15 Clutter Busting Routines For Any Family

Several years ago, my family and I decided to start living a minimalist life. Since then, we have tried to remove all of the possessions from our home that are not essential. In doing so, we have found new opportunity to spend our time, energy, and finances on the things that are most important to us.

Also, we became far more observant about how our things rob us of our precious freedom. We have learned that just like most families, no matter how hard we try to stop it, stuff inevitably continues to enter our home… nearly every single day.

So we work hard to remove any clutter that begins to accumulate in our home. Along the way, we have picked up (and try to practice) some helpful clutter busting routines.

Here are 15 Clutter Busting Routines we have found helpful in our home:

1. Place junk mail immediately into a recycling bin. Take note of the natural flow of mail into your home. Placing a recycling container prior to your “mail drop-off zone” can catch most of that junk mail before it even reaches your counter. And as an added bonus, you’ll begin to look through less of it too (think advertisements).

2. Store kitchen appliances out of sight. Toasters, can openers, coffee makers… they all take up space. And while it may not seem like much space by looking at them, the first time you prepare dinner on a counter without them present, you’ll quickly notice the difference. If you think it’s going to be a hassle putting them away every morning, don’t. It takes less than 6 seconds to put each appliance away… once you’ve found a home for it that is.

3. Remove 10 articles of clothing from your closet today. Go ahead. If you are typical, it’ll take you roughly 5 minutes to grab 10 articles of clothing that you no longer wear and throw them in a box. Your remaining clothes will fit better in your closet. Your closet will be able to breathe again. And if you write “Goodwill” on the box when you are done, you’ll feel better about yourself as soon as you drop it off. Most likely, you’ll find yourself inspired to do it again.

4. Fold clean clothes / Remove dirty clothes immediately. The way I handle clothes these days is one of the biggest clutter changes I have made in my life. Unfortunately, I used to be a “throw-them-on-the-floor” guy. But now I handle each one right when I take it off. Dirty clothes down the clothes chute. Clean clothes back to the hanger or drawer. That’s it. It’s really that simple. How do the dirty ones magically appear clean and folded in my closet you ask… I’m not sure. You’ll need to ask my wife.

5. Kids’ bedroom toys live in the closet. Not on the floor. Not on the dresser. But in the closet. And when the closet gets too full of toys, it’s time to make some room. Hint, it’s usually safe to remove the toys at the bottom of the pile.

6. Kids pick up their toys each evening. This has countless benefits: 1) It teaches responsibility. 2) It helps kids realize that more isn’t always better. 3) The home is clean for mom and dad when the kids are in bed. 4) It’s a clear indication that the day has come to an end. Gosh, you’d think with all these benefits it would be easier for us to get the kids to do it…

7. Fill your containers for the garbage man. Use every trash pick-up day as an excuse to fill your recycling containers and/or garbage cans. Grab a box of old junk from the attic… old toys from the toy room… old food from the pantry… old paperwork from the office. If once a week is too often, do this exercise every other week. You’ll get the hang of it. And may even begin to enjoy trash morning… okay, I won’t go that far.

8. Halve decorations. No seriously, I mean it. Grab a box and walk through your living room. Remove decorations from shelves, tables, and walls that aren’t absolutely beautiful or meaningful. You may like it better than you think. If not, you can always put them back. But I’d bet my wife’s old high school yearbooks that you won’t return all of them.

9. Wash dishes right away. Hand washing some dishes takes less time than putting them in the dishwasher. This applies to cups, breakfast bowls, dinner plates, and silverware. If hand washed right after eating, it takes hardly any time at all. If however, hand washing is just not an option for you, be sure to put used dishes in the dishwasher right away. Nobody likes walking into a kitchen with dishes piled up in the sink or on the counter… and it’s even less fun eating in there.

10. Unmix and match cups, bowls, plates, and silverware. Uniformity makes for better stacking, storing, and accessing. If there is a souvenir cup or mug that is so important to you that you can’t live without it, that’s perfectly fine. Just don’t keep 5 of them. Mom, any chance you are reading this?

11. Keep your desk clear and clean. Drawers can adequately house most of the things needed to keep your desk functional. And a simple filing system should keep it clear of paper clutter. The next person who sits down to use the desk will thank you.

12. Store your media out of sight. Make a home for dvd’s, cd’s, video games, and remote controls. They don’t need to be in eyesight, you use them less than you think. And if you remove them from your eyesight… maybe you’ll use them even less.

13. Always leave room in your coat closet. There are two reasons why coats, shoes, and outerwear keep ending up scattered throughout your home rather than in your closet. The first reason is because your coat closet is so full, it’s a hassle to put things away and retrieve them quickly. Leave room on the floor, on the hangers, and on the shelves for used items to be quickly put away and retrieved. The second reason is because you have kids… but you’re on your own with that one.

14. Keep flat surfaces clear. Kitchen counters, bathroom counters, bedroom dressers, tabletops… After you clear them the first time, keeping them clean takes daily effort. Receipts, coins, and paper clutter just keep coming and coming… it’s just easier the second time around.

15. Finish a magazine or newspaper. Process or recycle immediately. If you’ve finished the paper product, process it and rid yourself of its clutter immediately. Good recipe in there? Put it in your recipe box and recycle the rest. Good article that your husband will enjoy? Clip it and recycle.  Article that your friend will enjoy? Clip it, mail it, and recycle (or better yet, search for it online and send it that way). Coupon too good to pass up? Cut it out and recycle. Stacks of magazines and newspapers serve little purpose in life but to clutter a room.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    I have the worst time with paper control when it comes to my kids’ school papers, art, workbook pages, stories written, crafts, etc?? They are 7 and 5, ages when you can see rapid development. I know I can’t keep every single thing they make or create. But, I can’t seem to be able to throw it all out. Any suggestions by master minimalists would be helpful!

    • Alyn says

      I have a clear plastic lidded box for each of my 4 paper-producing children. It’s about 9×12, the right size to hold a stack of papers. The 3 and 6 year old’s boxes are about 3″ tall. The 11 and 14 year old have 6″ tall boxes.

      So, I’m not a master minimalist. But the special and best artwork and paperwork from preschool to the present day has a home, and a limited space to occupy. I can look through and enjoy the ones I love and throw out the ones I don’t. Some of my children LOVE every paper, but I was recently able to recycle some that in my judgement weren’t needed, because I knew they would not remember to miss them. Sometimes it takes time to let go of something you’ve created. So they can wait in the box, and when we go through it in 6 months, they’ll let more go.

      I’m sure some people take photos of the special ones and throw it all out. Or mail some to the grandparents. But some of the artwork I really love, to me it’s special enough to keep. But that’s only a small % of what they produce!

    • Priscilla says

      One suggestion is to take pictures of the artwork. You can always enjoy the artwork in that format and it takes up less space. Keep only the best of the originals.

      • Terica says

        Having 5 kids, two are out of the house, I have to say that I found a combination of all the suggestions is best. I have a tote (your storage area should determin the size) for each kid for memorabilia. If it gets full often times I will have them help me choose what stays and goes. Next my kids at home get a magnetic clip on the fridge. That’s it the daily stuff goes there. Even my youngest now 6 knows if her clip is to heave it won’t stay she needs to toss or store it. Next is a wall space in their room for certificates, trophy and pictures. Again that is all they get so if it starts to be to much they have to choose what gets moved to their tote. Finally is the pictures. We share goodies with family via email and have a file on our computer which gets backed up to a drive so not to loose them. My other biggie is that seasonal stuff is seasonal. It drives me crazy to have Christmas stuff in May, or Easter stuff in November so very few but dear pieces can be stored in my seasonal decorating. I find it helps to let my kids feel special and show off. However, I think the biggest success is it teaches them how to choose what is keeper stuff and what stuff has to be let go and become “just a memory”. I was born to be a hoarder but broke the cycle and I hope my kids follow my course.

    • Marilyn says

      Right off the bat I’ll admit I’m sentimental. I saved a LOT of each child’s artwork, school papers, you name it. Every school year I would use a folder to collect items from that year. (Once they hit middle/high school, I found I was collecting less and less.) These folders were stored in a large plastic tub (one for each of my children). What ultimately worked for me was hanging on to these items for so many years (until high school graduation, I’m embarrassed to admit) that I finally had enough emotional distance and I could objectively decide what to keep and what to toss. I then made scrapbooks for each child and incorporated photos.

    • jwhitec says

      I find making a digital copy of them works wonders for space. So hope this helps it can be applied to items u want to remeber as a means to letting go of an item.

    • says

      Less clutter is the least of the benefits to keeping only a small portion of your kids’ “creations.” Consider these benefits to your child’s creative and psychological growth.

      1) Kids who get the message that everything they make is wonderful are less inspired to create new and different things. Stop saving every last scribble and encourage your child to keep experimenting.

      2) Kids who learn to distinguish between passing fancies and truly special things are more likely to mature into financially responsible shoppers and less likely to need an Organized Living Coach like me to help them wade through their clutter. Engage your young children in a conversation about which of their objects is most special – and why.

      3) We are a culture overly attached to documenting and commemorating our past – at the expense of making time and space for NOW. Be an example to your kids by making room for new creations.

    • Nancy says

      My daughter (mother of 3) was struggling with keeping far too many “treasures” created by her children. She found a method I love. She took pictures of her favorites and created digital scrapbooks of their art work. The really fun thing is that the kids (now a bit older) can easily view their work.

    • Tiffany says

      Take a picture and toss the original? My kids are honestly just as happy with a picture of their work. I hold on to artwork that has handprints ect as sentiments but otherwise take pictures of their work and sometimes them holding their work.

    • Julie says

      There is an app called Artkive. It will allow you to take a picture and file digitally by child’s name and age or date.

  2. Audrey says

    I want to be a minimalist so much, I dream of my house burning down and just escaping with my children, laptop and cash stash as the rest of it burns. (That’s not entirely realistic – I love my house, my bed, my dresser that was my grandparents, the kitchen table that was my families when I was growing up, paintings, my stove, etc. so I don’t really mean that, but I do have those feelings sometimes.) But individually I have a really hard time letting things go! I did get rid of quite a lot of my extraneous stuff when my husband left almost two years ago (along with all the things of his I packed for him to pick up), but I still hold onto a lot. When I look at things one at a time I can always find a reason to keep them. What can I do to retrain my brain to let go of what I do not need? Any ideas would be so appreciated! Thank you!

    • says

      You are so right to look at your brain for the solution. Lasting change starts within.

      Ask yourself:

      – How would my space and my life be different if I minimized? What would I lose – and what would I gain?

      – For individual items, be brutally honest with yourself about why you’re reluctant to let go. What are you afraid of? How can you talk yourself through those fears with logic?

      Start small. Part with just one single object today. Enjoy the lightness of owning less and the satisfaction of donating useful items to those in need. You’ll see it’s not as hard as you think. Baby steps. It’ll get easier as you go.

      Get help. You don’t have to do it alone. The right Organized Living Coach can shepherd you through the process of developing healthier, more rewarding attitudes toward objects.

    • Jiillii says

      The Life Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo is an amazing book. It teaches you to let go of things that don’t bring you joy, transforming your life so you are surrounded only by things you love. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

  3. ralf says

    We don’t have old food. I don’t throw food away by its use by date. I smell it and look at it. As kids we were drinking milk that got “sour”, curdled. But nowadays curdled milk tastes bitter and horrible.
    Green or slimy sausage goes.
    Green woolly bread goes.
    Yoghurt is already rotten milk. Would go only if moldy.
    Raw and cooked fish goes after a few days. Regardless of look or smell.

  4. ralf says

    Instead of keeping artwork in plastic boxes put them on the wall for all to see.
    exchange the current pictures with newer or older ones in regular and irregular intervals.

  5. ralf says

    One important tip: use much less facebook. Instead use the time to declutter. Yearning to check that mail? Declutter one item first.

  6. Kim says

    I have been on a steady minimalist progress over the last few years. I am now down to the just the items we (need) I have made at least 10 trips to Goodwill this year. I got rid of extra sheet sets, clothes/shoes, dishes, left over craft projects and lots of holiday decorations. I’m only using about 1/4 of my closet space. I finally have the magazine cover home that I want. No clutter and very few items on the counters. Yes, I was somewhat afraid that I would regret getting rid of some things but I have NO regrets. I love it!

    • Joie says

      While I often shop Goodwill, it grates on me a bit to donate items that go the some very wealthy Texas owners who are said to only use 10% of the income to do the business that they do. Not saying don’t go there, but it might be more profitable than you imagine to hold some garage sales and then donate that didn’t sell.

      Goodwill also offers training programs for a variety of people, so that is a plus and at times there is a benefit to those who need it.

      I’m just sayin . . .

  7. Heidi says

    I appreciate benefitting from your experiences. I’m not interested in reinventing the wheel. I do take one exception to your recycling of clothing. If you were to investigate the percentages of the proceeds that go back into the community from Goodwill and Salvation Army I’m sure you would choose the latter as I have done. Also, please consider women’s shelters in your area.

  8. Joie says

    I’ve never mastered so much of what you have reminded us. I’m printing your list to post on the fridge – as soon as I remove the moments that are on it – and keep it within view!

  9. Norma Mueller says

    The suggestions are right on! I’m happy to say I’ve practiced these suggestions for many years and they have never failed me. Although I must say I’ve not been able to fully inculcate them into my 21 year old daughter. She is seeing the merit of these wonderful routines. Clutter free is the way to be!

  10. Kim says

    I just loved seeing and discussing this article with my husband. We are always seeming to declutter, send things to Goodwill (though I would rather give the clothes directly to people who need it without them having to buy) and we make regular trips to the ‘dump’. But there is alway still so much we don’t need. We will keep refining and removing. Thanks for the inspiration as we move into 2015.

    As for the kids school stuff/papers/art my son’s first grade teacher had the best idea and we still use it and he is in 6th grade now. She sent all her students home with a large PIZZA BOX that held all the best work of the year. At home I have a hanging file for the current year and file away stuff as I see it significant. At the end of the year I pick through it again and edit it down to what fits into another pizza box. These are labeled with the grade on the side edge and they are stacked neatly on top of one another. So neat and compact! I can easily see a year and if I want to see what he did in say 3rd grade I just pull out that pizza box. Takes up very little storage space

  11. dee says

    cutting clutter is good but remember that goodwill box won’t just make you feel better but keeps things from ending up in the dump or the big plastic pile in the middle of the ocean. buy less!!!! and start ‘Stop and Swaps’ in your neighborhood where people and need can come and get things for free, (http://www.grownyc.org/swap?gclid=CLj5gMS46cICFSdn7Aod0h0AFw) find out where you can recycle old electronics, and if they don’t do that in your area encourage local organizations and government to start to.

  12. says

    Excellent article and thank you for articulating many of the areas so important. My wife read this and folded her clothes, which I’ve been asking for for some time. Inspired :)

  13. Tina says

    My kids are 40, 38 and 33. When they were young I saved the things that were “unique” or made me laugh. The things I’d hung on the walls or that were a national or local prize. Not just a “participation” prize. Later I saved high school honors, and varsity letters. I kept a gift sized box for each child. About one item each year.

  14. Amy says

    In the urgency to declutter, please do not throw usable or recyclable items in the trash. There are tons of places that will take your unwanted stuff so no reason for it to end up in a landfill or incinerator. In any town there are people who will take metal items and old appliances, libraries want your used books/magazines/movies/cds, clothing can go to charity, if you set old furniture and other large items on your curb for a day or so they will usually “magically” disappear, art supplies and paper are sought after by most schools and day cares, animal shelters use old blankets and towels, there are charities looking for unwanted building supplies, paint, appliances and so on.

  15. Jess says

    Finished this and immediately went and tossed the Stack of magazines on the back of the toilet into the blue bin. Thank you!

  16. says

    Incredible advices here! This spring I am going to make a deep clean at home. I want to declutter all of the rooms, to throw away everything useless and to clean every single nook.Thank you for the nice tips!

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