A tidy home isn’t the only good thing to come from decluttering. The art of paring back is also a reset for the soul.
Out of sight, out of mind, they say. But over the past year, as we’ve been spending more and more (and more) time at home, everything seems to be in clear view. The decades-old batteries rolling around in the junk drawer, that stash of forgotten Christmas decorations in a secret storage closet, the never-worn clothes under the guest room bed. And even if you don’t feel moved to sort it, the pandemic may have made doing so a matter of necessity. “The lines have really been blurred between work and home,” says Carolyn Rodriguez, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University. “How you get home and office into one space that had previously just been home is a Tetris puzzle, and decluttering is the avenue to do that.”
Last year, spring cleaning became a year-round sport. Rather than dropping off a bag of items, people delivered carloads to donation centers. In fact, when Goodwill reopened after lockdown, locations in Washington, DC, and Atlanta, for example, saw such massive increases in donations they had to shut down temporarily as they did not have the capacity to house the donations even after renting trailers and warehouses, according to the nonprofit. Arc Thrift Stores across Colorado (which supports people with intellectual disabilities) have reportedly seen up to a 40 percent increase in donations. It’s the pandemic phenomenon no one saw coming.
Though there is undoubtedly a greater good in making donations, the process of decluttering can also do a world of good for oneself. In fact, clutter and happiness levels are connected: “The more clutter you have, the less life satisfaction people report,” says Joseph R. Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University. “There’s a sense of contentment that comes with having things organized. We feel relieved, re-energized, there is a weight lifted off of our shoulders.”
If that’s not incentive enough, organization can even directly impact — and improve — productivity. “What we know about human nature is that having a lot of clutter slows us down. So being able to let go of things and have a clear space actually makes us more efficient,” says Rodriguez. It definitely helps make the case for finally sorting through that pile of tax documents from 2012.
Of course, no one ever said parting with your high school varsity jacket or 16 pink lip glosses would be easy. In a study led by Rodriguez of 43,000 people across the United States, 20 percent said they had difficulty discarding worn-out or worthless possessions.
That’s one in five people who have trouble getting rid of things. Start with small goals — try 10 to 15 minutes a day of decluttering. “Pick a spot that will make you feel good every time you see that the area is clear and organized,” advises Rodriguez. Tackle one room (bedroom, office, kitchen) and one category (clothes, books, kitchenware) at a time. Professional organizers encourage starting with items that take up the most space (like bulky jackets) to make a big impact fast. “There is no better motivation than seeing an immediate payoff to your hard work,” says Rodriguez. Not only will you see the difference — you’ll feel it. —Paige Stables
Beauty editors aren’t the only people who are swimming in lipsticks and dried-out mascaras. The Home Edit organization pros, Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin, share their tips for wrangling an over-the-top collection. —Jessica CruelTake stock of everything you’ve got
Empty your drawers or vanity completely every four months so you can assess your stash. “You want to assign a value to [everything] and decide what’s worth taking up space,” says Teplin. It’s also a good time to note expiration dates: Once opened, most products are good for about a year before bacteria starts to gather. If you’re aware of what you have and how long you can keep it, “you’re more likely to use it by the time it’s expired,” she says.Prevent spills (or at least, minimize the damage)
You could have sworn you capped that toothpaste or concealer but, ruh-roh… your stuff is now a goopy mess. Minimize the fallout from leaks by using shallow bins or drawer inserts (The Home Edit has a line of drawer organizers). “[During your] clean-out, you can wash the actual container,” says Shearer. Bins also help keep things like Q-tips and cotton balls stationary to avoid toppling.Store your stuff strategically
Have a special section for the beauty items you use every day, says Shearer. Then, group everything else by category — blushes with blushes, mascaras with mascaras, and so forth. “Functionality is key,” says Teplin, who suggests using baskets and purchasing clear dividers to further segment items.Know when to refrain
Before you start shoving hotel shampoos into your carry-on, get honest with yourself: “[Don’t take it] unless you know exactly when you’re going to use it,” Teplin says.