Tips and Advice

The definitive guide to decluttering

How to clear space and bring order to your home

Clutter is the ultimate creeper. It can build up without you even being aware it’s occurring, then suddenly, you realise you’re a rubbish skip away from being a fully fledged hoarder.

If you’re at the stage where you have corners in your home that are piled up with who-knows-what, drawers keep jamming because they’re so packed, and you fear the day someone opens your linen cupboard and is buried beneath a pile of pillowcases and old blankets, it might be time for a declutter.

Many of us put this task off because it’s time-consuming – and daunting. But the benefits of a clutter-free home are worth the effort. Do you ever feel like you can’t think straight because your house is a mess? It’s true that a cluttered house can lead to a cluttered mind. Too much stuff means more to look after, more to store, more time searching for what you need and often more guilt about the things you’ve bought but don’t use. On a hygiene level, it also equates to more dust.

Having everything in its place will help you feel in control of your life and surroundings, bring you an awareness of what you own (fact: no one needs three can openers), and give you the peace of mind that everything you have in your home has a purpose. How nice will it be to pull open your bathroom drawer and not be faced with four half-used moisturisers and the bits of a broken eyeshadow that get everywhere?

Getting started

Kiwi declutter coach and tidiness expert Liz Bradley from The Tidy Lady, who helps people declutter and downsize on a weekly basis, says the best way to approach the task is to do it bit by bit. “Break the decluttering down into small chunks of time, space or things,” she suggests. “Instead of tackling everything at once, choose a manageable space like one shelf, or one drawer. Also, get a pair of trustworthy hands to help you.”

Liz says there are a couple of golden rules when deciding whether to keep or discard an item. “If you haven’t used it in the past six months, except for seasonal and special occasion items, you probably don’t need it. If you have more than one, you probably only need the best one. Even if you spent a lot of money on it, if you’re not using it, it’s a waste.”

Decluttering can be hard because it’s a process of emotional decisions. “Sentiment can trip you up,” Liz says. “Decluttering is a choice. You can choose to keep every single box of your grandma’s china collection or you can think about the quality of your life. There’ll be some pieces that you love more than others. Keep these, but think logically about the rest.”

Don’t pull everything out of every cupboard or drawer or you’ll find yourself overwhelmed, with an even more disorganised mess. Start small and work at it bit by bit. Make a plan and spread it out over days or weeks or even months, and stay motivated by ticking off your list as you go.

Prep for success

Five steps to get you on track to a successful declutter

1.  Determine your plan of attack. Start with a few of the easier spaces, so you can get some quick wins, rather than hitting the hardest section first and feeling overwhelmed by the scale of what needs to be done. Decluttering is easier once you hit a flow. Write down the rooms – and areas, for those bigger rooms – in order of priority. For example, a bedroom might contain an overloaded wardrobe, bursting jewellery box, stuffed drawers and an ensuite swimming in excess cosmetics, so have them as separate tasks rather than under a generic bedroom heading. Break them down into manageable areas to work on.

2.  Make sure you have sufficient time for your chosen task before you get started. Do not start a wardrobe overhaul on a Sunday night or you’re likely to end up with a big mess to haunt you through the following week. A linen cupboard, for example, might be an ideal one-hour job for a Sunday afternoon and a quick pot drawer declutter might only take you 10 minutes on a Tuesday night after dinner. That scary cupboard in the garage, however, might be a weekend task. Be realistic about how long each job might take you so you can complete it.

3.  Checklists are gold. Find one online to help keep you in check or make your own. They’re brilliant for keeping you motivated and on task.

4.  Get the right gear. Being organised will make you so much more efficient. Make sure you have: three cardboard boxes (use a Vivid on each of them to write Sell, Donate, Gift), a bin liner for rubbish or broken bits you need to chuck, your checklist, and a vacuum cleaner and bucket of cleaning products so you can wipe down the shelf/drawer you’re dealing with before everything goes back. It also pays to keep a pen and paper on hand to write down what to buy to organise the space better – for example, note down the height, depth and width of your bathroom vanity drawers to see if you can find a storage container that fits your make-up in, rather than having it roll around.

5.  Sort out a playlist and a support person. There can be times, when you’re knee-deep in things you haven’t seen in 10 years, and you look around the room at the mess and wonder what you’re doing. That’s when you need a good playlist – play your favourite tunes loud to make it more like a choice than a chore. And see if you can wrangle in a kind friend or family member to help. They can kindly remind you that you don’t need six pairs of jeans that don’t fit or 20 bath towels for a household of four.

Choose what stays

Isn’t it amazing that after not using something for three years, it’s a really tough choice when faced with discarding it? It’s all very well to say “if you don’t love it, biff it” but it’s a much harder call to make when you’re forced to. Plus, no one loves their toilet brush but we need it, so it’s not always that simple. Nostalgia, how much you paid for something, that it was given to you by someone special, that you might need it/fit it/love it again one day – these are all valid reasons to be hesitant about parting with something, but you do need to ask some slightly hard questions if you want that clutter-free retreat you dream of.

So how do you decide if something stays or goes? These questions might help.

Ask yourself

  • If I lost or broke this, would I buy it again?
  • How often do I use this? Sure, it can be used rarely if it’s seasonal – like Christmas ornaments – but if you’re scratching your head about the last time it was used, it’s time to go.
  • Am I keeping this because of the associated memories? Ask if you can keep those memories alive in another way, such as a photo or in a special box with only the most important items.
  • Am I holding on to this because it was expensive? Pass it on to someone else who might get use from it.
  • If I was given this item now, would I be stoked or faking a “thank you, I love it?” If it’s the latter, get rid of it.
  • Am I keeping this in case I need it one day? Again, ask yourself when you last needed it. If you do need that item one day, maybe you can lend one from a friend or family member instead.
  • Do I really need more than one of these? A good question, especially for clothing
    (hello, striped tees and black pants), cleaning products, moisturisers and cosmetics, and kitchen paraphernalia.

Where do you start?

Use our checklist of common clutter collectors:

  • Bookshelves
  • Office desk drawers
  • Filing cabinets
  • That junk drawer
  • Pantry and fridge
  • Kitchen gadget drawer
  • Pot and plastic containers cupboard or drawer
  • Under the kitchen sink
  • The third or fourth drawer down in every kitchen – you know the one
  • Main wardrobes
  • Shoe collections
  • Bedside tables, especially the top drawers
  • Bathroom vanities
  • Cosmetics and make-up
  • First aid kits
  • Kids’ toys and wardrobes
  • Guest bedroom wardrobe
  • The garage

What to do with your offcasts

There are four clear actions you can take with things that “no longer serve you”: chuck, sell, donate or gift. Anything that’s broken or past its best, pop it straight into a bin.

With everything else, decide whether you think it’s worth selling (Trade Me, Marketplace, vintage stores, or antique shops), passing on to a friend or family member who has been eyeing it up, or donating to a cause that will appreciate it, whether that’s a nearby op-shop, clothing bin, clothing swap, or a charity
that helps others, such as Women’s Refuge. Local community group pages are a great way to gift it forward, especially with items of furniture – one person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure.

Make sure the items or clothing is clean and in good condition before you pass it on.

“Once you’ve decided and put it in the appropriate box, move your decluttered things out of your house as soon as possible. Otherwise it’s still just clutter, but in a box,” says Liz.

How to keep it that way

To avoid ending up in the same position, year after year, try to heed the “one in, one out” rule – only bring something into the house if something is leaving, whether that’s in a bin, a box for the op-shop, or as a gift. Finish your shampoo before you buy a new one, pass on the winter coat that doesn’t quite fit right before you buy a new one, and chuck out that broken can opener before you replace it with one that actually does the job.

And change how you view material things, suggests Liz.

“Think differently about your stuff. Instead of thinking about everything you can buy and keep, think about how much you can let go. Let the flow of things go out, or your home, not in. Think before you buy: will this become clutter?”

Words by: Debiie Harrison



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