We all have that one box or drawer. You know the one – with used batteries, a notepad half scribbled, electricity bills from over two years' ago and random takeout menus that you never put to use. That’s clutter. My family has its own set of miscellaneous clutter drawers. They sit in a decade-old dresser in the entryway, perfect for quickly tucking away what we don’t need and can’t get rid of, on the way in or out.
I took on the Herculean task to organise these items once. A week in and the drawers and their contents had gone back to the way they were. I never bit the bullet again. Like me, some of us think it’s easier to leave the mess be because it’s going to come back anyway, so why bother? Alexandra Loepp, luxury home organiser and founder of The Orderly Luxe in Dubai, later tells me over our call that I skipped the ‘maintenance’ step of my mini decluttering session.
There are layers to organising your home, a process that begins with small, manageable tasks. Imagine the relief of instantly knowing where the only nail clipper in the house is? Exactly. So we reached out to decluttering experts to bring the intimidating task down to earth.
Declutter space to declutter mind
Our brains don’t like a cluttered sight, found a 2011 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. The more items the brain sees, the more it is forced to overwork, as if each object were vying for its attention. This is probably why we struggle to focus when clothes are strewn across the bed and papers scattered on the desk along with books you’ve procrastinated shelving.
If you have a pile of clothes you constantly leave on a chair in your room, it will probably make you feel sad and frustrated that it’s always there.
“Mess can equate to negative thoughts,” Loepp told Gulf News. “If you have a pile of clothes you constantly leave on a chair in your room, it will probably make you feel sad and frustrated that it’s always there.”
Tidying up your immediate space is bound to improve your productivity. To do that, you first need to figure out what goes where. Try to give everything a permanent home. Sometimes, it’s more than just being overwhelmed with clutter. Sometimes, people simply don’t have it in them to exercise control over their own belongings.
Shelina Jokhiya, professional organiser and managing director of Dubai-based Decluttr Me, says she deals with many clients who have gone through emotional turmoil and mental health issues:
Whether it is death, depression, divorce or anxiety, all of these can lead to clutter accumulating in their life. Add on a busy life, looking after families, loved ones and working, it can get too much.
“Whether it is death, depression, divorce or anxiety, all of these can lead to clutter accumulating in their life. Add on a busy life, looking after families, loved ones and working, it can get too much.”
‘I think I’m pretty organised…’
Think again. A good way to know whether your home needs reorganising is to ask yourself, ‘Can I find what I’m looking for in less than five seconds?’ Jokhiya’s litmus test tells us that if the answer is no, then “there is a problem with your system, and it needs to be revised”.
We’re not being told to dive in face-first; it’s about toeing the waters and seeing what works best for you. It could be your closet that you enjoy to colour-code or the kitchen that you find the easiest to work with because you cook often.
Sonal Tiwari, Gulf News Food's assistant features editor, is the most confident in her organising abilities when it comes to her apartment’s kitchen. She shudders at the thought of the rest, especially that one box of random clutter living under her sink.
If you can’t find your stuff in less than five seconds, there is a problem with your system and it needs to be revised.
“My mother would know exactly where the pantry items were in the kitchen. I’d shout from the kitchen, ‘Mum, where is this?’ and she would shout back, ‘The second cabinet from the left, top shelf, behind the blue box.’ And I would find it there. I think I get it from her,” she added.
We do acquire these skills by example, says Loepp, whose mum was her inspiration, too. For the rest of us growing up without decluttering gurus, we can learn to train ourselves with the right amount of grit and focus, until it becomes a habit.
8 steps to declutter the right way
Roll up your sleeves… not. We’re starting slow. The overall advice is to break up big tasks into smaller phases over a period of time. Loepp tells us how:
Step 1: Make a note of your problematic areas
Whatever space in your home is stressing you out, it needs fixing. This could even be the topmost shelf of your wardrobe, far from reach, stacked with mysterious bags and shoe boxes. Add them all to a to-do list.
“The list may add up quickly, which can feel overwhelming; don’t stress! Give yourself time to complete these goals and set reasonable completion dates,” said Loepp.
Step 2: Prioritise spaces
Go through your list and reshuffle the items according to priority. You will happily want to declutter, say, your workspace that you spend the most time in. It is a good way to motivate yourself to move on to other spaces, once the feeling of accomplishment settles in.
Step 3: Seek inspiration
What does your dream pantry look like? Browse the internet, flip through magazines and draw up a visual you would like to imitate.
Step 4: Lay it all out – it’s time to declutter, with a friend
Before you kick off your decluttering session, break up the space into manageable areas.
“If you have four hours of free time during the weekend, commit to the space under your sink, not the whole kitchen, for example. Then the next weekend you can tackle the fridge, maybe,” added Loepp.
If you have four hours of free time during the weekend, commit to the space under your sink, not the whole kitchen.
Decluttering begins with spreading everything out on the floor. Have a good look at each. Do you really need a sweater you haven’t worn in three years? It’s normal to struggle with this process, so Loepp advises to have a friend over for help, who can objectively tell you fair and square, ‘Listen, you do not need this.’
Once you’ve picked out what you really need, see what is staying in the same space and what needs moving to a different room. As for the things you don’t need, Leopp said: “Create sections for items that will go to the bin, items that will go to donation, items you will sell and items you may give to family or friends.”
Step 5: Categorise according to type
With the hard part done and dusted, you can now categorise the remaining items that serve a purpose. Bring together like items, for instance, all your pens, books, charging cables, headphones and such. Next up is storing them.
Step 6: Shop storage solutions
Drawer dividers for office, kitchen and jewellery can do so much to maximise space. Storage solutions are especially helpful if you live in a small flat with restricted space. Do take your measurements in advance, though.
“Get a coffee table, for instance, with a removable top so that you can store your remote controller, DVDs and other TV-related gadgets. You could even get a bed that lifts into the wall to save space and a folding table. Get furniture that has multiple functions,” said Loepp.
Another practical tip is investing in shelf risers: “Make use of your vertical space. Add shelving in your closet or kitchen. You could add shelf risers above plates and put mugs on top of it.”
Step 7: Give everything a home
With your organising products in tow, make sure every item has a place to go to. Get creative on your rearranging journey; don’t be afraid to add a personal touch.
Loepp discovered her love for labels that way: “I label everything; they’re truly my favourite thing.”
Step 8: Don’t abandon your routine
The only way to ensure the clutter doesn’t return is to maintain it regularly. Spare 20 minutes a day or one to two hours during the weekend to trim away any build up.
And there you have it – a realistic step-by-step process to attaining a well-organised home. Maybe this time round, the clutter drawer will seem less like an impossible void and more a storage space.
Note: This article was first published in August 2022