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How to declutter your home and keep it that way

It’s easy to let your possessions overtake your living space. As minimalism and “perfect homes” take over social media, completely decluttering, or even just getting the mail off of your kitchen counter, can seem daunting. With the right attitude and advice from professional organizers, the process could be easier than you think.

First, set yourself up for organizational success.

“I always recommend starting with things that aren’t sentimental,” said Kate Buckmeier, owner of Kate: Declutter & Redesign in Northfield. That way you can get on a roll and feel good about progress rather than getting stuck first thing on whether or not to keep those old sweatshirts from college.

A second piece of advise: “Stay in the room you’re decluttering,” said Sara Lohse, owner and professional organizer at The Rescued Room in Rochester. You’ll get a true read of the room this way, rather than guessing at what should stay and what should go.

Break things up

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Buckmeier says decluttering is best done in short chunks of time, 25 minutes or so. If you want to attempt a three-hour binge tidy, “make sure you have a partner,” she said.

Lohse advocates for breaking up the space you’ll be decluttering into small zones that can be tidied in a short amount of time. Once you’ve identified zones, complete them “moving clockwise, or counterclockwise, until finished,” she said.

Start with easy things like recycling and trash. Lohse recommends removing some bigger items first to have the largest visual affect, which she believes leads to a sense of momentum. “Many get bogged down with the mundane, small items. The lack of visual impact frustrates them, causing then to give up,” she said.

Reign in sentiment

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“Our stuff is wrapped up in all our memories,” said Buckmeier, who believes that we can defeat clutter “if we can remember that there are other ways to keep those memories.”

Still, ridding your home of once-treasured artifacts is difficult. Buckmeier has a method to build up the necessary fortitude: practice letting go of non-sentimental things and making decisions about what to keep. Start with easy areas, like a bathroom drawer, and build up to harder spaces.

“It’s like using a muscle,” said Buckmeier.

Once you’re at the sentimental pieces, “My biggest piece of advice is to be a curator. Trying to really find the things that are the most important. Maybe it’s a top three. … You might not be able to go down to just holding onto one thing,” said Buckmeier.

Use those prized possessions as a benchmark to compare other possessions by. That will give you some sense of priority and a relative value scale. 

There will inevitably be items you are hesitant about getting rid of, such as your child’s first ballet costume or favorite toy. Rather than keep the item, think if you have a photo of it. An image can be an instigator of the same feelings and takes up much less space. If you don’t have one, snap a picture now and then let the item go. 

Lohse recommends asking yourself the following: “If I didn’t see I this for 10 years, would I even think of it?” If the answer is no, it’s time to say goodbye. 

Finally, even if the things you keep wind up in a seldom-visited nook, Lohse says its crucial to keep them displayed - it keep you honest with your choices.

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Keep moving in the right direction

Buckmeier’s most successful clients are ones who commit to a total mindset and lifestyle shift. These habits are formed bit by bit, not in one fell swoop. 

For example, one client has sworn off garage sales. Another couple only takes one program when attending a child’s recital or school play. One family implemented a way to get donations out of the house by leaving a bin in their storage room. Whenever they see something ready to go, they put it in the bin and whenever they run errands near a thrift store, the bin comes along.

This goes hand in hand with a rule Lohse recommends to her clients: “one in, one out.” It’s as simple as it sounds - for each item you bring into the house, one must go.

She’s got a similarly simple rule for mail: only handle it once. As soon as you pick it up, put junk mail into the recycling, and sort important mail into some form of inbox system. To cut down on mail, set up online bill pay for utilities and other bills. 

Finally, Lohse recommends setting a time aside to tidy up just before bed to keep your debris at bay. 

“Just do it. You won’t believe how powerful this small act really is,” she said.

These tips should help you start to tackle any clutter in your home. And once you see how organized it can be, you’ll never want to go back to your old ways.

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Special Sections Assistant Editor

Bryan is the Post Bulletin's special sections assistant editor. He's a Rochester native and Mayo HS alumni. Bryan graduated from Knox College in 2009 with bachelor degrees in creative writing and political science.

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