With an entire new year ahead of you, decluttering your home may not seem so hard. But after January, when that new year energy begins to wane, the prospect of tackling such a big project tends to overwhelm.
Enter this month-by-month guide to clearing the clutter from every room of your house. I’ve zeroed in on areas of the home that I find fit with certain events, such as back-to-school or spring fashion, but feel free to reorganize as you see fit to tackle specific areas of your home that need attention sooner.
No matter what, by the end of the year, your home should be feeling more spacious and, perhaps more important, you should be feeling more capable of maintaining a clutter-free space.
Getting Started: Turbocharge Your Decluttering
If you’re feeling inspired and motivated by the new year, take advantage of that energy and spend a few weekends clearing clutter throughout the house. Making noticeable headway will help motivate you to keep up the decluttering effort in the coming months. Try to get the other members of your household onboard — but if they are not interested, don’t try to force it. Hopefully they will see the positive changes happening around the house and change their tune!
Habit to cultivate: Keep an empty reusable bin in a closet, and use it to corral items you plan to give away.
January: Kitchen and Pantry
Give yourself a fresh start for the new year with a clean kitchen, decluttered cabinets and a healthy pantry and fridge.
- Toss worn dish towels or cut them up to make rags
- Sell or give away specialty small appliances and tools you seldom or never use
- Recycle or toss freebie cups and Tupperware containers without lids
- Toss expired food and spices
- Take stock of cookware and dishes; give away or sell pieces you do not need
Habit to cultivate: Clean out the pantry and fridge each week before shopping.
February: Home Office — Digital Documents and Papers
Get a jump-start on tax time by getting your files (paper and digital) in order.
- Sort through random stacks of paper; file, shred or recycle everything
- Streamline your files, shredding any documents you no longer need
- Use one calendar to keep track of all events
- Switch to paperless bills and statements if possible
- Clean out computer files and back up everything, using cloud-based storage and an external drive
Habit to cultivate: Sort your mail at the door, tossing junk immediately into a recycling bin.
March: Clothes and Accessories
The seasonal transition is a good time to sort through clothing. Sort through winter clothes before storing, and pare back spring and summer clothes as you begin to wear them.
- Donate or sell clothes, shoes and accessories in good condition
- Have winter clothes laundered or dry-cleaned before storing until next year
- Try on all clothes for the upcoming season and give away or sell any items that do not make you feel good
Habit to cultivate: As soon as you wear something and notice it doesn’t fit, has a hole or doesn’t flatter you, toss it in a bag in your closet. When the bag is full, donate it.
April: Bath and Beauty Products and Medicine Cabinets
Give your daily routine a spring cleaning by sorting through all of those bottles and jars hiding in medicine cabinets, on counters and in drawers.
- Toss expired makeup and skin-care items, as well as anything you do not use or like
- Clean drawers and shelves before returning items
- Store heat- and moisture-sensitive items (medications and some skin-care products) away from the bathroom
Habit to cultivate: Keep a list of your favorite bath and beauty products and order them online rather than shopping in person. This helps avoid overshopping and impulse purchases.
May: Laundry Room, Linen Closet, Cleaning Supplies
Cleaning routines are much easier and more pleasant when the supplies you need are neat and orderly. Sheets, towels and other household linens do not last forever — go through them this month and make some space.
- Recycle worn-out and stained towels, washcloths, sheets and tea towels at a textile recycling center.
- If your child has graduated a bed size, donate the old bedding to charity
- Clean under sinks and in any cupboards where cleaning supplies are stored. Get rid of empty containers and products you tried but did not like
Habit to cultivate: Don’t downgrade old towels and sheets to “guest” status. Only keep linens you would personally want to use — get rid of the rest. Your guests deserve better!
June: Family Room, Playroom, Media, Art and Schoolwork
The end of the school year is a good time to review collected artwork and school papers, and choose a small number of special pieces to save in a portfolio or document box.
- Edit schoolwork and art from the past year
- Gather a bag of DVDs, books and CDs to give away or sell
- Sort through toys and games; get rid of those your family no longer enjoys, as well as anything missing key pieces
Habit to cultivate: At the beginning of each school year, pick up a simple art portfolio. When your child brings work home, enjoy all of it for a while, but choose only a few special pieces to put in the portfolio.
July: Yard, Shed, Garage and Tools
Being outdoors in midsummer makes this a good time to get outdoor tools and equipment in order.
- Get rid of broken tools and those you no longer need
- Sort through gardening supplies
- Toss worn-out outdoor furnishings and decor
- If you’ve been collecting items to sell, hold a yard sale this month. At the end of the day, take unsold items to a charity donation center
Habit to cultivate: Keep everything in your garage or shed on shelving, not on the floor. This helps prevent accumulating a pileup of junk and keeps your gear cleaner.
Photos seem to be one of the most problematic items for many people to keep organized. Use the lazy days of August to sort through old photos and make books or prints from new ones.
- Choose a few favorite photos from this year and have them framed
- Edit digital photos and back up using a cloud service as well as an external drive
- Make a photo album or book from recent photos
- Sort through any bins of loose photos and put them in acid-free photo boxes or simple albums
Habit to cultivate: Take a few extra moments to tag favorite digital photos each time you upload. Then when it’s time to print or make an album, you can go straight to your favorites.
September: Mudroom, Entrances and Junk Drawers
Embrace the back-to-school spirit (whether or not you have kids) by getting the busiest zones of your house clutter-free this month.
- Put away stray items in entrances that belong elsewhere
- Add extra hooks or shelves if you need them to help corral items
- Sort through junk drawers, baskets, trays and any other spots that accumulate random junk
- Invest in drawer organizers or a wall-mounted organizer to keep small items neat
Habit to cultivate: Do an end-of-day tidy-up of the entryway, putting shoes, coats and random items back where they belong.
October: Dining Room and Entertaining Supplies
With the big holidays coming up over the next few months, October is a good time to get ahead of the curve and sort out your entertaining arsenal.
- Get rid of worn-out and stained tablecloths, placemats and napkins
- Count your dinnerware and serving pieces and consider whether you have enough, too much or too little for the amount you entertain
- Get rid of decor, table linens and serving pieces that you don’t like or that no longer fit your lifestyle
Habit to cultivate: Just like creating a wardrobe with lots of pieces that work together, think of creating an entertaining wardrobe that you can mix and match, rather than having lots of distinct sets of dishes.
November: Hobbies and Crafts
Get ready for holiday crafting and gift wrapping by clearing out your stash and organizing supplies this month.
- Clean out gift-wrapping supplies, tossing empty tape dispensers, out-of-ink pens and shreds of gift wrap and ribbon
- Downsize your craft stash by donating spare fabric scraps, yarn, scrapbooking paper and other materials — many organizations (schools, retirement centers and the like) are happy to accept donations of craft supplies, and there are even some craft-specific donation centers, like Scrap in San Francisco
- Keep works in progress together in bags, bins or boxes
Habit to cultivate: Take the time to put away your craft supplies neatly when you are done working. A messy stash makes it more likely you will buy something you already have simply because you couldn’t find it!
December: Holiday Items and Decor
With so much going on around the holidays, it’s wise not to expect too much of yourself when it comes to clutter-clearing. That said, with all of the new gifts coming in, it does make sense to do some paring back to preserve balance in the house.
- Give away holiday ornaments and decor that you did not use this year, or that you no longer love
- Toss broken ornaments and recycle strands of lights that no longer work
- Exchange or give away gifts you received but know you will never use, and do not like — don’t keep things out of guilt. The one exception to this rule may be hand-knit sweaters. The knitter will never forgive you; that’s just how it is.
Habit to cultivate: Tell friends and family who ask (in advance of the holidays) that you and your family would prefer gifts that are experiential or edible. Most people honestly want to give you something you will like, and are happy for the guidance.