Coming out of the closet: 31 day declutter challenge for the frugal and the time poor

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950872_the_lost_room___ August. It’s cold, wet and miserable. The perfect time to tackle indoor work like decluttering.

Clutter breeds clutter. New purchases become meaningless as they get lost amongst the other paraphernalia. Clearing out the clutter reminds you of all those things that you have bought in the past and that are now gathering dust (ah hem, like my exercise bike, DH indicates with raised brows). Clearing out the clutter makes you realise how much stuff you already have, and gives you a new perspective of how much you actually need. Spending a month decluttering can inspire you to ask before each new purchase ‘do I really need this?’

The benefits of decluttering include getting some extra cash by selling things that you no longer need, finding more space without having to rent storage or upsize, and finding things that you can use again instead of buying new. For example, the soaps that you got as a gift for Christmas, hiding in the back of the cupboard, could save you from buying new soap for months.

Being organised and uncluttered can also save you money by not doubling up on purchases because you can’t find what you need or forgot you already had it. When I tidied out our pantry I found four packets of cumin, and two packets each of chilli, cardamom, nutmeg and ginger.

With the little fella to look after and all the other things that I have to do, I don’t have the time to put aside a day or two to declutter the house. And you probably don’t have a whole heap of time either.

So the idea is to do just a little each day. Pick a drawer, a shelf, a magazine rack, a pile on the floor and declutter. Rather than setting a timer on your declutter activities, set a small goal that is achievable in the time you have. 15 minutes before the baby wakes up? Just enough time to clear out an underwear drawer. An hour before bedtime? Clean out just one shelf in the pantry. By the end of the month every drawer, every shelf, every basket, every box, and every hidey-hole will have been decluttered.

Step One: Preparation and Planning

1. Take the first day to walk around your home and consider the way things are currently organised and what is and isn’t working for you. Do you have to carry the ironing board halfway across the house before you can do the ironing? Does regularly used stuff get left lying around because it’s too hard to put away or because it doesn’t have a home? Do your things get jumbled up in the cupboard because there is not enough shelving, hangers or containers? Do you have really useful organisational systems that could work for other parts of your home?

2. After your decluttering efforts, you will want to be able to maintain an uncluttered home with minimal effort. To do this, everything needs to have a home and it must be easy to put away. A good example is baskets for kids toys, so that at the end of the day, it is really easy for them to throw stuff into a basket and the place is clean. If you have items that have a home, but they get tossed on the bench because no-one could be bothered putting them back in the bottom drawer, it may be time to rethink where those items should go. Take a little time to plan where you’re going to put your ‘homeless’ and ‘never gets put away’ stuff. Remember, the things that get used everyday need to be easy to reach, once a year items can be stored in the deepest, darkest part of the cupboard.

3. Finally, make a list of all the rooms in your house that need tidying and all the shelves, drawers and other places that need decluttering. This is your declutter master list. Pick something on this list each day to declutter and mark it off the list once completed. You may not have time to do one room at a time or to declutter in the usual systematic way, but this way everything gets done. Do the biggest jobs when you have the most time and pick a quick drawer or shelf when time is short. 

Step Two. Gather your supplies

You will need:

  • (At least) 6 boxes and / or garbage bags for: recycling, garbage, donations, stuff to sell, stuff to relocate to another room, stuff you’re not sure about. Label your boxes so it is easy to remember which is which.
  • Markers and labels (scrap paper or masking tape act as inexpensive labels)
  • cleaning tools: duster, cloth, spray and wipe etc
  • Paper to line drawers and shelves (newspaper and junk mail are great options here. Lining shelves is especially useful in places like the pantry where bottles of sauces may drip. I also find sturdy plastic shopping bags cut to fit make great liners.)
  • A variety of recycled tins, jars, baskets, boxes, takeaway containers and other containers to put small objects and homeless things in (this is what the labels are for). There’s no need to spend up big at homeware stores for storage solutions. Recycle what you already have lying around the house or check out thrift stores but remember: the idea is to declutter, so don’t buy organisational doo-dads that add to the clutter. If you have time or the desire you can decorate old tins and jars to compliment your decor. Leave lids off for easy clean up. Don’t forget things like hooks and hangers to help organise your space. You could also consider installing extra shelving, above the washing machine for example, for extra storage space.


Step Three: Sort, tidy, toss

1. Time to get ruthless. Pull everything out of your selected space (let’s say it’s a drawer.) Give the drawer a clean and line it with paper if you wish.

2. Now go through everything that came out of that drawer and sort into either stuff that goes back into the drawer or into one of the boxes above. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • When was the last time I actually used this?
  • Do I really need it?
  • Will I really ever use it again?
  • Does it have sentimental value so that I just can’t part with it?
  • Does it really belong somewhere else?

3. Once you’ve pared down the stuff from the drawer, the next step is to consider whether there is a better way of organising that drawer. Will it be easier if the drawer has dividers? You could knock some dividers up easily enough with some balsa wood or cardboard strips that fit snugly into the drawer. Would the drawer stay organised better if put some of the things were kept in their own containers? A simple jar, bowl or tin could keep small items together. Return the contents to its drawer in an organised manner.

4. If you have items for relocation, then take them to where you plan to store them from now on. If you have already decluttered their new destination, incorporate the items, otherwise add them to the pile for organising later.

5. Make a note of any maintenance or spring cleaning issues you come across as you declutter, for later reference.

6. Mark your drawer off your master plan. Put your boxes aside in a temporary location until you declutter your next space.

7. When you have finished all of the decluttering, deal with your boxes of stuff. Throw out the garbage, take a trip to the charity store, jump on eBay or hold a garage sale and otherwise purge yourself of your clutter. If you have sentimental pieces that you know you don’t need but can’t part with, box them up and store them in the roof or under the house or bed – somewhere out of the way.

Tips for decluttering certain rooms

The Kitchen

  • If you have head height kitchen cabinets with space between them and the ceiling, line the top of them with newspaper or pages of junk mail. The tops of kitchen cabinets can get really grotty, so it is just a matter of replacing the paper every now and then, making cleaning a breeze. This cuts down on a lot of grimy cleaning when you’re moving out of a rental unit.
  • Line shelves where you store sauce bottles. Another way of keeping the cupboard clean with minimal effort. In the fridge, trays under jars and bottles can help keep the shelves clean.
  • Group like things together, for example, all baking items together, or all breakfast items together. Keep all the pots and pans near the stove and all crockery together. Having a specific place for everything (even in the fridge) saves time and (in the fridge) refrigerator energy when getting food out.
  • Consider hanging commonly used utensils.
  • If the kitchen also houses the bills and other paperwork, have a separate folder or intray to organise the paper work.

The Bedroom

  • If you haven’t worn it in over a year, then it’s probably time to let someone else get a use out of it or send it to the rag bag. I know, I also have too small jeans that I vow will one day fit again. If you really can’t part with clothes like that, put it in the relocate box and store them in the roof or garage or somewhere out of the way.
  • Don’t forget the hidden treasures under the bed. If it’s been gathering dust for years, then it is probably time to let it go.
  • Get the kids to go through old toys to either donate or throw out. Often they will rediscover old toys and get a few hours extra entertainment from them.

The Bathroom

  • Check used-by dates on medicines, ointments and cosmetics. Out of date stuff or medicines no longer needed should be disposed of responsibly. Most chemists will take unused or out of date medication.
  • Clear out long forgotten lotions and potions, old razors, broken hair clips and whatever else lurks beneath the sink. Line the shelves with paper or a plastic bag cut to size to make future cleaning easier.

The Laundry

  • As this is usually a small room (and the household dumping ground), make the most of vertical space by attaching extra shelves to the walls and using hooks, lots of hooks. If there is no wall space, try hanging ironing boards or brooms on the back of the door. I even hang buckets on hooks from the ceiling. Use a laundry hamper for dirty clothes.

The Garage

  • The garage is another great place for hanging stuff. Set aside plenty of jars for nails and screws, use a tool board for tools, make the use of shelving and hang what you can from the walls or ceiling.

Living Rooms

  • Go through old magazines, cut out any articles that you want to keep, file these away and give the rest of the magazine away or recycle time.
  • Say goodbye to nick knacks and dust collectors that have no sentimental or aesthetic value. You know the ones I mean, those wedding gifts that you feel you have to keep.
  • Have easy storage for commonly used items DVDs or kid’s toys.
  • If the computer desk is part of the living room, organise cords, throw out papers and have a place for media. See for ideas on organising the home office space and dealing with all those power cords.

Step 4: Maintaining an uncluttered home

Massive decluttering isn’t a task that you want to do often. Keep your home uncluttered with the following ideas.

1. Don’t bring more clutter into your home. Be frugal and discerning, don’t buy stuff that will end up as clutter. When it comes to junk mail, put it straight into the recycling or better yet, have one of those ‘no junk mail’ signs on your letterbox. If you like reading the catalogues, check out websites like catalogue central, you still see the specials without the waste of paper.

2. When you do buy new things, give it a home. If it is replacing something, then get rid of the old item and swap it for the new. 

3. Revaluate what’s not working for you. Clothes cupboard stayed tidy for about a week? The family shoes are all over the laundry again? To keep clutter at bay, it has to be really easy for everyone to put stuff away.

4. Involve and educate the family. If it’s the kid’s toys that don’t get put away, ask the kids what their solution is. If you have developed a new you-beaut system for the laundry, make sure the other household members understand how it works. And there is always this solution for uncompliant family members.

5. Spend a few minutes every evening ‘resetting’ the house so that it is tidy for the next day. Do a quick run around tidy (and get the family to help) and carry a basket or bucket for items that need to be taken to other rooms of the house. If you have a place for everything, then it will take less that 5 minutes each day to put everything in its place.

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