As we move through life, and through homes, the detritus of daily existence builds at an alarming rate, which is why a decluttering checklist to use alongside your cleaning calendar is an essential tool. Even if you left university with all your worldly goods in one cardboard box, just a few short years later it will have expanded to fill every orifice of your home. Add children to the mix and suddenly the battle to keep control of all the “stuff” can become overwhelming (and stressful).
Getting on top of organisation in your home has multiple advantages, from reducing anxiety and improving mental well-being, to increasing productivity and enjoying more living space. To make it happen, you need to create a checklist. ‘The benefit of a decluttering checklist is that it provides a structured and organised approach to decluttering, which can make the process less overwhelming and more manageable,’ explains Craig Hoareau (opens in new tab), Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers (APDO (opens in new tab)) member and owner of A Tidy Mind London. ‘It also helps you stay on track and ensures that you don't overlook any areas or tasks that need to be addressed.’
Decluttering goes hand-in-hand with organising, and with less items to manage, you will find it easier to stay organised and clutter-free. Once you’ve been bitten by the decluttering bug, take a look at how to organise kitchen cupboards and how to organise a pantry for expert tips on how to keep control of what’s left.
Craig has a passion and proven skill for creating organised, functional spaces where the energy flows correctly. He has undertaken professional training in organising, decluttering and life coaching, and works as a declutterer and organiser at A Tidy Mind where he runs the South London branch. Craig has been through the central ‘A Tidy Mind’ franchisee programme which includes extensive training on all aspects of professional organising/decluttering, emotional support and mental health. Craig has been an organiser professionally for 4 years now and puts his credentials down mainly to a passion and talent for organising that he's have had for his whole life.
Your ultimate decluttering checklist
One of the most common decluttering mistakes is attempting to do it all in one go. ‘This often leads to overwhelm and eventually burnout,’ says Craig. Instead, he recommends using your decluttering checklist to break the task down into smaller, more manageable bite-sized chunks and focus on one room, or even just an area of that room, at a time. ‘Don’t underestimate the time it takes to declutter,’ he adds. ‘You might think you can do a whole room in less than a day, only to end up stuck in the middle of a huge mess and no will to carry on. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time and set realistic goals.’
We’ve spoken to a range of decluttering, storage and organising experts to get their top suggestions on the easiest things to get rid of right now, followed by guidance on how to do it. Use our decluttering checklist to tackle your home, one room at a time. Feel free to add in your own ideas as you discover more things you can happily live without. Grab a notebook and let’s go!
What to declutter in the living room
Living rooms tend to be multifunctional spaces and often play different roles in the day and night, for example entertaining, movie nights, sleepovers, eating, reading and working from home. Quick-fix clear outs include piles of old newspapers that can be recycled, boardgames that are outgrown or with missing pieces, as well as ornaments and art you no longer adore (goodbye, ‘Love, Laugh, Live’ photo frame).
When looking for ways to declutter your living room, ‘It’s a good idea to designate specific zones within living areas to help limit the clutter, such as creating a reading nook in one space and a small desk in another,’ suggests Emma Rostron, general manager at One Less Thing (opens in new tab). ‘This way relevant items are kept in their own area and won’t clog up space where they aren’t needed, making the room seem far more harmonious.’ Sourcing storage that’s specific to each zone – such as a sofa caddy for remote controls and TV guides – will help keep control of items that escape your removal checklist!
More quick-ditch ideas for living rooms:
- Well-thumbed magazines and brochures.
- Non-fiction books you won’t reread.
- Tatty or excess throws and blankets.
- Uncomfortable cushions.
- Photo frames that don’t stand up well.
- Lamps you never turn on.
- CD and DVD collections that can be streamed.
- Toys and games nobody uses.
What to declutter in the kitchen
The kitchen has the most cupboard space of any room in the house, and, since nature abhors a vacuum, this generally spells disaster on the clutter front. When every cupboard, drawer and shelf is rammed with gadgets, utensils, pans and plastic containers, not to mention food, it’s hard to see what you’ve got.
Food stores are a good place to start the declutter, especially when deciding how to organise a small kitchen that barely has space for one half-filled bottle of malt vinegar, let alone three. First dispose of anything way past its use by date, and then decant any double-ups into one container, if possible. Consider donating food your family doesn’t like to the local foodbank. ‘Store dry food stuffs like rice, pasta and oats in large clear storage jars to keep them neat and allow you to see how much you have left. Airtight jars keep the contents fresher for longer as well,’ says Chris Dance, director, InHouse Inspired Room Design (opens in new tab).
Another easy(ish) decluttering win in the kitchen is a cull of any appliances or tools you never use. Spiralizers, potato ricers, bread makers, waffle irons etc all seem like a good idea when they’re half price on QVC, but if you haven’t bothered to read the instructions, it’s time to donate or sell.
More quick-ditch ideas for kitchens:
- Out of date and mouldy fridge condiments clear out.
- Freezer food with frost burn.
- Chipped, stained or cracked crockery.
- Excess or never used glassware.
- Doubles of utensils or tools.
- Old herbs and spices – a sniff test will tell if they’re basically dust.
- A glut of carrier bags and bread bags.
- Reduce the number of drinks bottles and flasks.
- Any food containers without lids.
Decluttering cleaning products
Whether you're the next Mrs Hinch or barely on speaking terms with a duster, we’re all prone to storing surplus stuff when it comes to the best cleaning products. Start by taking every bottle, sponge and scrubber out of the cleaning cupboard and have a good sort out. Consolidate any half-used sprays and liquids, then bin brushes with flattened bristles and rusty scouring pads.
Laundry peripherals like fresheners, conditioners and scent balls can also be consolidated and streamlined. Do an inventory of mops, brushes and even vacuum cleaners and pare back to one of each. Many people buy a new vacuum on the promise of more power or features, but fail to bin the old, less efficient but still working model, keeping it for emergencies. Don’t be that person.
Choosing refillable cleaning products over single use plastic can help declutter your cupboards with a clear conscience. ‘Many refillable cleaning products typically come in concentrated forms that can be mixed with water at home, meaning you can say goodbye to a cluttered cupboard filled with multiple plastic bottles!’ says Kathleen Bell, smol (opens in new tab)’s sustainable cleaning expert.
Once you've got rid of the cleaning products you no longer need, you can get on with how to organise a cleaning cupboard most effectively.
More quick-ditch ideas for cleaning products:
- Thin down your duster, cloth and rag collection.
- Broken or snaggy laundry baskets.
- Check and then recycle dead batteries.
- Move any outdoor tools, weed killer etc to the garden shed.
- Old plastic containers, jam jars and pots.
What to declutter in your home office
It doesn’t matter if your home office is just a corner of the living room or in a room of its own, paper is always one of the easiest items to declutter, not least because it can go straight in the recycling. Never print paperwork that can be digitally stored, unless absolutely necessary – it’s no longer a legal requirement to print out invoices and receipts for tax purposes.
A regular stationery inventory can also help maintain a clean desk policy; when did you last use that hole punch? Do keep check of pens and pencils, which often seem to breed overnight, binning any that have run out of ink/lead.
More quick-ditch ideas for your home office:
- Outdated paperwork that can be shredded.
- Old tech that’s been replaced (wipe any hard drives first).
- That tangle of cables with outdated connection points.
- Excess USB drives – cloud storage is safer.
- Business cards (take photos of any you need).
- Brochures, junk mail and flyers.
What to declutter in the bedroom
The bedroom can be one of the toughest rooms to tackle, particularly when it comes to parting with cherished clothing. The easy wins when looking at how to declutter your wardrobe, will be those items that don’t fit or are just not comfortable, so you never reach for them. ‘Turning hangers in one direction and reversing this when you wear an item helps keep track on when you last wore a piece and will help you edit so that you aren’t holding on to unloved clothes,’ says Rachal Hutcheson, national retail manager at Sharps (opens in new tab).
Any scarves or belts you never wear can also be quickly weeded out. Send footwear that pinches or is just woefully out of style directly to the shoe bank. If you have no option but to store items under the bed or on top of wardrobes, invest in stylish storage, such as vintage chests or pretty baskets, but do not let clutter breed inside!
Vicky Silverthorn (opens in new tab), professional declutterer and organiser at Vintage Cash Cow (opens in new tab), recommends breaking the bedroom down into more manageable, bite-sized projects, for e.g. under the bed, dressing table drawers, bedside cabinets, shoe store and wardrobes and then taking on one area at a time. Leave wardrobes until last, hopefully you’ll have freed up space elsewhere to stash any garments you’re not quite ready to part with.
‘If you wish to donate clothing, have a look for charity shops in your local area. It’s always best to call ahead to let them know what you’ve got, and when is best to drop it off. You could also have a look for local clothing banks or door-to-door collection services,’ she says.
Vicky has been a Professional Organiser for over 10 years, having founded her organising company, You Need A Vicky in 2010. Vicky wrote a regular organising column in Ideal Home magazine and has featured regularly on This Morning giving organising advice. She's a member of the Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers and has written an Amazon bestselling book - Start with Your Sock Drawer: The Simple Guide to Living a Less Cluttered Life - on tackling clutter.
More quick-ditch ideas:
- Broken, unfashionable or unsuitable jewellery.
- Off-season clothing that can be stored elsewhere or vacuum-packed.
- Stale or excess make-up, perfume and skin care.
- Nail polish that has set solid.
- Luggage and bags – reduce and store inside each other.
- Loose change and old receipts.
- Any bedside books and magazines you’ve finished reading.
What to declutter in the bathroom
Often one of the smallest rooms in the house, decluttering a bathroom can have a big impact on the sense of space. When having a bathroom clear out, organising and styling duo, Charlotte Reddington-Smith and Gemma Lilly, aka Style Sisters (opens in new tab), recommend checking for excess amounts of the same toiletries, or products that have been gathering dust and you simply aren't using. ‘These items can be given away to a friend or family member, donated or emptied and recycled. Your bathroom should be a clean, calm and clutter-free zone, so be really honest during the detox process to add some harmony and spa-like style to the space,’ says Charlotte.
Also do an inventory of the linen cupboard; removing any beach towels or bedding that hasn’t seen the light of day for decades. Be sure to check bedding sizes – have you upgraded to a super king, yet still have piles of double duvets stacked up.
More quick-ditch ideas for decluttering your bathroom:
- Old and expired toiletries, sunscreen and medication.
- Thinning or tatty towels – repurpose for cleaning cloths.
- Bath robes and shower caps you don’t use.
- Excess or stained make-up and toiletry bags.
- Bath toys that are broken, mildewy or unloved.
- Cleaning products and tools that aren’t in regular use.
What to declutter in a guest bedroom
The guest bedroom is often the most cluttered room in the house, with a tendency to turn into a dumping room every time your back is turned. It’s often the place that things you don’t want but can’t bear to part with, seasonal clothing, spare bedding and old toys all goes to die. When tackling how to organise a small bedroom, having a decluttering checklist to hand is a must.
‘If your spare room multitasks as an office space then it is one of the hardest-working rooms in the house, switching between functional and guest-ready at a moment’s notice. For this reason, it’s important to include storage solutions that work hard for the space and make the transition easy,’ says Adam Black (opens in new tab), co-founder at Button & Sprung. ‘An ottoman or divan bed offers a generous solution to clutter that you can’t actually bin, while ensuring easy access to occasional items. And as the storage is neatly in the footprint of the bed, it’s an ideal solution for even small room. Organise your spare room items under the bed and turn your guest room into a tranquil space for work and rest.’
More quick-ditch ideas for guest bedrooms:
- Guest towels, only store enough for the number of guests you host.
- Ditto spare bedding.
- Bags/suitcases – get rid of any that are tired or broken.
- Seasonal wear – check for fit/damage, then vacuum pack and pop under the bed.
- Anything completely random and ‘homeless’ must go!
How to declutter
In theory, the art of choosing what to keep and what to give up is quite simple and applies to any item. All you have to do is decide whether to keep, sell, donate or bin each item. Some people will find it very easy, but others may seriously struggle, especially with items that have a sentimental connection. ‘If you find it tough to part with things, create a ‘maybe’ pile, put it in another room or the loft/garage, and set a reminder for six months’ time on your phone,’ recommends professional organiser Charlotte Sitton, aka Organised by Charlotte (opens in new tab). ‘If you haven't thought about it during that period then you know the answer!’
How to keep the clutter at bay
Once you've used our decluttering checklist to reduce your belongings to the bare essentials, and hopefully created a lot more space in the process, then it’s all about managing the space effectively. Dedicated storage is critical, says Simon Glanville, managing director of A Place for Everything (opens in new tab). ‘There are plenty of stylish storage options available but try to think about what type of storage will work best in each room and according to use,’ he says. ‘For example, stackable storage baskets that are transparent so you can easily see the contents are perfect for quickly finding things in a pantry. In the living room, opt for multifunctional storage furniture like a coffee table with drawers.
Once you have found everything a home, be vigilant and don’t let it stray. Keeping your space clutter-free is a continuous process rather than a one-off quick fix. Before introducing anything new to the home, question whether it’s really necessary. Refer back to your decluttering checklist and have another cull, perhaps once or twice a year, to keep things in check. ‘When decluttering, it’s important to maintain the homely feel – you don’t want your house to feel cold and slightly sterile,’ adds Elaine Penhaul (opens in new tab), director of home staging company Lemon and Lime Interiors. ‘We always advise keeping a few family photos around, displaying fresh flowers or a lit candle to add personal charm into your revitalised decluttered space.’
What is the rule of 5 decluttering?
‘With the rule of 5 decluttering idea, you go from room to room and locate five things in each that you no longer want and can let go. The idea is to be rid of easy non-emotional clutter such as broken items, unused tech, unworn or tatty garments, old magazines, worn out bedlinen and so on,’ says Gillian Gudgeon, APDO member and founder of Restore The Calm (opens in new tab).
What is the 20 20 rule for decluttering?
According to Gillian, this rule dictates that if you can replace something for less than £20 and in under 20 minutes, you can safely get rid of it. ‘It’s useful for objects that you rarely, if ever, use such as kitchen utensils or that mysterious blue cable. The rationale behind this rule is to make you more ruthless at decluttering by avoiding the ‘but it might come in useful’ dilemma,’ she explains.
What is the 6 month rule for decluttering?
The 6 month rule for decluttering is about letting go of items you haven't used in the last six months. The concept is simple; if you haven’t used it in half a year, it’s a waste of precious space. ‘The 6-month rule is just a guideline, and there may be some exceptions,’ warns Craig Hoareau, of A Tidy Mind London (opens in new tab). ‘For example, there may be seasonal items that you only use during certain times of the year, like Christmas decorations, seasonal clothing like coats or even cookware you use once a year for a specific holiday. In these cases, adjust the time frame to reflect the actual use of those items or do not include them in this method.’
Linda Clayton is a professionally trained journalist, and has specialised in product design, interiors and fitness for more than two decades. Linda has written for a wide range of publications, from the Daily Telegraph and Guardian to Homes & Gardens and Livingetc. She has been freelancing for Ideal Home Magazine since 2008, covering design trends, home makeovers, product reviews and much more.
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