Have you wondered if the best way to declutter your home is to do the work 15-minutes every day or to wait and block off an entire day to work on a big project? Here's how to decide what's best for you.
By Susan McCarthy
Once upon a time, while living in my parents' house to help them out (my mother had a series of strokes), I adhered to their idea that you should hold onto everything because you might need it some day.
And once a month, to keep order in my 8'x12' bedroom, I "organized" every drawer, dresser top, shelf, etc. See, I had so much stuff that to take one thing from it's place, other things got messed up. I was constantly organizing and wondering why I was never organized.
When I finally began decluttering, I used the technique I was familiar with and went drawer-by-drawer, shelf-by-shelf. This took a loooooong time. However, I think if I tried to declutter my entire bedroom in a weekend, I think I would have shut down. It would have been too much.
But I know others need the immediate gratification of seeing dramatic change in a few hours. So, is there a better way to declutter?
Is there a best way to declutter your home?
You can approach managing your time while decluttering your home in a couple of ways – a few minutes every day or working several hours on a single day. There’s advantages and disadvantages to both methods and the one you use depends more on the task than the time you have available.
And while you can stick with one technique, you may find that your progress is quicker if you have the flexibility to work both ways – a few minutes here and there as well as day-long bursts of decluttering energy.
But how do you decide which is the best method for you and the task or project at hand?
The benefits of decluttering 15-minutes a day
I think people overlook how much they can accomplish in just 15-minutes a day. A quarter hour a day adds up to over 90 hours over the course of a year! Can you imagine setting aside two work weeks of time to clear clutter from your house?
The biggest benefit here is that fitting in 15-minutes isn’t a hardship. That’s not saying your life isn’t crazy-busy, but is it realistic to think you’ll be able to clear six-to-ten-hours from from your schedule some weekend to declutter the kitchen?
Decluttering for a quarter hour looks like a single shelf within a cabinet…or maybe half a shelf. If a space is crammed with stuff, you may spend one mini session pulling out things that can get tossed or donates and then your next mini session emptying the contents, decluttering some more, and then returning items neatly to the space.
Decluttering this way requires that you look at decluttering as a series of small categories (plates, socks, cookbooks) or spaces (shelf, drawer, shoebox-sized bin) as opposed to focusing on your entire kitchen or closet.
If you focus on the grander project, then you’ll end up frustrated that it’s taking forever to clean your kitchen a few minutes a day. However, if you can’t see where to fit several hours of work into your schedule, those few minutes every day will become a clean, decluttered, organized space.
The benefits of longer decluttering sessions
If you can set aside the time (most of a day in many cases) and you have the energy to work for hours at a time, then you may enjoy the transformative benefits of decluttering quickly and deeply.
Even if you think that a room won’t take much time to organize (you’re thinking two or three hours tops), plan for at least twice that time. It’s difficult to estimate how long a decluttering project will take. The major factor can be how quickly you make decisions about what you’ll do with items.
You may glance around at the stuff and think that it will be easy to bag stuff for donation because none of it gets used and you don’t like most of it. However, the moment you touch the items, you start having second thoughts – you remember that some items were gifts or how much they cost or that you never really used something as often as you thought you would. All of this slows down the decluttering process.
In the beginning, plan that decluttering will probably take more time as you get used to the vast number of decisions you’ll be making.
The other factor that can catch you is the sheer amount of stuff that can be fit into cabinets, drawers, and closets. You know there’s a lot of stuff in there, but you may be shocked as you start pulling items out of this space. And let me add boxes and bins to the list of spaces that can hide just how much stuff is in there. My recommendation – bring the box near the couch and put on some happy movies to watch as you sort though a box of small items.
When to sort through stuff 15-minutes a day
The biggest consideration for working this way involves what your regular schedule looks like. If you’re thinking that you have no time to declutter, this method could work for you. If you’re frustrated at the thought of how long this will take, consider for how long you’ve been talking about tackling this decluttering project.
Do you want to find yourself that many months into the future having taken no time to declutter? Yes, it might take a month to see results, but you will.
If you’re not working on a timeline, such as you’re hosting a wedding at your house or your adult child is moving back home in two weeks and you need to clear out their room, then this slow and steady process is a viable option.
And if you deal with chronic health issues that sap your strength, decluttering for even 5-minutes can help you feel a sense of fulfillment in taking charge of your home.
If you can see a lot of small spaces (shelves, drawers, tabletops, etc.) within a room, clearing clutter with this method may be an option. That you can see the small spaces that you can finish in 15-to-30-minutes (over a day or two) indicates that you realize how to break down this multi-hour project into small pieces.
However, if the space is filled with boxes (the garage, attic, or extra bedroom that’s become a storage room) and you know you’ll want to empty out each box to see what’s inside, then you may not finish each box in 15-minutes. You can work with a time limit or focus on working box-by-box.
When to spend a day (or weekend) decluttering
If you have a timeline (a move or big party), then working a few minutes a day won’t get you the results that you want or need. Finding the time to clear multiple rooms and storage spaces of clutter involves – decluttering your schedule.
You won’t be able to say “yes” to get togethers and events. You’ll need to spend less time on social media (unless it’s work-related) and fun things like Netflix, reading, and hobbies will be limited if not eliminated for a while.
Not to say that you’ll have no life when you declutter but depending on the timeline you’re working with and how much you want this done, you’ll need to find a lot of big chunks of time to do this work. You’ll be better off if you decide what you’re willing to give up – temporarily – for the sake of simplify your life in the near future.
Of course, you don’t have to do all this decluttering once a week. You could focus an hour or three a few times a week and still power through a project. And if you can’t see the use of working a few minutes every day, then this may be the way to go.
If you have the energy and time…and want to see fast result (and don’t mind putting other areas of your life on hold for a while), block off your schedule and big projects – a major closet overhaul, organizing your kitchen, or sorting through walls of stuff in your garage or attic.
How to declutter using both methods
A third option is to use both 15-minute and day-long decluttering sessions, depending upon what you’re doing.
Before you start decluttering, you can do a quick start – focus on clearing away obvious trash and recyclable items around the house and then removing items from where they were set down to where they belong. These couple of steps won’t make your house organized, but it will clear a lot of the visible clutter. Putting things in their correct room will also help you determine where to store items.
Use the few minutes a day method when you’ll be decluttering a small space. Remember, by returning to a room multiple times, you can work small space by small space, working your way around a room. You could work on small spaces in a room during the week and then spend a few hours on the weekend tackling some of the larger spaces in the room
And when working in spaces like the garage or attic, you could set aside boxes containing lots of small items you want to go through and work on those during the week. This way you don’t slow down your efforts during a multiple hour project.
Your goal during a day-long project should be to get as much work done as possible, so don’t get caught up in detail-oriented decluttering tasks that require a lot of decision-making. Not only do those take a lot of time, but they can also be more mentally and emotionally draining.
The key to decluttering? Just start
Whether you work a few minutes a day or multiple hours every so often, remind yourself of your goals. Why are you decluttering? What do you hope to do in the spaces that you’re simplifying?
Remember, decluttering a few minutes a day is good if you are working on small spaces or have a chronic illness that saps your energy. This method also works if you are working through detail-oriented work – sorting sentimental items, photos, or paperwork which can all be draining.
Decluttering for multiple hours in a day will allow you to see a big difference in your home, quickly. If you have the energy (and perhaps the help), you can work your way around an entire room and see a dramatic before-and-after difference within a day.
Whichever method you use, remember to plan time to maintain the order you’ve created.