What to Declutter to Make Way For New Beginnings

It feels good to start fresh at the beginning of a new year. One of the most obvious ways to do that is to ring in the new year with an organized space, whether at home, at work or both. But if organizing doesn’t come naturally to you, you might be wondering where to start.

Here’s a simple guideline.

“The best spot to start decluttering is your go-to spot,” New York City-based creative and organizer Carla Campos said. “Whether this means your kitchen table where you spend most of your time, your living room which is your ‘safe zone’ after a stressful day at work, or your work desk.”

“Because this is where you spend a majority of your time,” starting your decluttering here “will net you the quickest results,” she said. Once your go-to spot is tidy, you’ll feel encouraged to continue with other messy places in your life.

Organization experts shared their top tips for streamlining your possessions and decluttering your spaces in the New Year and beyond.

Your closet

Whether you have a messy closet, a floor with a carpet of clothes or that one chair that’s more of a mountain of rejected outfits than an actual chair, getting this part of your home organized can make getting ready in the morning quicker and less stressful.

Quote graphic stating "The best spot to start decluttering is your go-to spot." by Carla Campos a professional organizer. Declutter pbs rewireIf you want to start with your closet, first weed out the empty hangers and dry cleaning bags, Boston-based professional declutterer Rhea Becker said.

“You can regain a lot of space by simply taking this one action,” she said.

“After that, get a few large garbage bags, and go through your clothes closet from one end to the other, filling the bags with clothes that need repair, that are out of fashion, or that you haven’t worn in a year or more.”

Try on the pieces that you’re not sure about. If it doesn’t fit, or is uncomfortable or worn out, get rid of it, North Carolina professional organizer Nancy Haworth said. Be strict about what meets the bar for staying in your collection.

“You can motivate yourself by remembering that if you let go of some of your clothes, you will have room to add a few new items,” Becker said.

To make your de-stash more Earth-friendly, donate what you don’t want and recycle anything that’s worn out.

Your kitchen

One of my favorite things to do is toss old food from the fridge. If you have an overflowing fridge, start throwing out items that are expired and leftovers that are past their prime. Give shelf-stable ingredients you’ll never use to a friend who cooks a lot.

Go through your collection of storage containers and make sure each one has a corresponding lid. If it doesn’t, recycle it.

It’s easy for a mug and cup collection to get too big for your cupboard. Pick out a few favorite mugs and donate the ones you don’t care about. Get rid of “excess dishes, mugs, utensils or cooking appliances that you haven’t used in over a year,” Haworth said.

Your office

Is mail piling up at your house? Getting that under control can make a big difference, Washington state-based professional organizer Lauren Williams said.

“If I could get everyone to start one project… in the New Year or (as soon) as possible, it would be to get your paperwork organized,” she said. “Paying the bills, paying the taxes, getting systems in place for letting go of the junk mail.

“The sooner you have your mail processes in order, the sooner you aren’t paying late fees, owing back taxes, having to shove stuff off the dining room table to eat dinner.”

Even though most things are paperless these days, you’ll still end up with some important documents you need to keep. If you have a stack of those and don’t know what to do with them, create a filing system for yourself. You can get an expanding file case that can easily fit in a corner and stay out of mind until you need that important piece of paper. No more digging through mystery piles on your desk or dining room table.

For the stuff that truly does belong in the trash, put a recycling bin as close to your mailbox or front door as possible, Williams said. Then throw your junk mail straight in rather than adding it to a pile.

If your New Yorkers or Rolling Stones are piling up without being read, choose a date and get rid of any magazine you received before then. Let’s be real—you’re not going to read one from a year or more ago.

Before you buy another bookshelf to house your new bookstore finds, get rid of any books you don’t think you’ll read again and that don’t have sentimental value. Contributing them to a Little Free Library could make someone’s day.

Your bathroom

De-stash products you don’t use anymore and that are taking up valuable storage space. Remember that if you rinse them out, most of those personal care product containers can be recycled like anything else.

Responsibly toss expired medications and ones you don’t use anymore.

Everywhere else

Are you a pile-maker? Turn your de-cluttering attentions to “anything that’s out on a counter, the floor, the stairs,” New York-based professional organizer Felice Cohen said. “Start with anything that doesn’t have a home. This immediately gets rid of the ‘clutter’ look.”

When you’re taking care of these problem spots, “ask yourself, why doesn’t this have a home? Is it because I really don’t need it or it doesn’t go anywhere? If that’s the case, get rid of it.”

Taming these areas of your life can be overwhelming. To keep things in perspective, “focus on your end goal, not the clutter,” Cohen said.

“If your garage is packed with boxes and stuff and your goal is to park your car in there or to use the space to make art, then keep that goal in mind. By focusing on what you’d like the room to look like, that will keep you excited and energized as you get rid of stuff.”

Moving forward with better habits

A lot of us will get organized—and then be disorganized again in a week. To make sustainable changes, follow these suggestions from Campos:

1. Create a “central” hub for your home. A place where everyone in the household could… put Post-It Notes to give updates, where all “stuff” can be placed, etc. This will better the communication of everyone in the home and should not take long to create.
2. Spend five to 15 minutes every morning to journal. As strange as it sounds, by decluttering your mind you’ll realize what things have been bothering you and be able to address them.
3. Put things away as soon as you are done using them! This alone could save you lots of heartache for 2019.

Katie Moritz

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.