Young woman sorting wardrobe indoors at home, charity donation concept.

Take Control of Household Clutter in 8 Fast and Effective Steps

You aren’t just a homeowner. You are a household manager! Running a household isn’t that different from running a business. Everything in your home is inventory.

Anything that comes through the door will have to be stored, organized, and maintained. So, the less that comes in, the less you have to “manage.”

If you keep this in mind, it may be easier to curtail the influx of new stuff. But you’ll still need to evaluate and manage the things already in your home to create a less chaotic existence and enjoy your home (and your life) even more.

You don’t need to become a minimalist to streamline your household. But, the more you can remove or eliminate what is already in your home, the easier your life will be.

With less inventory to manage, you’ll have more time for things you would rather be doing, like spending time with family and friends, pursuing a hobby, cooking a great meal, teaching a child to read, taking a walk, enjoying a movie, or anything beyond endlessly cleaning and tidying up your home.

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take that will make it easier to get your household inventory under control. It starts with recognizing the cost of doing nothing.

Step 1. Acknowledge the Negative Impact of Too Much “Stuff”

Too much “stuff” shuts everyone down. It’s a fact.

Studies have shown that cluttered and overwhelming environments encourage depression and anxiety and that women are even more impacted than men.

Cluttered homes can cause stress and elevate cortisol levels in women. In addition, a 2017 study of chaotic and disorganized environments concluded that clutter could lead to overconsumption of food. So yes, your clutter could be making you eat more and choose less healthy snacking options, all while stressing you out!

Chaotic environments are not healthy for children either. According to a scientific twin study, those living in clutter and chaos are less well-adjusted than children in calm, organized environments.

When faced with too many toys, children can become agitated and less likely to play with any of them. In contrast, it’s easier for children to employ their imagination and play happily with just a few toy options.

It’s easy to understand since a sense of being overwhelmed impacts adults too. For example, have you ever noticed that when your closet is stuffed with too many clothes, it seems that you never have anything to wear? But when you have just a few well-fitting, comfy favorites, you can dress quickly and feel good about how you look?

Similarly, too many options on a restaurant menu mean that it takes forever to place an order. But if there are only a few tasty alternatives, you can decide quickly and move on to enjoying the company sitting around the table with you.  

Step 2. Employ the 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, was developed in macroeconomics and has been successfully applied to many other areas like finance, science, and daily life.

When applied to your day-to-day life, the Pareto Principle states that you use 20 percent of your belongings 80 percent of the time. This is easiest to observe in your closet. Most people wear 20 percent of their clothes—their favorites—80 percent of the time.

The same is true of utensils and appliances in your kitchen and the tools in your garage. I’m sure you can think of many areas in your life where the Pareto Principle applies.

Step 3. Eliminate First

Eliminating the things you don’t use will make space for the things you do. However, just because something “might come in handy” later doesn’t mean it needs to take up room in your home.

There are thousands of things that “may come in handy,” but that doesn’t mean you are personally responsible for storing them, does it?

But how do you decide if an item is a keeper or something you should donate, sell, or toss? If you get stuck, employ this easy litmus test: if you can quickly replace the item for under a few dollars, it’s safe to discard it.

You probably won’t need the item, but it will be easy to re-acquire it if you do. In the meantime, the dozens (or possibly hundreds) of things that you’ll never need won’t take up valuable space and create visual clutter in your home.

Let the local store or the online retailer be your “storage unit” for whatever you may need at some point. Then, they can spend time managing and organizing that inventory space. You have better things to do with your time!

Unless you are incredibly organized, you may not be able to find those items later—and will probably end up replacing them anyway. That brings us to the topic of duplicates.

Step 4. Decline Duplicates

Lack of organization—and not having a dedicated place for each item—leads to duplicate items in your home. Traditional wisdom states that if you have one pen, you always know where it is, but you can never find one when you need it if you have a dozen. This is true of so many things. 

Eliminating duplicates may seem counterintuitive, but establishing a dedicated place for a single item is far more effective than having spares scattered in multiple locations. Pick the highest quality and most enjoyable of your duplicates, and toss the others.

Removing unnecessary items in your home and ditching duplicates will make organizing your essentials much more manageable. If you can’t get through everything you need to evaluate, consider using the boxing method to identify your essential items and quickly eliminate the rest.

Step 5. Use the Boxing Method

You may be convinced that it’s time to eliminate the extra stuff in your life, but getting down to the 20 percent level can be difficult. Enter the boxing method. It’s an excellent way to make a big difference in your home in a short time without “minimizer’s remorse.”

The boxing method provides a built-in safety net that prevents you from eliminating something you do need while clearing your home quickly so you can experience the joy of a clutter-free home immediately.

To begin boxing:

  1. Enter a room and box up everything that’s not in that 20 percent “essentials” category.
  2. Label each box with the room name, plus the date, and find an isolated place to store it.
  3. Think “attic” or “basement” or another location that’s harder to reach.

Decision fatigue is real, and it sets in quickly. Boxing eliminates that problem. It’s easy to isolate what you know you use routinely and box up the rest. But, on the other hand, it’s much harder to handle each object and determine if it’s a “keeper” or something to eliminate permanently.

Step 6. Proceed Section by Section, or Room by Room

Empty all your cabinets, drawers, and closets in one room or one area. Start with any space that’s bothering you. You can do one drawer at a time or pull everything out and create a pile in the middle of the floor.

Either way, plan to keep only those items you regularly use (think daily or weekly). Box up the rest. Move the box to storage with a label that defines the room it came from and the date you stored it.

Once finished, you will be able to enjoy the experience of living in a home clear of clutter in a fraction of the time required by other clutter-busting methods.

Step 7. Organize What’s Left

Focus on the 20 percent that remains in your home—the things you use most often. These essentials need to be given a “home” where they are easy to access and, even more importantly, where they are easy to put away.

Every item needs a designated place.  Otherwise, you will probably find yourself spending too much time “hunting” for things. What could be a bigger waste of time?

Something as simple as a hook on the wall for keys near the entry of your home prevents morning scrambles before leaving for work.

If your keys are always placed on the hook (or in another dedicated space) upon entering your home, you don’t have to rummage through your bag, check the pockets of the clothes you wore yesterday, search all the flat surfaces in your house, and toss the couch cushions to see if they fell between.

“A place for everything and everything in its place” should be your mantra for your essentials.

Step 8. Retrieve What You Need

If you need something that you boxed up over the next six months, retrieve it. You may have to dig around in a few boxes, but it probably won’t take any longer than finding it before you boxed it up.

Don’t remove anything except the one item you were seeking, and only retrieve needed items or something you deeply miss. The rest stays in the boxes.

After doing this for 6-12 months, you can eliminate the boxes. Yes, that’s right. Eliminate them. Don’t even open them up. You haven’t needed or missed the contents for many months (maybe a year or more), and you don’t need to go through them and “decide” on anything.

This method may seem abrupt, but it’s an excellent way to eliminate decision fatigue, avoid procrastination, and pare down your “stuff” to what you truly love and need. Boxing makes decluttering automatic and painless—as long as you don’t open the boxes up before removing them.

A decluttered home makes it easier to achieve organization, which is good for your mental and physical health as well as your enjoyment of your home!