The Best Methods for Decluttering Your Home | Lifehacker

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There are so many techniques and methods out there to help you declutter your home, but they all have the same goal: downsizing how much junk you have and getting the rest of it organized. Where they differ is methodologies. Some are better suited to larger homes or heavier junk volumes, for instance, while others leave some wiggle room for items you feel sentimental about and are hesitant to part with, and some force you to be a little more objective and decisive when tossing things out. Here are some of my favorite decluttering techniques.

The ski-slope method

Anita Yokota’s ski-slope method was born from her experience as a licensed therapist and interior designer and is meant to help you declutter in a way that won’t be overwhelming for you mentally. She outlines the method in her book Home Therapy: Interior Design for Increasing Happiness, Boosting Confidence, and Creating Calm, suggesting you imagine your messy room like a ski slope, zig-zagging from section to section instead of working in a straight line, as you would if you were skiing down a hill.

Rather than looking at it as a whole (a huge mess you’ll never be able to clean!), start in one corner or section and work from there: Clean, declutter, and organize. Move to the next side or section and do it again. Continue moving through the room, working from side to side. As you finish each section, you can pause for a break if you need to, then pick back up where you left off.

Project 333

Adhere to the TikTok-famous Project 333, which comes from comes from Courtney Carver’s Project 333: The Minimalist Fashion Challenge That Proves Less Really Is So Much More, if you want to pare down your wardrobe and create a “capsule wardrobe” of basic, mix-and-matchable pieces over time. Start by selecting only 33 pieces of clothing, jewelry, and accessories (excluding underwear or sentimental, everyday-wear jewelry), then boxing everything else up for three months. At the end of that time, you’ll have combined your 33 pieces to make outfits and will have a better sense of what you really need for daily wear and what you own that might be good for donating.

For a similar approach, you can adapt the Pareto principle or 80/20 rule, recognizing that you use about 20% of your stuff 80% of the time, whether that’s the clothes you wear every day, the kitchen tools you use to make your most common meals, or anything else that you reach for the majority of the time. Once you start identifying the 80% of things you rarely use, it becomes pretty easy to give them the boot.

The 12-12-12 method

This is one of the longer-term methods on the list and it calls on you to overhaul your lifestyle a bit. When you use the 12-12-12 method, you find 12 things to throw away, 12 things to donate, and 12 things to put away—every day. With 12 in each category every day, you’re dealing with a number small enough to work with in an achievable way but big enough to make an impact on your clutter. Of course, you can move that number up or down slightly to accommodate your own needs, but the real idea here is that you get in the habit of identifying what you can get rid of and what needs to be organized and put away every day.

The Organizational Triangle

Another longer-term, lifestyle-altering approach is the use of the Organizational Triangle, a concept from by pro organizer Andrew Mellen, the man behind The Most Organized Man in America’s Guide to Moving and Unstuff Your Life: Kick the Clutter Habit and Completely Organize Your Life for Good. This three-tiered approach provides a simple process for maintaining a clutter-free home:

By making sure you get into the habit of putting everything where it belongs (and getting rid of things that don’t belong anywhere), storing everything with related items, and getting rid of one thing every time you bring something new in, you can not only get organized, but stay organized.

The five-second rule

The five-second rule is a trick you can use when you’re decluttering to make fast decisions about what stays and what goes. It’s a widely-adaptable technique from organizational coach Mel Robbins, who advocates for it in her books. Basically, you should make major decisions in under five seconds, counting down five, four, three, two, one so your brain senses some urgency. At the end of the countdown, you have to make a choice and when you’re decluttering, you’ll decide whether to keep something and find a place for it or toss it or donate it. In your heart, you already know which items are useful and need to stick around. Instead of deliberating over the decision, make it fast and keep going so you don’t lose momentum.

If you’re really stuck after five seconds, there are two questions you can ask yourself to illuminate the right choice: According to organizational gurus the Minimalists, you should ask yourself, “Could I replace this item for less than $20?” and “Could I replace it in less than 20 minutes?” If the answer to both is yes, that thing can go. The space you’ll save by tossing it will be worth the $20 you may spend in the unlikely event you ever need it again.

KonMari

Arguably the most famous method on the list, Marie Kondo’s KonMari leaves a little room for the items you care about, even if they have fewer practical uses than others. Kondo’s method of organizing follows a few simple steps designed to ensure “you will never again relapse to clutter.” Here’s what she calls for

  1. Commit yourself to tidying up.

  2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle.

  3. Finish discarding first.

  4. Tidy by category and not by location.

  5. Follow the right order.

  6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy, and get rid of it if it doesn’t.

The Peter Walsh method

Walsh method is similar to Kondo’s, but a little stricter. Compare her steps with his and spot the differences:

  1. Empty your space.

  2. Create a vision for the space and set an intention for it.

  3. Sort everything you removed into a “vision” pile and an “out-the-door” pile.

  4. Get rid of the “out-the-door pile” by donating or throwing everything away.

  5. Move everything from the “vision” pile back into the space.

Fully emptying your space is more intense than just organizing it as-is, so choose this technique if you really need an overhaul.

Decluttering at the Speed of Life

The Decluttering at the Speed of Life method comes from Dana K. White, who has chronicled her “deslobification” journey on a blog since she began in 2009. She took notes of all her wins and failures as she sought to find a way to declutter without getting overwhelmed, keeping track of what worked and what didn’t—and ultimately published a book, Decluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with Stuff. To utilize her technique, select a small area, and do these five things:

  1. Start with trash, like receipts, wrappers, bags, anything that is broken, expired food or products, or anything you simply don’t need or use at all. Throw all that away.

  2. Do the easy stuff. Put everything you see out of place back where it belongs.

  3. Categorize “duh clutter,” or anything that could be donated. Keep a box on hand and toss anything worthy of donation into it. 

  4. Ask yourself one or two decluttering questions. First, “If I needed this item, where would I look for it?” If you can instantly think of an answer, take the item where it belongs. If you can’t think of an answer, ask a follow-up: “If I needed this item, would it occur to me that I already had one?” Get rid of the thing if the answers are no.

  5. Finally, make it fit. Only keep what you have space for and organize those.

Throw a packing party

Another intense, room-clearing option is the “packing party,” which also comes from the Minimalists. To throw a packing party, invite your friends over and have them help you pack everything in the room into boxes, as if you were moving, and label those boxes. For three weeks after that, live your life as normal, only pulling things out of the boxes if and as you need them. At the end of the three weeks, go through whatever you haven’t needed and commit to throwing or donating most of it. This method helps you “move back in” to a cleaner space full of only the things you really need.

365 Less Things

Colleen Madsen’s unique 365 Less Things technique is a slow burn. It will take a year to complete, but at the end of that year, you’ll be living in a cleaner, more organized space—and will have built up the habits that can keep it that way. All you do is commit to getting rid of one thing every day for a year. The goal here isn’t instant progress, but incremental progress that you can learn from. Set a reminder in your phone for every day at a certain time and, when the alarm goes off, find one thing to get rid of. You can donate it, sell it, or throw it away, but it has to go. The beauty of this method is that while it takes time, the time is actually beneficial: Eventually, it’ll become second nature to find and get rid of one thing in your home every day. Plus, decluttering so incrementally is a lot less overwhelming than other methods of home cleaning and organization, so it’s perfect for if you’re feeling too put-upon by the daunting task.

The Before and After technique

Finally, if you’re a more visual person, the Before and After approach from Becoming Minimalist is for you. Pick a small section of your home, like a countertop or junk drawer, and snap a picture of it. Then, clean it up. Just focus on the small area you photographed. Once you’re done, take a new picture and compare the two. Do this any time you have a few minutes to dedicate to a minor cleaning task, so the pics are right next to each other in your camera roll. When you can see the difference just by swiping between the two photos, you’ll feel motivated to keep going. Without the pictures, it can be hard to remember what the mess even looked like, so you won’t stay as motivated to clean or keep it clean.

If you need more motivation, here are my favorite tools to use to declutter.