Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
My closet is a mess. There are so many clothes in there that I can barely push the hangers apart, even though I feel like I wear the same things all the time. The shelves are overflowing with stuff and the floor… well, don’t even get me started on the floor.
I need a bigger kitchen. Every cabinet and drawer is packed full and half the time, I can’t even find what I need. Even the pantry seems to have turned into a black hole where random food goes to die. I don’t remember buying half of this stuff, so how did it get there? And why does my whole family still look in there and say we have nothing to eat?
Great. It’s raining and windy outside and I have to carry the groceries in from outside because our garage is nothing but a giant storage unit. Sure, we always talk about cleaning it out and organizing it, but it never seems to get done. So instead, it looks like we’re having a block party at our house every night.
Wait, you have heard this before? But you’re not sure where? Oh yea, that’s right, it’s YOUR LIFE.
And no, your friends and family haven’t been conspiring with me and sending me secret camera footage to stage a clutter invention. I know this because it’s all of us. Including me, just a few years ago.
It’s like we get caught on a self-imposed hamster wheel… buying stuff until we run out of space to put it, so then we buy things to organize our stuff or furniture to put our stuff in or a bigger house to hold all our furniture that holds all our stuff… and around and ’round we go.
Half the time, we don’t even realize it’s happening. It’s like the old story about the frog in the boiling water. If someone came over with a dump truck and unloaded a huge pile of junk at our house in one fell swoop, we’d be furious! And would never to think to bring it all into our house. But give us an Amazon prime membership, a couple trips to the mall and a dozen or so Target runs for “just a few things,” and we can quickly become as unaware as poor Kermie right when he starts to sweat.
But even if you have realized what’s happening in your home and had your “Holy shnikes, where did all of this STUFF come from??” moment (mine was staring into the back of a loaded 17′ U-Haul truck… how bout you?), the thought of actually doing something about it can be overwhelming enough to send you running back to Netflix with your blanket and red wine in tow.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be. I promise. And I was a Girl Scout from grades 2 to 5, so that really means something.
In fact, just being able to see your clutter for what it is – stuff – is actually the first step. And I don’t mean that in a 12-step-program kind of way. It truly is, because many people are just blind to it completely. I know I sure was until I packed it all up to move it for the 100th time, and then the light bulb went off.
So, what do you do now? Now, that you are aware of your clutter, you’re over your clutter and you are ready to part ways with said clutter?
You show it who’s boss.
The days of being overwhelmed, intimidated and embarrassed by your clutter are over, my friend. Throw up that garage door, pull out the garbage bags and tell Goodwill to call in some extra staff, because it’s about to go down.
These 10 sources of clutter are common, overrated (read: don’t let them intimidate you) and easy to tackle, so start here. Clear some space, gain some confidence and then before you know it, you’ll be ready to tackle the big stuff!
1. Closet – Old/Damaged Clothes
Yes, the closet can be slightly overwhelming when you’re talking about doing a major overhaul. But, all you need to focus on right now is the low-hanging fruit… the obvious stuff that needs to go. This includes clothes that are damaged, torn, stained or faded, as well as clothes that you have outgrown – either in size or age. You can (and should) come back later to assess what things you actually wear, but this first step will help make some room and give you a clearer view of what you are actually working with.
2. Bathroom – Old/Half Empty/Expired Products
Another easy purge of low hanging fruit is your bathroom products. Chances are, you probably have at least a few old bottles of lotions, shampoos, cleansers, moisturizers, etc. that are now out-of-date, hardened, cracked or otherwise gross from sitting around for so long. I am not telling you to get rid of your half empty bottles that you are currently using. We’re talking about those ones that have been hiding out at the back of your vanity since big bangs were cool. You know which ones I’m talkin’ bout, Willis. It’s time for them to go.
3. Bathroom – Expired Medicines and Vitamins
While you’re in the bathroom, take a look at the expiration dates on all your medicines, including vitamins and your over-the-counter & prescription medications. For those that are expired, either take them to a safe disposal location (you can find them online or by calling your local pharmacy) or dispose of them properly by mixing them with kitty litter or coffee grounds and placing the mixture in a sealed plastic bag before throwing it in the trash. Don’t forget to black out your personal information on pill bottles too before throwing them away!
4. Kitchen – Damaged Dishware and Cookware
Just like with the damaged clothes in your closet, go through your kitchen cabinets and make a sweep of the low-hanging fruit there by getting rid of all plates, bowls, glasses and mugs that are chipped or cracked. You can also get rid of mismatched sets of dishware (unless that’s your style!) and any pots, pans or bakeware that are chipping, cracking or flaking. Especially, since you don’t want to ingest those metal shavings anyway! Again, you will want to come back later to assess the usefulness of what is left, but this will help to clear out the obvious stuff that has seen its better days.
5. Kitchen – Expired Spices
Call me weird, but this has become one of my favorite things to purge at people’s houses. I think it’s become like a little competition to see who has the oldest spices in their possession (so far, the winner is 2007). But it’s also one of the most overlooked sources of clutter because again, we become blind to it. Opening and closing the cabinet door without giving it much thought and even re-stocking the shelves when we move, without ever actually checking the dates. So, now’s the time to do it! Although spices don’t typically turn toxic or go bad once they pass their expiration date, they do lose their potency. So, if you’ve got some thyme from the early 2000’s or some rosemary from the 90’s, it’s time to let them go.
6. Kitchen – The Pantry
The pantry in all its craziness may have intimidated you in the past, but be intimidated no more! You’ve already made your way through your closet, the bathroom and half the kitchen! A few boxes of crackers are nothing to be afraid of anymore. Go through your pantry and toss out anything that is past its expiration date, stale, congealed, caked, dried up or again, otherwise gross. You can also throw away bottles that are missing their lids and consolidate multiple packages of the same thing where you have extra room (i.e. packs of snack crackers, applesauce cups, etc.). Then, for those items that you know you won’t be using, take them out now and donate them to a local food drive or food pantry so they can get in the hands of someone who can desperately use them.
7. Kitchen – The Junk Drawer
Boy, we sure are spending a lot of time in the kitchen, aren’t we? What can I say? The room is a magnet for clutter (speaking of, if you haven’t already de-cluttered your kitchen magnets, please do so now). Now, we move on to the infamous junk drawer. It’s another favorite of mine when helping people de-clutter because in here, you can find everything from a screwdriver to a bubble gun. That’s because it’s exactly that – a junk drawer – a catch all for anything and everything. But, despite the name, the original intention of this kind of drawer is to have a go-to place for items you need to keep handy like pens, pencils, scissors, tape and batteries. Which means, you need to get all the old birthday cards and Taco Bell sporks out of the way to get to the important stuff. Throw out what you don’t need, keep what you do and return all the things that have lost their way to their rightful homes.
8. Office – Dried Up Pens and Markers
It may seem a little unusual to make this an entire list item of its own, but the sheer speed with which these can pile up around a house is staggering. In fact, this rule extends past your office space, but you can start there by taking a few minutes to test them (yes, each and every one) and make sure they work. Those that don’t, go in the trash. If you still find yourself with 100 or so pens and markers that do work, pick out your favorites and then donate the rest to a local school or church group or an organization like Pens for Kids.
9. Office – Old Business Cards
If you travel or network for your job, chances are, you’ve probably accumulated at least one (if not several) random stacks of business cards. They aren’t doing you any good piling up in a drawer, so take some time now to go through them and divide them up into ones you want to follow up with and ones that can be trashed. For the ones that you want to follow up with, scan them onto your phone or computer using a note app like Evernote and then shred or toss the original cards. If you want to take it a step further and get even more organized, add some tasks to your calendar and set reminders to follow up with those people you want to talk to. You may have been sitting on a great opportunity all this time and didn’t even know it!
10. Living Room (or wherever) – Books
Ahh… books. One of the biggest sources of clutter in a home. That is, if you have even a remote interest in reading. But the good news is, they’re also one of the easiest forms of clutter to bust your way through. I have worked with people all along the book lovers’ spectrum, so I know feelings can range from “Oh yea, forgot I had that” to “If you touch that book again, I will hurt you.” So, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. But, the general idea is to get rid of any books that you are never going to read, have already read and won’t read again and of course, books that are falling apart, soiled or otherwise damaged. Even if you only reduce your books from 100 to 50 in your initial sweep, you are still freeing up space and allowing yourself to actually see what you have left and hopefully, make an actual effort at reading them. Plus, getting some money back in your pocket from the used bookstore is always a nice little bonus!
You did it! You’ve made a huge dent in your clutter and more importantly, you’ve shown that you mean business. If I were still a Girl Scout, I would award you with a honorary de-cluttering badge. But since I can’t do that, I will just award you with this handy infographic instead. Save it to your desktop, print it out and hang it on the fridge or send it to your besties as a friendly, but not-so-subtle way of saying, you need help.
Whatever you do, just keep it up! Get the stuff you’ve purged out of the house ASAP, keep moving forward and keep up that momentum!
Freedom is yours for the taking. And it’s waiting for you on the other side of your clutter.
Now, go and get it!
Until next time… keep your worries tiny and your dreams BIG!
Jenn Baxter is an accomplished author, speaker and freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has been published in numerous print and online publications and appears at tiny house festivals, healthy living festivals and private engagements across the country, speaking on the subjects of downsizing & minimalism, clean eating, healthy living and spiritual health. She appeared on HGTV’s “Tiny House Big Living,” is a regular guest on the NBC morning show “Charlotte Today” on WCNC-TV and has also appeared as a guest on the Tiny House Podcast, The Purpose Show and LiveTiny Canada.
In 2015, Jenn launched her website, Live a F.A.S.T. Life, based on her own experiences with clean living and downsizing into a 160-square- foot tiny house. She now teaches others how to make similar changes in their own lives through her online webinars and her e-course collection, De-Clutter, De-Tox, De-Stress. Her new book, Live a F.a.s.t. Life: How Stripping Down and Cleaning Up Gave Me My Life Back is available now on her website, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.