Getting your home and clutter under control might sound like a Herculean task, or it might sound like an incredibly satisfying proposition. But before you fill up your shopping cart at The Container Store, press pause and read this. Decluttering and getting your house in order might require a few new organizational materials, but for most of us, buying the organizing supplies first is unnecessary. Not only is it pricey and could add to your clutter, but it’s also not an eco-friendly solution to dealing with your stuff. Here, Scribd Coach and author of The Secrets of Successful Declutterers and Sustainable Minimalism Stephanie Seferian shares expert tips for how to organize your house, without spending a lot of money.
Understand your goals
Instead of immediately throwing out 90% of your possessions, only to end up purchasing 95% of those discarded items again, really think about their uses and whether they could help someone else, or serve another purpose. While decluttering and discarding is good, doing it without a plan could bring unforeseen setbacks. It’s tempting to hire a dumpster and get rid of everything in one shot, but try to develop patience in the process. "Minimalism in 2022 has become about sparking joy and getting rid of your stuff ... and ignoring where it goes,” Seferian explains. “On the other hand, sustainability is about keeping things, reusing, repurposing, buying less. Where the lifestyles merge is that both are about living with less stuff.” Repurposing while you declutter can save time and money, and it’s better for the earth. That’s a win-win-win.
Start with a buying ban
When decluttering, promise yourself that you won’t buy any new organizers until you’ve finished decluttering, repurposing, and reimagining. Then, if you really need something to fill a specific need, you can find the exactly right thing, says Seferian. This is especially important if you’re the kind of person who struggles to let go of things. Since decluttering should be about getting things out of your house, that’s where you want to begin. After you’ve completely decluttered and reorganized your house in a way that fits your life now, you can lift the buying ban to purchase items you’ve thoughtfully considered and know are essential. Seferian suggests creating a vision board of minimal home decor or spacious closets and cabinets — and keep them in mind whenever you’re wavering towards making a new purchase.
Think multi-use while decluttering fabrics
What many organizers and books on minimalism miss is the second life many items have. Instead of tossing all of your old towels or mismatched linens, Seferian suggests considering if items can be reused in other areas of your house. An old pillowcase can be used as a reusable shopping bag (or to carry and store fresh bread from the bakery). That old sheet? Great for a drop cloth, especially if you have young kids who love a good craft project. Old t-shirts and towels can be repurposed as rags in the garage for cleaning bikes or cars. Think about ways you can reuse old linens before you toss them: Most donated clothing, like the big bags of stuff you put in the Goodwill donation bin, will sadly end up in landfills.
Repurpose objet d’art into storage
One of Seferian’s favorite tips is to repurpose things that might typically see little to no use — like your grandmother’s cake plate — into storage for your daily life. A cake plate may end up in a cupboard for years collecting dust, or it can become an elegant lotion and perfume display on a dressing table, or house your spices and oils on your counter. A handmade mug or bowl can be used as a pen holder or desk supply organizer, rather than purchasing a new pen holder for that specific task. This kind of repurposing not only saves money and avoids throwing out still-good items, but it also allows you to use sentimental pieces in practical ways. It makes your home more uniquely you, without costing a dime.
Start a repurpose pile
You likely won’t finish your whole house in a weekend, but at the same time, if you’re moving boxes and bowls from place to place trying to repurpose objects in other rooms, it can quickly turn your home upside down. Try creating a repurpose pile in addition to discard and donate piles. You may end up eventually moving some of your repurpose hopefuls into the discard pile once you’re done, but for now, keep the items in mind when you need to find the right one to hold your jewelry or even magazines. (The only caveat: Do not allow this pile to become a permanent fixture. Finish organizing, repurpose what you can, then get rid of the pile.)
If you’re struggling to figure out where to start, start small. Being paralyzed by where to begin is one of the biggest reasons people end up at the store, searching for the perfect closet organizer rather than culling their 40 pairs of jeans. “Too often, people start with the emotional areas like clothes or their family mementos,” says Seferian. “But it’s best to start in a place that doesn’t have emotions attached. Start small — a junk drawer or linen closet — so that you don’t burn out before you get started. Give yourself a quick win that will propel you to later tackle harder areas.” (Bonus: Something like a linen closet rarely prompts a shopping response, so you’ll get an early win seeing how great your closet looks when it’s pared down and tidy, no organizers required.)
Remember it doesn’t have to look perfect
“As a sustainable minimalist, my end goal is not having a Crate and Barrel-looking home out of a magazine,” Seferian says. “The point of decluttering is to take a really good hard look at our stuff and our habits of consumption. There is something powerful that happens when we look at the stuff we're hanging onto, versus who we want to be going forward.” You may even consider creating a “Don’t Buy” list based on everything you threw out or donated during the process. Got rid of all of your jumpsuits because you never wear them despite your best intentions? Jumpsuits are now on the list. Same goes for novelty mugs or coffee table books if all they do is collect dust. Use this process to weed out your bad buying habits, not just your old mismatched socks.