Clutter can be a big problem in many homes – I know I could do better. But even big problems can be broken down into little ones. If you’ve never tried decluttering before, here’s a quick list of little things that can be done in about 5–10 minutes just before you start with the actual domestic cleaning. Try one (or two) every day – or even every week if you’re new to the decluttering process.
Assemble all your pens, biros, felts, pencils and crayons. Test all of them. If they don’t work, out they go. Sharpen the pencils. Get rid of bitty little crayons that are impossible to actually hold. If you have a cracked ballpoint pen and a dead felt tip, you can extract the shrivelled innards of the felt tip and replace it with the innards of the ballpoint, then use a little sticky tape to make them into a working pen. But don’t hoard dead felts and broken pens for this – only do this if you have them there under your nose. If you want to declutter and be environmentally friendly, pencil ends can be composted, and if you’re keen, you can fish out the metal springs from click-up ballpoints (and other metal bits) and send them to be recycled. Then put the keepable ones in a pencil case, stationery jar or a crayon box.
Pick up all the old newspapers and magazines in the house and put them in the recycling. Resist all temptation to start reading. One or two magazines may be kept for children’s craft cutouts.
Look under your bed or behind the sofa. Deal with whatever you find there.
Check your notice board and/or what is held on the front of your fridge with magnets. If it’s out of date, out it goes.
Check your cups and mugs. Ask yourself if you really use them all – have you ever got to the stage when your mug cupboard is empty because they’re all in the wash (and not because you’ve been lazy about doing dishes)? If your answer to this is “no”, then get rid of some. Chipped or cracked things should go first – some say that they should go anyway, even if you do use them all, but if you’re on a tight budget, you can hang onto a chipped mug. Keep your favourites, a handful of spares for visitors and the like, then donate the rest to charity.
Choose three rooms and get rid of one object that you don’t really want or like from each room. Unless you’re a model of perfection and discipline (in which case, you won’t be reading this article), you will find something you don’t want, like or need in each room. For example, I have an ugly old angle-poise desk lamp that I don’t think I’ve touched for a year and dislike sitting on my desk right now (time for it to go!).
Empty out your handbag or briefcase, then go through the contents. Get rid of any rubbish (e.g. old receipts that you don’t need for the accounts), file anything that needs it, put the loose change into a jar. You may need to shake out crumbs, pencil shavings, dead staples and fluff. Weighing your bag before you organize it and after you’ve returned essentials into it is enlightening.
Repeat the previous activity for the glovebox of your car – except you can’t weigh this before and after.
Take a look at your bookshelf. Get rid of anything you don’t want to read again, or any travel guides that are more than ten years old. If you are tempted to start reading something, then don’t get rid of it. Donate unwanted books to schools (not romances or horror novels, though) or another charitable organisation. Better still, take them down to one of those second-hand bookstores that allow you to do exchanges, then swap them for something you really want to read. Old travel guides should be sent to the recycling – they’re out of date and useless (possible exception: a pre-September 11 guide to the World Trade Centre in New York).
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