The 9 Smartest Decluttering Tips We Learned in 2020

published Dec 10, 2020
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I’m the type of person who walks around the house, highly caffeinated, removing all forms of visible clutter from surfaces. Small appliances on the kitchen counter? Nope. Clothes hanging on the back of an armchair in the bedroom? Never. Stacks of paper on a desk? See ya.

There’s something about decluttering, probably related to my brain’s pleasure and reward system, that yields instant relief when I’m stressed. Of course, decluttering has long-term effects too. It makes your home easier and more enjoyable to live in, and in the process, creates room for all the things you actually want around. 

Here at Apartment Therapy, we learned a lot about decluttering in 2020, thanks in part to the pandemic, which kept us all stuck at home for the better part of the year. Whether you’re in the mood for a reset or looking for some long-term strategies to keep your space neat, here are some of the smartest tips we’ve encountered this year. 

1. Ask yourself the right questions.

Decluttering, we’ve established, is just as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one. Make the process easier (and your home less cluttered) with the help of five prompts: Have I used it in the past year? Will I use it in the year ahead? Would I buy this again today? Is it worth fixing if it’s broken? Would I keep this if I moved? 

If you answered “no” to each of these questions, you know it’s time to say “see ya later” to whatever’s taking up space in your closet or drawer.

2. Follow the “touch it once” rule to paper clutter under control.

Who of us hasn’t let an entire week’s worth of mail pile up on a random home surface, thanks to an underlying sense of dread that opening those envelopes will result in stress and unwanted work?

A simple mindset shift can help you deal with this act of adulting, and in turn, prevent clutter. Start by remembering the law of diminishing returns: File away paperwork or bills today, and you’ll inevitably dedicate more time down the road to finding (and dealing with) them.

Nip that habit in the bud by adopting the “touch it once” rule. For example, plan to touch your mail once when you grab it from the mailbox, addressing bills, recycling junk, or filling out paperwork as soon as it comes.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

3. Create emotional distance (and pretend you’re Tan France).

We all have emotional attachments to our stuff, which makes parting with clutter harder than it should be. If you’re having a tough time deciding what you need to say goodbye to, pretend the stuff isn’t yours. For example, if you were Tan France rifling through somebody’s closet on “Queer Eye,” which clothes would be banished to the donation pile? Whatever you’re decluttering, aim to create some emotional distance. 

4. Find ways to prevent clutter.

Once you start decluttering, chances are, you’ll want to keep your spaces neat and tidy and clutter-free. Make your future self’s life easier by working backwards: Target your clutter problem spaces and find ways to prevent it from building up. For example, you might cancel catalog subscriptions or make a one-in/one-out rule for clothes.

Credit: suriya yapin/Shutterstock

5. Make donations part of your routine.

Another super-smart way to prevent clutter before it happens: Make donations part of your monthly routine. Our editor, Taryn, recommends setting up a permanent donation bin or basket near the front door and committing to making monthly (or even weekly) trips to empty it. If you don’t want that basket cluttering your mudroom, keep it in your car!

6. Ditch “aspirational clutter” and focus on the here-and-now.

Workout equipment. Jeans you bought in a size too small. That juicer you bought because you were going to take up juicing. All of us bring things into our homes that are meant to cater to a future version of ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with goal setting, but if your stuff is adding pressure or stress and hogging your storage, it might be time to say goodbye. Clear out your aspirational clutter to make more mental or physical space for who you are today.

7. Think outside the kitchen junk drawer.

That random kitchen drawer is an OK place to keep your junk. But if you need that drawer space, why relegate your junk to the kitchen? Create a junk bin or basket in your basement, or put it on a shelf. Choose a drawer in another room. Whatever you do, don’t use space you need for junk you don’t need!

8. Use Washi tape to help you get rid of things.

By now, you know pinpointing how often you use something can help you decide to get rid of it. But what if you can’t remember whether you used that salad spinner or spiralizer in the last, say, 90 days? To help you determine what to keep in your kitchen, set a designated length of time. Then, stick a piece of washi tape or masking tape to each item, and when you use the tool, peel it off. Once the allotted time passes, get rid of anything that still has tape on it.

9. Don’t use your floor for storage.

Whether you use actual storage solutions or your stuff just kind of ends up on the floor, ground clutter has twice the visual impact as other kinds of clutter. You, and other people, will notice it more than clutter in other areas. In other words, floor clutter is the worst clutter.

Instead of storing things on the floor, try vertical or wall-mounted storage solutions, or hide things in drawers, cabinets, or closets whenever possible.