How to declutter and change your life forever

(This is part 2 of the declutter series. You can read part 1 here.)

Okay, you have made the decision to purge and organize, but aren’t sure where to start? No worries. Now we will discuss how to declutter and truly change your life.

(This post contains some affiliate links, which means if you buy them, I receive a small compensation that helps pay for this site.)

First of all, I’m going to discuss the KonMari method of decluttering and organizing created by Marie Kondo in The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. This method has become quite popular and controversial. The technique is different from others in that it is based on organizing by category, not area of the home.

Marie Kondo talks about asking if an item “sparks joy” with you, and if not, get rid of it. I admit I was rather skeptical at first, thinking this was kind of a silly way to get rid of things. However, I was completely surprised at how well it works. I no longer felt guilty about getting rid of a skirt that no longer fit or a book that I’ve held onto from the past. I realized that each object I had gotten rid of had served its purpose for me and can now be useful for someone else.

Marie Kondo teaches you how to declutter by asking you to remove every item in a category and putting them on the floor. Yes, I said every item. I can attest to the importance of actually removing each item, rather than just looking at it on a shelf or in a closet.

In the past, I have tried to eliminate things, such as clothes, simply by looking at them and didn’t get anywhere. However, when you have each item sitting in front of you on the floor, you can actually touch them as you ask yourself if it sparks joy and still serves a purpose for you.

Plus, you can visualize how much you really have. When I pulled out all of my clothes, I found some things I had forgotten about, because they were hidden behind other clothes. I couldn’t even see all of my jewelry, because my necklaces were tangled together. I actually forgot about some of the things I had, so I certainly wasn’t wearing them.

Consequently, do NOT underestimate the power of pulling out and touching each and every item that you have in a category. This is a critical step in the process.

Another important aspect of the KonMari method to follow is discard first, then organize and find a place for everything. A lot of people get swept up in the fun of buying storage containers before figuring out what and even if they need to store. I am also tempted when I see the clever boxes in all shapes and sizes. I mean, they even have whole stores full of storage containers.

But JUST SAY NO! You might not need any extra storage vessels once you discard. I was able to use what I already had for my jewelry storage, just in a different way. Therefore, wait before you buy, or you will end up with more clutter.

Last of all, when learning how to declutter, consider going through your entire house all at once. I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. The KonMari technique is supposed to be once-in-a-lifetime. You work through each category in your house until everything is in its place. Then, you only have to do the daily maintenance of putting away something after it is used.

Keep in mind, this process is not going to happen in a week or even a month. It will likely take many months to complete and that’s okay. You just need to make the commitment to yourself.

UPDATE: Hey Mama! I realize that working through your entire house could seem completely daunting. That’s why it’s okay to just work on one category at a time and then take a break. Also, I’m going to sprinkle in some tips from one of my favorite Netflix shows, The Home Edit.

How to declutter

There is a specific order to follow when learning how to declutter. Why does it matter? Because you need to start with things that are easy to get rid of first and end with the more difficult sentimental items. You will find that it becomes much easier to discard as you move through each category.

In addition, you may realize that all of those things aren’t really as important as the time you will save by ridding yourself of all that clutter. Time better spent on activities to feed your mind, body and soul. Are you ready?  So bring on the categories!

1) CLOTHING– For some, this will probably be the biggest category. I didn’t think I had that many clothes until I had them all sitting on my bed. It’s simpler if you divide your clothes into subcategories and work in order:

  • Long sleeve shirts
  • Short sleeve shirts
  • Bottoms
  • Dresses
  • Workout wear
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Purses
  • Accessories (scarves, belts, etc.)
  • Uniforms
  • Shoes

Make sure you pull each and every item in a subcategory out, so that you can see it all together. Don’t forget about other closets or areas of the home where things might be playing hide-and-seek.

Ok, now it’s time to discard. Be honest and brutal. If you haven’t worn something within the last year, it needs to go right away. If the article doesn’t “spark joy” or excite you, get rid of it. If you think “meh, it’s just okay,” it’s out.

This might sound harsh, but we tend to wear the same things over and over again anyway. I had a couple of shirts that I kept wearing, but didn’t really like anymore, so out they went. If you’re having trouble, read this post on having a minimalist wardrobe. Also, check out Alison over at Get Your Pretty On® for great tips on creating a capsule wardrobe.

In addition, you might wear more pieces more often if you can clearly see them all in your closet or drawers. That has been true for me after ridding myself of a mountain of clothing.

Once you have sorted through everything, you’re ready to store once again. However, don’t even think about just throwing things back into your drawers and closets without any thought. KonMari has a specific folding method I would recommend trying. I did this with all of the clothing in my drawers and it is amazing!

how to declutter

Before, I couldn’t completely close my sock drawer and often had socks migrating behind the drawer. My t-shirt and pajama drawer was crammed so full that I pretty much just gave up looking through it and just grabbed what was on top. Now, I can see everything and pick out what I want right away. (Still true four years later!)

The key to efficient storage is to fold everything so that it sits vertically. Then, the clothes fit side-by-side in the drawer instead of on top of each other. That way, every item is visible, as shown in my pictures.

For specific instructions on how to fold clothes, here is a quick video by Marie Kondo herself that helped me. Or you can order her first book, as discussed above, as well as its companion book Spark Joy, which has illustrations demoing her folding method.

Just be aware that she gets very excited about folding. I can’t say I have the same enthusiasm about it, but I do love the look of neat drawers that shut easily. The method does take a little longer initially, but you save the time of searching through your drawers.

how to declutter

Another thing to consider with clothes that aren’t in drawers is how to hang them. I would suggest hanging by subcategory. What works for me is to hang short sleeve shirts on one side of my closet, pants in the middle and long sleeve shirts on the other side. My dresses and skirts are all together as well.

Here is a handy 6-tier hanger for skirts that I have used for years, that helps to improve space efficiency. In addition, all of my clothes on hangers are in one closet, not spread out in many different closets. I would recommend that if you have room (especially after the big discard). Then, you are more likely to wear everything that you have.

You might also want to consider felt hangers like these, so that your clothes don’t slip off as you’re pulling out an item.  I find it very irritating to have five shirts fall off as I pull out one. Felt hangers will stop that.

A word on scarves and belts: I LOVE scarves, so I have many. However, I was not loving how they were stored. I ended up finding these scarf hangers at my local Big Lots that are perfect for looping my scarves through, as well as hanging my belts. Or you could try the scarf donut, as seen on The Home Edit. Then, no more sloppy scarves falling on the floor.

how to declutter

2) JEWELRY– Okay, I don’t know about you, but my jewelry was a ridiculous mess before I organized. My necklaces were all tangled together with bracelets. I couldn’t untangle things even when I could find them. The only things I had in reasonable organization were my earrings. Furthermore, I had completely forgotten about some of the necklaces I had, because they were buried under other items.

When deciding how to declutter your jewelry, you once again need to sort by subcategory:

  • Necklaces
  • Bracelets
  • Rings
  • Earrings
  • Watches

Hopefully, this won’t take as long as your clothing. Plus, there is no folding involved this time. For necklaces, it’s better to find a way to hang them either individually or just a few together on a hook. Hanging them helps to avoid messy tangles. I actually used the same scarf hanger for my longer necklaces as for my scarves and simple s-hooks for my shorter necklaces, as shown below. I ended up reusing the earring holder I already had for my necklaces and only had to buy the s-hooks at my local Ace Hardware. Some other necklace storage ideas include:

For round, firm bracelets, try simply laying them on a tray, or you could hang them on a T-bar stand for a more professional look. Flexible bracelets can be hung like necklaces, as described above.

how to declutter
A simple tray for bracelets.

I don’t have many rings, so I just used a small jewelry box that I already had for those. Any small box or container will work. If you have a plethora of rings, you can use an lovely box like this.

For earrings, my favorite storage container is a fishing tackle box. Yep, you heard me right. My mom introduced me to this and it works perfectly! I’m talking about a small plastic tackle box that has adjustable dividers like this.

It keeps the earring pairs together and doesn’t take up much space. Plus, it’s super convenient for travel. Of course, you could get a fancy earring display case, but that’s just not as much fun as using a tackle box.

Most people don’t have a lot of watches, so this is a fairly easy category. For those who have more than one watch, simply store with the earrings or rings.

how to declutter

3) LINENS– This includes towels, washcloths, sheets, tablecloths and blankets. You really only need two sets of towels, washcloths and hand towels per person. That way, you always have an extra set. The same is true for sheets. Two sets is all that is necessary. I will admit that we have two summer sheet sets (lighter fabric for heat-intolerant me) and two winter sheet sets (heavier fabric for my cold-intolerant husband), so you could try that if you have closet space.

Blankets can be scattered throughout the house on furniture to snuggle with, especially in the winter. However, you probably don’t need ten baby blankets if your children are school age (ahem, might be talking to myself a bit there). Be aware that pregnancy centers will gladly take clean baby blankets. In addition, here is a great post on how to recycle old towels and sheets.

4) BOOKS– I admit it, I’m a bit of a bookaholic. When I was younger, I was usually found with a book in my face and couldn’t wait for the next Sweet Valley High to come out (I know I’m dating myself here).

I still always have one or more books (or my Kindle) on my nightstand to read before bed. Consequently, this category was harder for me than clothes. You may or may not feel the same, but the technique is the same as for clothes.

Remove all of your books and pile them on the floor. When I did this, I couldn’t walk through my living room, but it did help me to choose what to discard. Make sure you get some boxes or containers to put your discards into and help to minimize the mess as you go.

As you touch each book, think about if you will truly reread it and if it sparks joy. I am the odd person who actually rereads books multiple times, so I kept more books than most people probably would. If you think that you eventually will read the book, but haven’t yet, then discard it. If you haven’t read it by now, you’re not going to.

To discard the old books, see if your local library will take donations, or take them to Half Price Books or a similar store that buys used books. I took the storage containers above full of books there and received $32, the most I have ever gotten for my books. That may not sound like a lot, but it was well worth it for them to take the books off my hands.

After you’re finished discarding, it’s super cool to arrange your books by color, as seen here, courtesy of The Home Edit ladies. Who doesn’t love a good rainbow pattern?

how to declutter

5) PAPERS– Papers can take on a life of their own in a home. So how to declutter them? The KonMari method recommends just throwing all papers away. This isn’t exactly realistic for those of us who have mortgages, car loans, school loans, children, etc.

Therefore, I did some checking to see how long we really need to keep certain documents. It’s actually not as long as I originally thought. Here are some basic rules to follow:

  • Tax returns- The IRS only recommends keeping tax returns for three years, as long as you report all income, file a return and don’t lie on your return. That surprised me, as I thought it was a standard seven years. The seven year thing is only for bad debt or other special circumstances. The IRS can only audit you for three years after you file a return. Make sure to keep all paperwork associated with each return for three years also.
  • Loan documents- Keep until the loan is paid off, then you can shred them. However, keep the payoff statement forever.
  • Utility/phone/cable bills- One year (unless you use them for tax deductions, then it’s three years). Looks like I have more bills to get rid of.
  • Credit card/bank statements- One year (once again unless used for tax deductions, then three years).
  • Credit card receipts- One year (unless used for tax deductions, then three years).
  • Investment statements- Only keep quarterly statements until you get the end of year statement. Keep annual statements for three years after you sell the investment.
  • Insurance policies- Only keep the home/auto policies for the current year, then discard when you get the new statement. Life/disability/long-term policies need to be kept as long as they are active.
  • Medical bills- One year (unless used for tax deductions, then three years).
  • Paycheck stubs- One year to compare with your W-2 and social security statement. If you’re applying for a mortgage, make sure to have several months worth to show to a lender.
  • Contracts- Keep while still active.
  • Pensions/retirement plans/401K’s- Keep current records as long as you have the plans.
  • Home improvement records- Keep until you sell your home. They can be used to help save money in taxes later on (I wasn’t aware of this, so I’m glad that I checked).

Of course, if you go paperless for your bills, you don’t have to worry about it, right?

There are some documents that need to be kept forever (sorry Marie Kondo). They are as follows:

  • Birth certificates (yours, spouse, children)
  • Adoption records
  • Marriage licenses/ divorce records
  • Wills/ POA’s
  • Death certificates
  • Social security cards/ passports
  • Records of paid mortgages
  • Military records
  • Appraisals (jewelry, art, etc.)
  • A video of your home’s contents for insurance purposes in the event of a fire, updated annually.

School papers/children’s artwork: I realize this is a sensitive area to discuss. Of course, we all want to keep little Sally’s self portrait or Jimmy’s A+ report card, but unfortunately we can’t keep everything. Try to recycle as much as possible as soon as possible.

For those precious items that I can’t seem to get rid of, I keep a small storage container with lid  for each child in my office. Or you could use these cute document boxes. I put everything that I want to keep from the school year in that bin and then go through everything at the end of each year to discard what’s not needed.

At least that will keep your children’s papers more confined to a small space instead of strewn throughout the house. Plus, at the end of the year, you can see how much you have and only keep a few important things, perhaps special artwork or the end of year report card.

Okay, so now what do you do with what’s left? First of all, separate documents into three piles: 1) to shred; 2) to recycle; 3) to keep.

SHRED: Make sure to shred anything with social security numbers, account numbers and tax info to avoid identity fraud (which is no fun to deal with). You can watch for free shredding events in your area to avoid a large fee. Just make sure to actually get rid of the shred pile instead of letting it build up and adding more clutter.

RECYCLE: For paper recycling, consider keeping a medium sized storage container large enough to fit papers and newspapers in the area where you enter the home. Then you can automatically place mail and school papers that are no longer needed in this bin.

I have a paper recycling bin in my laundry area right by the garage entrance. Therefore, when we come home, I can immediately go through the mail and school folders and discard what we don’t need. Once the container is full, I take it to the recycling center. To find a paper recycling bin near you, try Paper Retriever Recycling or Recycle Finder.

KEEP: So how about paper storage? It’s not as complicated or overwhelming as it might seem. I will tell you my super simple system that has worked for me for years. I never have any problems finding an old bill or what plumber we used to fix our sump pump with this system. You definitely need hanging file folders, if you don’t already have them. You also need a place to hang the files, such as this rolling file cart or basic filing cabinet.

how to declutter

Once you have your hanging files and place to store them ready to go, it’s time to create the files. I simply make a file for each paper category. I keep all bills and documents for the current year upstairs in our office and then move the files that I’m keeping downstairs into the basement filing cabinet after the end of the year. That way, I don’t have too many papers upstairs and can discard old papers as needed. Here are my categories for files:

    • appraisals
    • birth certificates
    • cable/gas/electric/cell phone/water and sewage bills
    • computer info (purchase receipt, warranty, etc.)
    • dental info
    • donations (for taxes)
    • health/home/auto insurance (current policies and bills)
    • home repair/improvement
    • home/auto titles
    • investments
    • life insurance
    • marriage license
    • medical files for each family member (includes vaccine records for my children)
    • memberships (AAA, professional, airline/hotel)
    • military records (for my husband)
    • mortgage info
    • passports
    • paycheck stubs
    • real estate tax payments
    • rebates (to make sure we receive them)
    • receipts (credit card, checking)
    • savings/checking account statements (we now have this online)
    • wills
    • work expenses (for taxes)
    • work related info (my vet license, accreditation papers, etc.)

If you’re still having trouble organizing all of your papers, read my post on designing a family command center here. This amazing tool will help to straighten up whatever is left of your paper pile.

6) CD’s, DVD’s– Nowadays, we often don’t even use these anymore, with the advent of Apple Music, Spotify, Netflix, etc. However, I know some of you still have your stash of old movies (maybe even VHS tapes, gasp!) or music lurking in a dark corner of the house. I know I still have CD’s hanging around from my old BMG Music Club days (now I’m really dating myself).

So what do you do with all of those old discs? First of all, you might want to upload or “rip” your music CD’s to a digital service like iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Music or Spotify.

Once that’s done, there are several ways to get rid of old CD’s. You can take them to a resale store, such as Half Price Books (yes, they take CD’s and DVD’s also) or try the library again. You can also try an online resale store, such as Decluttr (They will literally buy any disc from you and you ship to them free!). In addition, here are some fabulous ideas for how to recycle them (some people are so dang creative).

Incidentally, you can convert those old home movies on VHS to DVD or digital files. Many companies will do this for you , including CVS pharmacy. However, if you’re tech savvy, you can do it yourself, as described here.

7) SKIN CARE & MAKEUP– Do you really need to hold onto those free moisturizer samples you received at the mall or the foundation makeup that was a smidge too dark? NO.

If you don’t love the products you have, toss them. You can’t donate or recycle used cosmetics (although you might be able to recycle their containers), so simply get rid of them. Also, here is an article discussing the shelf life of various products. And here is a lovely idea to organize what’s left.

8) ELECTRONICS & ACCESSORIES– We all have some old cords, chargers, computer equipment, cell phones, etc. hanging around. If you’re not using it, it’s just taking up space. So what to do with your old electronics? Recycle them at your local Best Buy or Staples.  They will take most electronics off of your hands and give you a receipt (if you ask) for taxes. Donate old cell phones to Secure the Call, an organization that distributes free cell phones to people in need, so they can access emergency services. Call2recycle is another place to recycle batteries and cell phones.

9) HOUSEHOLD EQUIPMENT– This includes stationary, cards, writing materials, sewing materials, crafts, etc. This is pretty simple. If you’re going to use it, then keep it. If not, it goes.

I do keep thank-you cards and everyday cards to send to people on occasion. However, you might want to rethink things if you’re crafting materials are taking over your whole house. Now, I’m NOT a crafty person, so I don’t have a collection of multi-themed scrapbook papers or decorative scissors. If you are, however, here is a visually stunning way to organize it all.

10) HOUSEHOLD SUPPLIES– This includes necessities like toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, etc. Of course, these things are important to have, and they don’t really expire. However, your house doesn’t need to look like you belong on the Extreme Couponing show.

I admit to buying the large Costco or Sam’s Club toilet paper packages, but it will last us 2-3 months. Plus, then I don’t have to go the store as often (maybe I’m rationalizing a bit here).

11) KITCHEN/FOOD SUPPLIES–  If you are a cook, as I am, you will have acquired quite a stockpile of these over the years. Or maybe, you still have those personalized his and hers whiskey barrels some eccentric person gave you for your wedding (I didn’t make that up either).

Regardless, we really don’t need as much as we originally thought in our kitchens, especially if a gadget has only one function. An avocado slicer sounds great, but you can accomplish the same thing with a paring knife and spoon. If you have something laying around in your kitchen taking up space and getting dusty, you don’t need it.

I purged my kitchenware when we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago, and it was exhilarating. Here are some helpful lists for setting up a kitchen: a basic budget-friendly kitchen; a more advanced cook-friendly kitchen. Just remember the golden rule of decluttering: if it doesn’t spark joy, it needs to go.

12) HOBBIES & ACCESSORIES– Do you still use your ThighMaster or Shake Weight? (Both still for sale, by the way.) Does your Precious Moments collection of 100 figurines give you joy or headaches (from dusting so many little statues)? If these objects don’t make you instantly smile, you know what to do by now, right? Say thanks for the memories and send them on their way.

13) ODDS & ENDS–  I’m talking about loose change (put it in a purse or piggy bank), spare buttons, free novelty toys from the dentist’s office, pocket calendars, random twist ties, etc. We all have a catch-all drawer somewhere in the house that’s overflowing with junk.

You know what I’m talking about- the drawer where everyone shoves in their extra gum (and wrappers), tape, batteries, coupons, etc. Mine is in my kitchen by the pantry.  It’s time for everyone to sort through all of that random stuff and discard as needed (myself included).

14) TOYS/CHILDREN’S ACCESSORIES– I saved this for next to last, because these items can often have more sentimental value for parents than for their children. Getting rid of the old highchair or baby bouncer can be extremely difficult, as it symbolizes your child’s journey into the next stage of life.

I realize that many parents want to hold onto these objects as reminders of their child’s past, but you will always have your memories. Why not appreciate how these things served you and your child and then donate them to someone else who can use them now. Only keep those few items that truly bring you or your child pure joy now, such as a handprint or a couple of favorite stuffed animals (not 50).

15) PHOTOS (always last)- You might be wondering how to declutter this monster section. This might be the hardest area to organize for some of you, as for me, so leave it for last. That way, you hopefully have gotten the hang of discarding things.

Photos that are already printed:

  • Gather all loose photos in the entire house into one central location (don’t forget to check all nooks and crannies).
  • Look through each picture individually (yes, one by one) and discard those that don’t have special meaning for you, especially blurry or off-color ones.
  • Assemble what’s left into chronological order (or as close as you can get), as well as by occasion (birthday, holidays, etc.).
  • Then simply put the pictures into photo albums OR photo boxes. You can make this super quick and easy by using a basic album with pockets where you just slide the photos in, such as this 3-ring pocket album that holds 500 pictures. Or you could get fancy and create your own scrapbook by using this vintage scrapbook set or this expandable fabric frame scrapbook. You can also use cute photo boxes like this to organize old photos by date.
  • An alternative method for loose photos is to scan them and save them on your computer like your digital photos.

Digital photos:

  • Make sure to download all digital pictures monthly onto your computer from both your memory cards and smart phones. Set a reminder on your calendar if you need help remembering to do this.
  • Organize your photos on your computer by month and year. You can further organize them by occasion if you like, but make sure you have the year marked as well. Trust me. It will be much easier to remember which housewarming party or birthday it was if the year is plainly marked.
  • Now, just like everything else, go through all of your digital pictures and DELETE the less important ones, blurry ones, duplicates, etc. Yes, I know they will be gone forever. However, what you will be left with are the ones you will truly cherish and want to view later.
  • Backup your digital photos (if not already done with your computer backup). This is CRUCIAL! Computers crash all the time and will take your precious pictures with them. I would recommend a two-prong approach to your backup. First thing is to use an external storage device, such as a flash drive or external hard drive and to store it in a fireproof location. Second, you want to use an offsite storage location on the Cloud (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.).
  • Okay, now you have to decide: Do you want to print out the pictures and place them into albums or do you want to create photo books instead? Personally, I have done both and prefer photo books. I tend to just leave the printed pictures in the envelopes thinking that I will get to them later, but later never happens. That is why I now prefer photo books. They are pretty simple to put together with a photo service like Snapfish or Mixbook (make sure to sign up for their email for special coupons). Plus, you could fit an entire year of pictures into a couple of photo books. You could also make photo books of your family vacations or special occasions. There are so many options with photo books.

WHEW! So there you have it! How to declutter your entire house from top to bottom. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so be patient and give yourself time.

If you have any other ideas or questions about decluttering, please leave them in the comments below. I would also love to hear about your journey to a decluttered home and how it has improved your life.

As you work through the categories, you will find that getting rid of clutter can help lead you to the life you want to be living.

“Clutter isn’t just in your home, attic, garage or office.  Clutter is also in your mind, and distracts you from the amazing things you are meant to do.”

– Katrina Mayer

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