5 Tips For Clearing Clutter

True story: my house is a mess. Shifting to remote work has made it clear that something has to change in my pick-up routines, so I’ve started trying to clean up at least one small area daily. Sometimes I only accomplish a five-minute task, but at least it’s something, right? My house already has less mess, and I’m trying my hardest to keep it that way.

We live in a 1950’s ranch house in the suburbs. It’s only about 1100 square feet of living space, so there’s not a ton of room–and, admittedly, we have a lot of stuff. I’m trying to pare down a lot of my things (clothes, especially–I’ve been trying to align myself to a more classic, adult style instead of the mishmash I had going on throughout my twenties and early thirties) and get our remaining items better organized. My greatest wish? Putting the days of “I swear I just saw that, where did it go?” behind me… there’s been way too many times where I’ve lost something important (usually a bill or some kind of other paperwork) because it got swept away with the clutter.

Here’s a list of five very small things I’m doing tackle my clutter issues:

#1: Stop using appliances as storage space.

I just finished a laundry marathon–as in, I’ve been doing laundry for about three days now, nonstop, and have finally reached the bottom of our multiple laundry baskets. It’s step one in attempting to a break a bad habit, which is letting laundry pile up in the dryer “until I have time to fold it”. Surprise, surprise, I rarely actually get around to folding what’s in the dryer until clothes are overflowing the laundry baskets, because I can’t put clothes in the washing machine until I move items from the washer to the dryer, and I can’t do that until the dryer is empty.

Same goes for the dishwasher. Clean pots, pans, glasses and plates belong in the kitchen cabinets, not in the dishwasher! I hate unloading the dishwasher and would put it off and just take what I needed out… but this resulted in a big pile of dirty cookware and plates in the kitchen sink after dinner that would sometimes sit for a day. Of course, I didn’t want to touch the dirty dishes after they’d sat so long, so I’d put it off for as long as possible… see where this is going?

Do you know what also isn’t storage space? The inside of the oven (I got tired of preheating the oven and then discovering I’d left a sheet pan in it). Also, cars are not storage units. Besides my emergency kit, I keep a single blanket in the back seat of my Jeep. Previous cars would collect junk mail, work papers, and my kid’s toys until I’d get fed up and clean them out… I’m tired of it! Small items are to be removed from the Jeep within 24 hours of them going into the Jeep.

#2: Tidy small spaces, not large ones.

Instead of saying “I need to clean up the bedroom,” I’ve taught myself to say things like “I need to organize my dresser drawers,” or “I need to clean off the top of my nightstand”. Picking up the entire bedroom is a very large task that feels overwhelming (especially if it’s been let go for awhile), but a smaller area is more do-able and gives me a sense of accomplishment.

I don’t timebox these things, and I don’t make goals like “tidy one small area a day”. I get to it when I get to it, and I often pick an area at random, but then I try to make sure that area stays tidied up.

There is currently an exception to this: I’m currently planning an overhaul of our bedroom closet (which is an absolute disaster). It requires purchasing some items and also expanding into some purchases/new furniture for the bedroom itself so that items have a place to live that isn’t inside said closet. Our bedroom closets have a rod hung at about eye level, with a large storage shelf the depth of the closet above that and a half-depth shelf about halfway to the ceiling from the larger shelf. The closets are also about about two feet wider on the inside that then the door space, but that space is taken up by shelves. That’s currently where my sweaters live, but they’re impossible to get to with all the hanging clothes in the way. We would like to move my sweaters and Dave’s pants to another dresser, and free up closet space–plus move off-season items into vacuum bags for storage on the upper shelves, and move our luggage and other random items to either the side shelves or the closet floor. Still: even though this is a larger project that requires some planning, it is still tidying the closet, not the entire bedroom!

#3 Bribe yourself.

Right now, I have an Amazon cart with the vacuum bags and storage bins for the closet-redo… and a new duvet cover, linens, and throw pillows for the bed. The new bed accessories are my bribe for the closet project.

Tidying up makes your space look nicer, sure… but wouldn’t it look so much better with something new added in? I realize this isn’t exactly frugal, but sometimes it helps me to bribe myself with something extra so that I actually complete my clean-up project. The new bed accessories are actually a pretty big purchase, but we do need new bed linens (we’re going on four years with the microfiber sheets we purchased when we bought our first bed for the house, and they’re getting kind of ratty and need to be retired/replaced with something nicer).

Usually my bribe is something small for the space I’m cleaning up–something like the dust cover for my Silhouette, which was less than $10 and makes my desktop look more “finished”. Other times I’ll reward myself with dinner out (especially if I’ve just cleaned the kitchen… who would want to dirty that immediately?!).

You can probably figure out some more frugal rewards for yourself. One of my favorite “frugal bribes” is a “night off” where I take a long shower and put on my PJs at a ridiculously early hour, ignore my phone, and read a book or watch TV until I feel like going to bed.

#4: Use every inch of storage space.

I know we live in a “small house”, but I also grew up in a 1200 square foot house, so I don’t really feel like it’s that small! My parents were pretty clutter-y people, though, so I also grew up surrounded by stuff, and maybe it just doesn’t bother me as much as it does other people?

In trying to tidy up and keep less clutter around our house, I’ve learnt to maximize our storage space so that we don’t have as much stuff “out”. This makes it seem like we have less stuff, although we still totally do–you just can’t see it.

Usually, the response to not having stuff “out” would be to put it in some kind of storage space, and for that we usually think of closets, drawers, and cabinets–you know, things that close that stuff off from being seen. We have two cabinets in the living room (in the built-ins on either side of our fireplace) but they are blocked by furniture, so we don’t use them. The only other traditional storage space is in the coat closet, which is pretty small. We keep coats in there (of course) along with the vacuum cleaner and a storage tote (which currently has no purpose, oops) and a myriad of small stuff up on the top shelf. However, we also have mid-century furniture, with legs–which means that our couches stand a few inches off the ground. If you were to get down and look underneath the big couch, you’d see “under-bed” storage bins that hold my stuff for Cub Scouts! The bins are just slightly smaller than couch, so I can push them underneath and have them be invisible unless you were to get down on the floor and look underneath the couch–but my Scouts stuff is all in one place and easily accessible when I need to plan a den meeting.

Similarly, we have under-bed bins underneath our actual bed. The Hollywood bed frame we have wasn’t quite tall enough to accept the shoe bin I bought, so we have it on risers, which has allowed for even more storage space. You can kind of see the risers underneath the bed skirt, but it’s not that bad (and having the bed slightly taller is actually pretty nice).

#5: Don’t put off five-minute tasks.

I’m so guilty of putting off small tasks, it’s not even funny. There’s not even any way to make it funny–that’s how lazy I can be.

I can’t say I came up with this myself; I read it somewhere years ago and have recently put my mind to putting it into practice. If a task takes less than five minutes to accomplish, you should do it right away. Five minutes is not something that will take a large chunk out of your day–chances are that you will waste more than five minutes of your day doing something even less important than whatever small task you’re putting off. Odds are that you won’t even miss five minutes of your day… so use those minutes to actually get something done.

Things that might fall under this rule: bringing in the mail and immediately recycling the junk, disposing of a full trash bag and putting a new bag in the bin, emptying the canister before you put the vacuum cleaner away. Do I always do these things? No (as stated before: I am very lazy). But I do try to remind myself I won’t miss five minutes, and use it to convince myself not to put things off quite as much.


That’s all I have for my tips… hopefully they’ll help you out! I’m still on my journey to a less cluttered home, but maybe we’ll get there together. 🙂