Skip to content

How to Declutter Your Home to Regain a Sense of Calm

Learn how to create valuable space throughout the home through the magical act of decluttering

Bookmark article to read later

By House & Garden | June 27, 2024 | Interiors

In a break from our usual agony aunt, Elizabeth Metcalfe turns to the help of professional organisers to help her life go from chaos to calm with some simple decluttering

I’ve never seen myself as the sort of person that might embark on a ‘decluttering’ mission. In fact, I’ve always taken comfort in clutter. Stacks of books on a coffee table, walls hung with art, and shelves of pottery and trinkets – for me these things are weighted with emotion, perhaps reminding me of a holiday or a rainy Saturday where I unexpectedly happened upon something beautiful. I’ve always gravitated to more than less and anytime my husband might gently question whether we “need” something, I would be a bit baffled. Of course, I didn’t need a ceramic platter but I took comfort in knowing we had it just in case we ended up with a house full of friends to feed. There was security in stuff.

So I found myself on the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers (ADPO) website, seeking out someone who might be able to unravel the mess. ‘Looking for help or support? Whatever you are struggling with, there is someone who can help you,’ it says on the homepage. It sounded like it was offering some kind of counselling service, and it was then that I realised that while practical clutter was my issue, it had in fact become mental clutter. I was well and truly overwhelmed. I quickly found that less than five miles away from me in Sussex happened to be Mimi Bogelund, a professional declutterer and organiser who launched The Organised Life & Home in 2018 after honing her craft with a couple of months training in San Francisco with tidying queen Marie Kondo.

Just before Mimi arrived at my house I panicked that she might ask me to bin anything that doesn’t ‘spark joy’. What a relief, then, when one of the first things she said was: ‘I’m here to reveal all your lovely things, not get rid of them.’ She also, thankfully, doesn’t see homes as a stage set: ‘I hate staticness,’ she explains. It seemed I had found the right person. Mimi realised the power of decluttering after she was made redundant from a fashion business. ‘I took some time out to tidy and this burden that I didn’t even know I had just lifted,’ she says. ‘It was amazing.’ Many of those who contact her are in a similar boat to me: ‘most people have reached a point where they have had enough, but are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start,’ Mimi explains. Unsurprisingly, big life events like new babies and house moves (don’t I feel like a cliche) often spur people on to declutter once and for all.

Mimi starts off not by looking around but by asking some probing questions. ‘What matters to you in life? How do you want your house to be? What do you want to feel in your house?’ These might sound obvious, but when life becomes hectic with a child and full-time job they are questions that you don’t give an ounce of thought to. What I want more than anything is a sense of order – I want my house to be like a well thought-out plan, with a place for everything that will tick along happily even when life is chaotic. Over the next three hours, Mimi – who doesn’t bat an eyelid at the piles of paperwork and tile samples on my dining table – helps me with where to start and how to declutter and organise. Here is what I learnt:

Declutter by category

While it may seem logical to declutter by room, Mimi suggests approaching it by category. ‘It goes clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous bits in the kitchen, bathroom and relating to hobbies, and finally any sentimental mementoes,’ explains Mimi, whose approach is based on Marie Kondo’s KonMari method. So rather than tackling, say, my utility room, Mimi suggests pulling all of the coats out of there and going through them in the context of the rest of my clothes (along with any other coats that, in my case, are hanging on doors in almost every room!). ‘The brain loves looking at one thing at a time,’ says Mimi. ‘Take things out of their everyday space when you’re working out what to keep as it allows you to see them in a new light.’ In the case of clothes, laundry, Mimi says, should be up-to-date to ensure it’s a straightforward process.

Mimi also insists that you should only move onto the next category when you have finished the one before. Clothes, she suggests, are usually a relatively quick win – ‘depending on the size of your wardrobe it might just be an afternoon’s work, which will leave you feeling motivated to continue’. Clothes are also a good way of getting your decluttering muscles working, meaning that by the time you get to more challenging, emotional categories (like papers), it shouldn’t be quite as difficult.

You can also sub-categorise to make it all feel a bit more manageable. Books, for instance, can be split into categories like fiction, gardening books, cook books and so on, to help you tackle a larger category that in my case feels rather unruly.

Declutter with your heart not your head

When it comes to thinking about whether you want to keep something, Mimi suggests asking yourself ‘do I really like it’? If the answer is yes and you decide to keep it, then do so with confidence, knowing that you’ve given it proper thought. If you decide to get rid of something, get it out of your daily space and try not to spend too much time reconsidering your decision.

A big barrier with decluttering for me comes from my worry about waste and fear that everything I don’t want might end up in landfill. But, as Mimi wisely points out, you shouldn’t be keeping things out of guilt and there are plenty of ways that things can be given a new lease of life. She suggests putting anything without any value on local Facebook groups, or organising a charity pick-up for any unwanted clothes. If you have the inclination, you could also make some money if you post them on sites like Vinted or eBay. Books, Mimi says, can be sold on WeBuyBooks, which provides you with an immediate quote by scanning the book’s barcode – they offer free post or collection and next day payments.

Find storage by decluttering first and then organising

Contrary to any misconceptions, decluttering and organising are not one of the same. Organising – the process of finding a place for things and creating a sense of order in perhaps a drawer or cupboard – can only happen once you’ve decluttered and the gaps have opened up. ‘So often my clients feel defeated before they’ve decluttered as they just can’t see how there is any space for their things to be arranged in an organised fashion,’ Mimi says, ‘But even in the tiniest of cottages, you will always find storage once you’ve decluttered,’ explains Mimi. I see her point, for when I clear out our overflowing tupperware cupboard, I realise that by the time I’ve got rid of random lids and broken boxes, we’ve actually got plenty of space for the boxes.

Equally, Mimi also encouraged me to be realistic about the storage space I have available. Her top tips for making the most of spaces include storing large items in deep cupboards (it’s a lot less messy than storing lots of little things in here,’ she says) and investing in Ikea’s ‘Skubb’ drawer dividers, which allow you to carve them up into smaller sections. When it came to clothes, Mimi suggested storing as many as possible in drawers and opened my eyes to a whole new way of folding: the file fold, where you fold clothes down into a small rectangle and then stack them vertically in rows rather than on top of each other. ‘It saves about ⅔ of the space you would usually use for storing clothes and also allows you to find your clothes very easily,’ says Mimi.

Develop a system

I’ve always thought of systems as rather restrictive and trapping, but Mimi showed me how putting systems in place at home can in fact be freeing and liberating – whether that be creating a ‘landing table’ for your keys or having a basket in the utility room to put any items destined for the charity shop in. These measures, Mimi explains, shouldn’t be about creating more work, but about streamlining processes so that everyday tasks feel as easy and instinctive as ‘brushing your teeth.’ Mimi admits that while she finds some daily tasks quite ‘boring and mind numbing’, she can now enjoy them now thanks to having a system – examples include laundry by making sure there is a basket ready for clean items to go into, and also by committing to tidying up after an activity so that you return to your home or wake up in the morning to a blank slate.

Another suggestion, which you can embrace to whatever degree feels right for you, is to keep surfaces clear and commit to tidying them at the end of the day so you don’t wake up to piles of clutter. ‘Your brain just feels stressed when you’re looking at a random mismash of stuff on a surface,’ explains Mimi. ‘Deliberately placed items – perhaps a vase of flowers, a candle and a lamp – are completely fine, so long as you have made a conscious decision to put them there.’

Mimi’s other top tip is to find easy-to-access homes in your daily space for everyday things. ‘Don’t put things you use regularly onto the top shelf, as this extra effort will often mean that you never quite make it to the shelf and instead end up just leaving things on surfaces.’ Less used items, by contrast, can go in those more awkward spots.

Be realistic about the time

Of course any decluttering and organising project takes time and there is no getting around that. ‘If you’re motivated to get on top of your clutter, you will find a way to make it work even when life is very busy,’ says Mimi. For me, the lack of time felt like a huge barrier stopping me from getting on top of the chaos, but Mimi explained a couple of the best ways to fit it in. ‘Declutter in bite-sized chunks of time and make sub-categories if you need to,’ says Mimi. ‘You could, for example, do your underwear drawer and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can make a change.’ Another good suggestion she makes is to treat it like a new hobby or project and carve out an hour every Saturday for instance. ‘If it becomes part of your to-do-list it might be easier to fit in,’ she explains.

I’m surprised how much I have achieved, even with the little time I have so far dedicated to decluttering. ‘The satisfaction often feels disproportionate to what you’ve actually achieved, but that’s the joy of decluttering,’ says Mimi. I couldn’t agree more. I’m thrilled and feel considerably less stressed now that I’ve got an underwear drawer that isn’t a battle to open or a mess of mismatched socks.

Only time will tell whether I am a decluttering convert. I’ve realised I need to set aside a proper chunk of time to have a once-and-for-all clear out but at least now I know that I am motivated – not just by the fact that it is indeed possible to do, but also because I’m already feeling mentally a lot lighter. But I can also see why so many of Mimi’s clients like her to be there while they declutter, even when they know precisely what needs doing. ‘Me being there is a guarantee it’s going to happen,’ says Mimi. ‘It’s harder to make an excuse or get stuck when I’m there.’

This story originally appeared on Houses & Garden UK.