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Should You Declutter Your House All at Once or With Small Steps?

Updated on February 24, 2020
Susan Caplan McCarthy profile image

Susan is a decluttering coach and a member of NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals.

How Much Time Will It Take to Declutter Your Home?

In Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she talked about tidying (the word she uses instead of ‘decluttering’) one’s home all at once. If you missed the single reference to all-at-once equaling approximately six months, you may have thought that you were expected to declutter your entire home in a long weekend.

Nope.

There’re no rules as to how long it will take to declutter. If you have a deadline, you’ll likely work faster than if you don’t.

Remember that Your Goal Is Less Stuff ... and Less Stress

Neater spaces, free of clutter, invite you to feel calmer.
Neater spaces, free of clutter, invite you to feel calmer. | Source

Things that Affect How Long It Will Take to Declutter

The amount of stuff you have.

The time you can schedule for decluttering.

The time it takes you to decide to let go of items.

Declutter All at Once

I consider it ‘decluttering all at once’ if you are devoting at minimum an hour a day every day (or 8-hours on one weekend day every week). This is a lot of effort – both physically and mentally.

At this rate, you’ll work through approximately one room or half of a storage space each week. And, if you have stuff really packed into the space, it could take longer.

Is it worth the effort to organize your home within this time frame?

If you’re decluttering your home so you can put it up for sale, then you’ll want to work through your stuff all at once. Also, if you’ll be moving, you have a deadline that you must adhere to. For some people, knowing that they’ll be hosting a graduation party or other large get-together at their home is an incentive to focus their energy and effort.

Just remember, decluttering and organizing takes more time that you’ll wish it did. Don’t wait until a week or two before a move or a party to start going through your stuff.

Create a Fresh Start

Cleaning through your home and letting go of a lot of stuff quickly can give you a fresh start. You’ll feel as if you’re in a new space and this may be the incentive you need to engage in habits that will keep you organized.

Let Go of Stuff with Small Steps

If you can’t imagine finding an hour or two every day to declutter, you can also tidy your home with small steps that take just 10-or-15-minutes a day.

You’re first thought may be that this won’t be enough time to accomplish anything. However, just 15-minutes a day adds up to over 90 hours in a year! And, the best part is, a quarter of an hour won’t put a dent in your daily schedule.

Instead of sorting through your entire closet, you might focus fifteen minutes on tee shirts or jeans. You can work your way around your kitchen drawer-by-drawer, shelf-by-shelf. After you’ve decluttered a room or a category of items, however long it takes, you can then go back and organize the items into an efficient order.

Clearing through a Space Quickly Gives You Immediate Satisfaction

Decluttering quickly helps you see the results of your efforts and can keep your momentum high.
Decluttering quickly helps you see the results of your efforts and can keep your momentum high. | Source

Declutter by Rooms or Categories

Honestly, there’s no single best technique for decluttering your home. Some professional organizers will suggest starting in an often-used room, like the family room, while others will prefer starting with a group of item, like clothing.

Which is right? Neither and both.

When you think about it, many groups of items are already gathered within a room – clothing, books, DVDs, games, kitchen gadgets, etc. Sure, you may have books in your bedroom and in your family room (with cookbooks in the kitchen), but you have a primary location for most of the items.

So, you could start working in a room by focusing on the items within a large category (say, the clothing in the closet within your master bedroom) and afterwards work your way around the remainder of the room.

How to Declutter a Room

1. Work clockwise (or counterclockwise) around the room. 2. Work top-to-bottom (including stuff hanging on the wall). 3. Declutter the stuff that’s out in the open before opening cabinets and drawers or you’ll get overwhelmed by too much stuff.

How to Declutter a Category

Categories can be broad, like clothing or books, or specific, like mugs or towels. 1. Gather everything that belongs to a category to a single spot. 2. Group items into subcategories (mystery novels, diet books, photography books, etc.). 3. Compare the items in each subcategory and eliminate duplicates, worn items, and anything you no longer want, need, or use.

The Benefit of Taking Small Steps

Whether you declutter fifteen minutes or two hours every day, you’ll also need to maintain the order you’ve created. Your closet will be fantastically organized until you do laundry and need to put away your clean clothes.

If you leave the clean clothing in a pile on a chair outside the closet or you don’t hang the clothing in the order you created, you’re on the first step to future disorganization.

A big change from a major declutter may be so exciting that you’ll want to put in the extra effort to stay organized.

On the other hand, slowing down the process by taking smaller steps, won’t leave you feeling overwhelmed that you suddenly need to maintain everything one-hundred percent perfect. You’ll declutter a space and then get used to maintaining order there. Space-by-space you’ll be decluttering and then maintaining order. You’ll get in the habit of folding your tee shirts while tossing your loose socks in another drawer.

Gather and Sort Similar Items if You're Overwhelmed by Too Much Stuff

Whether you are decluttering a room or a category, you can always narrow in on a group of similar items and decide what you'll keep and what you'll let go.
Whether you are decluttering a room or a category, you can always narrow in on a group of similar items and decide what you'll keep and what you'll let go. | Source

Organization Comes Down to Your Habits

Whether it takes you four months or four years to minimize the items in your home, know that you’ll also need to develop the habits that will keep your new order. Don’t wait until after you’re done decluttering to practice habits such as

  • Put things away when you are done using them.
  • Have a box in a closet labeled for donations. When you find something you no longer want, immediately put it in the box.
  • Each time you buy something, get rid of something. Bought a new book? Get rid of an old book that you won’t be rereading.
  • Tidy up a space when you’re done working there. Clean up your desk at the end of your workday; clean up the kitchen after dinner.

Ultimately, decluttering all at once or with small steps comes down to whether you have a deadline that you need – or want – to stick with. Your goal is to feel less stress from having so much stuff in your home. Every moment that you spend eliminating excess allows you to feel less and less stressed from owning too many unwanted things.

Would You Prefer to Declutter All at Once or with Small Steps?

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