Living clutter free is never one and done. You have to keep at it daily. But there are times when you want (or need) to know how to declutter fast. When your parents are coming to visit (or worse, when your in-laws are coming to visit…) friends are coming over after a crazy-busy week of work, kids and life, or you need to find that bill but can’t uncover it in the piles around your house. We’ve all had our declutter emergencies.
And while decluttering your house fast is great, what you don’t want to do is recover from stashing stuff in drawers and bookshelves. We call that the Dash and Stash around here. It helps for a day, but the next time you are looking for your car keys, you’re sunk because you “stashed” them in the basket of dog toys.
So here is how to declutter fast, get rid of the things you don’t need or love, while still being able to find all the stuff you do need tomorrow.
How to Declutter Fast Step 1. Gather Your Tools
This is a system you will be using in every room in your house, so I want you to gather up everything you’ll need right now:
Set up your iPod and a timer (you can use the one on your cell phone or your oven), three cardboard boxes, a garbage bag, and a recycle bag, Mark one cardboard box “Other Rooms,” one “Put Away,” and one “Give Away.” (Or, if decluttering this way becomes a routine, check out our 3 Bag System that you can pack up when you’re done and store until tomorrow when you declutter again.)
How to Declutter Fast Step 2. Start Sorting
Set fifteen minutes on your timer and pick a spot to clean out (an area no larger than what you can sort through in fifteen minutes).
Go through the area and use the three boxes to sort the contents.
If you are stuck on an item, ask yourself the Clutter Free 3 Clarifying Questions to determine whether that thing is clutter:
- Do I love it?
- Do I use it?
- Would I buy it again?
Other Rooms Box
Anything that doesn’t belong in the area you’re cleaning goes into the “Other Rooms” box. This includes toys in the kitchen, dog brushes in the living room, report cards in the bathroom, or dishes in the bedroom.
Put Back Box
This is the box where you put things that belong in the area you’re cleaning, but they need to be put back in the right place. If you’re straightening up your bedroom, examples of items might be clean clothes on the floor, shoes under your bed, or scarves hanging over a bedroom chair. These all go in the “Put Back” box so once you have your bedroom in order, you just put those items back where they belong.
Give Away Box
Clothes your kids have outgrown? Check. Videos your family will never watch again? Check. There is huge freedom in giving stuff away. Here is a great set of criteria for keeping or giving away an item:
- Is it something you or a family member is currently using or wearing?
- Is it something that makes you or a family member happy when they see it?
- Is it something you or a family member will definitely use in the next six months?
If you can answer yes to one or more of those questions, find a home for the item. If not, away it goes.
And a friendly reminder: don’t donate garbage. It costs charities time and money to get rid of stuff you don’t want. Don’t be that person. Donate only those things that are in decent condition and are worthy of reselling.
Anything you don’t want and isn’t worthy of being donated or can’t be recycled goes in here.
Recycling regulations vary from city to city, so check with your local municipality or disposal service if you have any question about what should be recycled and what shouldn’t.
How to Declutter Fast Step 3. Deal with Your Boxes
Once you’ve cleaned out your chosen area, take the “Other Rooms” box and put away all the stuff where it belongs. Take the “Give Away” box to where you gather stuff to donate or directly to your car to be donated the next time you run errands. Now, since your area is clean and organized, put anything in the “Put Back” box into the spot it’s supposed to go.
And the most important part: when you are done with decluttering, put your boxes away. (You don’t want those to become clutter!)
If this feels totally overwhelming to you, consider having a supportive friend or someone you hire go through these steps with you. There’s a lot of freedom in a fresh start.
The beautiful thing about decluttering? When you do it every day, it keeps you from wanting to bring things into the house in the first place. The more you declutter, the more you will want to keep your space as clutter free as possible. It’s this daily action that will help keep you out of the Target dollar aisle, keep you from buying those shoes just because they were on sale, and keep you from holding onto that second DVD of Legally Blond just in case.
She and her husband Roger are the parents of four young adults in San Jose, CA. When she’s not dating her husband or hanging out with her puggle Jake, Kathi is speaking at retreats, conferences and women’s events across the US.
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