If 2020 was the year of battening down the hatches, locking down and staying in, 2021 will be all about refreshing our home space for the start of a new year. This is the year to declutter your home, free yourself of mental and physical burdens and color coordinate your way to peace of mind. To help you on your journey, we turned to two professional organizers, Janet M. Taylor in Philadelphia, PA, and Devin VonderHaar in Portland, OR, for some tips on decluttering your home.
1. Get in the mindset. Before you begin, start from a place of intention. VonderHaar likes to advise her clients to reassess everything at the beginning of a new year. “During the year we just had, there were dramatic shifts for many people. So where are we now? What can we do to improve our homes and our lives from this point on?” That might mean making a vision board with visuals to help motivate you. Or maybe it’s writing down a defined goal, such as I’d like to save more time this year or I’d like to know where everything is.
2. That being said, it’s important to remember this is an iterative process. Even Marie Kondo didn’t file all of her sweaters overnight. It’s about doing what you can when you can. Also, you can pick and choose what works from the KonMari method (for instance, only keeping what brings you joy or making sure everything has its place) or The Home Edit show. You can benefit from these tips even if you don’t adopt their techniques wholesale. After all, some things are made to keep, so don’t go purging everything that doesn’t spark joy at that moment!
3. One of the most important tips for home organization success is to be realistic and start small. Take one area that you want to tackle at a time. A drawer can be a manageable project for a person with a busy schedule. Start with decluttering before you tackle reorganizing; otherwise, you risk instant overwhelm.
4. Get everyone involved. If you’re all still at home working and schooling and sheltering in place, then you’re going to need buy-in from household members to get the job done. The good news is, there’s no such thing as too young to be organized. “Kids as young as four or five can start learning the KonMari method of folding clothes,” VonderHaar says. “It's really great for kids to be able to feel like they're accomplishing something and set these healthy habits early.”
5. Make organization easy for yourself. You’re a busy person, so the easier it is to stay organized the more likely it is you will stick with it. Keep a clothing donation bag in your closet, and your mail close to the recycling bin, and so on.
6. Take a walkthrough of your home. Organize the space exactly the way you use it. “I always start from the front door and create a system from there,” Taylor says. “A lot of people remove their shoes at the door when they come into the house so find a rack or basket to put the shoes and boots; a place for tote bags; a place for keys; anything you need to put down when you come in.”
7. Edit your items. Using as critical an appraisal as you can, inventory and divide your belongings into piles of the following: Keep at home, store offsite, donate, throw away.
8. Label it. It’s not enough to just pack things away into boxes and containers. You need to know what’s inside of them. Taylor is a firm believer in labeling everything, whether that’s with a bona fide label maker, a three by five card, or a sharpie à la The Home Edit.
9. Let go of the junk drawer crutch. If you have a junk drawer, it’s probably because you haven’t taken the time to properly organize your drawers, Taylor says. “You can have a drawer for pens and pencils, and another for your device cords. Separate these things and give each of your drawers a function and a purpose, so that way you don’t put something where it doesn’t belong.”
10. Live smaller. Think through your categories of things and set some limits for yourself based on the size of your home. For example, decide how many pairs of pants you require and maintain, how many pots and pans you actually use in the kitchen, and how many books you have space for on your shelf. If you won’t use it or you don't have space for it, it doesn’t belong in your home. Utilize a storage unit for the things you want to keep for the time being, whether it’s until you have more space in your home or a passion project you’re working on.
11. Eliminate duplicates. Gather all of your like objects together. Do you really need multiple staplers? More than three bottles of Windex under the sink? It’s easy to keep adding on without subtracting. “I advocate for the one in one out system—you get a new sweater and then you get rid of one you already had so that you’re not creating additional clutter,” VonderHaar says.
12. Rethink your shopping habits. “For a lot of people I’ve worked with in 2020, the Amazon and online shopping has gotten drastically out of hand,” VonderHaar says. Remember what life was like pre-pandemic or even pre-Prime. Now that the food supply chain isn’t backed up and toilet paper is readily available again we don’t need to make purchases with a stockpiling mentality, and just because you can have that item shipped to your house tomorrow, doesn’t mean you should.
13. Always use your vertical space. If there’s one type of space that tends to get wasted it’s the space overhead, Taylor says. “Use a bookshelf or other type of shelving and go vertical. You may not think you have a lot of storage space in your home, but you’ll be surprised at what you find overhead.” The same goes for the backs of doors and cabinet doors.
14. Create proactive anticlutter systems. Home organization requires some processes put into place that will make it easier down the line. For instance, every household has that one thing that piles up, whether it’s children’s artwork, junk mail, or makeup samples. Make a system to deal with that area on a regular basis so that the pile never gets too big.
15. Make your home reflect who you are. Too often we move into a place and over time we forget that we can actually change our surroundings. As you reorganize your home, think about all the time you’ve spent there, who you are now and how you can make it best reflect the life you want to live. Maybe you need more space for your craft hobbies these days, or maybe you want to declutter your kitchen so you can carve out an eat-in area. Be creative and make your home a place you love.
16. Make it show. Arranging your things to make them instantly visible to the naked eye will help you not only avoid accidentally hoarding multiples but will also give you a sense of control over your personal inventory. Consider arranging your shoes heel-to-toe on shelves in the closet, your shirts filing cabinet style in a drawer, your purses side-by-side in wire magazine holders, and so on. For smaller items, considering using acrylic or glass containers that reveal their contents.
17. Be creative about storage. Before you go out and buy storage boxes and bins, think about the items you might already have on hand that can help you organize and store your things, such as muffin tins and ice cube trays for small items such as office supplies and jewelry; dish drying or CD racks for Tupperware or pot lids; hanging fruit baskets for bath supplies; and magazine files for just about anything. VonderHaar is a fan of Apple product boxes for storing everything from electronics to makeup.
18. Scan it. Any paper you want to save—kid’s schoolwork, work documents, bills, or old photographs can and should be digitized both for preservation and to save space. Designate a special hard drive for storing these items or use a backup site. While you’re at it, sign up for all paperless payment plans to keep new bills from physically piling up in your home.
19. Keep watch. Even the most brilliant home organization ideas won’t help if you don’t set aside the time to get and stay organized. Commit to the process and set aside at least 15 minutes a day to working on your home organization projects.
20. Stay on track with a friend. Having a pal who knows what you’re doing and who can help you stay accountable will help you stick to your goals as the months pass, Taylor says. “Ask that person to help you so that when you see that there’s a sale at your favorite store, they can remind you that your goal was to stay organized. Maybe they will do the same thing and you can trade pictures and motivate each other.”
21. Next steps. Now that you’re on the road to a more organized, less cluttered life, you can start to think bigger. Maybe you’re ready to weave sustainability into your home organization goals. Or maybe you have some other life goals and improvements in mind for the new year. With an orderly home and mind, there’s nothing that’s out of reach.