Maybe you see beautiful, clutter-free spaces in magazines or on the web, and think: my home could never look like that. But it can! Freeing your space — and your life — from overwhelmingly huge amounts of stuff doesn’t take superhuman effort. All you need is a little commitment to some basic principles.
1. Live within your means
This isn’t a new idea, but I think it’s a wonderful place to start if you’re aiming for a simpler, less cluttered life. What “live within your means” implies for your home is this: Let the size of your home dictate how much stuff you have, and not the other way around. If your closet is bursting at the seams, instead of dreaming of a bigger closet, why not try paring down your clothes to fit the space you have?
2. Purge often
Even if you get to a point where you have only as many things as will comfortably fit into your space, stuff has a way of accumulating. So set aside a time, a few times a year, to go through your things and get rid of the ones you don’t use anymore. You’ll feel so much lighter, and your home will thank you.
3. Have a place for everything
A place for everything, and everything in its place. Almost a cliche, but still some of the best organizing advice out there. A bit of further suggestion: If you have lots of things in limbo on tables or countertops or the floor and are struggling to find places for them, maybe you need more places. This is where clear plastic shoe boxes or a filing cabinet or maybe just a console with lots and lots of drawers can come in handy.
4. Don’t underestimate the importance of a junk drawer
This is the other side of the coin to the commandment above. Every household has those little things — pens, tape, twist ties, whatnot — that get used a lot but don’t really have any logical place to go. Instead of agonizing over finding a home for every little thing, keep a junk drawer. The last few little bits of clutter get swept in there, and you’re done.
5. Become a habitual putter-awayer
This is probably the hardest part of this whole list for me; the “everything in its place” part of commandment # 3. I try to tell myself that it’s a sort of game, kind of like a shape sorter for adults. Put the bottle opener back in the drawer! Hang that skirt you didn’t wear back in the closet! But ultimately, I think the easiest way to make sure you put things away is just to do it, and then keep on doing it until it’s so habitual that you wouldn’t ever think of not doing it. When you see how much better your home looks, you’ll be that much more motivated to keep fighting the good fight.
6. Store things where you use them
Be smart about where you store things. Not having to walk halfway across your home to put things away will make commandment # 5 that much easier.
7. Stop clutter before it enters your home with a landing strip
Even if you’re conscientious about what you buy, it’s easy for clutter to sneak its way into your home in the form of junk mail, freebies, what have you. That’s why setting up a landing strip by the front door is so brilliant: Clutter has to come into your home somewhere, and you can stop it right at the source.
8. Go paper-free
Scanning all the documents you’ve been hanging onto may seem like a daunting task, but once you’re done, they’ll be easily searchable and you’ll have that much less stuff to manage. (Plenty of apps, like Evernote, allow you to search scanned documents for certain words.)
9. Realize that life is about experiences, not things
We’re constantly being bombarded with advertisements that try to convince us that a happy life is all about having the latest stuff: a new car, an outdoor kitchen, an ice cream maker. But studies have shown over and over (and my own experience has borne out) that it isn’t the things in our lives that make us happy, it’s our experiences that we treasure most. So the next time you’re tempted to buy more stuff, ask yourself if the money wouldn’t be better spent on a vacation or a nice night out. Bonus: You won’t have to find a space for these things in your cabinets.
10. Forgive yourself and try again
Remember that nobody is perfect, and nobody’s home is perfect. Even the homes you see in the magazines aren’t perfect — it took a whole team of stylists to make them that way. So if you have an off week, or two weeks, or month, and suddenly your house is a disaster, don’t panic. It’s never too late to forgive yourself and try again.