by Susan McCarthy
These quick decluttering projects can make a difference throughout your home by tackling small spaces that can help ease stress, save you time, clear unnecessary items, and make your home more organized.
You want to declutter your home, but you don't have a lot of time to work through an entire room. You could wait for a rainy weekend or plan to declutter for 15-minutes a day, but sometimes you just want to feel as if you've accomplished a worthwhile project.
Enter the Quick Decluttering Win. Depending on how much stuff you have in one of the eleven spaces mentioned below, you could start and finish in less time than it would normally take to rewatch a favorite movie.
Tackle several of these spaces and you'll start to feel motivated to create your own quick decluttering projects around your home.
What Is a Quick Decluttering Win?
A Quick Decluttering Win is a clearly defined project that you can start and complete in approximately an hour.
I know, there are a lot of articles across the internet that list ’50 Things You Can Declutter in 10 Minutes.’ And those lists are great because they show you how it’s possible to fit spontaneous decluttering into your day.
But because you can do these things so quickly, they don’t seem like a big deal. Matching lids to food storage containers is seriously useful, but you probably don’t feel like you made much of a difference in your home.
A Quick Decluttering Win should feel like a win. You want to see the difference and you want to feel like you made a difference in your home. So, if you’re thinking that an hour-ish doesn’t exactly qualify as quick, I want you to aim for a project that when done has you thinking (or saying), “I did that!” (Happy dance optional.)
The Benefit of Quick Decluttering Projects
Some Quick Decluttering Wins are powerful because they bring order to a visible spot in your home. What looked chaotic is quickly tamed. This brings about a hidden benefit that may be more powerful than a tidied location.
A sense of accomplishment.
If you’ve ever found yourself tackling a larger project – a room or closet – you may have underestimated how long it would take to complete. Let’s face it, while your writing teacher may have taught you how to organize a school essay, probably no one in school ever said, here’s how to plan out a project and estimate how long it will take you to do.
You run out of time and end up scrambling to shove things out of the way and make the room look presentable. You end up feeling angry at yourself and maybe even disappointed that you failed to reach your goal to clean that space in the time you had.
But there was no way for you to know that you wouldn’t finish this project in the time you allotted to it. What happens? You don’t really feel motivated to continue.
Honestly, why go back to a project that you feel you failed at?
That’s why Quick Decluttering Wins are important – even if no one can see the area you decluttered and organized. You start. You finish. You feel a sense of accomplishment. And this boost to your morale is important because you know you’re ready to tackle the next project.
1 – Your Bedside Table
Decluttering and organizing your nightstand can bring order to the space that may be the first you see in the morning and the last you see at night.
By being intentional about what you keep here, you can also support some steps in your morning or night routine. This is not a space that you want to feel stressed by. If you don’t want to be scrolling through your phone first thing in the morning or at the end of your day, move it off your bedside table. Put it on the other side of the room or just outside your bedroom.
Since this is a small space, take everything off it and dust. Before you return anything, consider if you use it here or think you should. Every so often I put hand lotion on my nightstand figuring this is a good habit to get into. I look at the hand cream and ignore it.
If you don’t write in that journal you keep at your bedside, at some point you need to decide if you should try journaling in another location…or drop the idea of the habit.
And if you’re like me and read before turning the lights off, avoid having a tall stack of books here. I don’t know about you, but this makes me feel a bit stressed, like I need to read faster. More the books to another spot you can designate as your ‘to read’ shelf.
You’ll find more detailed steps for decluttering your bedside table in this article.
2 – The Refrigerator
Chances are that you go into your refrigerator multiple times a day and so a clean and organized space can help support your health goals. Really, make sure that the foods you want to eat are easily available and move the things that you don’t want to grab to less convenient spots.
And you want to make certain that food doesn’t go to waste by getting forgotten. Wait until the day before you go shopping to clean the fridge so there’s less stuff in here.
You can also plan to declutter expired food right before the trash gets picked up and then scrub the shelves and drawers before going grocery shopping.
Treat the shelves as one Quick Decluttering Win, the drawers as another, and the shelves on the door as a third if you’re concerned you don’t have enough time to do the entire refrigerator in one go.
Remember, you want to feel a sense of accomplishment, something that won’t happen if you’ve emptied the fridge and then need to head off to an appointment before you can finish cleaning the interior of the fridge.
For additional guidance, go to this article on decluttering and organizing the refrigerator.
3 – The Freezer
Here I’m talking about the refrigerator freezer and not a large, dedicated freezer – particularly if defrosting it is a necessary step.
If your hands get cold, wear winter gloves. (My thanks to my friend Kerri who pointed out this obvious step when I complained about my hands cramping from the cold.) If it’s warm in your home, you might want to pack food in a cooler; but this task should go quickly, so this probably isn’t necessary.
Again, do this before garbage day so this stuff won’t defrost in your trash can and attract wild animals or simply smell horrible.
Pull everything from the freezer. Check expiration dates, toss mystery items, look for items that have freezer burn, and note food that should get used sooner than later. Wipe down the interior of the freezer.
When returning items to this space, consider what gets forgotten and place it in a more prominent spot. If you notice there’s food that you don’t know how long it’s been in here, then make a note to be better about putting dates on items.
If you prep food and then forget about it, you might want to keep a list on your fridge or taped inside a nearby cabinet so when you’re wondering what’s for dinner, the list can prompt you to remember what you have planned.
4 – Your Purse, Wallet, Briefcase, Tote Bag
Chances are that you use these items every day. That means they have a lot of opportunities to get messy (a single transaction in a store could result in an over-long receipt, loose change, and a couple of bills that get shoved into a pocket of your purse.
The good news is that once you empty your purse of the things you don’t even need to carry around with you, it will be much easier to tidy this at the end of each day, so it stays organized. (Not to mention how much easier it will be to carry around the lighter item and find the things you do have in here.)
Follow the steps in this article to declutter and organize your purse.
It’s common thinking that it takes just as long to maintain order on a regular basis as it does to declutter an area. But that isn’t the case. On most days, things don’t get that messy and it’s much easier to deal with one or a few things from the day than a month or season’s worth of accumulation.
5- The Trunk of the Car
At times, I’ve been guilty of using the trunk of my car as a storage space for the things I didn’t quite know what to do with. In a way, this felt like a win. After all, the item wasn’t cluttering my home. However, all I was doing was driving around with the item. I hadn’t decided to donate it, so all I was really doing was cluttering my car.
Should you have things in the trunk of your car that you’ve been meaning to donate, decide where you’re donating the items, find out the times you can do this, and make it your goal to clear your car of these things.
As for the other items? Empty the trunk (or the area used for storage) and only return the things that you use or that are specifically for emergencies. What’s left? If this is something that isn’t getting used, consider popping it into a bag or box of items for donation.
6 – Under the Bed
Unless you’re wondering where your cat or pet turtle has wandered off, you might never look under your bed. If you’re using this space for seasonal storage or a keepsake box that you pull out once or twice a year, then this might be the best place for these things, particularly if you lack storage space.
On the other hand, is this the space where things you don’t think about go to collect dust? If there are boxes under here, go through one at a time so you don’t end up pulling out a bunch of stuff and feeling overwhelmed. You can always condense the contents into fewer boxes afterwards.
If this isn’t stuff that you use during the year, question how these things ended up here. Were you cleaning another room, readying it for visitors and the easiest solution was to bag up stuff and shove it out of the way?
This may have been a temporary solution but then other things in your life called for your attention and a bunch of stuff you might not even need wasn’t a top priority.
To feel a sense of accomplishment for tackling this hidden space, remember that you’re solving a problem that was only temporarily resolved when you took these things from someplace else and moved them out of the way.
Check out this article for additional steps for tackling this space.
7 – The Medicine Cabinet
This is another one of those spaces where you likely go multiple times a day. If you can’t find what you’re looking for because smaller items end up shoved to the back or things fall out when you go to take what you want, then cleaning this space will make your time in here more efficient while reducing your stress. This is a good candidate for a Quick Decluttering Win.
You can find full directions for decluttering the medicine cabinet here, but you can keep it simple by emptying everything in the medicine chest.
As you remove things, check expiration dates. And even if something hasn’t expired, if you never use it, toss it (or ask a friend or family member it they use the product and give it to them). Also, do you rotate between multiples of the same type of item, or do you just need a single representative here?
Consider what you want to keep in here. Would there be a better place to store something? You could keep the item in the bathroom, but on a shelf or in a drawer. Are there first aid supplies that could get grouped together into a kit that could get stored in a convenient location?
Find a narrow bin that would fit on a shelf in the medicine cabinet for those small items that end up disappearing behind other things (thermometers!) or that are always getting knocked off a shelf (eye drops, I’m looking at you!).
8 – The Coffee Table
The coffee table can be a convenient drop spot for things you use while sitting in a chair or on the couch positioned around the coffee table – magazines, snack plates, mugs, mail, knitting projects, and other things that you were using while sitting near this table.
Like other spaces, decide what you want to keep here on a regular basis – or if you want this space kept bare. Chances are that most of the stuff here belongs someplace else…maybe even in this room.
This can be a quick space to declutter and an easy one to maintain, you’ll find tips here. Since the furniture in your living room may be grouped around the coffee table, keeping this space neat can make more of a difference than you might imagine.
9 – Under the Sink
Whether this is the space under the kitchen sink or the bathroom sink, chances are things can get lost under here all too easily. It’s a tall, deep space with poor lighting – perfect for storing things that can get forgotten.
Pull everything out, checking for expiration dates. If the condition of the bottle or the product within seems a bit dodgy, and you can’t remember when you last used the item, it may be best to properly dispose of it.
If you have difficulty bending or reaching things in here, consider using stacking storage bins set up along the front of the cabinet. Things might not get stored all the way to the back of the cabinet, but if you can’t easily reach things pushed to the back, then you don’t want to use the entire space.
And while covered storage bins can be an option, remember, it can be a hassle to pull out a stack of bins and shuffle through them to reach the one you want. Also, this action can make it a hassle to put things away…which means your organizing system can break down as things will get squeezed around the storage bins you have under the sink.
It’s easy to think, “oh, this is just storage space,” but you still want to be able to retrieve and return the items, so they get used.
10 – Junk Drawer
The junk drawer – or really any drawer – can be a Quick Decluttering Win. The rest of the drawers in the cabinet or dresser can get tackled on another day if you don’t have the time to do more.
For the junk drawer, have a trash can handy for the dried elastic bands and broken pieces that got tossed in her.
But, before you start emptying this drawer, consider how you want to use this space. Yep, instead of thinking of a junk drawer as a catch-all for things you don’t know what to do with, consider if you want this space for tools and supplies you use all the time – tape, screwdriver, picture hanging hooks, measuring tape, etc. or for office supplies like pens, pushpins, and envelopes (perhaps because you home office is on another floor of your home).
Once you know what you want to keep here, then it’s easy to see what doesn’t belong. Since the items in your ‘junk’ drawer can be small (and kept in multiples, like paperclips), a drawer organizer is useful so you can clearly see the contents of the drawer. Of course, the secret is to avoid mixing too many types of items within a single, divided section.
Then start referring to the drawer as the ‘stationery drawer,’ ‘the tool drawer,’ or however you’ve decided to use it. This might not guarantee that it doesn’t revert to a drawer of random items again but giving this space a new identity just might help.
11 – Flat Surfaces
Flat surfaces can be anything from the floor to a counter, desk, table, seat of a chair, end table, shelf, and so on. Of course, some of these surfaces will be too large to declutter in an hour. Well, you might be able to clear the space, but you won’t have the time to deal with the items.
Toss? Keep on this surface? Donate or sell? Put in another location? Depending on how many items are on this surface, you’ll have a lot of decisions to make.
To clear a flat surface for a quick win, start by defining what part of the surface you want to clear. So, you might not clear all the counters in your kitchen…just the space between the stove and the sink for the Quick Decluttering Win.
Remember, if you complete this area, you can always do another space if you have time.
Have a trash bag handy along with a box for items that you’d like to donate and an empty laundry basket for collecting items that belong elsewhere in the house. For each item you remove, deposit it in the appropriate bag, box, or basket.
If you can’t decide, pop the item in the laundry basket. Within 24 hours, plan to carry the basket from room to room, putting these things where they belong. This is also your second chance to decide what to do with the items you weren’t certain about the day before.
And if you want to keep this surface clear, there’s a series of problem-solving questions you can ask to investigate why the clutter keeps collecting here. Click here to learn the questions to ask to get organized.
How to Declutter Your Home Fast
As you work through some of the Quick Decluttering Wins, you may notice others throughout your home. And you’ll also get a better sense of how much time it takes you to clear and organize a space so when you do work on larger projects, like a room, you may also have a better sense of how long it will take to bring order to that space.
Quick wins are motivating, but when you're ready to take on bigger tasks, you want to take the right steps in order. Get a free copy of The Less Clutter Roadmap and start simplifying your home.
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Hi, I'm Susan
My mission is to help you learn what decluttering can add to your life. Find out more about what I do here.