Piles of papers, overstuffed closets, and toys scattered everywhere: Does this sound familiar? Clutter can seem like an unavoidable, but essentially harmless, way of life, particularly for families in tight quarters. But chaos and disorganization can have a negative impact, both physically and mentally. “As the clutter piles up, so do the feelings of anxiety,” says Elsa Elbert, professional organizer and owner of the Los Angeles-based personal organizing company Composed Living.
And that’s true for kids, as well as moms and dads. “When kids are surrounded by clutter or too many things, they can have difficulty choosing what to play with and this can impact their attention span and ability to concentrate,” says Jane Stoller, professional organizer and author of Decluttering for Dummies.
The reasons to declutter are clear, Stoller adds: an increase in productivity, happiness, and free time to spend with loved ones. And the actual process doesn’t have to be daunting if you do it right.
Get the Family Involved
Before you dive into a declutter project, keep in mind it will be less successful as a solo mission. “It is very important that everyone in the house is aware and on board with your decluttering mission,” Stoller advises.
Start by having a conversation with your significant other. “Go through why decluttering will help the household and your relationship,” Stoller says. These benefits may include more time to spend together or less early-morning stress about locating the kids’ sports equipment before the school bus arrives.
And get your kids involved, too. “Ask your children to go through their rooms and make two piles—the things they love, and the things they don’t love so much,” Elbert suggests. This will help them feel empowered, and far more willing to be part of the process. Another trick: Let kids know their toys will be donated to others—and by sorting through them, they’re clearing space for new toys.
You can also gamify decluttering to encourage participation, Stoller says. Try setting the timer for 30 minutes, she suggests. If your kids declutter 20 items and put them into their boxes in 30 minutes, they get a small reward.
Even after you’ve sorted the mail and thrown out stained clothes, more mail will enter your home, and you’ll drip more coffee on your jeans. Decluttering is not a one-and-done project.
“It should be an automatic part of your daily routines and lifestyle,” Stoller says. Her advice? Before you purchase an item or allow it into your space, question if it will provide value. If it won’t, don’t allow it inside your door. Avoid impulse purchases; a list or clearly defined purpose when you head into a store can help.
Marty Basher, home organization expert for Modular Closets, suggests making decluttering a routine. “Schedule a time each week, or even each day, to tidy up and get things in their place,” he says. That way, you won’t get overwhelmed by the volume of items in your home.
If you find yourself avoiding the task, just remember, decluttering benefits you—and your family—in important ways. As Elbert says, “Decluttering, in combination with creating easy-to-maintain systems, is a great way to turn your home into the sanctuary you and your family deserve.”
Tips for Decluttering Success
Giving your whole house an overhaul in one day can be overwhelming, so start with these tips to get in the groove.
Start by organizing out the small stuff.
If you are overwhelmed by the entire house, tackle one space at a time, suggests Jane Stoller, professional organizer and author of Decluttering for Dummies. For example, attack the kitchen junk drawer or an unruly closet. Alternatively, choose one category—papers, sweaters, or that Tupperware collection.
Time your decluttering mission.
“Set a timer for 15 minutes and see how much you can accomplish,” says Marty Basher, home organization expert for Modular Closets, who finds that 15 minutes is the perfect amount of time to bring order to a bathroom cabinet or a heaping pile of mail. Elsa Elbert, professional organizer and owner of Composed Living, says other easy-to-tackle spots are sock drawers and kids’ dressers, along with shelves of expired food in the pantry.
Start with non-sentimental items.
Going through the kids’ artwork or baby clothes can be hard because of all the emotions attached, so begin your decluttering with items that aren’t laden with sentiment, Basher says.
Choose a place to donate your things.
“Every time you find anything you don’t love or no longer use, immediately place it in the donation station,” Elbert says. Put an appointment on your calendar to drop things off monthly (or less frequently, depending on how much it piles up), Basher suggests. “If you want to make a little extra money, sell your items on eBay or your local Facebook marketplace,” he suggests.
Declutter by room.
Divvying up the task makes it far more manageable. Once you’ve selected a room, be prepared to go through and categorize items into piles for toss, donate/sell, and keep, Basher says. Make sure to put an organizational system in place so closets and tables don’t revert to their pre-decluttering look. “The key is to make sure everything has a place or a ‘home,’” he adds.
You don't need to keep every keepsake.
Consider having a curated—not comprehensive—collection of your little ones’ arts-and-crafts projects. “For your own personal memorabilia and those of your kids, sort through your keepsakes and think hard about their importance,” Basher says. “Only keep items that you feel will be important to look back at years from now, or ones to share with your kids.”