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Decluttering can be a rewarding experience—but it can also be an intimidating one. Over time, rooms can get absolutely packed with stuff, and finding a way to sift through all that? Well, it’s no easy feat.
But, rest assured: no room is impossible to organize. Even if your space feels overwhelmingly cluttered, there is a way to get through it. And by breaking down the process into manageable steps, you can make your decluttering spree faster, more efficient, and a lot easier to tackle.
Meet the Expert
Things You’ll Need:
- Donation bins
- Trash bins or bags
- Cleaning supplies (cleaning cloths, broom, vacuum)
- Sticky notes
- Measuring tape
How to Organize a Cluttered Room
Step 1: Set a Goal for the Room
Think about what you’re trying to achieve before you start decluttering. Are you hoping to clean up your space, cut down on old possessions, or simply see your floor for the first time in a long time?
“Set a specific goal for the room,” Joanna Wirick, life and home professional organizer at Joanna Organize, says. “What outcome are you trying to achieve? What does a big win look like?” Envisioning your dream scenario can help you clarify what you need to do, and it can also help you stay motivated when you encounter challenges during your decluttering spree.
“A common mistake people tend to make when decluttering is to not be specific enough about the goal they want to achieve,” Wirick says. “For example, more specific goals may look like this: ‘I want to give every item a home,’ or ‘I will invest in organizing containers and labels, so I can stay organized.’”
Step 2: Knock Out Some Logistics
Once you’ve set your goal, you may be eager to start decluttering. But, take a moment to handle some logistics before you do.
“Create a plan,” Wirick says. “What day and time will you declutter? Is this a multi-day project? Where will you take donation items?”
Answering these questions now will save you time later. You can ensure you have all the supplies you need to sort and store your stuff. You can fall back on the decluttering schedule you’ve created for yourself, and since you’ve already decided what to do with donation items, you don’t have to worry about a “donation bin” lingering in your home long after you’ve finished your deep clean.
“Sometimes, we get bitten by the organizing bug on a whim, start pulling things off shelves, and then feel overwhelmed by the chaos around us,” Wirick says. “Intentionally set aside several hours for a project and set a date for when you will take all of the donation items to a center, so they don’t stay in your house for weeks on end.”
Step 3: Pick a Strategic Starting Point
By this point, you’ve done all the planning you need to do. You’ve established a goal, and you've set your schedule. Now, you’re standing in front of a veritable mountain of clutter—where do you begin?
Wirick recommends starting with the hardest task in front of you. “I would recommend starting with the area that you’ll feel the biggest impact with,” she says. “Think about the space that causes your shoulders to tense.” By getting the most stressful part of the process out of the way, you can set yourself up for success.
“When you start your decluttering journey with the area that brings you the most anxiety and stress, you’ll see big results,” she adds. “When you see big results and positive change, the domino effect will take place—you’ll have the forward momentum and energy to organize other rooms.”
But if the most stressful part of your decluttering spree sounds just too daunting to tackle, kick things off with something a little easier.
“Start small,” Holly Blakey, a professional organizer at Breathing Room, says. “Very cluttered rooms can often feel overwhelming, and parting ways with items you've been holding onto for a long time can be tough.”
So zero in on one area you can easily tackle. Blakey recommends areas like “a cluttered shelf, a chaotic countertop, or a corner where things have been piling up.”
When you see big results and positive change, the domino effect will take place—you’ll have the forward momentum and energy to organize other rooms.
Step 4: Take Everything Out
It’s time to start having some fun. “Take everything out of the space, and bring it out in the open where you can see it all,” Ashley Murphy, co-founder of NEAT Method, says. “We know it seems like that will make an even bigger mess, but this is truly the only way to see everything you have.”
If you have open floor space, spread the items across your floor. And if you don’t, no worries—lay them out on an empty table, or move them into another room.
Remember, you don’t have to tackle the entire room at once. Remove all the items from the area you’ve decided to declutter first—whether that be a closet, a cabinet, or a corner. Then repeat this step once you’re finished organizing your first target area.
Step 5: Sort and Declutter
Once you have a clear idea of everything you have, you’ll want to sort your items into two sets of categories. First: What kind of item is it? (Group clothes in one pile, tools in another, toys in another, and so on.) Second: What do you want to do with it? “Sort through each of your items, and determine which to sell, donate, recycle, throw away, and keep,” Murphy says.
Deciding what to get rid of can be tough, so start with a few easy wins. “Anything stained, ripped, or broken should be discarded,” Wirick says. “Place gently used, clean items in a donation bag or tote.”
Then, start asking yourself some hard questions. “What is the first feeling or thought that comes to mind when I see this item?” Wirick says. “Would I ever think about this item if I hadn’t found it just now? Will it negatively affect any part of my life if I part with it?” And Blakey has another go-to: “Could someone else use it more or love it more than you do?”
“This last question really helps a lot of my clients part with items they just don’t need,” Blakey adds. “Once you can shift your thinking to realize it’s just been sitting in your home for a long time, but might actually be used daily by someone else, it’s so much easier to part with.”
Step 6: Clean Anything That’s Dirty
By this point, the area you’re organizing should be basically bare. And that’s a great opportunity to give it a much-needed clean. “Clean surfaces—shelves, floor space, and even scuffed walls,” Blakey says. “This will give your space a fresh, clean start as you add your items back in.”
Start by wiping down each of the surfaces. Then, dust, sweep, and vacuum as needed.
Step 7: Find a Home for Every Item
Now that your space is clean and empty, you have a blank slate to work from. And it’s time to decide where everything should go. “Once you are left with items you are keeping, sort them into categories and determine where to place everything,” Murphy says.
One easy place to start? “Keep your most frequently used items in easy-to-reach places,” Murphy says. By tucking your lesser-used items in harder-to-reach places—and saving the easy access spots for your go-tos—you can get a loose sense of where stuff should go.
Then, Wirick recommends using sticky notes to design the rest of your storage set-up. Since sticky notes are easy to move around, they’ll help you flexibly switch up your layout as you figure things out.
Step 8: Snag Any Storage Items You Need
If you want to store your items inside jars, baskets, and organizers, now is the time to buy them. “The biggest mistake people make is rushing out to buy organizing products too soon,” Murphy says. “Be sure to take the time to first go through and edit your items so you are buying products that hold what you need to organize.”
Once you know what you need to store—and where you need to put it—you can buy organizers that suit your space and your stuff. “Measure, measure, measure!” Blakey says. Measure your designated storage spot to see how much space you’re working with. Then, snag an appropriately sized organizer that can hold the stuff you need it to store.
Step 9: Put Every Item Where It Belongs
Good news: Your work is almost done. It’s time to restock the space you’ve been organizing.
So grab your items, and put each one in its new home. “This is the most satisfying part, as you add your items into their set spaces,” Blakey says. Everything will have a home, there will be added functionality in your space, and you'll have more space in your head and home.”
Tips to Keep Your Room Decluttered Longer
Now that you’ve conquered your mountain of clutter, you want to avoid building another. Thankfully, keeping your space organized is pretty simple.
First, stick to the system you’ve just designed—and use labels if you think they’ll help you. “Now that you have a system, help yourself keep it up by labeling where everything goes,” Blakey says. “That way, not only will you be able to easily put everything back in its new, organized home, but hopefully your family members will be able to pitch in too!”
And if something about your system doesn’t quite feel right, make changes along the way. “Live with your newly organized space for a few days or a week,” Wirick says. “Then, fine-tune anything you need to. Remember, it needs to be functional!” Don’t be afraid to make changes—especially if they’ll make your life easier.
Finally, tackle smaller declutters on a seasonal basis. “We recommend going through items at the end of a season and donating or selling anything you did not use, no longer need, or that are broken, missing pieces, or expired,” Murphy says. And if you can’t decide whether to part with something? “We suggest storing it for a bit and then re-evaluating to see if you missed it,” she adds.