As we approach the end of the year, or decade, rather, mentions of New Year’s resolutions have begun to creep into our social media and news feeds. But here’s my gripe with this whole idea of “bettering” yourself: Quite often, it comes at a price. We fork over hundreds of dollars on exercise equipment, high-tech juicers and skin care products — accumulating more and more stuff in the process.
Decluttering, on the other hand, costs zero dollars and begets a myriad of mental and physical health benefits, like reducing anxiety, improving sleep quality and promoting concentration. But as with any New Year’s resolution, maintaining an organized, clutter-free home can be a difficult habit to form (and stick to).
Jane Stoller is a life-biz organizer and the author of Decluttering for Dummies, a comprehensive guide to decluttering your mind, home and digital life. Here she shares seven tips on developing organization habits and making them stick.
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1. Just start already!
“The main reason new organizing habits fail is we’re too scared to even get started, either because we’re overwhelmed by organizing or don’t know where to begin,” says Stoller. Just like the phrase ‘My diet starts tomorrow’ can kill your motivation to eat healthy or lose weight, putting off closet organization by another weekend or another month can cause you to give up on your goal entirely. “Just getting started is the biggest challenge you can overcome in terms of getting organized.”
2. Dedicate 10 minutes to organizing your home every day.
“Because it’s so hard to get started, I say, why not schedule 10 minutes at the end of your day for organizing?” asks Stoller. Put a daily calendar reminder with an alert on your phone to keep yourself on track. “Once you do it for 21 days, it’ll likely become a bit more of a habit.” Use this time to organize your space and prepare yourself for the day ahead. “If you’ve got kids, say to them, ‘Okay, it’s 10-minute organizing time, let’s put things back where they belong and lay out our clothes for tomorrow.’”
3. Make ‘organize, donate, sell’ your new mantra.
“Keep boxes in your home that are labeled ‘organize,’ ‘donate,’ ‘sell,’ or maybe even ‘repurpose,’” says Stoller. “You want to be constantly reminded because the biggest challenge we have with organizing is we have too much stuff in the first place.” Look around your house for bins or baskets that could be used for this purpose and leave them out where you can actually see them.
4. Keep your everyday items in close reach.
“Organize for efficiency, not for beauty,” says Stoller. “Of course, we want our home to look nice, but really, what is most efficient for your lifestyle? Keep the items that you use 80 percent of the time easily accessible, whether it’s in your closet, your kitchen, your office, etc.” If you have a drawer full of miscellaneous kitchen utensils, but regularly use only about four or five of them, arrange them in a crock on your countertop instead.
5. Hold yourself accountable.
“I think accountability is key for anything,” notes Stoller. “Tell people you’re on an organizing challenge or a decluttering challenge. You know, especially in your own home, you should be telling everyone involved, but you could also tell your friends, ‘Look, I’m trying to get more organized, I’m doing this challenge, can you help me stay accountable or do you want to do it with me?’” Share photos of your progress on social media or turn to online communities like r/declutter for support from afar. “It’s way more fun to organize or declutter with friends or family involved and they can help you sustain it,” adds Stoller.
6. Treat yo’ self for a job well done.
Decluttering can be draining, both physically and mentally. Beyond lugging boxes to Goodwill, you may be forced to reckon with emotional clutter, like letters from an ex-boyfriend or clothing that belonged to a deceased relative. That’s why it’s important to create a rewards system for yourself or your family members. Kids, according to Stoller, are particularly receptive to this type of encouragement. “You could implement some sort of rewards system where every time your kid declutters 10 items then they can get something new, or, instead of receiving presents for their birthday, they could ask for donations and give them to a charity,” suggests Stoller. “You can make it into something positive to get the kids involved in the decluttering.”
7. Remember to clear your head, too.
“Decluttering for Dummies is organized into four parts and the first part is decluttering your mind,” says Stoller. “I think this is the most important part because mental clutter affects our focus, our relationships and our mental health.” Once you’ve finished decluttering your physical space, quiet the chaos in your mind by turning to meditation, journaling or self-care practices. “Getting mentally decluttered is huge in terms of your time, the habits you have, and even the type of clutterbug you are,” says Stoller.