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Decluttering Tips from a Person Who Loves Stuff, But Lives in a Small Space

Laura Fenton

Benjamin Franklin may have been exaggerating a little bit when he said, “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned,” but he was onto something: Being organized and orderly can make life run more smoothly.

When I was writing my first book The Little Book of Living Small, I had the good fortune to meet a bunch of homeowners who live stylishly in small spaces. I got to see their tips and tricks for making the most of their space, including custom closet solutions and clever DIY hacks. But what I learned from them (and what I have experienced firsthand), is that the fastest way to make your small space feel more spacious and orderly is to declutter. Period. Less stuff equals more space. 

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Image: Gibbs Smith. 

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The first step is to change your relationship to the stuff that is cluttering your home. Here’s how to get started:

1. First, distance yourself from the temptations

Unsubscribe from all the retailer email lists you’re on and call to be removed from their catalog mailings too. Especially now when all our inboxes are being flooded with offers of free shipping and huge discounts. Stop following brands on social media or, if you’re really looking to disconnect, take a break from social media altogether.

2. Use the 24-hour (or the one-week) rule

If you see something you really think you need, bookmark it or ask a store to put it on hold for you, and then wait a day to see how you feel. Chances are the “need” might be less pressing than you think. During our stay-at-home days, I’m trying to wait a full week before buying anything new because we’re trying to watch our budget. I also know that more stuff isn’t the answer to the boredom and frustration we’re feeling right now, so I’m reflecting to figure out what is a “need” and what is a “want.”

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Image: Weston Wells.

3. Use what you’ve got

Sometimes the urge to buy something new is really just a desire for a change (and don’t we all feel that right now?). You can find novelty in the things you already own. Take a colorful bedspread and drape it over your living room sofa. Open up your closet and spend a half-hour writing down new outfit combinations. Take everything off your fridge door—or alternatively, cover it a few beautiful photos. Move your furniture around—even if you end up moving it all back to its original spot, you’ve at least experienced a shift in perspective 

4. Stop shopping

If you cut out browsing for leisure—whether that’s on retailer websites, Pinterest, or physical stores—you’re way less likely to buy things you don’t need. I was never the type to go to the mall or spend an afternoon at boutiques, but I used to go to the flea market every weekend. I still love second-hand markets and thrift stores, but now I limit my trips and try to enjoy the fun of finding things—not actually taking them all home. 

5. Examine your duplicates

The impulse right now may be to save things “just in case,” but I encourage you to think twice about any duplicate items you may have at home. When a professional organizer told me this years ago, I thought I didn’t have many redundant items, but on closer examination, I had dozens of duplicates and getting rid of them made a world of difference. Freeing the desk drawer of the excess pens made room for other supplies; ditching the second set of measuring cups did mean that I had to do extra dishes midway through baking a complicated dish, but the other 364 days a year it meant that my kitchen drawer was way less frustrating.

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Image: Weston Wells.

6. Try the Boxing Method

Place a box in every room that needs decluttering and every time you find something that you’re ready to part with, place it in the box. At the end of a month, go through and weed out anything that should be put in a different place, moved to the trash or taken to your local charity as soon as they are ready to accept donations again.

7. Get a clutter buddy

This is one of the most effective ways to declutter — and its a quirky way to connect while social distancing. Agree on a plan for decluttering with a friend (maybe you’ll each get rid of one item a day or 20 items a week), then text each other pictures of what you’re choosing to toss or donate each day. 

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Image: Weston Wells.

8. Give experiences

Stop the clutter pile up by giving experiences instead of things (and hopefully, this will encourage them to do the same!). Now is a great time to start on this when we’re giving birthday gifts from afar and shipping times are so unpredictable. Some ideas for experiences you can give: membership to a cool site like Masterclass, Audible, or Skillshare; a killer playlist made just for the recipient; membership to The Garden Conservancy or another non-profit organization that suits their interests; a subscription to a paid newsletter; or a credit for a favorite movie to stream. 

Before you go, check out these hard-working natural cleaning brands that are safe for homes with kids.

Photography by Weston Wells from The Little Book of Living Small by Laura Fenton. Based on The Little Book of Small Living by Laura Fenton, published with permission from Gibbs Smith.

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