Of the myriad hurdles encountered when decluttering, by far the most ubiquitous is knowing where to start. Decluttering the home is much like climbing a mountain; with the end out of sight it's easy to feel overwhelmed, but once those first steps are out of the way, half the battle's already over. In order to make those very first steps, however, you have to begin somewhere.
Besides working out why you want to clear out your junk, a fundamental part of how to start decluttering is knowing where to tackle first. Faced with rooms upon rooms of clutter, deciding on a spot to begin your mammoth task is almost as hard as letting go of the stuff itself. In fact, it's the question that professional declutters hear the most.
With that in mind, we asked some decluttering and organization experts for their advice on the one place in the home to start your decluttering off on the right foot. Here's what they had to say.
Melissa Gugni is a San Francisco-based organizer who pairs her vision for clutter-free homes with a clean, fresh aesthetic. As a mom, she recognizes the importance of creating a space that you're proud of but can live in, too. Alongside her work, she's contributed to many decluttering and organization articles sharing her expertise.
What is the best room to start decluttering?
Before you make any decisions on what to get rid of, you'll first need to decide where to start. If you're able to dive straight in then be our guest, but most of us don't find it quite so simple. Having a more strategic plan of action can also help you stay more focused on the task at hand, helping to make your decluttering efforts quicker, easier, and more effective.
So, when decluttering the whole home, what room should we treat as our starting block? You might consider easing yourself in gently, starting with the space in your home where the clutter is relatively manageable to make your life easier, but professional declutterer Melissa Gugni says the opposite might be best.
'The best room to start decluttering is where two things converge: the area that is causing you the most stress and the place that you live in the most,' she explains. 'The attic or a tucked away closet might be messy and nagging you but if the kitchen, entryway, or primary bathroom is too - go there first! Not only is it higher impact but I love for folks to get the most bang for their buck when they embark on organizing in order to start some good momentum.'
The answer, then, isn't as clear-cut as one universal room for all. The best place to start your decluttering journey will differ for each person depending on personal circumstances. Typically though, the most common spaces will be those we spend the most time in but become cluttered most easily, often down to insufficient storage or organization solutions (think living rooms that lack shelving or kitchens with minimal cabinet space).
'I say start with these general areas that aren't intended for storage (living room, dining room, cluttered "drop zones"),' says professional organizer Kayleen Kelly. 'Work through one area and collect items, categorizing them by the room they belong.' She suggests using the bin method, assigning a small bin or box to each room of the home, then moving those bins to the appropriate room once you've made your way through every space. 'This method is also a great way to keep things tidy once you're done organizing,' she adds.
Where should you start decluttering first within a room itself?
So, you've found the room you're going to start in, but now you're faced with another issue - where to start within the room itself. This is possibly even more of a conundrum than the one you've just overcome. Within an individual room, the boundaries are blurred since clutter typically collects everywhere. As before, you'll need to assess your personal circumstances and start wherever makes the most logical sense.
'I find rooms have a way of telling you where to start,' says Melissa. 'If the kitchen countertops are cluttered, start there. Not only will it start to feel better immediately, you now have surfaces to place things as you move into the drawers and cabinets. If you can't even walk through a bedroom because of the clothes on the floor, start there. Open the windows, start making laundry piles and you are already on your way.'
The most important action you can take is to start somewhere. If you can't decide on where, just start anywhere. 'One caveat is if the plan is to use places like the garage for storage for seasonal things that are coming out of the bedroom or closets, it's a good plan to devote a bit of time making some room there first,' notes Melissa. 'When I'm working on a whole house, that is usually where I start so that there isn't a logjam not knowing where those things need to go.'
Try decluttering by category
If you find yourself in complete analysis paralysis, start approaching your space by category, rather than location. Known as the KonMari method, developed by Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo, this strategic decluttering tip encourages you to organize by category (clothes, books, papers etc) allowing you to make more confident decisions about what to let go of as you'll have a better understanding of how many other similar items you're dealing with.
'I always recommend you declutter by category,' says Kayleen. 'Following my CORE 4 Method you, first "Clear Out", removing things that don't belong in the bedroom using the bin method. Step two is "Categorize". We always start with clothing since this is typically a very large contributor to clutter and it takes up lots of space.'
Kayleen suggests that you always leave paperwork and sentimental items until last. 'These are challenging categories and take the longest to work through,' she explains. 'Focus on the easy stuff first, circling back to address paperwork and sentimental items.'
Once you're underway, Melissa encourages you to time the task to keep yourself on track. No matter how boring things might get, be sure to finish decluttering that room before moving on elsewhere. 'Set your phone for two hours and commit to spending it on organizing that room,' she says. 'It's remarkable how much can be accomplished in that amount of time. Put on a good podcast, give yourself a pep talk and just do it! I promise you will feel the difference.'
3 of the best decluttering books to help you change your mindset
If you really want to kick the clutter for good, this book might be for you. Written by the Queen of organization, Marie Kondo, this book lays out the core principles of The KonMari Method, the revolutionary category-by-category system that promises effective decluttering results.
Probably the biggest thing holding you back from decluttering is your sentimental attachment. With empathy, expertise, and humor, Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff, by Matt Paxton helps you to let go of what all the stuff that no longer serves you, helping you to live in the present moment
If a decluttered home seems like a distant reality, this book by Dana White will help you get the job done. The decluttering expert identifies the emotional challenges that make it difficult to part with stuff we own, and provides workable solutions, like the six month rule, to break through and see noticeable results.
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Lilith Hudson is the News Editor at Livingetc, and an expert at decoding trends and reporting on them as they happen. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.
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