If you crave a cleaner, less cluttered home, you might think the only solution is to completely overhaul your space.
And while it’s true that a massive decluttering project will put you on the path toward home organization nirvana, staying on the path requires daily effort. Organized living begins with small changes to your mindset and everyday routine, according to Leslie Gail, M.Ed. and owner of Declare Order Professional Organizing.
Developing (and perfecting) a series of simple, positive habits can make a huge difference in your home environment — and your sanity, for that matter. New habits take time to form, so keep in mind that it’s okay to start small, says professional organizer Abbey Claire Keusch.
“Work on one or two new behaviors at a time, have patience with yourself, and stick with it,” Keush says.
Follow these seven tips to eliminate clutter, get organized, and create more peace in your home — for good.
1. Consider Your Why
The first step to developing a new habit is to get clear on why you’re doing it. As Gail says, “It is the day-to-day shift in consciousness that matters the most.”
Take some time to reflect on (or even journal) your intentions and what you hope to gain from forming new habits, whether it’s to reduce kitchen clutter, speed up your morning routine, or create a more relaxing home environment.
2. Make House Rules
Home maintenance becomes infinitely easier if you develop a few doable rules to live by. For example, Gail suggests starting with a simple declaration, like “I will not go to bed if dishes are in the sink or dish dryer.”
Then, commit to following your rule no matter what.
“Over time, it becomes less of an obstacle and more of a habit,” Gail says.
3. Give Every Item a Home
Want to know the easiest, most effective way to reduce clutter and stay super organized?
Give every item a proper home, says Keusch. And no, the entryway table doesn’t count. Take time to find a convenient place for everything, especially everyday necessities — like your keys and wallet — that may be difficult to replace.
Finding a home for your stuff is only one half of the equation, though. To maintain permanent order, Keusch says it’s paramount to put items back when you’re finished using them. Adopting this habit will save you considerable stress (and maybe a few “Where did I put that?” panic attacks) and make daily life that much more efficient.
4. Sort Papers Right Away
Paper clutter is one of the worst offenders, and can have unfortunate consequences if bills go unpaid or checks go un-cashed, Gail says. That’s why it pays (literally) to establish good habits before your piles of paper get out of hand.
The first important shift? Sort your mail before you even set it down, Gail says. She advises recycling junk mail immediately, then sorting everything else into designated folders.
Do the same with any other papers you bring into your home, whether it’s a business card you picked up or a flyer from your child’s school.
5. Use What You Have Before Buying More
Clutter accumulates quickly when you buy items you won’t immediately use. Instead of crowding your cabinets with extra supplies, develop the habit of finishing what you have first. Use the last inch of shampoo in the bottle, the last two letters in your stationery pack, and the last two cups of rice in the box.
When it comes to the kitchen in particular, Gail recommends creating separate sections in your pantry for opened food and unopened food; this makes it clear which items you should reach for first when planning meals or whipping up a last-minute dish.
6. Set Up Home Organization Systems
“We as humans are creatures of habit, [and] we function best when we know what to expect,” says Keusch.
Consider the parts of your daily routine that eat up the most time or cause unnecessary frustration, then strive to create smart home systems that solve these problems. For example, if you’re always rushing to get out of the house for errands, Keusch recommends storing reusable grocery bags in your car or in a tote by the door to grab as you leave.
Or, if you spend half your morning searching for an outfit in your overflowing closet, stash a bin in your closet for clothing you want to donate, drop items inside when you feel like it, then schedule a weekly time to empty the bin.
Other low-effort, high-impact systems include:
- Hanging a grocery list on the inside of a kitchen cabinet
- Stocking a drawer with easy, on-the-go snacks
- A “one in, one out” rule when you buy new things.
“By setting ourselves up to avoid ‘smaller” distractions and time wasters, we can save energy and time,” says Keusch.
7. Tidy a Space Before You Leave It
Every time you leave a room, glance around and see what needs to be thrown away or returned to its proper home. When you get up from your desk to refill your coffee, for example, take your breakfast plate with you to put in the sink. When you shut off the living room TV and head to bed, fold up the blanket you were using and bring your slippers with you.
Making these small decisions throughout the day is much easier, and often more effective, than dealing with significant clutter build-up all at once.