Expert Decluttering Tips for Your Pandemic-Inspired Purge

19. Clear Clutter


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19. Clear Clutter

Safe and Tidy

With people across the country cooped up at home, it’s more important than ever to maintain a liveable space. The COVID-19 crisis makes decluttering for the whole family, from kids to seniors, a necessity whether it’s a fast job or not, but it also forces some changes in how you have to go about trimming the fat and getting organized. Here are a few expert tips on how to downsize safely so you can make the most out of the space you’re stuck in. 

Related: New Rules for Buying and Selling a Home During the Pandemic

Shoe Rack

Start Small — Really Small

Downsizing and decluttering is stressful and overwhelming during the best of times — and these are hardly the best of times. Wherever you start, start with baby steps — they can soon lead to giant leaps and hopefully less stress. “This is the time to think small,” says Lauren Williams, a certified professional organizer and the owner of Casual Uncluttering. “People attempting to tackle the whole house, even a whole room, are setting themselves up for failure. Our sense of time is distorted, our ability to motivate ourselves is challenged, most of us are getting pulled in too many directions with childcare, trying to keep safe, learning new ways of working — not a foundation for success.

“Now is the time for micro-projects — the junk drawer, the shoes or the purses scattered in the front hall, the top of your work desk, just a drawer in a file cabinet, anything that you can break down into its smallest possible element. Accomplishing a micro-project is a great way to learn new skills, it gives you a wonderful boost of confidence, and it will have cumulative effects on the rest of the house. Add up a bunch of microprojects over time and you’ll have the whole house done.”

Related: Decluttering Projects You Can Easily Tackle in Less Than 30 Minutes

Ingenious & Cheap Storage Solutions
Hero Images/Getty Images

Pick a Task and Stick With It

A haphazard, willy-nilly plan is no plan at all. Choose a mission, draw it up so that it’s doable, and keep your eyes on the prize. “Identify a really impactful area that is also a significant pain point, like the kitchen or home office,” says Lisa Dooley, an organizing coach and founder of Your Organized Life. “Especially during quarantine with remote working and schooling, we need to create organized spaces for work and learning. Then break down the bigger project into manageable chunks and focus on specific action steps and tasks. Stay focused on that one area and don’t start jumping around to different spaces. You’ll eventually have to address other areas of the house but by starting with really impactful areas, you’ll see the progress more quickly and stay motivated.” 

Related: 30 Essentials You Need to Buy to Keep Your House Organized

Excess Cords

Corral Your Cords

For an era known as the wireless age, there sure are a ton of wires uglifying everyone’s houses. Cord clutter is hideous — but manageable. “Multiple chords dangling around can make a room feel chaotic and cluttered,” says Shane Dutka, founder of Review Home Warranties. “Clump and hide them together under a cord concealer or consider adding tiny hooks onto the back of furniture for you to string chords through, hiding them from view.”

Related: 24 Costco Products That Can Help Organize Your Life

Carrying Boxes and Moving Furniture

Safety First

There are a million great tutorials out there on decluttering, but keep in mind that many of them were written before the coronavirus crisis. No matter what advice you heed, tailor it to the realities of the current situation. “When gathering and packing up items you want to get rid of during COVID-19, it is recommended to buy moving boxes rather than relying on boxes from friends and/or grocery stores unless you have the opportunity to air them out for a few days,” says Marty Basher, home organization expert with Modular Closets. “Limit help with packing up items to close family. If you are working with a junk-removal or moving service, make sure you have masks, gloves, and disinfectant spray available.”

Related: 19 Companies To Help Seniors Downsize and Relocate

Your Storage Unit

Don’t Rent Storage Space

When downsizing, resist the urge to rent a storage shed for things you’re on the fence about keeping. “We get it,” home expert Marty Basher says. “You’re just not sure if you can part ways with certain items. But this is really where you need to shift your perspective on what you value in life. Do you really feel better knowing things that are allegedly important to your life are stored several miles away from you in a mini-garage surrounded by hundreds of other mini-garages? Not to mention the additional cleaning and disinfecting involved of the storage unit ahead of moving in and then again of the items stored once you take them out. Save that money on storage and invest it in a smarter way to remember those items, like a high-quality coffee book filled with photos and stories of those items.” 

Related: 20 Products in Your Garage That Are Waste of Space and Money

Dressing room

Think Vertically

When decluttering, a floor-to-ceiling mindset can reclaim a whole lot of unused space. “Every room has untapped storage and organization space via its walls,” says home expert Shane Dutka. “Get savvy with hooks, shelves, and tiered racks helping you maximize what space is available to you.”

Related: 22 Home Organization Products That Are a Complete Waste of Money

Old Photos Spark Joy

Digitize Old Photos

Digitizing those mountains of old physical photographs can preserve precious pictures for safekeeping while also clearing lots of clutter. “While traveling is off limits as families stay safe at home, there is a way to revisit past adventures while decluttering your lifetime of photo snapshots,” says Mitch Goldstone of “Gather all those shoeboxes and albums to digitize long-forgotten pictures.” In reality, however, scanning them one by one or even batch by batch into your printer’s scanner is simply not a practical use of time. Entrepreneurs with professional equipment have stepped in to fill that void, many at a very reasonable price. Goldstone’s company, for example, will digitize 4,000 photos for $40, or a penny per photo.

Related: 41 Things to Do Before Lockdown Ends

DIY Face Mask

Masks Are Here to Stay — Find Them a Home

As if there weren’t enough clutter before the COVID crisis, now mountains of personal protective equipment and mask-friendly accessories have been added to the pile. It’s time to come to terms with the fact that PPE is a part of life — at least for the foreseeable future. “A new item that may cause clutter are masks,” home expert Marty Basher says. “Plus, it will be challenging to figure out which ones are clean and which are dirty if there is no designated spot for either. Easiest may be for each family member to have a supply of masks on a shelf or in a cubby in the mudroom or entryway to grab on the way out and then to immediately put their worn mask in the laundry as soon as they come home after wearing it. No guessing as to whether it’s clean or dirty if the masks are only allowed to be in one of two spots.”

Related: Masks and Accessories to Make Covering Your Face More Comfortable

Best Paper Shredders

Scan, Shred, Repeat

It’s not just photographs. Paper clutter is an absolute killer — and just like those old pictures, they can be digitized and banished from your physical space. “Are you drowning in paper clutter?” asks Katherine Lawrence, a home organizing expert certified by Marie Kondo. “Stuck inside? Turn on a bingeable Netflix show, scan important papers to the cloud, then shred and recycle away all that clutter. Trust me, if you can’t get to it now, you will probably never do it.”

Related: How Long You Should Keep Your Tax Returns and Why

Plastic silverware

Cut Out the Cutlery

Just like cheap, flimsy takeout containers pile up after food orders, so, too, do the equally cheap and flimsy plastic forks, knives, and spoons that come with them. “One particular item that has steadily accumulated in my home since the start of the pandemic lockdown is disposable cutlery,” says Albert Lee, founder of Home Living Lab. “Due to dining restrictions, most of my meals now are takeaway or delivered and our restaurant owners are extremely generous with the cutlery. To prevent further cluttering, I now bring my own takeaway container and decline any disposable cutlery when doing takeaways. It is awesome for the environment, as well.”

Related: The One Thing Restaurants Wish You Would Do Before Ordering Delivery


Keep Kids Gear in Mind

If you have children, it’s simply not possible to live a clutter-free life without establishing a well-planned system they can follow for their most commonly used stuff. “Kids’ backpacks, lunch bags, sports gear, hats, coats, shoes, etc. tend to cause clutter,” home expert Marty Basher says. “It’s even more important now to have an organized system for everything that leaves and comes back into the house. One idea is to set up a couple of gear stations, one in the garage and one in the mudroom. Perhaps sports gear stays in the garage and backpacks and daily stuff is in your home. With hooks, shelving, and shoe racks in both spots, it will be much easier for your family to put away their things and for parents to disinfect them if desired or needed.”

Related: How to Put Your Kids to Work Around the House and Teach Them Financial Responsibility

Clothing Donation
Grumpy Cow Studios/istockphoto

Prepare Your Donations

Many charities and other organizations that accept donations aren’t currently taking drop-offs — but resist the urge to use that as an excuse to put off organization. “Don’t let that stop you from decluttering your home,” says Jeneva Aaron, founder and CEO of The Housewire. “Bag up donations and keep them in the garage, shed, or basement. Life under quarantine will be a lot easier if you have a clean, clutter-free living space, even if you have to store some stuff in the garage or basement for a little while.”

Related: Where to Donate for Racial Justice in All 50 States

All-Purpose Spices

Streamline Your Spices

Streamlining your spices is a relatively simple, doable project that shouldn’t take long but will reclaim a whole lot of space and tidy up a common problem area. “The shortcut for organizing your spices is to be ruthless,” says Ally Milligan, founder of Loveleaf Co., a food and lifestyle company that helps people simplify and declutter their kitchens. “Only keep spices you actually use in your cabinet — do you really need three types of mustard seeds? An organized spice cabinet makes it easier to cook healthy meals and prevents you from purchasing duplicates at the store.”

Related: 19 Spices and Sauces to Keep Home-Cooked Meals Interesting

Declutter time

If You Must, Bite the Bullet and Toss It

Bagging up donations and playing the waiting game is a good start — if you have space to spare. If not, you might have to just exile it all to the landfill, as bad as that might make you feel. “If you live in a small apartment and don’t have any place to store your donations during quarantine, just throw them out,” home improvement expert Jeneva Aaron says. “See if your friends or family want any of your old things, but if not, toss them out. It’s a shame to get rid of old clothes or household items, but honestly, who knows when charity shops will start taking donations again? If you don’t get rid of your clutter now, you could be living with it for another six months or more.”

Related: Spring Cleaning: 51 Things to Toss Right Now


Research Donation Alternatives

Before you give up and throw away all those potential donateables, do a little online research first. “If donation centers are not open yet in your area, look to national outlets for mail-in items such as Legos at the Lego,” says Sherri Curley of The Practical Sort. “Or focus on recyclables. Again, if no recycling center locations are currently available nearby, check out for a variety of mail-in or drop-off package recycling options or for electronics and electronic media like VHS tapes, CDs, DVDs, and game cartridges. You can find an assortment of waste reduction, donation, and other eco-friendly disposal resources at” Curley also suggests checking out selling and gifting sites such as NextDoor and Buy Nothing Project.

Junk Drawer

Have a Designated Dump Bin

When things don’t have an assigned space, they become clutter. That’s why it’s imperative to designate a spot for random and miscellaneous stuff. “This is a single basket or bin where new pieces of mail, random trinkets, and unsorted household items go by default,” says home expert Shane Dutka. “Every week or so, make a point to empty and sort the bin’s items to keep clutter from compiling.” 

Related: Spring Cleaning: 20 Household Items to Sell for Extra Cash

Clean Out the Shed or Garage
Monkey Business Images/shutterstock

Follow the Rule of 10s

There are many numerical-based strategies for de-cluttering and downsizing. Among the most efficient is one that follows three sets of 10. “Take the 10-10-10 challenge,” says Chloe Panta of Bonne Chic. “Locate 10 items to throw away, 10 items to donate, and 10 items to be returned to their proper owners. Also, take time to view your home as a first time visitor. Imagine how you’d like it to look. Write down your first impression of your home and make necessary changes to crafting it as your ideal, organized home.”

Related: 19 Home Improvement and Decor Trends for 2020

cabinet storage with plastic container
chee gin tan/istockphoto

Mismatched and Flimsy Food Storage Containers be Gone

Another common magnet for kitchen clutter is the space where people keep food storage containers, plenty of which are usually cheap to-go containers that came with a takeout or delivery order. Toss them and invest in one legit set instead. “Say goodbye to your food storage containers that have seen better days — warped, flimsy, stained plastic, missing a lid, etc.,” says Loveleaf’s Amy Milligan. “Recycle them, if possible, and upgrade to a uniform set of glass food storage containers. I promise leftovers taste better when stored in them.”

Related: The Best Food Storage Containers You Can Buy, According to Amazon Reviews

Reused table

Repair, Repurpose, Upcycle

Purging is good and necessary, but keep an eye out for awesome things that you might not use, but that can be reimagined for another purpose as you go. “Many things we want to declutter may be broken or worn, but those items don’t have to end up in the trash,” said Allison Tupling of The Greenish Mama. “An old crockpot can become a planter for a small herb garden. Old stained clothing or linens can be made into scrunchies, doll clothes, memory quilts, or even cleaning rags. Give new life to furniture with a little paint, a set of colorful pillows, or as a space to display items that have been tucked away.”

Related: 13 Little Home Improvement Projects That Make a Big Impact

Diogenes Syndrome

Control Your Emotions

If your space is cluttered, there’s a good chance you’re clinging to a lot of things for all the wrong reasons. “If you truly want to declutter, you have to be completely honest with yourself and your belongings,” says home blogger Alison Tupling. “Don’t keep things because ‘they were a gift’ or ‘well, I might need this someday.’ Those items could be making someone happy right now as opposed to taking up space in your home, waiting for someday.”

Related: 17 Mistakes to Avoid When Downsizing Your Home

Covid Hoarding

Offload COVID Panic Purchases

When the crisis first emerged, shelves were bare in stores across the country because a frightened American population was preparing for the worst. Many of them overdid it, to say the least. “Many of us have experienced the tug and pull of panic buying more than we need as a means of preparing for whatever the virus ushers in next,” says Stephanie Seferian, host of The Sustainable Minimalists podcast. “All that packaging waste adds up, as do all those hoarded supplies. Declutter anything you hoarded at the start of the pandemic and find yourself not using.”

Related: What Americans Are Really Shopping for During the Pandemic

Organize Your Pantry

Organize Your Pantry

Like spice racks, pantries tend to devolve into a what’s-even-in-there mess of disorganization that gobbles up precious space and makes cooking stressful instead of joyful. “An organized pantry makes it easier to whip up easy, healthy weeknight meals because you can see exactly what you have,” says Loveleaf’s Amy Milligan. “When organizing your pantry, first get rid of everything that you no longer want. Non-perishable items — that maybe you purchased in a pandemic-induced frenzy — can be donated. Then, group similar items together like baking ingredients, dry goods, snacks, etc. An organized pantry will set you up for success this fall by saving you time and money. You won’t buy items you already have and you’ll feel prepared to cook at home — no more last-minute takeout.”

Related: 20 Restaurant-Worthy Twists on Boring Pantry Staples

Cleaning kitchen

Make it a Routine

Don’t think of decluttering as a one-time, spring cleaning-type project. Instead, work maintenance decluttering into your regular schedule. “Decluttering your home on a regular basis is even more important during Covid-19,” home expert Marty Basher says. “The less clutter you have, the easier it is to clean, and that helps your home to be as germ-free as possible right now. Sanitize your home as you declutter it. Wipe down every area where your items normally are placed and wipe down with disinfectant spray or wipes.”

Related: How to Disinfect Without Harming Your Stuff (or Yourself)