How to tidy smart and get rid of your cluttering habit for good

Got a pile like this in your house? (Picture: Getty)

Maximalism may be on trend, but there’s only so much ‘stuff’ our homes can take.

Each person will have their own acceptable level of clutter, whether that’s a Micheal McIntyre endorsed ‘man drawer’ or an under-bed storage box filled with trinkets. It’s when these collections of items become unmanageable that you know you need a declutter.

Over time, one rarely-worn discarded garment becomes a pile and, before you know it, you can’t find what you actually want to wear.

In a world where we constantly see influencers showing off their spotless houses – and when there are hit Netflix shows dedicated to tidying up – it’s understandable to feel like you’re the only one who struggles.

Research claims otherwise, though. A British Heart Foundation study found that the average Brit holds on to over £500 worth of unused goods, and another revealed that 61% of UK households argue about clutter at least once a month.

There are numerous benefits to a clear-out, from a mental health boost to more space in your home. A rethink of your consumption levels will also help you avoid needlessly buying in future, which is good for both your pocket and the environment.

But if you’re staring down a jumbled heap of your possessions, where do you start?

Kerri Richardson, author and founder of From Clutter to Clarity, wasn’t always a minimalist. She previously lived in a 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house filled with stuff, but sold up in favour of a ‘tiny home’ and scaled-back possessions.

When people ask her why she sized down to her new 240-square-foot dwelling, Kerri says people are mostly ‘dumbfounded’. However, along with giving her the freedom to travel (without the responsibilities of a traditional property), she says living small gave her an opportunity to radically declutter.

‘I was no longer willing to hide my gifts and talents behind “stuff.”,’ Kerri tells

‘With each item I sold or donated, I felt freer. Lighter. More in charge of my life. This didn’t come as a big surprise. What did, however, was the fear that surfaced as I got rid of more and more items.’

‘I felt exposed and vulnerable, and experienced firsthand how much we use our belongings as a form of protection. Protection from failure. Protection from intimacy. Protection from risk. But what also comes with this perceived “protection” is limitation.’

Kerri advises removing these ‘security blankets’ to look at your issues clearly, allowing you to ‘clean up your mess at the root’ and heal old patterns.

She adds: ‘By doing this life-changing work, what once seemed impossible suddenly becomes possible.’

The life coach says doing this work in small chunks is best, seeing the results of your efforts in stages rather than aiming for an end goal. Here’s how Kerri recommends you approach your declutter:

Mail and paperwork

Do you have a stack of post sitting somewhere giving you the fear every time you look at it? That’s where you should start.

According to Kerri, going through these documents ‘quickly reclaims your power and removes feeling of overwhelm and perceived fear of the unknown.’

Many people avoid mail because of money worries. While burying your head in the sand and throwing bills onto a pile relieves the fear initially, ignoring issues can be detrimental long-term.

Contact the debt collector, council, landlord, or whoever you’re hiding from. Most will understand if you’re having difficulty and give you some leeway, but you won’t know until you ask.

If you have too many things, you can end up losing the bits you actually need and want (Picture: Getty)

Mementoes from past relationships

If you’re hoping to find love or deepen a current partnership, getting rid of anything that ties you to a past relationship opens up space for this to happen,’ Kerri says.

She says this doesn’t need to be every single memento, but you should be ‘incredibly selective with what you keep to free your heart.’

Clutter isn’t just about the material. These physical items often represent something to us emotionally, which is why we hold on to them.

Memories are absolutely fine, but it’s hard to move on from the past if you have reminders of it throughout your home.


This may be your biggest offender when it comes to clutter, with most of us only wearing a third of what’s in our wardrobes.

Kerri says: ‘Sorting the clothes in your wardrobe so you have only those items you love and wear increases self-confidence, starts your day off on a positive note, and helps you to walk with pride.

But what should go? Kate Ibbotson, founder of decluttering and organising service, A Tidy Mind, says you can make decisions by doing your research about where unwanted pieces might end up.

She says: ‘In the decluttering industry, we say that clutter is often a result of decision delay. It can be hard to decide about what to do with some items so it’s easier to pass them by. But by pushing through that challenge, that’s how you will see real results.

‘Take two minutes to educate yourself on what charities will and won’t accept so you can make quick decisions.’

Kate adds: ‘Remember to ask yourself prompts like: Do I use this? Do I own something similar? Is it fit for purpose? Could someone else make better use of it?’


Next up you should look to your bookshelf for a streamline.

Decluttering star Marie Kondo caught flack a few years back after suggesting we dared to cut down on our book collection. But keeping every tome you’ve ever bought doesn’t necessarily mean you’re treasuring them.

‘Random stacks of books around your home can turn these often-treasured items into a nuisance,’ says Kerri.

‘Gather them all in one place and do a rapid sort of your inventory. Separate them into three piles: Keep, Maybe, and Donate.

‘If your number of books is daunting, start with just 20 or so. By allowing yourself to start with an easy sort that allows a “Maybe” pile, you’ll more easily identify those books you’re ready to let go of.

‘And when you pass on those you no longer want or read, you can store the remaining ones in a way that honours their place in your world, helping your environment to rise up to meet you.’

Surface clutter

The categories above tend to be areas where people ‘collect’ items (either through anxiety or sentimentality). Yet clutter can also appear randomly, particularly on surfaces around the home.

‘Clutter that accumulates here is of the in-your-face kind; a loud-and-clear message that something needs your attention,’ says Kerri. ‘By disregarding it or ignoring it, you send a message to yourself that your needs don’t matter.’

She recommends – after initially throwing out bits you don’t need – using a simple organisational system going forward.

Create a place for each thing, meaning if mess begins to accumulate again, items can be quickly tidied. As a result, you’ll be less overwhelmed and less likely to put it off.

Some people also like having strategic storage in different spots, not unlike Mrs Hinch’s ‘stair basket’. These baskets or tubs act as receptacles for day-to-day junk and keep your surfaces clear. Do a lap of the house with it in the evening and speedily put everything back in its right place.

The next steps

Once you’ve had your big declutter, you can focus on creating good habits for future you.

Kate recommends donating or giving away unwanted items ASAP, removing them from your living space and therefore from your mind.

Note down the reasons why you may have leaned towards overconsumption or stockpiling in the first place, and look to break these cycles in your usual routine.

‘As you’re putting items your items back into their place, think about organisational strategies you could utilise,’ says Kate.

‘Could a shelf insert of step shelves utilise the height, or would hooks or help maximise the space? It could also be something as simple and aesthetically pleasing as organising your clothes by colour.’

Decluttering doesn’t need to be a meticulous effort undertaken in a pristine house. One person’s idea of hoarding will seem like another’s show-home, so it has to be suited to your own lifestyle.

Possessions you use and enjoy aren’t clutter, but those that aren’t serving you need to go – if only so you can fill your life with things that do.

How to dispose of unwanted items

When you have lots to get rid of, it’s quicker to throw everything in the bin, but way worse for the earth. Ask yourself these questions to decide how to dispose:

  • Would the money I make from this item make it worthwhile to sell it?
  • Will I actually take the time to sell this item?
  • Would a charity shop take this item?
  • Could it be donated in an alternative way (eg fabric banks or to a charity for an upcycling project)?
  • Would someone I know like or use this?
  • Does the item’s packaging say it can be recycled?

If the answer to all of these is no, only then should your item be thrown away.

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