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How to tackle a home declutter


“There’s too many things,” comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said. The Barefoot Investor’s Scott Pape said it too. Truth is, our homes act as rubbish-processing centres. It’s all very exciting when we buy something new – we’ll bring it home and play with it for a while, but after some time passes, we’re bored. It’s thrown inside a drawer where we hide all our other slip-ups, then it goes into the garage, and best believe no item has ever made it back into the house from the garage. Pape even points out that the word ‘garage’ is literally one letter shy of ‘garbage’.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in buying, and hoarding, things we no longer need, therefore a regular home declutter is essential. “It’s been said that what your outside space looks like is an example of what your mind looks like,” psychologist Dr Heidi Heron, PsyD, says. “If you have a cluttered home, you’ll most likely have a cluttered mind.”

Breaking bad habits

Dr Heron says there’s no better time to clean out your existing space than in retirement. “By decluttering before or while in retirement, you are setting up the rest of your life to be the best of your life,” she says. “Retirement is a time for change, often creating more simplicity, time for family, hobbies or doing more of what you love!”

Decluttering can be a tiresome process, but it begins and ends with breaking bad habits – by learning how to shop critically, the amount of clutter you need to remove from your life will eventually become less and less. “When we have less to clean, store, arrange, tidy and look at, we are creating more space and more time for the things that truly matter,” Dr Heron says. “Habits are formed fairly simply, so keeping things decluttered can become a great habit to have. But until that time, hoarding, keeping things, or recreating clutter is too easy to fall back into.”

Words of encouragement

Adopting a positive mindset before starting a declutter is vital. It will take time, so to ensure you see the process through to the very end, make sure you’re ready to roll up your sleeves. “For an entire house, allow two to three months of weekly activity – a different room or area each week,” Dr Heron says. “Sometimes people have a lifetime of belongings to go through. Without a positive outlook, it can be draining, tiring and emotional. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be!”

You’ll likely come across many items that you know you shouldn’t keep, so be brutal when deciding what to bin. “Keep in mind the task at hand – if something hasn’t been touched, used, or seen in more than two years, it’s probably okay to let it go,” Dr Heron implies. Otherwise, she suggests passing on belongings you no longer need to family members or friends – consider it reincarnation. “There are people in your life that some of your belongings may be better suited with. Be okay with that,” she says. “Be prepared to say goodbye to some things and to reminisce about others.”

Getting started

If you have plenty to declutter, take it one room at a time. No, that doesn’t mean moving the clutter from one room to another!

The bedroom

Dr Heron believes the bedroom should be “one of the most peaceful places in your home”, but it’s often a nightmare of clutter made up of piles of unworn clothes, shoes and accessories. Be ruthless – toss anything that is tired, torn or outdated. “Clear out any objects that don’t belong, recycle clothes that are not in fashion, things that don’t fit, or even things you don’t wear,” Dr Heron suggests.

She recommends turning clothes hangers backwards, then the right way around after an item of clothing has been worn. This will allow you to see just how much of your wardrobe you wear, making the culling process much easier. “If you haven’t worn it in the next six to 12 months, it’s time to recycle it,” she says.

The bathroom

Even if you’re not a hoarder, it’s easy to let expired products pile up under your sink or inside your cabinets. Most toiletry products, from lotions to hairsprays, have a Period After Opening (PAO) symbol, which resembles an opened jar and includes a number and the letter ‘m’. This acts as a guideline for how many months after opening you should throw the product out.

Similarly, only keep products you use daily in your bathroom. Separate the items you use each day from the ones you don’t and find a new home for the others. “The bathroom can become a gathering place for the old. Let this space be sparse, clean and welcoming,” Dr Heron says. “If you don’t use it on a regular basis, toss it out or find a new home.”

The kitchen

Whether it’s the pantry, fridge or one of the many cabinets, the kitchen is full of dishes, cutlery, food, spices, appliances and cleaning materials that we rarely use, and probably didn’t even know we had. Dr Heron says we should consider the kitchen the hub of the home, which means it should be kept free of clutter.

“If you have an extraordinary number of dishes, pare down to what you actually need,” she says. “Keep your refrigerator, pantry and cupboards clean. Toss out anything out of date and anything you haven’t or won’t use. Have appliances you haven’t used in years? Find somewhere to donate them – someone else will use them if you won’t.

The living/dining room

This is where the rule “a place for everything and everything in its place” truly applies, particularly if these spaces adapt to the needs of several family members. Start with a vigorous spring clean, tossing broken appliances, old DVDs, videos and CDs, and clearing magazines and newspapers. Even clear out underneath the sofa cushions – you’ll be surprised by what you might find.

“Your living or dining room is often what is seen most or first in many homes,” Dr Heron says. “Clear the dining table – find a home for what is there, even if that means throwing old papers, magazines, mail, etc in the bin. Create space in your dining room for dining – even if you don’t eat there!” Dr Heron says.

The shed/garage

Do you really need five pairs of pliers? Toss excess tools, old paint, cans of oil and containers – these are merely collecting dust. Similarly, the chances of you using that elliptical that was shamelessly dragged from the home to the garage is slim to none. Sell old exercise equipment and opt for a walk around the block.

“Instead of a dumping ground, think of the shed or garage as an extension of your mind,” Dr Heron says. “How can you organise it? Do you need shelves, a rubbish bin, or a yard sale? If there are items that are old, untouched, unwanted – recycle or sell. If things don’t work, call the council for pick-up.”

In a world filled with so much stuff, it can be hard to part with our much-loved (or once-loved) belongings. But the key to an effective clean-out is to be brutal. You’ll be amazed at how much a thorough declutter will improve your life – after all, less mess equals less stress!

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