter issue.

Good riddance routine: Doing de-clutter maintenance on a regular basis. This means taking a look through your clutter clusters regularly.

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