How to declutter without making a mess

Declutter without making a mess - a lady lies amidst a lot of clutter

Decluttering and organising are like re-constructing a poorly-made Ikea bed your drunk stepdad put together in a hurry. It’s difficult to fix without first taking it apart and laying out all the pieces. 

To declutter without making a mess is equally challenging. 

You have to break some eggs to make an omelette.

But I have some ideas on how to contain the chaos while you declutter.

How to declutter without making a mess

1. Get a donate box. 

I much prefer a box with solid sides than a floppy bag, due to the satisfying theatre of throwing unwanted items into the box from wherever you are. (Kids LOVE this decluttering game by the way) 

More importantly, a box looks neater and has defined boundaries, meaning no leakage onto the surrounding floor. 

Make the box itself donatable for quick and easy processing. Supermarkets and chemists usually have boxes to spare. Also I have been known to consolidate fruit and veg at the local grocer to get one of their lovely, double-walled numbers. As long as I’m gentle with the avocados, nobody minds.

2. Get a rubbish box.

A bag is also fine but I prefer a box for all the aforementioned reasons of structure, neatness and dramatic throwability.

3. Label both boxes accordingly.

This is also crucial if you have a helper. You’ll be constantly asking each other or yourself “wait, which box is rubbish again?” And one misstep will create a snowball effect like when one neighbour in your street puts the wrong bin out for collection and others follow suit. One bit of rubbish in the donate box will have you thinking it’s the bin, and then you’ll start screaming “there are two bins!

It’s amazing how forgetful we can be, and cross-contamination is a headache to unravel later.

Just scrap paper and a sharpie will do.

4. Start filling both boxes.

If you are interrupted or tire at any time, there are only two boxes and they can be moved on quickly.

Put music or a podcast on and chip away.

5. Organise as you go, grouping Like with Like in your chosen space.

6. There is a third category (which can dangerously split into multiple other categories) – ‘keep’ items that belong elsewhere. Rather than spread these out on the floor with a ‘later’ mentality, take them to their correct destination IMMEDIATELY.

Found some toiletries in the pantry? Take them to the bathroom right away.

A screwdriver nestled amidst the knives? Off to the toolbox you go.

This prevents unrelated items being strewn about and big bonus – you’ll get some steps on your Smartwatch.

7. Finished (for now)? Put your rubbish in the bin and take your donations to the op shop.

Not finished? Never mind, it isn’t a bigger mess it’s a smaller mess, and that means progress. You have your system in place to continue tomorrow, or after your working week, or whatever.

Meanwhile you can still function in the space. Eventually, you’ll be done.

To declutter without making a mess, the main difference is that you are re-housing items as you go, rather than piling them up or spreading them out. You do more walking (hello Fitbit!) and progress might be a bit slower, but you can tackle big projects in bite sized chunks, and stop any time without being surrounded by mayhem.

And there is zero clean-up after the decluttering session. This is how you declutter without making a mess.

If you do find that things are getting messy, take heart that it’s darkest before the dawn. In other words, your decluttering environment can look like total chaos just minutes before it is seriously taking shape. Hang in there and keep going. The sun is about to rise.

Give it a try!

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