How to declutter, sort and organise in 5 simple steps

by Debra Dane on August 8, 2011

in Home Life

organised closetMost people have some space in their home that somehow gets out of control with clutter and overcrowding.  Whether it is your linen closet, your kitchen cupboards or your wardrobe, you started out with the best of intentions to use this great storage spot wisely.  Over time you added more items, used a formerly empty spot to store something unrelated, or simply stopped (or never established) your system for organising the contents.

Rather than carry on with the frustration of seeing this cluttered space day after day, I encourage you to tackle this problem now!  I will show you how to clear the space, sort your items and move forward in five simple steps.

Gather some supplies first:

  • large trash bag(s)
  • 4 medium to large size empty boxes or clear storage bins
  • a notepad and pen

Always declutter your space first

You will take everything out of the closet/cupboard/ space and set to the task of decluttering first as there is no point in organising items that will not be kept. By removing unwanted items you can better see what things actually need to be housed there and decide how best to organise the space.

Sort items as you remove them

1.  There will be many items that will not be returning to this space.  As you remove items immediately sort them as follows into your rubbish bags and plastic bins or boxes:

  • Rubbish – use sturdy and  large rubbish bags and decide on things as they are touched
  • Outgoings #1 (others): things that belong to other people or places and need to be returned (family, friends, library, video shop etc).  If you are not sure you will remember where items are going, note them on your pad now.
  • Outgoings #2 ( sell or donate): things to sell or donate/give away
  • Recycling – all paper goods as you clear out old files, random papers and receipts (you can have a shredder handy for later too)
  • To action – things to fix, paperwork discovered that needs to be sorted out and /or filed, things to put into use that had been lost in chaos (ie decor items, activity / craft items), things that belong elsewhere (ie books to bookshelf, toiletries to bathroom).  Use your notepad and pen to jot down what items you are adding to this bin and where they need to go for handy reference later.
As you sort these things you may find yourself unsure how to proceed on certain items – my motto is “when in doubt throw it out.” That can mean trash it or give it away, but regardless, if you are not 100% sure, it usually means you are hanging onto it for reasons other than you love it or use it regularly (you “may” use it someday, your mother gave it to you, your husband picked it out, it cost a lot…).  If something is actually useful or loved you get that immediate feeling of “yes” when you consider if it should stay or go.

2. As you take out items that did not fall into the above categories sort them as you go.  Create piles / groupings on a nearby surface (counter, table and/or floor).  Before you replace these items in the space, stop and gather similar items that you know are elsewhere, but should now be grouped in one place.

Example: if you now have a grouping of candles, matches, oils, burners and such, but know you also keep spares in other rooms, go around and corral what you can find.  These will now be kept in one location where you will have a better picture of what you own and how much.  This avoids excessive unnecessary purchases (where you end up with 20 candles and 4 boxes of matches) and wasted time searching for missing bits when it comes time to use them (now which room did I leave the matches in last time?).


3.  Now look at your groupings and ask some questions

Is there any grouping here that would be better off located elsewhere? Example:  something you need regular access to and can be stored in your bathroom, a different closet, or your bedside table.

Is there any grouping that has an excessive quantity?  Example: You may want to put the towels back in the closet, but realise that as you added new towels over the last year you did not get rid of any.  Do you need 7 hand towels?  If any are ripped or stained they can be tossed, donated or turned into clean-up towels (move these to the garage, your car trunk / boot, etc).  Also make a note (mental or real) that you do not need any more of this item.

Is there any grouping that is now in need of replenishment? Example:  If during the sorting process you finally acknowledged you did not need to hold onto those stretched out or ugly sheet sets, you may now find you are down to basics.  Make a note of what you actually need to purchase so that you can keep an eye out for a replacement you will love.

4. Time to put things away in an organised way.  Keep things simple and don’t over-think or stress about this for now.  Look at your groupings and see how they can best fit in the space.  Start putting them back in neatly, containerised as needed, and clearly labelled.

Example: As you use the space in the future you can notice when things need to be moved around (if you often access something and it is currently on a high shelf, swap it’s spot with something that you notice only gets taken out monthly).  Keep an eye on your space and let it evolve over time.  Just don’t add things into the space without thinking about them and where they belong.  If an item has a home, then return it there.  When you purchase a new item, make sure you decide where its home will be.

5.  Take care of your sorted bins today.  Since you organised them as you went don’t let this step being a stumbling block.

  • Rubbish  tie off the bag and take it straight to your kerbside bin.
  • Outgoings #1 (others): refer to your notes and make a clear list of where things are going so you can drop them off as soon as possible.  If the list says “return roasting pan to neighbour Jane” then you will have it ready to give to her when you see her next. This bin should be moved immediately to your car (or front entry if you don’t have a car) and you should build these tasks into your upcoming week, etc.
  • Outgoings #2 ( sell or donate): Decide immediately if these items will bring in enough money to warrant your time selling them (designer clothes? yes  Old towels? no;  If you have no Ebay/Craigslist experience perhaps a garage sale or consignment shop would be better.  Decide now and make a plan.  If you don’t have the time, inclination and /or money pressure required to organise a sale, then just donate the goods today.
  • Recycling – take immediately to your recycling bin and/or use your shredder on sensitive documents.
  • To action - refer to your list and make an action plan, schedule things in your diary, take next steps.
So – do you have a closet or space (or room) in your house that is crying out for attention?  What are you going to tackle and when- share it here and be held accountable (you can check back in on your comment and update when you tackle this project).  I promise that this is will be straightforward process if you organise for it and follow my 5 steps.



Find your simple,



I am linking up with Organizing Junkie in her 52 weeks of organizing

Photo credit: pmulloy2112
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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Tara DL August 20, 2011 at 10:25 am

Erm…would you be willing to declutter my entire house? Because I’d rather declutter/purge/sell/get rid of it then move it.

LOVE the blog. LOVE the venture. Wish you lived closer…


Debra Dane August 20, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Thanks for stopping by – you can do it – seriously take it 1 cupboard/closet/space at a time. Go at your own pace and build on your success. As you start to see some order, some empty spots etc you gain momentum and enthusiasm. It is always hardest when you look at the WHOLE project.

It is also easier if you are someone who loves decluttering and organising – I actually get pleasure from reorganising, but that is me… For others it is a necessary evil, but at least one that gives you many rewards!!

Hope you will stick around and join in here. Would love if you tweet or “like” anything helpful here to spread the word…
Debra Dane recently posted..How to organise your recipes part 2 – create a “to try” binder My Profile


Bethany August 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Just forced myself to declutter my dresser drawer full of work out clothes. I bought new things, never wear the old ones, but felt wasteful getting rid of them. Silly to have overflowing drawers full of clothes I don’t wear! In my drawer sort I found several items that I was wearing 75lbs ago–pretty silly to be hanging on to those.


Debra Dane August 21, 2011 at 5:02 pm

That’s fantastic Bethany. Being “wasteful” is such an interesting concept to explore in terms of why we keep things or overeat etc. I think it is very important for us all to learn that once something has been purchased the money is gone so should take that out of the equation. If you are not wearing the clothes they are not being used – period – and are being wasted even in the closet or drawer.

By getting rid of clothes we are not wearing it can actually save you a lot – time spent looking through all those clothes to find the “real” clothes you DO wear, money wasted when you buy replacements for items you just can’t see, your emotional health when you have clothes that reflect who you are now!

Good on you!!
Debra Dane recently posted..How to organise your recipes part 2 – create a “to try” binder My Profile


Kimberley Evans August 22, 2011 at 5:58 am

Wow, so inspired Deb! Just wish the kids were back at school tomorrow so I could make a start!!
But come Oct when Sophie is in full time school too, I’ll send you a pic of my newly organised craft cupbaord and airing cupboard!


Debra Dane August 22, 2011 at 7:17 am

Can’t wait to see. I am trying to figure out how to add a reader gallery to the FB page…
Debra Dane recently posted..How to organise your recipes part 2 – create a “to try” binder My Profile


Siobhan Dornan August 30, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Wow Deb! Love this. I have read similar but this really motivated me to get started sorting all the clutter!

Its the writing the lists as I go which is helping the most. Usually i sort and then end up with piles of stuff that i am not really sure what to do with and usually stick them somewhere else to deal with later. Sorting as I go is definately making my decluttering a lot easier! One wardrobe done…a load more to go but am so motivated by your system.

Thanks xx


Debra Dane August 30, 2011 at 10:17 pm

That is fantastic Siobhan. It also reinforces my view that you have to find what will work for you and then things fall into place. When something is not working for you (whether it is decluttering or meal planning or your job) keep trying ideas and suggestions until one fits! When it fits the magic happens!

I hope you keep building on your success. If you feel like sharing before and after photos ever let me know and we can put them on the facebook page (have you joined us there yet – the FB button on the main page will take you to the hls FB page)
Debra Dane recently posted..The ripple effectMy Profile


Sarah September 5, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Great post Debra – Am feeling very domestic Goddessy right now as followed your advice and sorted through scary bathroom cabinate. I was absolutely ruthless and even managed to throw away the last dregs of a bottle of Chanel No5 body lotion! It had actually gone off but I was holding onto it none-the-less! Oh the freedom! x


Debra Dane September 6, 2011 at 7:44 am

Yay! It is amazing what we hold onto! I know it feels wasteful, but I truly believe one of the most freeing concepts to adopt is that once the money is spent it is gone. Yes, you may have to replace a shampoo if you did not like the one you bought so are double spending, but you will never get back the money you spent etc. If the old shampoo is not right for you,makes your hair feel yuck then chalk it up to experience and buy yourself the right shampoo so you feel good every time you wash your hair. We should not feel the need to be martyrs for our stuff – even if you bought $50 shampoo!
Debra Dane recently posted..My weekly meal plan – {Chicken Tikka Masala & Southwestern Black Beans and Rice}My Profile


Julie Evans January 5, 2012 at 9:27 am

Decluttered and reorganised my bathroom, what a great feeling! so many areas to tackle but I am feeling positive thanks to your encouragement and advice. So true about old towels, haha, about the false wastefulness…- that’s so me!!!
Will reorganise something else tomorrow :-)
Thank you


Debra Dane January 5, 2012 at 9:29 am

You are very welcome =- that is great to hear! Definitely build on that using momentum!
Debra Dane recently posted..52 weeks to simplify your life {SYL: Week 1}My Profile


Pats January 8, 2012 at 10:23 am

My best tip for anyone for everyday or after a de-clutter…

don’t put it down – put it away.

This way everything is in its right place and you don’t end up with pile of clutter covering the kitchen table, or any flat surface that will take it!

My other tip is… don’t start putting things where they belong DURING the clean up – its too easy to get distracted in another room with another job. When I cleaned house when my children were small I took a couple of buckets with me. One had cleaning stuff in it, one was for the kitchen (I put cups, plates etc that had found their way around the house in it), one for the things that needed to go to other rooms and when I got to the next room I would clear things from this bucket that belonged there. And so on and so on for each room ending with the kitchen. Its amazing how focus it keeps you and how much quicker you get things done when you are not constantly running from room to room.


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