Decluttering vs Organizing — What's the Difference? Here's What The Experts Think

The two steps that are essential in keeping your space neat and tidy, but which method comes first? Here's what the experts think

a white uncluttered living room
(Image credit: George Barberis. Design: Casework)

Understanding your home and how you can take care of it is important. Think of your first home as your first love, it deserves attention, care and romance. Naturally, if you are dealing with a busy schedule, life can feel quite chaotic, which can often reflect onto your home. Dishes might begin to pile up, you might be storing items which no longer benefit you or you might be throwing clothing items into the closet, in hopes of never having to deal with it again.

I recently stumbled upon a fantastic book called ‘Made For Living’ by California-based interior designer Amber Lewis, where she notes: ‘Less is more people!’ something we all need to hear once in a while. In this instance, Amber looks at the way furniture is used in different areas of a home. In her book, she highlights the importance of storage and says ‘it’s non-negotiable,’ if you are not willing to let go of things. ‘Declutter by storing extra blankets in baskets, stacking books neatly on the coffee table, or displaying knicknacks on shelves,’ Amber adds.

Now, I think it is fair to say that many of us (myself included) sometimes struggle with decluttering and organizing a space, but how can we do this efficiently? First and foremost, I believe we need to learn the difference between the two. Although decluttering and organizing are often used interchangeably, they are not the same.

Here’s what you need to know as you figure out how to declutter your home and organizing your space, according to experts.

1. Decluttering comes first

a light grey bedroom with white wall panelling and a yellow ceiling

(Image credit: Benjamin Moore)

Di Ter Avest, a professional home and lifestyle organizer and the owner of Di is Organized, tells us, that although decluttering and organizing are 'connected' they have 'distinct differences'.

When it comes to how to organize a room with too much stuff, decluttering comes first. 'If a room is too full of things everywhere and you clearly don't have a way to store all your belongings in that space, decluttering is the first step toward your dream home,' Di adds.

Decluttering is step one in 'creating a more organized and spacious living environment,' Di explains. She says removing unwanted items from a home will 'not only streamlines your belongings but also creates a more spacious and orderly environment, allowing you to let go of items that no longer serve a purpose or bring value to your life'.

2. It's time to organize!

A Japandi-style kitchen

(Image credit: Jonas Bjerre Poulsen. Design: Norm Architects)

When it comes to organizing, Di says this method brings 'efficiency' and 'ease'. When you want to organize something, it typically focuses on 'arranging and categorizing the items that remain after decluttering'. Di tells us this method involves 'creating systems and structures to efficiently store and access belongings, maximizing the use of space, and minimizing clutter'.

But let's not forget, 'both decluttering and organizing are essential steps in creating a tidy and functional space,' Di emphasises.

In order to carry out these methods in the best way, try decluttering your space first. 'Decluttering typically comes first, as it involves making decisions about what to keep and what to discard or donate,' Di adds.

Understanding the difference is important

A kitchen with open shelving above a sink with chrome fittings

(Image credit: Paul Craig)

Melissa Gugni, founder of Melissa Gugni Organizing, says the difference between 'decluttering and organizing is an important one'.

She explains: 'Some people may live minimalist lives, however they choose to define it, and may not need to declutter before organizing.

'For most of us, we will want to consider decluttering the key to a successful organizing project. Why bother organizing things that you don't want or need? They need to go first!'

Advice & Gardens Editor

Faiza is the Advice & Gardens Editor at Livingetc. She previously worked for The Independent as a News Feature Writer, where she wrote articles on lifestyle, entertainment, news and more. She also worked as an Audience Editor for the newspaper for over two years. Spending a few years in the newsroom, Faiza also previously worked for Sky News as an SEO reporter, where she produced stories based on trending topics. Lifestyle and Interior design is a space Faiza has been interested in for quite some time and as she continues to grow in the field, she will be diving into an interior design course to further her skills. Faiza has a background in SEO, social media and reporting. Her passion for writing goes beyond her work as she loves all things poetry and creative writing.