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  • Writer's pictureSarah Tian

Declutter Your Home: Tips for Mastering 5 Common Tidying Struggles

Updated: Mar 4

Growing up, my desk resembled chaos, with items scattered at various angles, claiming almost every inch of the surface. My chair, doubling as a makeshift clothes hanger, stood testament to my resistance against my mother's persistent pleas for order. She would occasionally give in and clean my room while I was at school, only for it to swiftly revert to its accustomed state upon my return.

When I went to college and saw my husband's (boyfriend at the time) dorm room, I was stunned. There were only a few items on his desk: his laptop, pen and notebook, which all were at 90 degree angles to the edge of the desk and perfectly parallel to each-other. Even the guitar under his bed had to be perfectly aligned with the bed frame.

I decided it was time to make a change.

I started to learn about tidying up from watching videos, reading books, and listening to podcasts. I then practiced rigorously during my graduate school years as I moved into my own room. Whenever I felt stressed out (which was quite often!), I would start organizing or cleaning. I realized this practice gave me a sense of control over my life and helped me relax.

Now, back in my childhood room turned office, my desk stands as a testament to this transformation. It's now 70% empty, hosting only my laptop, monitor, and desk lamp. My chair is just a chair now, sitting with empty open arms waiting for me to sit on. A thorough clean-up not only revitalized the space but invigorated my productivity, making the air seem noticeably fresher.

I was on a roll, so I also offered to help declutter our kitchen, living room, and even my parents and brother's wardrobe!


Why tidy?

Clearly, my attitude towards tidying went from despising it to almost one of my favorite past-times.

So how did that happen? Why do I love tidying?

Apart from giving me a break from sitting all day and a chance to physically move around, cleaning my immediate environment helps me be more productive. For example, clearing away everything except my work equipment out of my sight prevents me from getting distracted and helps me to keep my focus on work.

Having a designated place for my things means I rarely waste time trying to find something. As a result, I'm very mindful of what I have, which makes it less likely that I will buy duplicate things. I'm also mindful of what I lack or need, so when I go shopping, I'm more intentional about what I buy, making it less likely that I will impulse buy.

Regularly cleaning my environment also helps to reduce the amount of dust that can accumulate on objects (especially my plush toys and books!), preventing my allergies from flaring up.

More importantly, I feel like I enjoy my life more and more as a result of my deliberate efforts to shape my immediate environment to best support my daily life. Being in an environment that just contains the things that make me happy is incredibly fulfilling!

By sharing some practical tips on tidying, I hope to inspire you to get started and see for yourself how your life will transform as a result!


Why do we have clutter in the first place?

The tendency to accumulate things and create clutter at home is a common phenomenon, and understanding the underlying reasons can be instrumental in addressing this issue.

Here are several reasons why we often find ourselves surrounded by excess belongings:

1. Sentimental attachments ❤️❤️❤️

Many items in our homes carry sentimental value, and can be one of the most difficult types of things to get rid of. Whether it's cards from loved ones, leaflets from our travel destinations, or toys from our childhood, we often struggle to part with these belongings due to the emotional connection they hold. The nostalgia tied to these items can make it challenging to part with them, even if they no longer serve a purpose.

However, it's possible to strike a balance between maintaining a tidy space and preserving the things that are important to you. Here are some strategies to help you navigate this dilemma:

💡 Document them digitally

The item you're emotionally attached to doesn't necessarily need to take up physical space. Consider taking photographs or creating a digital memory album. This can be more manageable to store and revisit when needed.

💡 Share the story

Share the stories behind your sentimental items with friends or family. This not only allows you to reminisce but can also strengthen the emotional connection with the item itself.

Sometimes, knowing that the story lives on even if the physical item doesn't can make it easier to let go.

💡Consider repurposing

Explore creative ways to repurpose or integrate sentimental items into your daily life. For example, turn old clothing into a quilt, transform sentimental objects into decor, or repurpose furniture for a new function. This allows you to keep the essence of the item while making it practical and relevant in your current life.

💡Create a special space

If you really must hold on to those sentimental items, designate a specific area in your home to display or store items. This could be a dedicated shelf, display cabinet, or memory box. By creating a designated space, you acknowledge the importance of these items without letting them clutter your entire living space.

2. Fear of wasting & thinking "I will need it in the future..."

We may hesitate to discard things that were expensive or still seem useful, even if they no longer serve a practical purpose in our lives. We also tend to overestimate the likelihood of using the items in the future.

💡 Recognize the hidden cost of storage

One key aspect of overcoming the fear of waste is to recognize the hidden cost of storage. While holding onto items may seem harmless, the physical space they occupy comes at a price (consider the cost of your place per squared meter/foot!). Moreover, clutter also compromises the visual appeal of your living area, lowers the functionality of your space, and can have a detrimental impact on your mood. Reminding yourself of all these hidden costs can be a powerful motivator for de-cluttering.

💡Adopt the one-year rule

Adopt the one-year rule when evaluating items. If you haven't used an item in the past year and don't foresee a need for it in the coming year, it may be time to part ways. This rule helps distinguish between genuine necessities and items that have outlived their usefulness.

💡Give away or sell your old items

Consider giving your items away to friends and family, or placing them outside your house for others to take for free. For items that still have some monetary value, you can sell them on Facebook or at your local second hand stores. You will be sure that your items will not go to waste if you know that someone else will make use of them!

3. Mindless consumption: "I need (want) this!"

Living in a consumer-driven society, with frequent excuses for sales and promotions, and exposure to advertisements and societal pressures to acquire the latest products, it's easy to engage in mindless consumption that can contribute to the accumulation of possessions.

💡Create a shopping-list

Before going out to the stores, make sure to write down a list of things you need to buy, and stick with just buying those.

💡Put in your shopping cart and sleep on it!

Since shopping is just a few clicks away from us, it's super easy to start mindlessly browsing online when you are bored/stressed/happy (there's always a reason to buy something!). To avoid impulse purchases, put the items in your shopping cart and wait a few days. Only seriously consider buying it if you find yourself keep thinking about it after a week.

4. Lack of organization skills: "I don't know how to!"

Tidying is not something we learn from school, so we tend to lack the knowledge and skills for tidying that makes it so much more challenging.

Here are some practical tips and strategies you can start to use right away:

💡 Have a trash bag handy

By having the trash bag right by your side as you look through your items, will help you more easily get rid of unneeded ones.

You can ask yourself these questions to help you decide whether it's time to let go:

  1. Do I need this item? Have I used it/has it brought me any value in the past year? Will I use it in the next year?

  2. For clothing: Does this item suit my current body, style and way of living?

  3. Does this item "spark joy" (in Mario Kondo's words: "it feels as if every part or every cell of your body lifts up")?

💡 Start by taking everything out!

Get started by always taking out EVERYTHING from your wardrobe/drawer/cupboard/etc.!

💡 Create categories & assign a "home" for each item

Examine your items and mentally start to create categories for all your items. The number of categories you create depends on how many units of storage you have for those items. For example, if you have two shelves for your sweaters and pants, then you would naturally assign one to each. You can also use boxes as dividers to create smaller categories for your items, such as for your socks and underwear.

💡Place items considering ease of use and aesthetics

It's important to put items in places that work for you as you live your life. Items you use on a daily basis should be placed nearest to you, in places that are easy to access.

💡Leave surfaces clear

To make any space look clean, it's important to keep surfaces (table tops, counter-tops, top of cupboards, chairs, beds) as clear as possible. Leave just 1-2 items for decoration purposes.

5. Maintenance: "I tidied up yesterday, but it's a mess again overnight!"

💡 Your item needs to go "home" just like you do

There is just one rule for maintaining the fruits of your labor: put things back where they came from! Over time, as you stick to this rule, it will become a habit and something automatic that you forget about!



Whether you're dealing with sentimental items, fear of waste, mindless consumption, or the need for consistent maintenance, remember there are many ways to overcome these challenges!

With these practical tips, I invite you to embrace the joy of tidying. It's a small investment and the ripple effects will extend far beyond an organized space, ushering positive changes into every aspect of your life!

Happy tidying! :)


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