• Anita Chastain, MBA

12 Ways to Clear the Clutter

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Clutter tends to spread when it's ignored. Learn 12 tips to clear out clutter and keep it out.

Why do we say that clutter attracts clutter?

I think it’s because any area that’s already cluttered sends a silent message welcoming more clutter to join it.

Ignoring Clutter Only Makes it Worse

While we might debate why clutter attracts more clutter, I do know that clutter tends to spread when it’s ignored.

The only way to retake a cluttered space is to remove the clutter and take steps to keep it from coming back.

8 Steps that Make it Easy to Clear Clutter

Follow these eight steps to declutter an area faster and with less frustration:

1. Clean after completing a decluttering session - not while you're clearing surfaces. Cleaning while you declutter distracts you from your main mission, removing the clutter, and extends the amount of time it takes to get clear the space. Once the area is completely free of clutter, it’s ready to be cleaned.

2. Clear the clutter strategically and systematically. Start in one area and clear the clutter from that area before moving on to the next area. This is the fastest way to power through the decluttering session. While you’re in one area, don’t get distracted by the clutter in other areas.

Stay focused on one area at a time and you’ll feel like you’re making faster progress and the process will feel more organized and less frustrating.

3. Remove clutter using the top-down method. Start by removing clutter highest surface you want to declutter, such as the top of the fridge or the kitchen table, then work your way down to lower surfaces, such as chairs and the floor.

4. Gather paper and other recyclable items and place them in recycling bins or bags and throw away any other clutter that’s ready for the wastebasket. This strategy removes annoyance items, like junk mail, condiment packets, and empty wrappers, that stack up (or spread) out.

Even if you have just a few of these items scattered around, they make the space look messy. Even if you don’t remove any other clutter, getting rid of annoyance items makes the entire room look cleaner and more organized.

5. Return items to their permanent home. Every item in your home should have a permanent home.

This makes it easier to find things when you need them, and there’s no need to think about where to put something. If you make it a habit to return items to their permanent home when you’re done with them, you’ll spend less time decluttering and the area will look cleaner and neater.

6. Focus on the clutter you see during a surface decluttering session, not what’s hidden in a closet or drawer.

Hidden clutter needs to be dealt with, but not during a surface decluttering session.

To declutter quickly, first clear surface clutter. Here's why: Clearing surface clutter provides an immediate mood and motivational boost. And because the space looks airy and open, you get a boost every time you pass it.

7. Remove clutter from the floor. The obstacle course created by randomly strewn toys, shoes, backpacks, and other items creates a safety hazard. Floor clutter makes any room look messy and disorganized. Gather and return all floor clutter to its permanent home.

8. Complete a final scan of the room. Look for any items that are out of place and return them to their permanent home. For example, if an ottoman that’s usually placed against the wall is currently in front of the tv, move it back to its permanent home against the wall. The “return to home” rule applies to all items in the room, including throws, rugs, pillows, and home decor.

4 Steps to Prevent Clutter from Piling Up in the Future

Now that you have a strategy for clearing clutter, let’s look at preventing it.

1. Assign everything a permanent home. While this might seem like common sense, it’s a hard rule to apply 100% of the time. You get busy. And sometimes it’s easier to put something where it’s convenient, thinking you’ll take it to its permanent home later. Unfortunately, later may not happen. Then you can’t find it, so you look in the last three or four places you think it was. Looking for the item is frustrating and a waste of time. It’s a lot easier, in the long run, to put the item back where it belongs.

2. Make everything easy to put away. The easier the better. Think about how much easier it is to silverware in a kitchen drawer than to place serving bowls on a high shelf. I call this the Kitchen Drawer Principle. It’s easier to put away silverware than serving bowls because the kitchen drawer is designed to make it easy and convenient to retrieve and put away silverware. When you think about finding a permanent home for frequently used items, apply the Kitchen Drawer Principle. Place those items where you can access them quickly and easily.

3. Develop the habit of putting things away when you’re done with them. This is a simple rule that’s hard to practice if you aren’t in the habit of putting things away. Remember the saying that clutter attracts clutter? Clutter doesn’t really attract clutter. But it does spread when items don’t get put away. It’s easier to keep spaces neat and decluttered if you put things away after you use them.

It's also faster because you don’t have to spend lots of time putting lots of things away when you're tidying up.

4. If you don’t need it, don’t use it, or don’t want it, then get rid of it. One solution to preventing clutter is to own less. The less you own, the easier it is to keep spaces organized. You’ll enjoy less frustration and spend less time organizing, cleaning, and maintaining the items you do have.

Check out the easy organization tips here for more ideas on how to keep your home organized after you clear the clutter.

Key Takeaways

The key to controlling clutter is to actively manage it:

Spend a few minutes every day clearing small stacks of clutter.

Set aside time for decluttering before clutter becomes overwhelming.

Over time, look at ways to prevent clutter from accumulating.

Do these things regularly and your spaces will stay neater and more organized, and you'll feel less overwhelmed.

That’s a win all around!


NEXT: You might enjoy reading 19 Best Quotes Simplifying and Decluttering.