Zero Waste of Time: How to declutter your home in the new year (and beyond)
By Juliette Fradin
Is decluttering one of your New Year’s resolutions? I always feel the urge to purge and declutter to start a new year with a clean slate. Even more so, after months of the four of us living under one roof almost all of the time. As the weather has gotten colder — and the kids are back in virtual learning — we’re spending more time inside. The holidays also brought more stuff into our home again. So, inevitably, I feel overwhelmed and crave clarity — especially after another pandemic year. I need a new year’s overhaul of my belongings.
To clear your space (and your mind), the best first step is to sort and get rid of things before you even start to organize. Otherwise, all you’ll do is move clutter around. You want to keep only what you use, need and love. Try not to own more than one of something, especially in the kitchen, and dispose of any duplicates. In the end, you’ll have less mess to clean up, and you’ll be able to find the stuff you do have more easily. You will think twice before buying things you don’t need and save money by doing so. The less you have, the less organizing you have to do.
For many of us, the most difficult part is just getting started. During the pandemic, I tackled the pantry, where I store my cloth bags, jars, cookbooks and knickknacks. Pantry items aren’t very sentimental, so making decisions about them is pretty straightforward — mismatched lids for food containers are easy to deal with. A quick win at the start can give you momentum to stick with the work, so pick a space or category you can declutter quickly that would have a big impact (bathroom? underwear drawer?) or an area that brings you the most stress (kitchen counters? junk drawer?).
There are different methods for doing this, and you can choose an approach that fits your personality and available time.
If you have limited time and the right mindset, you can choose the extreme declutter method, where you work on each room, one after the other, over a weekend. You can do it by yourself or with the help of a partner or friend, but if you’re working in a team, it’s important to be respectful of the items that don’t belong to you — you cannot make decluttering decisions for other people. If you have kids, ask someone to watch them so you can run your declutter marathon without interruptions.
If this turns out to be too much, pick just one room and stick to it. The common clutter culprits are typically closets and pantries, or the kitchen or bathroom. A bedroom is also a good space to address in the beginning, since you want that space to be calming and restful, not filled with clutter on your dresser or nightstands. The garage and basement tend to be the last spaces to tackle, as they are filled with the stuff that is often the most sentimental, and we can have a harder time letting go of those items.
Or if you need to start slow, do it over a month. On the first day, get rid of one thing; on the second day, two things, and so on. If you start on the first day of February, for example, you will remove a total of 406 items from your house by Feb. 28.
You can also commit to decluttering for a chunk of time each day, like 20 minutes. This approach is great if you have specific areas to work on, like cabinets or drawers. For example, go through your closet and remove all the clothes that no longer fit or you haven’t worn in the last six months. You need to be consistent with it, though.
Lastly, you’ve probably heard about the Marie Kondo method, where you work on one category, like clothes or books, at a time. A little while ago, I used this method, gathering all the toys we had in our house in a big pile in the living room. I was shocked to realize how many toys we owned. But it was liberating to keep only one-third of that pile and donate as much of the rest as I could.
Make five piles when you’re sorting items: trash, recycling, donations, sell and fix/mend. After your decluttering session, responsibly dispose of what no longer serves you, so it doesn’t all end up in a landfill. MOM’s Organic Market, in College Park, will take your old shoes, cell phones, batteries, eye glasses, natural cork, holiday lights (until Jan. 31 ) — and even real oyster shells! Donate basic necessities (think underwear and socks), clothing or toiletries to homeless shelters or people in need in your community. Check the Hyattsville city website for electronics and paint recycling days, or take those items to the Brown Station Road Sanitary Landfill, in Upper Marlboro. Join the Barter and Trade or Buy Nothing groups on Facebook to rehome some of your stuff. Sell on Facebook marketplace or simply drop unwanted items that are in good condition on your curbside. Community Forklift will happily accept any building materials, and they are doing limited large-item pickups during the pandemic. Try to reuse as much as possible: Turn old towels into rags and use them in lieu of paper towels, and save glass jars for bulk shopping and storage.
If you need support and accountability for your decluttering efforts, start a group with like-minded people and post pictures of your before-and-afters. Organize a swap — and let me know about it! While you’re making more space in your home and your life, you might also be making new friends — and you may very well achieve your other goals for 2022, too.