Tidy techniques: an expert guide decluttering your home once and for all

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Short on space and tired of watching mess build up in your home? Professional organiser and founder of The Tidy Mind, Kate Ibbotson, shares how to declutter effectively.

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With many of us spending more time at home than ever, there’s been a huge surge of interest (and excitement!) in the world of interiors and DIY. But there are perhaps less glamourous steps to take before painting and building new furniture. 

As the days get longer and warmer, many will be feeling the urge to embark on an annual spring clean. The season encourages an ‘out with the old and in with the new’ mentality, but there’s a real skill to decluttering effectively. It’s a big task that not only requires lots of time but also forces you to let go of items you often have emotional connections to, which can be daunting. 

To give you the tools and tips for success, we’ve enlisted professional organiser Kate Ibbotson, to share her advice for effective decluttering in your own home, and methods to ensure it stays that way. 

1. Be strategic when deciding where to start with decluttering

Choosing where to start organising can be overwhelming, but Kate says that the order you declutter in is actually crucial to the process of organisation. “When decluttering, avoid starting with paperwork because it can be very time consuming and tends not to make a dramatic visual difference – you’ll end up demotivated.” She also suggests avoiding starting with memorabilia because these decisions may be difficult and therefore take longer.

When you do move onto emotional items, Kate stresses that you shouldn’t over-attach. “Remember that memories aren’t in things, they are inside of us instead,” says Kate. “You can keep possessions that remind you of a loved one or a particular experience, but limit the amount you keep.” Kate suggests taking a photo of some items instead of holding on to them.

2. Tidy in bite-sized chunks

Decluttering in small windows of time, somewhere between 15 minutes and 2 hours, is the most effective way to declutter and Kate adds that, “This works especially well if you’re overwhelmed or have a very full home.”

“Focus on very contained spaces such as your wallet, a single drawer, your medicine cabinet, a cupboard or a shelf,” she explains. “As your confidence and decision making abilities grow, you’ll build up to larger areas.”

Kate also suggests decluttering using categories, such as clothes, books and kitchen equipment.

You can also make decluttering part of your regular routine, “Make it a daily habit to tidy up at the end of the day for 15 minutes,” Kate suggests. “Put things back in their homes and put out the recycling or rubbish.”

    3. Make decisions about your belongings witout delay

    “In the decluttering industry, we say that clutter is often a result of decision delay,” Kate says. “Being decisive is how you will see real results.”

    “I don’t advocate having a maybe pile’” says Kate. “Your decisions are keep, donate, recycle/bin, action (e.g. return to a friend) and perhaps sell.”

    Kate warns against the ‘selling cycle’, however, in which you leave bags hanging around for months or years containing items which you intend to sell but never do. “There are useful services who will take items off your hands and sell them in bulk as well as eBay sellers.”

    In terms of donating, choose charities that mean something to you and your local community, Kate advises, but ensure that your donated items are in good condition.

    Kate suggests you assign a place for items due to leave the home. “I recommend the average family home might fill one bin liner per month. This is much easier to organise if you have a designated spot in the home that all household members can add to.” 

    If you lack space, Kate recommends hanging a drawstring bag on the back of a door or having a designated space at the bottom of your wardrobe, under a bed or behind a sofa to store the items you want to donate.

    4. Make responsible storage decisions

    Finding new storage solutions is part of the fun of decluttering but Kate explains that buying ‘pretty boxes’ can become a part of the clutter problem. “Until you’ve decluttered, you won’t know what storage you need, so resist until then.”

    In terms of using cupboards, wardrobes and drawers, Kate advocates a “if you can’t see it, you won’t use it” approach. “Make it a rule that you don’t overfill your storage areas,” she says. “As soon as you allow an area to get out of control, you’re much more likely to add to it again and again.”

    5. Make a decision to consciously stop collecting clutter

    “If you are acquiring a lot of stuff then no matter how much decluttering you do, you’ll always be on the backfoot,” says Kate. “Avoid picking up leaflets when out and about and accepting freebies when you won’t use them and ask yourself whether you need to print things out.”

    Kate suggests trying a “one in one out approach”, whereby each time you buy something, you let go of something else. “Not only does this simple maths rule prevent a build up of stuff, it also makes you truly consider new purchases.”

    If you are guilty of impulse buying, why not try a ‘cooling off period’ before you buy a new item? Kate explains that you can use this time to really think about whether something should earn a place within your home.

    The most important thing to consider when shopping is quality, Kate explains. “If you buy the best quality items you can afford, you’ll get more joy out of less. This rule works well for your clothes - investment pieces can last for years and the cost per wear ends up very low.”

    6. Avoid letting things build up

    “Adopting the little and often approach is the secret of effortlessly clutter-free, organised people,” Kate reveals. “Recycle or shred post as it comes in, put things back in their places straight after using them and move older food to the front of the pantry as you’re unpacking the new.”

    It’s also important to utilise your space, Kate uses the example of kitchen cupboards, “There can be ‘dead space at the top, so consider adding an extra shelf.”

    “Wall storage, notice boards and hooks can also work well as these keep floors and surfaces clearer,” she adds. “Furniture which doubles up as storage such as ottoman benches is also a great idea.”

    Once you have nailed your storage solutions, focus on ensuring that everything has a home. This will make it easier for you to declutter as you go, as you can keep track of your belongings.

    7. Decide on your rules for acquiring new things

    When you have put all of these solutions into place, you need to make a “maintenance plan” to ensure the clutter does not build back up. In terms of acquiring new things Kate suggests that, “each possession has to add value to life in some way, either because it’s useful or because it makes you smile.”

    “Be a conscious consumer and think about whether you have room in your home for an item before you buy it. You only have so much space to work with.”

    Feeling overwhelmed by which room to start? Kate suggests the following order:

    1. Start with lofts/garage/cellars if you have them because once you clear them out you’ll have enough space to store things you actually need but infrequently
    2. Hallways and porches are a good place to go to next so the space at the start of your home is clear
    3. Continue to the bathroom because it is usually less time-consuming than other rooms so it will motivate you to carry on tidying
    4. From there, tackle the kitchen. It’s a high usage room so decluttering it will have a big impact on everyday life but the items within have lower emotional value so you can make quick decisions
    5. Next, move onto the bedroom and wardrobe. By now you’ll be more experienced at making decisions so you should be ready to deal with more emotional items.

    Once you have decluttered specific rooms, you can then tackle items like books, memorabilia and paperwork as a category in itself, Kate explains. 

    Small spaces you can declutter in 15 minutes or less:

    1. Wallet
    2. Desk
    3. Medicine cabinet
    4. Bedside table
    5. Coffee table
    6. The inside door of the fridge
    7. Mantlepiece
    8. Cutlery drawer
    • Kate Ibbotson, professional organiser and founder of The Tidy Mind

      Kate Ibbotson, professional declutterer, organising kitchen
      How to effectively declutter your home according to Kate Ibbotson

      Kate Ibbotson is a professional organiser and founder of The Tidy Mind, an organisation that offers Decluttering & Productivity Coaching. Kate has BA degrees in both Psychology and Social Work and she is also a qualified Life Coach. She has combined these skills to develop a practical approach to decluttering that also prioritises emotional support, having successfully ran The Tidy Mind for nearly 7 years.

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