Six techniques to declutter your home for a satisfying start to the new year

Why not make 2017 the year when you declutter your home, once and for all? Here are some popular techniques that will help you with the therapeutic task.

Illustration by Nick Donaldson.
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There’s no better time than a new year to de­clutter your home. There’s a whole host of ways to go about it, but here are some of the most popular methods out there. Just find the process that suits your personality best, and you’ll have an orderly, streamlined home in no time.

The Minimalist method

Joshua Fields Millburn was a successful businessman with all the physical trappings of success, but when his mother died and his marriage failed within the same year, he began to question his life and whether he was really happy. Fortuitously, he stumbled across the idea of minimalism, which set him on a path to not only owning less stuff (way less stuff), but also creating the hit blog The Minimalists with his best friend Ryan Nicodemus, which today has about four million followers.

The duo's journey is beautifully described in their number one bestselling book Everything That Remains. This is more than a series of tips on how to get rid of clutter. It's a memoir and a philosophy, a whole new way of looking at life that goes beyond physical possessions and includes relationships, work and the way we spend our time.

Millburn and Nicodemus’s challenge is: “Do you really need it?” Throughout the book, the pair share the experiments they used to help them assess what was truly important to them. Nicodemus, for example, started off by packing up all his possessions in boxes as if he were moving house, draping sheets over larger items such as furniture. For three weeks, he unpacked only what he genuinely needed, and at the end of those 21 days he got rid of everything else.

You might not want to take such an extreme step, but Everything That Remains is well worth reading before you begin your annual decluttering drive, to help you get into the right frame of mind. If you understand the reasons behind your buying, collecting and hoarding habits – and can get excited about a more streamlined lifestyle – you'll find them much easier to deal with.

The Marie Kondo method

Self-confessed neat freak Marie Kondo has been obsessed with tidying up since she was a child. Growing up in Japan, she spent hours inventing strategies for reducing clutter and creating new storage systems, but found that her room – and the rest of the house – inevitably descended into disorder within a few weeks or days.

Fast forward to today and Kondo is a sought-after organising consultant, with two New York Times bestselling books, including The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in which she describes – in military detail – her tried-and-tested KonMari method for decluttering your home once and for all.

Kondo has worked with hundreds of clients and has seen time and again the methods that have failed them in the past. Her step-by-step technique involves visualising your end goal first – not just the desire for less stuff, but, for example, the idea of a welcoming home where you can entertain friends, or a tranquil space where you can rest after work.

The decluttering itself is done by product type rather than room (starting with clothes, then books, papers and miscellaneous items, keeping more challenging mementos such as photos and letters until last), holding each item, and keeping only those things that “spark joy”.

Kondo suggests that the entire house is tackled within a maximum six-month period so you see results quickly. Then it’s just a case of finding a place for everything that remains, she says. It’s vital that every item has a place, and she goes on to share some excellent storage tips in the book, including the incredibly handy clothes-rolling technique, which you can also see on her YouTube channel, Tidy up with KonMari.

The 365 Less Things method

In 2010, Australian mother-of-two Colleen set herself a new year challenge to declutter her home by giving away, throwing away or selling one item every day for the entire year. It worked, and she’s been doing it ever since. She’s also been blogging about the experience, and has attracted quite a following, not to mention a host of media attention.

The technique really is as ­simple as it sounds, but Colleen has taken it further with a series of handy guides, ranging from one about how to decide what to get rid of, to one on how to tactfully address someone who insists on loading you up with unwanted gifts that only add to your clutter. There's also a list of "uncluttered gift ideas", ranging from consumables such as ­chocolate, to experiences such as spa treatments and travel vouchers, or even donations to charities made on behalf of the recipient.

Other versions of this challenge are the Five A Day (getting rid of five items each day, rather than just the one) and the 2017 in 2017 (which works out at about 5.5 items a day throughout the year).

The Closet Hanger method

If your wardrobe is your core clutter zone, this one is for you. The idea is to work out what you actually wear and what you're hanging on to because you think you might wear it some day. The technique can be attributed to American clutter organiser Peter Walsh, and was made popular when it was shared by Oprah Winfrey.

The method is simple. At the beginning of the experiment, hang all the items in your wardrobe with the hangers facing the wrong way. Whenever you wear an item, hang it back facing the right way. At the end of an allowed time period (Peter suggests six months, but you can decide for yourself what your cut off is), you’ll very easily be able to identify the items that haven’t been worn at all. And then you have to ask yourself, are you really going to wear them in the future if you haven’t worn them for the past half-year or more?

The 12-12-12 method

A brainchild of minimalist Joshua Becker, the 12-12-12 method requires you to find 12 items to donate, 12 items to throw away and 12 items that need to be returned to their proper location. Do this every day, and you'll soon find your entire home usefully decluttered. Becker admits that he and his wife often turn this challenge into a competition, and it would be a great one to get the kids involved in, too.

The Five Minutes method

The Zen Habits blog has about two million readers and covers everything from ways to get fit and healthy, and how to create an effective morning routine, to how to find powerful human connections and why little changes make a huge difference. It also tackles decluttering with a very simple and gentle approach: start with just five minutes.

In a post titled 18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess, writer Leo Babauta emphasises the fact that baby steps are important, as is celebrating those steps once you’ve taken them. His specific examples include designating a spot for incoming papers rather than allowing them to get spread over several different places in our home, or picking just one shelf and clearing it of all non-essential items, or picking up five things and finding a place for them.

While spending just five minutes a day on your decluttering might drag the process out a little bit, there’s a good chance that after that first five minutes, you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction that will encourage you to do another five minutes … and then another. Before you know it, you’ll have spent an hour binning your junk and arranging what’s left for maximum efficiency. Job done.