Now that we’ve spent many months inside—which may last longer depending on your work situation and your kids’ camp and school situations—having a serene home seems especially essential. And it might feel especially impossible because you’re also tired and worn out.
But while it takes some energy to create a sanctuary, it doesn’t require many hours or painstaking techniques. And small actions go a long way.
That’s why today I’m sharing 10 quick tips you can try right now, this week, or this summer from Cassandra Aarssen’s new book The Declutter Challenge: A Guided Journal for Getting your Home Organized in 30 Quick Steps. Her book is packed with encouraging, empowering, and insightful strategies. I also love Aarssen’s humor and positive attitude. (And she has a super helpful website and YouTube channel with lots more tips.)
- Gain an outsider’s perspective. Snap a photo of a space you’d like to declutter. Looking at the photo (rather than the room in person) helps you see it with fresh eyes. Then ask yourself: When I look at this photo, what do I notice? What can I remove so my space looks less chaotic?
- Find trash. Grab two bags: one for garbage and one for recyclables. Set a timer for 5 minutes, searching for expired medication, makeup, and food; broken items; receipts you don’t need; and empty food wrappers.
- Look for 21 items you can toss or donate—such as shoes you don’t wear, mugs you don’t like, old greeting cards and artwork, and appliances you don’t use.
- Prioritize your bedroom. According to Aarssen, decluttering the master bedroom will have the biggest impact. “Your bedroom is the last thing you see each night before you fall asleep and the first thing you see when you open your eyes in the morning. A messy, cluttered, and chaotic bedroom can make it difficult to relax and fall asleep, or zap your energy, motivation, and happiness when you wake up.” First, reflect on what is and isn’t working in your bedroom. Next, grab a bag or box for charity or trash, and pack up the following: 15 tops and 5 bottoms that don’t fit or you don’t wear; 2 old pairs of pajamas; 5 pairs of underwear that’ve seen better days; 2 bras that don’t fit right; 10 socks with holes or without a pair; and 5 accessories collecting dust (jewelry, ties, belts, scarves, hats). Lastly, jot down a few tasks you need to do to maintain a tidy bedroom, such as: making your bed, doing three loads of laundry each week, and spending 5 minutes every night clearing off surfaces.
- Let go of “sentimental clutter.” Aarssen defines this as “items that have a deep meaning or value to you but aren’t necessarily useful and take up valuable space.” Start by picking a sentimental item and jotting down why it’s sentimental. Then consider these questions: Why will getting rid of this item not get rid of the memory? What was holding me back from releasing sentimental clutter in the past? Why should I let go of more sentimental items? Lastly, take a picture of the items you’re giving away.
- Create a list of tasks you can do in one minute or less. Aarssen shares these examples: wiping down the kitchen counter, tossing dirty clothes in the hamper, putting away your shoes, putting a dirty dish in the dishwasher, and hanging up your coat.
- Toss paper clutter. Shred old receipts and bills and statements that are over a year old. Recycle empty envelopes, old flyers, newspapers, school newsletters, expired coupons, and junk mail.
- Create a good-enough paper system.The key here lies in simplicity. For example, according to Aarssen, put a small basket on the counter where you put mail, flyers, and school papers. Review and empty it once a week.
- Declutter your kids’ toys.Get a box, and donate, recycle, or trash the following: 5 larger toys and 10 smaller toys your child hasn’t touched in 6 months; 5 books your child is too old for; 3 puzzles, craft kits, or games that never get played with; 10 stuffed animals; and any broken toys or toys with missing pieces.
- Make cleaning more enjoyable. To make housework feel less boring and frustrating, pair your cleaning sessions with fun activities. For example, listen to music, an audiobook, or a podcast. Talk to a friend over the phone. Set a timer for 15 minutes and challenge yourself to see how much you can get done (also a great way to get your kids to clean).
Your home can become another powerful source of self-care—when it looks and functions the way you’d like it to. A calm, clean environment lessens your stress and overwhelm. And when life outside our homes is chaotic, having a sanctuary inside your house becomes even more critical.