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Spring Cleaning Made Simple

Updated: Feb 24, 2022

by Donna Schlachter

Clutter. You know what I mean. That stack of unopened non-essential mail on the end of your kitchen counter. The pile of unfolded laundry on your sofa. The garage full of boxes that you don’t know what’s inside them. The spare bedroom stacked high with unfinished projects.

It’s overwhelming to even think about starting. The last time you did, you likely spent a day, found a hairball your cat threw up two years ago, and couldn’t make a single decision about what to keep, what to donate, or what to toss.

What’s a body to do?

First, stop beating yourself up. We all face it, to one degree or another. Too Much Stuff Syndrome isn’t merely a television program. It doesn’t happen only to folks who never throw anything out. It’s not necessarily a sign of a mental health issue. You are not alone.

Second, we can do something about it. We can downsize before we’re forced to by a move or a flood or a fire. We can relinquish our emotional grip on our possessions so that our things no longer control us. We can choose to succeed now where we might have failed in the past.

And third, there are definite benefits to decluttering. Your kids will love you for not leaving them a huge undertaking in years to come. Others can benefit from using what you have stored in boxes, attics, garages, basements, and junk drawers. And if you’re currently paying for storage or living in a larger house or apartment than you really need, you could save money.

So where to start?


One project at a time.

Particularly if you’ve struggled with decluttering in the past, beginning small is key. The junk drawer in the kitchen, the glove box of your car, or a single closet make an ideal one-day project. Once you’ve accomplished the smaller spaces, you’ll feel empowered to tackle the larger ones.

As you sort through items, don’t return anything to the space you took it from. Instead, create GIVE and KEEP piles or areas, with a trash can nearby. Throw away the TOSS items. You might set up a separate box for RECYCLE, if you choose.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I love it? KEEP or GIVE.

  • Do I use it? By that, you must have used it within the last 12 months. If not, GIVE or TOSS.

  • Is it still usable by someone else? GIVE. If not, TOSS. You are not looking for a project to fix or adapt an item. If you haven’t already done it, you’re not going to.

  • Where does this really belong? If you can see this item somewhere else in your home, then put it there. Otherwise, GIVE or TOSS.

General tips:

  • If it’s expired, TOSS.

  • If you can’t see it, either put it in a see-through container, or GIVE or TOSS (refer to questions above).

  • If it doesn’t fit, GIVE or TOSS. One important lesson I’ve learned over the years is that I don’t honor the memory of the giver by keeping a stained, worn-out item buried in a closet. For children’s clothing, make friends with neighbors or parents at your school and do a clothing swap a couple of times a year as appropriate.

  • Think through how you want to use this space, and remove anything that doesn’t fit your concept. This applies even to the “junk drawer.”

  • If you can’t find it, you might as well not own it.

  • Having two or more of an item, such as an appliance, a saucepan or cooking pot, or a clothing item “in case” something breaks/wears out isn’t the reason to keep multiples. See questions above.

  • The easiest way to declutter is to avoid clutter in the first place. For example, don’t leave unopened mail “to deal with later.” It won’t happen. Instead, take the few minutes each day to TOSS it or open it and deal with it. If you don’t have time to fold laundry, you don’t have time to do the laundry in the first place. Take the few minutes and fold clothes after each load, instead of saving it up and trying to find half an hour.

  • Use storage spaces, such as under beds. Store linens for that room in a container especially suited. This keeps bedding clean, dust-free, and clean-smelling.

  • Make a rule: you can’t bring anything inedible into the home without getting rid of something else first.

  • Use hooks, cube storage, rolling storage drawers, over-the-door pocket shoe organizers, and bookshelves to organize and contain smaller items such as hats, mitts, makeup, school supplies, craft supplies, little kids’ shoes, and toys.

  • Set a timer. Take a break every 30 minutes or so for 5 minutes. Stretch. Drink water. Have a snack if you’re hungry. Then, back to work!

  • Stay focused. One area at a time. Don’t get distracted cleaning or sorting another area because you went there to re-home an item from the junk drawer. That space is for another day.

  • Don’t try to do this all at once. Cleaning, divesting, and re-homing are all emotional activities as well as physical. Allow yourself time between projects.

  • Feel free to keep the GIVE and TOSS items out of sight for a week in case you realize perhaps you were over-zealous in your efforts. But make certain you follow through with your decision within 7 days.

The resources listed below contain many more tips, and some even offer free resources such as scheduling, places to donate the GIVE items, and encouragement to relinquish emotional attachments rooted in family or memory that we all struggle with.

In the meantime, know that you are not alone in trying to reduce the stuff in your home or office. Remind yourself of the benefits of the process, and be encouraged that you will feel much better about yourself and more in control of your surroundings.

Donna Schlachter writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, and CAN; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests.


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