How I Use “Declutter Dates” to Stay on Top of My Mess

published Aug 11, 2023
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Collage of decluttering dates with clothes sorting, medicine cabinets, and fridge cleaning
Credit: Photos: Top right: Lucy Schaeffer; Prop Styling: Tom Hoerup; Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

When anyone asks how I keep my home so organized, my answer is always the same; even though it’s usually met with a lack of enthusiasm. That’s because the only successful way to remain clutter-free is to let go of the old at the same rate you bring in the new. Of course, you could curb your impulse to shop altogether. But, let’s be honest: We’re living in a consumerist society where even a self-proclaimed minimalist like me has a hard time resisting the urge to constantly upgrade.

Quick Overview

What Are “Declutter Dates”?

“Declutter dates” are scheduled tasks you add to your calendar so you are reminded of what needs to get done and stay on top of clutter. These can be daily, weekly, monthly, biannually, and yearly decluttering sessions that can be small or big — depending on frequency.

So, decluttering regularly is my realistic response and the best solution. Note the word “regularly.” It’s not a one-and-done project, nor is it something to think about once a decade. To prevent pile-ups, you need to be doing it far more frequently. Hence, the scheduled “declutter dates” I add to my calendar so I don’t forget to do it or let too much time go by in between sessions.

Sadly, these aren’t as fun as actual dates (although, being single in 2023 means sometimes they are!). But they’re efficient and effective, and the more I adhere to them, the easier and faster they get (with some lasting five to 10 minutes max). I want to encourage you to get into the habit of decluttering routinely by putting it on your calendar as if they’re appointments you simply can’t miss. 

Here’s a guide to what and when you should declutter based on my personal experience. It’s best to take this list and tweak it to fit you, your stuff, your lifestyle, and so on. It’s also smart to start small so you can build the confidence to tackle larger areas.

Daily Decluttering

I already know what you’re thinking: it’s wild if you say I have to declutter something every single day. And I get it because life is busy and this isn’t a task you want to add to your already long to-do list. But if you think about it, you’re already doing it just by tossing things into the trash and recycling bins.

Now, let’s say you’re guilty of leaving cardboard boxes lying around or letting little bits of litter pile up on surfaces. Commit to spending just a few minutes at the end of each day breaking them down or making sure they’re thrown away. Make it even easier by including small wastepaper baskets in places you don’t currently have one, like the bedroom.

Weekly Decluttering

There are just a handful of areas that I comb through each week. You might not feel the need to do it as frequently, or you may want to do it every few days. It all depends on your level of clutter and the time (or energy) you have at any given time. The areas are as follows:

  • My fridge/freezer/pantry. I do my food shopping and meal prep most Sundays and my trash gets picked up that night. So as I’m unpacking groceries, I’ll use that as my prompt to check for anything expired and ensure it goes in the garbage.
  • My mail and office space. Going paperless means I don’t get a ton of physical mail clutter but there’s always something to sort through. Admittedly, I don’t have a fixed day of the week that I dedicate to this although I’ve noticed it tends to be on Fridays. That also happens to be the day I usually clean up my desk and the area around it so I can go into Monday with a clean slate.
  • My bags. This is another Sunday routine that helps me start the following week off fresh. I empty anything I’ve carried around — my laptop tote, a clutch I took to happy hour, or my beach bag — and declutter debris like receipts and broken hair ties.

Monthly Decluttering

Because I’m only one person and stay on top of the stuff mentioned above, I don’t actually do any decluttering monthly (at least right now). Big life changes usually mean more clutter so, as an example, if I have kids one day — or if you have them now — their area needs to be decluttered pretty often. Especially when they’re really little, I suggest scanning their clothes, shoes, books, and toys at the end of each month or so to determine what they’ve grown out of and what can be donated or handed down.

Quarterly Decluttering

Four times a year, I go through my bathroom and linen closet to see if I need to declutter any:

  • Medicine and first aid supplies
  • Skin, body, and hair care products
  • Makeup
  • Nail polish
  • Travel toiletries

If the expiration date has passed or something looks and smells funky, out it goes. I also use this opportunity to make a list of what I need to restock in the coming months. As a result, I’ve found that on or about the first of each season is the best time to declutter. This way I have the chance to finish up any products that I won’t be using soon depending on the time of year (i.e. sunless tanner or heavy face creams).

Biannual Decluttering

When I lived in New York, I would do a closet swap twice a year so I could adjust my wardrobe from winter to summer and vice versa. Obviously, it made sense to declutter at the same time so anything I didn’t wear the previous two seasons would go in donation bags. Since I’ve moved south, however, I have more space and less need for warm gear so I’ve eliminated the swap but I still purge my closet at least semiannually… and strongly suggest that you do, too.

Yearly Decluttering

This will look different for everyone. For me, I always spend some time in the week between Christmas and New Year’s to sort through the miscellaneous stuff or things that don’t get touched often like books, kitchen gadgets, or office and craft supplies. For you, this could look like getting the whole family together for an annual garage or basement clear-out. It could also mean decluttering the plethora of photos you’ve been holding in boxes so you can finally organize the keepers into digital albums.

However your clutter-free calendar looks, be sure to stick to it as best you can. Doing a little decluttering throughout the year will mean less overwhelming projects down the road or when you’re facing pressure, like the looming deadline of moving.