You are here

Our Best De-Cluttering Tips

Simple tips for de-cluttering your home, one area at a time

Written and produced by Debra Steilen
  • John Bessler

    You don’t have to be a professional stylist to keep your home curated and company-ready at all times. Just follow English designer William Morris’s advice from 1880 (it’s just as valid today): “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Of course Morris lived in a time before shopping malls and online retailers, so it may have been easier back then to avoid recreational shopping and resulting clutter. If you have a clutter problem, keep reading. And we’ll show you how to solve it.

    Design: Eric Lysdahl

  • Love it, use it, or lose it.

    You’ll be amazed at how much space can be found in closets, cabinets, and drawers if you simply get rid of stuff you don’t need. Whether evaluating a lamp, a loveseat, or lingerie, keep William Morris’s advice in mind. Ask yourself: “Do I love it?” “Do I use it?” “Can I live without it?” Answer “yes” to the first two questions and you should find a place to store that item. Answer “yes” to the third question, and you should get rid of it before you change your mind.

  • Target your efforts.

    Don’t fall into the trap of wandering from room to room, grabbing a stray shoe here, a dirty plate there, and not making progress you can actually see. Instead, tackle one room at a time. Still too daunting? Tackle one zone, closet, cabinet, shelf, or drawer. You’ll get dramatic results that will inspire you to keep going.

    See 20+ well-organized office spaces.

  • See, sort, and eliminate.

    So you’ve weeded out items you no longer want. You have five options for getting rid of them. 1. Give stuff to your kids. 2. Donate gently used items to a non-profit. (Load your car now so there’s no turning back.) 3. Sell items in a consignment store, on eBay, or through a tag sale. (Such methods are often time-consuming, though, and may result in stuff re-entering your house.) 4. Take select items to a recycling center that accepts old computers, TVs, and the like. 5. Toss worn or broken items in the trash.

  • Emily Followill

    Living-Room Logistics

    Your living room should be a sanctuary — both for you and your guests. Keeping it clutter-free is a key part of maintaining this room’s elegantly relaxed attitude. So make it a habit to spend a little time each day stacking magazines, putting papers in the recycling bin, rearranging throw pillows, and putting wayward items back where they belong.

    Design: Debbie Cummins

    Tour our most elegant living rooms. 

  • Style a coffee table.

    Turn function into form. Use a shallow tray to hold a pile of magazines and vase of beautiful blooms. Add height to a vase or piece of decorative art by perching it on a stack of books. Hide remotes or crafting supplies in decorative containers.

    Design: Tobi Fairley

    See how serious collectors do it.

  • Arrange a bookcase.

    Treat your bookcase like an art gallery by thinking of books as decorative objects with color, texture, and form. Arrange them by size, subject matter, or even the colors of their covers -- some side by side, others in a stack. Integrate a variety of objects — sea forms, sculpture, vases, framed art—to add interesting textures and finishes. Be careful though; overstuffed shelves can look untidy. Edit objects carefully.

    Design: Michael Del Piero

    Learn more about organizing bookshelves.

  • Make over a mantel.

    Make the fireplace mantel a worthy focal point for the room. Symmetrical design conveys a sense of calm; just arrange objects so one side of the display mirrors the other. Or choose an asymmetrical design and harmonize objects of different shapes and sizes. Balance a tall, large object with several smaller ones. Nestle some pieces together to boost visual weight; overlap others to create intriguing layers. In either approach, using a clearly defined color palette unifies unrelated objects.  

    Editor’s Tip: Keep in mind; you don’t have to put everything out at once. Leave some breathing room between objects to showcase their silhouettes and rest the eye.

    Design: Barry Dixon

    Imagine these clean, simple mantel designs in your home.

  • End Kitchen Chaos

    Hands down; your kitchen is the busiest room in the house. And with today’s open floor plans, the work zone is likely visible from adjoining living areas. In a hurry? Clear off the front of the refrigerator for an immediate infusion of peacefulness. Have more time to invest? Make sure the countertops clutter-free (more about that later).   

    Design: Christopher Peacock

    Steal these stylish kitchen storage ideas.

  • Help cabinets work harder.

    The more stuff you can store in your cabinets (while still being able to find what you need), the cleaner you can keep your countertops. So make it a habit to toss stale food, expired spices, and nearly empty cartons to gain instant shelf space. Replace standard shelves with pull-out versions that let you see everything at a glance. Add stacking shelves to store dishes or spice jars in layers instead of one big pile.

    Editor’s tip: For efficiency’s sake, store cookware and utensils close to where they’ll be used.

    Clear off counters with these island storage ideas.

  • Hide small appliances.

    Appliance garages (countertop-level cabinets) store toasters, blenders, and coffee makers out of sight but easily accessible. For a more upscale approach, put such storage behind motorized doors that raise and lower at the flip of a switch (shown).

    Editor’s tip: Apply decluttering principles to your cookware. Will you ever use that bread maker again? Do you really need two slow cookers? Give still-working stuff to family, friends, or charity; toss the rest.

    Design: Mick De Giulio

    Nab ideas from this organized, efficient kitchen.

  • Emily Jenkins Followill

    Set up a charging station.

    Keep electronics off the counter by setting up charging-station drawers with outlets in the back. Laptops, phones, and tablets – and accompanying cords – stay out of sight and out of harm’s way until charging is completed.

    Design: Matthew Quinn

    Admire more of this kitchen’s clever storage options.

  • Recruit the dining room.

    Gain additional kitchen storage space by sequestering dishes, glasses, serving pieces, and linens in the dining room, where furniture-style cabinetry and storage armoires look right at home. That way, you can reserve valuable kitchen cabinets and drawers for food, ingredients, and cookware you don’t use outside that particular room.

  • Organize Your Pantry

    Whether your pantry is the size of a small bedroom, or a single ceiling-high cabinet, you need to be ruthless about keeping it organized. Plan a big cleaning session where you pull everything off the shelf, toss the outdated products, and put everything back with the newest food purchases in the back and the oldest ones in front. Store seasonal items and seldom-used appliances on high shelves. Use the floor or lowest shelf for cleaning supplies or baskets for root vegetables.

    Editor’s Tip: Storing dry ingredients in clear glass containers (with tight lids) makes it easier to keep track of what you have -- and avoid buying food you don’t need.

  • Divide and conquer drawers.

    Blessed with room for a vanity or dressing table? Organize the drawers and you’ll be able to store more – and that keeps bottles, tubes, jars, combs, jewelry, and other personal items off of the countertop. Clear acrylic drawer dividers make sense here, because they’re so easy to clean.

    Design: Kellie Cashon

    Check out these storage-smart vanities.

  • Family-Room Finesse

    Just like the living room, this space needs to stay neat and clean in order to offer the oasis — or gathering spot — your household needs. Keep a big basket handy for collecting items that have landed in the family room by mistake. Family members can take turns lugging the basket from room to room, putting orphaned items in their rightful spots.

    Visit our favorite family rooms.

  • Put walls to work.

    Expand a family room’s organizational capabilities by taking bookcases up to the ceiling. Then, like a smart shopkeeper, put the most often-used books and movies within arm’s reach, and the less-often used offerings up high. Children’s books and games belong on lower shelves where they can help themselves.

    Editor’s Tip: Store kids’ crafts supplies and toys in small pull-out bins they can easily transport to play areas – and back again.

  • Keep clutter hidden.

    Cabinets and armoires offer stylishly accessible places to store board games, video games, jigsaw puzzles, and other leisure-time activities for instant chaos relief. Corral toy cars, crayons, markers, Legos, and other kid favorites in decorative tins that match your decor.

    Editor’s Tip: No room for cabinets? Keep toys and crafting supplies in stackable baskets that can be easily moved when visitors are expected.

    Use shelves to showcase your collections.

  • Manage media equipment.

    Integrate the television and DVD/Blu-ray player into an armoire or custom-built furniture unit for a seamless look. Use open shelves to display family photos or decorative art. Store related paraphernalia — remotes, movies, Milk Duds — in the unit’s drawers or cabinets.

    Editor’s Tip: Keep cords out of sight. Plug multiple cords into a power strip (hidden within the cabinetry) so its cord is the only one that has plug into the wall. No cabinetry to hide the tangle? Bundle cords with hook-and-loop tape (or twist ties in a pinch) and tuck the bundles into baskets. 

  • Master the Bedroom

    Your goal? To create a tranquil private retreat that helps you begin and end each day in a positive state of mind. Start with the biggest piece of real estate in the room: the bed.  Make it. (We apologize for sounding like your mother.) Then deal with the floor. Dirty clothes go in the hamper. Clean ones go on hangers or in the drawers. Have a few more minutes? Do a quick sweep of dresser tops and put jewelry and other items back where they belong.

    Tiptoe through our most soothing bedrooms.

  • Think outside the box springs.

    Short on closet and/or dresser space? Stash extra bedding and out-of-season clothing beneath the bed, using attractive canvas clothing boxes from local or online retailers to keep items dust-free. And enjoy the fact that the bed skirt keeps your secret storage space hidden from view.

  • Conquer bedroom closets.

    Remember one of the first things we advised – to use it or lose it? That strategy should you’re your wardrobe and clothes closet. If you haven’t worn a garment in a year or two (and it’s still in good condition), take it to a consignment store or donate it to charity. Every piece you get rid of frees space in your closet for clothing that matters. And the better organized your closet is, the easier it will be for you to get ready in the morning.

    Editor’s Tip: Arrange hanging clothes by type, then by color, to help your closet look and act organized. It also helps (visually, anyway) to use matching hangers.

    Caution: You may covet these beautifully organized closets and dressing rooms.

  • Clean out the medicine cabinet(s).

    Whether you use this storage staple for medicine, first-aid supplies, or cosmetics, follow one simple rule: Get rid of things when their time is up. That might mean their expiration date has come and gone (think medicine and cosmetics) or you’ve moved on (you’ll never wear that lipstick color again). Less stuff means more space for storing items you use every day.

  • Boost Bathroom Tranquility

    You want your bathroom to feel like a spa, but somehow cosmetics and hair products seem to multiply on their own. Shut down the visual noise with a few simple steps that start here: Keep personal-care items out of sight and/or under control. No vanity? Arrange sundries in a shallow tray. Tuck fresh towels into a pretty basket.

    Check out these helpful bath-storage ideas.

  • Love your linen closet.

    You’ve probably already keeping your towels and sheets neatly stacked. Kudos! Adding some stylish touches may motivate maintenance of that clutter-free look you love. Take cotton balls, swabs, and soap out of their cardboard containers and store them in clear glass jars. Use labeled baskets to hold not-so-attractive sundries or first-aid supplies. Package complete sets of sheets (flat, fitted, pillowcases) with ribbons. Keep cleaning supplies corralled in a pretty, portable tote.