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How to Declutter Your Home: Tips From a Luxury Realtor

DECLUTTERING COMES WITH MANY BENEFITS

Make space in your life and clear your clutter - female cupped hands around the words CLEAR CLUTTER surrounded by a relevant tag word cloud on a dark ethereal wispy feather background – stock image

It’s Good for Your Health!

Decluttering your home is not a new concept, but how to declutter your home requires some careful thought and a bit of expertise. And a decluttered home isn’t simply good for avoiding embarrassment when guests arrive; its health benefits have become increasingly recognized. In fact, experts believe the mental health benefits definitely outweigh anything else.

According to a study by researchers at UCLA, clutter can cause or contribute to elevated stress and depression, and aggravate illnesses and allergies. The study showed how living in a cluttered environment is much worse than it appears to be – especially at times of major life or lifestyle interruptions, events or changes. Clutter is actually considered a triple threat to your health, causing physical, emotional, and mental harm. It’s also important to those who are considering selling their home.

When I talk about how to declutter your home, I’m not just suggesting getting rid of the stuff that’s cluttering our lives on the outside; I’m also referring to the clutter inside. And for that, you need to practice mindful decluttering. I promise, once you begin mindful decluttering, you’ll find it to be a form of moving meditation.

How Mindfulness Can Help with the Task of Decluttering

Mindfulness techniques teach us to be in the present moment—not the past and not the future—so, as you clean, move steadily from one small area to another, giving each your complete attention. You might even choose a mantra, like, “As I de-clutter, I free myself to live in the present.” Sound kind of “airy-fairy”? It’s not. It works.

The following 10 steps for how to declutter your home are tried and true. By staying mindful of how you’re handling each of them, how they’re working for you, and if you need to create a slight variation to suit your style and mindset, you’ll be able to master and simplify each one.

1) Start Small

Before you set yourself up for failure by attempting to tackle the whole house in one session, break the work down into micro-projects. Downsizing and decluttering are stressful and overwhelming even in the best of times. Wherever you start, take baby steps. By doing them daily, these baby steps can soon lead to giant leaps and, hopefully, less stress. At any stressful period of our lives, our sense of time can be distorted. Accomplishing a small project can give you a wonderful boost of confidence for continuing the process over time.

READ: The Junk Drawer: A Montecito Tradition?

2) Get an outside perspective

Once you decide how to declutter your home, invite a friend or professional to visit and offer their opinion. Look for someone who has not been at your house before. If you’re listing your property, your Realtor can help survey the scene and make suggestions on where to begin.

3) Pick a Task and Stick With It

A haphazard, willy-nilly plan is no plan at all. Choose a mission that’s doable and keep your eyes on the prize. Experts suggest starting by identifying an impactful area that is also a significant pain point, like the kitchen or home office. Having organized spaces is especially important during times of illness, and while remote working or schooling.

Break the bigger projects down into manageable chunks and focus on specific action steps and tasks. Stay focused on that one area. Be mindful of the temptation to start jumping around to different spaces. You’ll eventually have to address other areas of the house, but by starting with really impactful areas, you’ll see the progress more quickly and stay motivated. 

4) Clean for a cause

As you get rid of clutter, make sure to have a pile to donate to a non-profit. To make the process even easier, you can hand your donations to someone who regularly takes items to local charities. Just about every community has excellent non-profits. Perhaps some items will even be appropriate for gifting to friends.

5) Untangle Your Cords

If you’re like me, you’ll agree this task definitely requires mindfulness. Cords seem to have minds of their own sometimes. It’s easy to consider them the enemy. Breathe. Even though we live in the wireless age, there sure are a ton of wires uglifying everyone’s houses. Besides being hideous, multiple cords dangling around can make a room feel chaotic. But it is also manageable. Take the advice of experts and clump them together using a simple cord concealer or hide them from view by adding tiny hooks onto the back of furniture to string chords through.

6) Let it go, but . . .

Not everything should be donated. Whenever I get the de-clutter bug, I end up throwing out items I soon wish I’d kept. Be mindful when placing items in one of the 3 piles I mention below.

READ: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo: It’s All About Choosing Joy

7) Put stuff in 3 piles

There are a many great tutorials to help you with how to declutter your home, but keep in mind that no matter what advice you heed, tailor it to the realities of your current situation. A great way to start is with 3 piles: one for donations, a second for trash, and the pile of stuff you want to keep.

8) Get rid of health hazards

Experts estimate Americans spend up to 90 percent of their day indoors, with half of that time at home. Any moldy or dusty piles of stuff can lower the air quality in your home, and can ultimately cause or aggravate illnesses and allergies. And since more and more of us seem to be working remotely and home schooling our kids, getting rid of any health hazard is more important than ever.

9) Digitize Photos

Why not digitize those mountains of old physical photographs and preserve precious pictures for safekeeping? Scanning them one by one is not practical, so consider using a service like ScanMyPhotos.com, which will digitize 4,000 photos for $40, or a penny per photo.

10) Reclaim your home

Like most problems, it is either getting better or getting worse. If you’re feeling like the clutter in your home is growing, avoid getting comfortable with it. It’s easy to become desensitized to clutter. If that’s the case, put mindfulness to work to discover the true reasons for your desensitization or procrastination. Then allow yourself to move forward with the task. Think of it as reclaiming your home.

A Room-by-Room Guide to Reclaiming Your Home

It takes time and effort to declutter one’s home. (It’s worth it!) Mindfulness helps. So does the following room-by-room guide, combined with positivity and focus. Together, they apply to Step 1 above: “Start small” . . .

The Kitchen – Practice honesty

Everyone’s kitchen seems to become a place of clutter. Don’t let that happen! Designate cabinets and drawers for everything you need, then ditch the items that become dust magnets.

The most important place to clean and clear out in the kitchen is your refrigerator. Think about it. Things can get pretty nasty in there, and quickly. Plus, if one of your New Year’s – or any time — resolutions is to eat more healthfully, a fridge detox is just the ticket. Here are 3 easy steps to taming your refrigerator: 

Step 1: Ditch the junk

Grab a garbage bag and get your recycling bin ready. The first step is an oh-so-satisfying purge. Toss out any of these:

  • Fake foods
    Ditch the highly processed “treats” like peppermint non-dairy creamer, an old tub of margarine you bought for a specific cookie recipe, and anything else of dubious nutritional value.
  • Check expiration dates
    Chances are, there are items past their expiration date, or simply growing a moldy rim. Eeuwww!
  • Ditch half-used items
    The random, half-used things you obviously don’t truly use or enjoy (or you would have eaten them already!). Jelly and capers, I’m looking at you.
  • Creepy condiments
    How old is that apple butter we bought on vacation? Wait, when was that vacation? Toss it. Also scrutinize labels. Does that salsa or ketchup hide a bunch of added sugar and salt? Ketchup, for example, may contain up to a teaspoon of sugar per serving, depending on the brand.
Step 2: Purify the space

Now that the junk food, highly processed food, and food old enough to join the AARP has been removed, you’ve made a lot of room for the good stuff. Still, take the items you’re keeping out and onto the counter and get ready to detox the fridge itself.

Experts recommend using a hot vinegar blend to clean appliances like the fridge or microwave. Mix one cup of white vinegar with two cups of hot water and 10 drops of lemon essential oil. Put the mix into a glass spray bottle, spray it inside the empty fridge, then wipe it up with a damp cloth. The hot vinegar helps dissolve any sticky, caked-on goo, and the lemon essential oil is a natural sanitizer.

When you go to place your food back into the fridge, be sure to designate a specific space for meat (if you eat it) that is separate from vegetables and fruits, to avoid any chance of cross-contamination. 

Step 3: Replenish with healthy foods

Stock the fridge with foods that make it easy to get quality nutrients, even if you’re dashing through the kitchen on your way to a meeting or activity. With all our amazing Farmer’s Markets, Farm Stands and Gourmet Shops in the area, there’s no excuse not to. Here’s how to get going:

  • See Food
    Put the less healthy food out of the line of vision, toward the back of the fridge, and the superstar foods—i.e., fruit and vegetables—front and center. For example, make it a habit to have a three-day supply of cut-up celery, jicama, snap peas, or baby carrots in a glass dish, staring you in the eye. The glass container trick can also work if you’re someone who struggles with getting enough hydration. Use a carafe of water with some cut-up cucumber, lemon or strawberries floating around to entice you to sip.
  • Power veggies
    If you’re into making smoothies, keep beets, cilantro, ginger, and lemons on hand in the veggie bin for quick detox blends.
  • Choose condiments carefully
    Instead of artificial ingredients and day-glo colors, opt for seasonings and toppings such as tamari soy sauce and nutritional yeast.
  • Grab and go foods
    Have basic building blocks — hard-boiled pasture-raised eggs, organic chicken, Greek yogurt, beans, fresh greens, and whole-grain tortillas — so you can mix and match foods for a healthy meal within minutes.

Now that the refrigerator is full of healthy, clean foods, the only growling in the kitchen will be coming from your stomach. 

Practice releasing emotion as you clear the clutter

Living rooms tend to accumulate sentimental clutter. Ask yourself if you really, truly love an object or the person who gave it to you. If you don’t, give it away.

When it comes to de-cluttering the living room, family room, or any room of your home, there are a few questions you can continuously ask yourself as you go along to help determine if the item should stay or go. If you have to think about your answer, chances are likely that you don’t need it. As you are evaluating your items, keep these questions in mind:

Do I use this?

You shouldn’t really have to think long about this.  You either use it or you don’t.  Take note that the question is not “Will I possibly use this one day?”.

Is this item extra?

How many bottles of body lotion do you really need?  Do you really use that sparkling eye shadow?  Evaluate what you need and use on a regular basis.  Remember that almost all beauty products have a life span, so it’s not always wise to “stock up”.  Choose your favorite and toss or donate {if unopened} the extras!

Would I buy this today?

I find that this is a really helpful question when looking at decorative items.  Ask yourself if you still love it and if it is still your style.  Is it adding beauty or function to the space or is it just adding to the clutter?  For beauty products, think about whether or not you really like the colors on you, if it works for your skin type if it’s as effective as you thought it would be, etc. If the answer is “no,” it’s time for it to go!

Does this help make my life easier or better?

There may be some items that you don’t really need, but you do use regularly, and they help to simplify things or give you pleasure in life.  You can definitely splurge on some items – just make sure they are useful to you or provide you with joy.

Can the space that this item takes up be reduced?  

I always look for ways to reduce the footprint of items I’m keeping.  Can the packaging be removed for more condensed storage?  Do I have multiple bottles of the same product that can be combined?  Can I transfer the item to a smaller container?  Is there more appropriate storage that would make it easier to store and/or access?  It’s amazing what a little creativity can do to minimize space.

The Bedrooms – Practice daily

Bedrooms can easily get overwhelming when considering how to declutter your home because we tend to clean public areas of our abodes more often. Either eliminate the clutter by getting rid of it or invest in more storage. But don’t stop there. Take the time to banish closet clutter. I’ve covered this topic before in my previous post, Celebrity Closet Organizing Secrets. Yes, even the famous must tackle clutter.

Overhead shot of neatly ordered clothes in wooden drawer. Woman organizing clothes in drawer

When it comes to your closet, practice discipline. Make this your mantra, “One In, Two Out.” Anything that comes into your home needs to be balanced by two objects leaving. According to Eco Watch, every second, a garbage truck’s worth of textiles is either dumped into a landfill or burned. Less than one percent of material is recycled to make new clothes. Experts say consider these 3 things to mindfully de-clutter your closet:

  • Assume the one in one out mantra, meaning, for every piece of clothing you buy, donate something to the charity of your choice.
  • Invest in better quality and stay away from fast fashion. We’re referring to the inexpensive, easy to grab, cheap choices out there.
  • Invite your friends of similar size and taste to a clothing swap. Real Simple Magazine recommends inviting no more than 20 attendees, serving snacks, and having fun with it.

The Bathrooms – Practice acceptance

 

Clean your cabinets and decide what to let go of and what to save. Pay special attention to the following:

  • Towels

Take a good look at your towels and see if they are all in good shape.  For those that have seen better days, you can either use them for rags or look at donating them to the Santa Barbara Humane Society.  Determine how many towels you actually need to have. (I limit ours to two bath towels per person plus a couple of extras for the rare time that we have house guests stay overnight} and donate any extras.

  • Cosmetics

Start by going through all of your make-up and tossing those items that are passed their expiry date.  Next, go through what’s remaining and determine what you actually wear and what you don’t.  Unfortunately, some colors just look better in the packaging than they do when we put them on ourselves. Keep only what you use and makes you feel pretty and powerful.

  • Medication

Medication should not be stored in the bathroom, due to the temperature fluctuations and steam caused by the bath and showers. So, find a new spot for them. While you’re at it, go through all medications and gather items that have expired or you no longer need/use. Toss in the garbage if safe to do so, or return them to the pharmacy for safe disposal.  

The Office – Practice letting go

A stylish and clean office from one of Cristal Clarke's listings in Montecito

Get all that paper you’ve accumulated out of your house. From now on, choose digital instead whenever you can.

“Of all the clutter in our homes, paper pileups are some of the biggest bugaboos,” according to Fast Company writer Jane Porter. “it’s not just stuff, it’s emotional baggage and unfinished business that’s standing in your way.” 

By getting rid of unnecessary paper, you’ll feel lighter, freer and more creative than ever. Here are some expert tips to follow when taking on that task:

  • Release judgment
  • Shred like Shiva, the Hindu creator, and destroyer
  • Redefine your idea of a job well done

When getting organized means figuring out how to declutter your home, remember: any improvement is better than none. Focus on getting it done, not making it perfect.

Are you ready to clear the clutter in your Montecito home? Before you begin, take this quiz from Better Homes & Gardens to discover your organizing personality. 

 

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