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Marnie Goodfriend

Marnie Goodfriend is a writer, sexual assault advocate, and social practice artist.

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5 Realistic Ways to Declutter

5 Realistic Ways to Declutter Your Home

Learn how to set achievable goals that spark true joy by clearing out clutter

Your Wellness

Social media is clogged with messages saying that less clutter is the key to joy, happiness and success. (No pressure!) It doesn’t help that home improvement TV shows (with their massive production teams) make it look so easy. But let’s be honest: If decluttering was a simple process of color-coding our way to an inspired life, the never-ending quest for organizing hacks would cease to exist.

Science tells us that clutter isn’t just an inconvenience — it can increase stress, resulting in negative feelings that can lead to anxiety and depression. It’s not surprising that women are affected more than men, as ancient gender roles are still at play and many women are the ones responsible for keeping a home clean and tidy. It’s true, however, that when we start to clear a path toward intuitive organization, we feel calmer, lighter and more productive.

“Our brain is less tired from constantly trying to mentally organize or categorize spaces. We are not burning up energy digging through a drawer looking for that one shirt we saw the other day to match the pants we have on,” said Tatiana Bernardi, owner of Alpine Organizers. “That feeling of manageability relieves both internal and external stressors, giving us more time and energy to focus on other aspects of our lives.” Another bonus: You won’t break into hives when a guest unexpectedly drops by.

The real key to clearing out clutter is to sidestep additional stress. Yes, it’s a chore, but can it be somewhat enjoyable? We’ve highlighted five simple ways to declutter, and talk about the good kind of clutter you may want to hold on to.

Tips for Decluttering Your Home

1. Start small

The most challenging step in decluttering is figuring out where to begin. That’s why experts suggest tackling one drawer, a makeup bag — any small space that can be easily accomplished without turning your house upside down. Bite-sized organizing requires minimal time but still makes a great impact — so much so that we organically begin to crave organization in another space.

2. The right way to clean a single drawer

It may seem easy to bring order to a single drawer, but without a system, we often transfer one mess to another location. Here’s how Bernardi avoids this mistake: “Take everything out of the drawer. Throw away all of the trash: empty baggies, twist ties, pen caps belonging to long-lost pens, loose staples, etc. Wipe the drawer clean so you're starting with a clean canvas. Separate items into keep, donate, and question-mark piles. Don’t allow yourself to end up with a cluttered section of donated items that have just moved from one drawer to another. Have a donation box in your home and make frequent drop-offs.” Avoid the urge to peek inside the box to rescue those sweatpants you’ve already decided to part with.

3. Set realistic goals

Decluttering your home takes time. If you’ve lived in the same place for a significant period of time, there may be years or decades of excess belongings to sort through. Make a list of the rooms in your house and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 by asking yourself how important it feels to clear out each space. Start with the room that makes the top of the list. Before you begin, have supplies such as garbage bags, boxes, scissors and cleaning products at the ready. Decide how much time you can devote to organizing each week and add those blocks of time to your calendar. Whether it’s 10 minutes a day or one-hour sessions on the weekends, consistency will help you stay on track.

Consider asking a friend or family member to be an accountability partner. Check in with them before you begin a decluttering session and again when you finish. If you’re working alone, having someone in your corner will motivate you when you’re feeling distracted or overwhelmed. Envision what it will feel like to have gatherings in your home, getting dressed in the morning in your organized space, or how much time you’ll save always knowing where your earbuds are stored.

4. You’ve got (too much) mail

With fast shipping and deliveries at an all-time high, it only takes a few days before cardboard boxes and shipping materials become a part of your home decor. Not the aesthetic you’re going for? Brenda Scott, owner of Tidy My Space, suggested placing a container that you love in a place that makes sense for you to manage your physical mailbox. Add a recycling or garbage bin next to the container to get rid of junk mail and break down boxes immediately. “Adhere a ‘No Flyers' sticker on your mailbox. Less coming in equals less to deal with,” she added.

5. Know the difference between good and bad clutter

Maximalists, rejoice! Having an organized space doesn’t mean your house needs to look sterile. It simply means that your belongings have designated places that make sense in your life. “I call it the ‘happy chaos,’ when clutter doesn’t affect your creativity. In fact, it can enhance it,” said Marie-Hélène Riverain, owner of Love and Order Organizing.

Others call it cluttercore, a design trend and concept that filling your home with what makes you happy can provide a sense of comfort and warmth. If you’re partial to color, bookshelves filled with books and plants, and displaying sentimental items, clearing out old items will make room to add more items to a collection and share those keepsakes with others.

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