How To Organise Your Home And Avoid Clutter Overload

updated: 27/06/2024

A woman holding storage cardboxes

I was once responsible for tidying up my grandmother’s house after she passed away.  The responsibility fell on me because no other family members were game enough to take it on. After all, my grandmother was an incurable hoarder and clutterer.  After this experience, I vowed that this would never happen to me and that I would not even let my house get as cluttered as hers.  Well, that was my intention anyway.  But accumulating clutter seems to be a human weakness (or at least a family weakness), and I still seem to be waging the clutter wars.  And if you are reading this, so are you.

How To Prevent Your Home From Getting Cluttered

The first step in reducing clutter is to look at your spending habits.  Much of the stuff cluttering up our houses is something that we have purchased but don’t need to.  This was a particular downfall of  both my grandparents – they both shopped as a hobby.  Not that they spent large amounts (my grandfather frequents second-hand bookshops; my grandmother was known by sight at all the second-hand clothes stores in town).  But before you buy anything, train yourself to think whether you need it or want it (The pre-Raphaelite designer William Morris advised that you should own nothing that “you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful).  Could you borrow or hire whatever it is?  Could you make do with what you already have?  Change your habits – retail therapy is bad for your budget and creates clutter.

It is very common to keep clothes which are bigger than the size you currently wear, hoping you will gain some weight and be able to wear the same garments again. On the one hand, this excuse does not stimulate you enough to keep yourself in good shape; on the other, it makes your wardrobe look messy. One solution is to keep the garments you can’t wear separately, although they will take a significant part of your storage space. Donating these clothes and enjoying your new healthy weight would be wiser.

The opposite is also true. In some cases, when we gain weight, our garments do not fit us anymore, but we keep them in our wardrobes with the hope we will soon lose weight and they will fit again. Keeping them in your wardrobe might not be a good idea unless they will motivate you to lose weight quickly.

We all receive gifts for different occasions, some unwanted, but we habitually keep them just because they were a gift from a friend. If you have items you do not use, it is best to give them to charity rather than keeping them at home. It would be best to exchange and return the gift and get something you need instead.

If you have a garment in your wardrobe for which you remember you paid a lot of money a few years ago but do not wear it, it isn’t worth keeping. It only fills your wardrobe, and trying to sell it will free up some space. Remember that you cannot sell it for the original price you paid, but you may still get some money from it.

In some houses, piles of newspapers and magazines have been read but are kept because they contain helpful information. They absorb too much dust, and cleaning them each week, and your regular house cleaning chores will waste more time. Recycling or donating them will reduce your house’s clutter and save time and effort.

To declutter a target area, begin by pulling everything out and dumping it somewhere you can sort – on the bench, bed, or kitchen table.  Out of the resulting chaos, start by finding the things you know you use often – you’ve used them within the last six months (for more season-related things such as Christmas decorations, skis or swimming pool accessories, this use-within period should be extended to a year).  Next, get rid of anything broken or out-of-date.  If the item is fixable or something that can be used even if it is outdated (clothes or tools), put it somewhere to give away to charity or a resource recovery centre.

The biggest trap to beware of when decluttering (and the source of much clutter) is the “it might come in handy” syndrome.  The golden rule here is to think what the object, whatever it is, will come in handy for.  For example, “I’ll keep this old sheet to make polishing rags/bedding for the dog/teaching the children how to sew”.   If you can’t think of anything, get rid of it.  If you think it’s useful, take it to a charity or a recycling depot.   Also, watch the amount of useful stuff you keep.  Yes, old ice cream containers are suitable for frozen food, but how many do you need to keep?  Do you need fifty?

A totally cluttered home office

All Those Little Things That Make You Feel Better

Right from your child’s birth, you should be clear that you will live in a world of toys, as they will be all around your home. Your home will never again be that organised place with the scented candles and the tidy cushions, but the whole clutter will bring you lots of joy and happiness you haven’t felt before. Some tips help you get your home a bit more organised, saving you money and a lot of effort.

Organisational Tips

  • For each room of your house where children’s toys are, have a basket to store them in, rather than having them on the floor.
  • If you have any small objects, like crayons or toys, have small boxes where you can place them every night after your kids go to bed.
  • Have a place for most of the objects in your house, and try to put them in the right place after you use them. It will become a habit, and you will train your kids to do the same when they understand.
  • Have something in the room where you spend most of your time that is your favourite and that brings you happiness. It might be a bunch of flowers or a scented candle, but looking at it instead of the clutter will help you feel happier.
  • Make a list of areas around your house that need thorough deep cleaning, one each day. If you plan to do the whole list in one day, you will feel exhausted and it will not make you happy. Spend no more than ten minutes daily on such tasks, which will motivate you.
  • Periodically sort your children’s toys; if some are out of order or they ignore them, get rid of them. This will significantly reduce the clutter in your home.
  • Teach your kids to pick their toys and place them in the basket. Make it a part of the game and always make them happy with their work. This will save you time every day, and you can spend this time doing something else.
  • Having a family means you will have to wash every day. Try not to make piles of laundry, as it will take longer to wash and dry afterwards. When your laundry is dry, fold the garments straight away and adequately. You can choose which ones to iron and which are fine without ironing. This tip will decrease the amount of ironing you must do daily. Doing a bit of ironing daily instead of leaving piles of garments to be ironed for later will save you time.
  • Having a family calendar will save you lots of work. You can plan and add important events directly to the calendar.
A man holding a plastic box in a storage room

What To Know When You’re Decluttering or Downsizing

You will never regret getting rid of some things when you’re decluttering, downsizing or throwing out stuff for whatever reason.  Clothes that are far too big or far too small, broken appliances that you’ll fix one day when you get around to it, that collection of old yoghurt pottles that might come in handy one day (you never know!!)…  All these can be tossed without hesitation.  However, there are some things that you may be tempted to get rid of that you will probably regret parting with – and I don’t mean photo albums, your children’s artwork or the outfit you keep for weddings and other special occasions.

According to decorator Lauri Ward, some pieces of furniture are absolute musts to keep when moving house or downsizing (these ideas, plus many others, are outlined in her excellent decorating book Downsizing Your Home with Style, published in 2007 by Collins).

The first item(s) on the list is one sofa and two armchairs that go with it.  What if you’re downsizing and have to choose between two sofas?  Follow your heart and choose your favourite, but let the space in your new room be the decider if you still can’t decide.  Still, no way to choose between them.  Get rid of the tastiest one that has frayed arms and coffee stains.  If all else fails, toss a coin!  However, do a lot of entertaining and regularly have both sofas filled with people (e.g. you have the guys over for poker/movies every Friday, or your home seems to be the drop-in place for the teenagers in your neighbourhood). It may be wise to keep both.  But never be without a sofa – not only is it a place to sit and relax (and sort laundry), but it can also make emergency bedding.

Armless dining chairs are the second item on the list.  These aren’t just for going around your table.  You can also keep these in the bedroom, beside the telephone and in the home office.  Sturdy ones can also be used as substitute stepladders for reaching high cupboards, and small children can play “riding horses” on them (facing backwards, but excessive rocking can be disastrous) on rainy afternoons.

Things with closed storage are also highly rated on Lauri’s list.  A “closed storage” item is anything that contains cupboards or drawers.  It also includes trunks, which can double as coffee tables. “Even if…you don’t like [it], don’t throw it out,” says Lauri.  “You may be able to use it in a closet or put it in the garage.” One caveat does need to be mentioned here.  This writer’s Depression-era grandmother never met a set of drawers or cupboards she didn’t like and kept closed storage to excess – including a set of school lockers (32 lockers in total) salvaged when a school was renovating, at least seven chests of drawers, a vintage cocktail cabinet and a divan that was hollowed out for storage.  All this in a house that had more than ample cupboard space.  So, while keeping closed storage is usually a wise idea, don’t go overboard.

Mirrors are one of the smaller items on Lauri’s list. As Shirley Conran of Superwoman fame pointed out, Mirrors are not just for checking your makeup. Mirrors are excellent for making small rooms look larger, even though this is an optical illusion, and they reflect light. Wall-to-wall full-length mirrors like in a boutique changing room—or a funfair—might be a bit over-the-top, but a few strategically placed mirrors work wonders.

Nesting tables are also highly recommended, as they can be stored away easily and pulled out for entertaining when not in use.

Bookcases aren’t just for books. Deep ones can store stereos and even office files. They can also display collections, store dry goods (e.g., jams, tins, storage containers of flour and pasta), CDs, DVDs, cassettes, and the like, and display photo frames or artworks.

The Top Five Clutter-creating Traps


You know how this goes. “I’ll just pop this on the kitchen bench for now and deal with it later.” “I’ll find a home for that eventually, but in the meantime, I’ll put it on the bedside cabinet.” “You can give that a temporary home behind the sofa until we find a better place.” “Put it in the spare room to be fixed when I get around to it”. In a perfect world, we would always be able to put things away immediately and fix things as soon as they break. In the world that we do have, assigning some time to mending, sorting and dealing with temporary arrangements is a better way to stop the “just for now” piles building up.

Neck or Nothing

One of the big obstacles that often gets in the way of people having a decluttering session (or even calling in an expert) is a fear that minimalism is the goal and that the expert will leave you with a set of possessions that would make a monk’s lifestyle look lavish. This is not the case.

You do not have to reduce your worldly goods to a subsistence level. While you may have to get rid of the out-of-focus photos, you don’t have to get rid of the old daguerreotype of your great-great-grandparents. While you may have to offload ancient magazines and the books your children grew out of years ago and hate the sight of, you don’t have to get rid of your favourite copy of Lord of the Rings. It’s not all or nothing. It’s about getting rid of inessentials.

Getting distracted

You’re sorting the books, the junk mail or the old magazines. Something catches your eye. Next thing you know, you’ve spent half an hour reading that ancient magazine and have made no progress. Or you’re going through your clothes, and you stop to try on half a dozen outfits and spend ages seeing how all your accessories go with them. In The Screw tape Letters, C.S. Lewis had the senior devil Screw tape recommending this sort of behaviour as an excellent form of tempting humans into wasting their time and energy. Hence, they do neither what they ought to do nor what they want to do. To fight this temptation, set a time limit to achieve a reasonable goal, and enlist a friend to help you or to whom you can be accountable.


If someone has been pressuring you to declutter, you’re in a bad mood, or you don’t want to get rid of things (possibly because of Habit 2), some people sabotage the efforts they do make. They throw out something valuable they later regret – and never use this experience to touch the clutter again. Or they set themselves impossibly hard goals. They call themselves names. All this will create a bad association with decluttering. Instead, set reasonable goals, be honest and give yourself little rewards (but not by buying more unnecessary stuff) for achieving these goals. Suitable rewards can include temporary things such as a nice bunch of flowers, dancing in the space you’ve managed to clear, having a moment of nostalgia reading old love letters, or just sitting back for five minutes listening to music and contemplating the view out of the window once you’ve cleared all the junk off the windowsill.


This is an asset in all other aspects of life, but don’t try to declutter, talk on the phone/deal with the kid’s homework/vacuum the lounge. Concentrating on decluttering for ten minutes is better than spending an hour trying to declutter and do other things simultaneously. Rather than testing and chucking out dead biros and stationery while talking on the phone, do this while you’re waiting for an anti-virus program to finish running (the operative word there was “talking” on the phone. If you’re on hold. However, this might be an excellent time to delete old emails or test biros while you doodle).

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.