The open house is often a daunting experience. It’s not for the expected reason — that is, strangers who treat your home like it’s one of the properties on an HGTV show. Nope, the most challenging part of the open house is when your real estate agent schedules one three days from now and your home looks like a hoarder’s nest.
A messy home can directly impact anything from whether or not a potential buyer will make an offer to the amount of their offer. Rare is the buyer who can see past disarray.
“When a property is cluttered, it’s difficult for a buyer to imagine what it will look like [when they move in],” notes Joy Wheeler, a top New York City-based real estate agent. “I once had a property where the buyer passed because they couldn’t imagine what it would look like. I have very anxious buyers now who want to buy fast, but will note what’s move-in condition and what’s not. You have to go the extra mile to get the buyer to understand what it’ll look like when they move in, and they won’t be able to do that if your home is cluttered.”
Taking the time to clear the mess could translate into higher offers. It’s estimated that clearing out clutter can increase a home’s asking price by 3-5%.
While decluttering can be overwhelming — honestly, that’s how the stuff got all over the place to begin with — it’s not impossible. In just a few days, you can have a reasonably organized home that you’re not embarrassed to show. You just need to approach your mess with a plan.
Here’s just the decluttering plan you need. We also made our “How to Declutter Your Home Fast” plan into a downloadable checklist so you have it on the go!
Ready to Learn How to Declutter? First, Remain Calm!
Even though your time is limited, that doesn’t mean you should go into panic mode, rushing into decluttering all the rooms at once in the name of getting the project finished fast. In fact, most pro organizers agree that this is the worst mistake you could make. Without a focused strategy, you’ll only accomplish little in each room.
The easiest way to go about this is with a list-based plan.
Simply list all the rooms in your home or apartment in order of messiness. In a smaller space? Divide your place into “zones.” Plan to start with the least-cluttered room or zone first, or, from the tiniest room to the biggest room.
Don’t go to stock up on bins, boxes, and other organizing supplies just yet. Marie Kondo and other professional organizers recommend that you hold off on buying organizers until after you’ve decluttered your space.
Here are the items you need at a minimum:
- Rolls of large heavy-duty garbage bags for household trash and also for donations.
- 2 large bins or boxes each marked “keep” and “donate,” for sorting potential donations.
- A dust mask (especially helpful for closets and dealing with lots of clothes).
Got a family? Assign each a plastic bin in a bright color. As you clean, their misplaced item goes in the bin. Not necessary but helpful: A bunch of podcasts to listen to while you clean. If you want to stay on the theme of organizing, download The Minimalists Podcast or Organizing Mindfully podcast.
A crucial part of planning is knowing where you can bring donations of the (many) things you’ll realize you no longer need.
The Thrift Shopper has a search engine that lists all the thrift stores by zip code in your area. Look to goodwill.org or salvationarmy.org to locate a thrift shop nearby, and see what they do and don’t accept. For instance, some places won’t accept old tube-style televisions, VHS tapes, or records.
The hardest part of decluttering is getting started.
This is why we’re fans of the “timer trick.” It’s a favorite method for productivity and organization bloggers because it gives you a structured chunk of time to focus solely on cleaning. Just set a timer for 15 minutes, and devote the time to one step of the cleaning process. After all, anyone can do anything for 15 minutes, right? Repeat until your house is clutter-free.
Start Decluttering in the Bathroom
Kicking off your decluttering bonanza in the bathroom is highly recommended. Why? Because it’s usually the smallest room of the house and therefore easiest to clean. From here, start with what organizing blogger Dana K. White of A Slob Comes Clean calls “Easy Stuff”: Things within the room that belong somewhere else.
- Pick up clothes. Chances are, you or someone you love has a tendency to miss the hamper. Fill a laundry basket with these orphaned items, then return them to their proper room.
- Move on to the vanity/sink area. Throw out any and all expired items (make-up, hair products, and other toiletries) away, because suddenly deciding to use a tube of moisturizer from 5 years ago can only end in heartache.
- Special note: You’re likely to find expired medicine, which has its own protocol. The FDA says to first see if your community has a “drug take-back” program specifically for expired medications. If not, throwing medication in the trash is your next best bet. The exception is for medication that indicates it should be flushed if not used by the person to which is was prescribed. Here’s the list of those medications.
- Declutter the shower/bathtub area. Move toiletries to the cabinets, or toss empty bottles into the recycling bin. Fold towels and place on hooks or towel bars.
- Clean it out. You know what to do: Spray shower/bath with cleaning product, clean mirror, clean vanity, clean floor, and most importantly, clean the toilet.
Decluttering Tips for the Bedroom
Like the bathroom, you’ll be surprised to find that much of what’s cluttering up your bedroom is “Easy Stuff.” Think: Books on your nightstand, rogue tissues, clothes that should be in your closet, and any random towels that were carelessly tossed aside during your harried morning routine.
Start with the bed — and bed-adjacent areas. Make the bed so you have a clear surface to rest laundry baskets, etc. Clear off the nightstand, clear the space next to the bed, then go underneath the bed. Most of this will be the aforementioned “Easy Stuff.”
Don’t Dwell on Clothes:
Though your closet is here, that’s a separate zone to tackle next. Toss clothes in laundry baskets, or fold and put back in bureau.
Collect and toss “floordrobe” clothes into laundry baskets. Though your closet is in this room, that’s a separate zone to tackle next. Instead, round up all the clothes that are on the floor and place in a laundry basket.
Sort Through Photos and Decor
A lot of tchotchkes (souvenirs, photos, frames, etc) end up in the bedroom, covering bureaus and nightstands. This makes the room feel more cluttered than decorated, meaning you can likely donate anything you don’t have a strong attachment to.
Clean the Bedroom from Top to Bottom
Finish with dusting surfaces and blinds, cleaning windows, vacuuming, and laundry.
Do a Load of Laundry
Chances are, the “floordrobe” clothes are more casual items that can be washed together. Otherwise, take a few extra minutes to separate lights from darks, then launder accordingly.
Next on the Declutter Checklist: The Closet
Most of us have more clothes than we can manage, making it the top source of clutter. The main challenge here is getting rid of old, outdated stuff.
Donate all clothes that don’t fit and freebies you’ve never worn. Again, start with the easy decisions, like those promotional tees from events and jeans that haven’t fit since college.
Off to the donation bin they go. (Using one of the big garbage bags is highly recommended, because it’s likely that you’ll fill it with ease.) Work fast, spending no more than 3 seconds deciding on whether or not to keep a garment.
Be picky about sentimental items. You can easily lose a whole day in a nostalgia wormhole about a shirt you haven’t seen since middle school, or the random vintage cocktail dress you bought during a road trip with friends (and have never worn), the hand-me-down from your sister, or, worse, your ex’s jacket that you never were able to part with.
Professional organizer Andrew Mellen recommends paying close attention to these moments — namely, “the story you tell yourself” when you’re assessing whether or not to keep an item.
“The story you may be telling yourself about it being cool or how exciting the hunt to find it was and what a treasure you picked up for a song or how much fun you had when you were drinking cocktails with your friends are all good stories,” he says. “They just might not need to be stories you’re still telling yourself.”
In other words, you might be holding on to an item for fear of losing a memory. It’s time to let go and trust yourself to remember the good (or forget the bad). To curb the odds of getting off-track, first loosely categorize clothing by type, tossing t-shirts/tops in one pile, bottoms/jeans in another, and so on. Then, take 15 minutes per pile to make your decisions.
Maximize space with storage. This is one place where you might need to pick up storage for at the end of your cleaning day. Open bins (preferably covered in a nice fabric) can go on the top rack of your closet to house t-shirts, workout gear, and infrequently-used accessories. You might want to pick up a low rack for shoes, or even a large basket (better for sandals, sneakers, and other casual shoes).
Once you purchase these items, budget 15 minutes to fold roll and “file” items for the bins, and then 15 minutes to arrange shoes on the rack.
The Best Way to Declutter the Living Room and Dining Room
Bills, magazines, coats that don’t fit in the closet–the living room and dining room are both areas ripe for attracting clutter.
- Start with trash/recycling. Old magazines get tossed in the recycling bin, random bills get tossed in a “to shred” pile. If you have a lot of either of these categories, take 15 minutes to find all the magazines/catalogs, 15 minutes for bills and other to-shred items, then 15 minutes for trash.
- Use the bin method. Using the color-coded bins for family members you picked up earlier, do a sweep of the living room area, placing misplaced items in the bin of their rightful owner. Budget a time window of 15 minutes per family member.
- Handle sentimental items with care. From that vase given to you as a wedding gift to the heirloom soup tureen handed down to you from Great Aunt Gertie, the living room and dining room might have its fair share of sentimental clutter. Unfortunately, letting go of these never-used space-hogging items isn’t easy.
- Once you start thinking about the history behind the item, your guilt can lead to hours of indecision. Designer Heather Higgins of Higgins Design Studio suggests balancing the personal with the pragmatic.
“There is a sense of loss in letting go of memory-filled belongings,” she says. “We all need to incorporate elements into our home that represent our past, present and what we anticipate to be our future life. In order to do this successfully, the right mindset is crucial. We need a clear understanding of our real personal needs and priorities, in addition to a well-edited list of things we cannot live without.”
If you find yourself stuck, pick up an under-the-bed storage box and temporarily house these sentimental odds-and-ends until there’s a little more time to go through everything.
To break this down into more manageable chunks of time, take 15 minutes to find all sentimental items (place them all on a clean surface, like a table), 15 minutes to decide what stays and what gets donated, then 15 minutes to store or put away the remainder.
Tidy up the bookcases. This one’s relatively easy, involving little more than straightening rows and returning books to their shelves. If you have time, take 15 minutes to “weed” the old, outdated books off your shelf and into a donation bag.
How to Declutter the Kitchen
It’s a daily disaster zone — one minute it’s clean, the next the counters are barely visible. How does this happen? No one knows. Since it’s a daily struggle, it’s best to leave this room towards the end.
- Toss the inedibles. Start with the fridge/freezer; then move on to cabinets and pantry, throwing out anything gross or mysterious. Spend a maximum of 15 minutes per shelf (including time spent for cleaning any old spills).
- Fill a donate box. Marie Kondo recommends going through each drawer and cabinet and tossing any infrequently-used cooking tool, pot, pan, dish, or glass into one of your donation boxes. Skip this if you’re short on time and put it on your to-do list for later.
- Clear the counters. This will generally mean trash and misplaced items, but it also means that tin of coffee (back to the pantry) and even appliances. Becoming Minimalist explains it this way: Your toaster is, at most, used for 5 minutes a day, so it’s really taking up valuable counter space the rest of the 23 hours, 55 minutes. Then, clear off the last surface of the room: The refrigerator door. Take 15 minutes per section of countertop, then 15 minutes to remove everything on the refrigerator door and give it a once-over with the spray cleaner of your choice.
Declutter Office Space, the Entryway, and Hallway
These spaces have one thing in common: paper clutter. There shouldn’t be piles of unsorted papers in the first place, says Mellen. Pick up a pile and get ruthless. “W2s are not the same as old greeting cards. Keep the returns, toss the W2s.
Greeting cards with nothing more than a scribble in them have done their job — someone was thinking of you at a particular time and let you know it,” he says. “If they haven’t written anything significant, the moment has passed and you can let go.” Sorting through the mess can take a considerable amount of time, so if you’re stuck here, place the cards or puzzling paperwork in a folder (or attractive storage boxes if you have a lot more) and hide it away for another day.
Congrats! You Just Learned How to Declutter Your Home Fast
Within the span of 2-3 days, you’ve organized your home before the big open house. All you need to do now is take your donations to the thrift store, do a little cleaning of any dirty spots, vacuum, and get ready for the offers to roll right in.