The past few months have been absolutely crazy for me, so I apologize I haven’t posted in a while. I finished my fourth year of architecture school, moved out of my house, and started an internship that I’m really loving so far. Because of all this craziness, (especially the whole moving process) I have been inspired to try to simplify my life. I realized how much stuff I had laying around that I literally never picked up once during the year that I lived in my house. This was evidenced by a ton of dust and made moving out much more stressful and dirty. I found myself wanting to get rid of all this extra crap, but not knowing what to do with it. My tendency is not to throw anything away, so it became quite a task to figure out where all this stuff could go.
This is a problem that I think a lot of us have. We see these documentaries and Pinterest boards about minimalism showing these beautiful, clean houses with nothing on any of the surfaces, and it makes us feel terrible about our own spaces. I’ve been trying to find a happy medium between “minimalism” and “hoarder.” Nobody wants to live in a house that has no character or sense of who you are, but surrounding yourself with knick-knacks and unnecessary items creates visual chaos and can be really overwhelming to clean. There are ways to let your personality shine through in your home and in your wardrobe without cluttering your space. You’ll save time and energy later by simplifying now, and you’ll also reap the health benefits of having a cleaner space with less dust. So, for this post I’m going to share some tips for simplifying your closet and your home, which will in turn simplify your routine and relieve some stress you might not have even been aware of.
#1: The closet
Clothes are something you have complete control over, and they’re also the easiest to donate. Simplifying my closet has made it so much easier for me to get ready in the morning.
Step 1: Resist the urge to buy new
I have not purchased any clothing new from a store since last summer. This means I have been able to really assess my wardrobe, figure out what works for me, and donate the things I never wear. If I see any gaps in my wardrobe or an article of clothing I wear a lot gets a stain or rip, I’ll go to a thrift store to fill that gap. Going in with a specific goal in mind, rather than just wandering around and picking things up, has streamlined my shopping process and saved me a lot of money.
Step 2: The purge
Curating my wardrobe has also simplified my routine in the morning a LOT. I usually throw on a dress for work, or I have a couple pairs of pants which match all the shirts I own. It’s really important that the clothes you decide to keep can be worn multiple ways in different outfits. Nobody wants to be an outfit repeater, but nobody wants their closet to be packed so tight they can’t even see what they own either. To quote Marie Kondo, the master of tidying up (check out her Netflix show, I just started it): only keep things that spark joy. That patterned skirt you got at the thrift store a year ago thinking you’d make it work someday? You never wear it and nothing you own matches it. If you haven’t worn it in the last few months, you’re not going to miss it. I recently FINALLY let go of a skirt that I bought freshman year that has always been too big for me. I was always buying things that I thought I might wear one day, if I found the right thing to wear it with. It feels really good to finally let that stuff go, and it helps you find fun new ways to wear the clothes you actually wear all the time.
My mom introduced me to a fun trick where you hang all your hangers backwards after you do laundry, and once you have worn something you flip the hanger to the front. This way, at the end of a designated period (maybe 2 or 3 months?) you can see which items are still facing backwards. If you’re always reaching for the same pieces, that should tell you something! Those are the clothes that look the best on you, match your other pieces, and feel good. Get rid of the rest. You may not realize that your stuff is stressing you out, but the relief you will feel after you minimize your wardrobe will be overwhelming.
Step 3: Donate responsibly
When it comes time to donate the clothes you no longer need, try to be creative. Most of us will take our clothes to Salvation Army or Goodwill, but these places are really overwhelmed with donations and your clothing can go somewhere to do a lot more good. If you have name brand items that you’re hesitant to just “give away,” consider taking them to Plato’s closet or a similar store that will give you some money back for your items. This will help relieve a bit of the “oh god I spent so much money on this and I’m getting rid of it” stress, and you can put that money to good use somewhere else. For most clothing, I would recommend finding a local homeless or women’s shelter to donate to. If you have nicer, more business-style clothing, organizations such as Dress for Success are great to donate more professional clothing and jewelry to. These things can go a long way to help someone feel better about themselves and can help them get a job and get back on their feet. Donating directly to people in need also feels a lot better than giving your clothes to a corporation to make money off of them.
Step 4: Reuse & Recycle textiles
If you have clothes that cannot be donated, such as undergarments or items with holes or stains, consider taking them to your nearest textile recycling drop-off location. I know H&M has textile drop offs in all of their stores (see photo to the right). You can do some research to find a place in your area.
If you’re getting rid of old t-shirts, you can also cut them up and use them as rags. This will eliminate the need for wasteful single-use cleaning products like Clorox wipes, because you can just spray the counter and wipe it with a reusable rag instead.
While we’re on the subject, that takes us to:
#2: The Kitchen
Guys, this one is hard. It can be really overwhelming to tackle kitchen clutter, especially when you have dishes piling up or hiding away in the dish washer. So how do we start?
Step 1: Lay it all out
My suggestion would be to get everything clean, then set it all out on the counter and assess what you really need and use. Do you need 20 different mugs? Do you have a cabinet that you’re always worried about opening because something might fall out? I know you have a ridiculous amount of tupperware containers and at least a few that you can’t find the lid/bottom for. (see photo to the right for proof of mine) Assessing everything you have and how much you actually need and use on a regular basis is really important.
Step 2: Find homes
When you have gone through and feel satisfied with how your cabinets and drawers look, it’s time to find homes for your unwanted items. For things like that lonely tupperware lid, check for a recycle symbol and dispose of it properly. For everything else, you have a couple of options. This might sound silly, but my #1 way of getting rid of stuff is posting on Facebook asking where I can take things. Your friends have a vast array of knowledge of local programs or services that could use your kitchen supplies. For example, food pantries may need tupperware for giving out meals. A friend who volunteers there might know that. Your unwanted mismatched plates and bowls will work perfectly for your friend’s first apartment. A lot of my first apartment supplies came from my mom’s friends getting rid of stuff. College kids aren’t picky, and they love free stuff. If you have a surplus of an object (like tupperware lids or bag clips) you can also contact local schools to see if they need anything for arts and crafts.
I’m also part of a Buy Nothing Facebook group for my neighborhood where people post their unwanted items and arrange for pickup with people in the neighborhood. I used that group to find a new home for my mattress, give away some random plastic cutlery that was in my house, and find homes for a lot of things I decided I didn’t need during the moving process. It’s also a great way to find furniture if you’re looking for something but don’t want to buy new. Plus everything is free! Check out the Buy Nothing Project’s website here to find a group near you!
Of course, you can also take some of that stuff to a thrift store like Salvation Army (or Philly AIDS if you’re in Philly). Sometimes that is the easiest option, but I do encourage you to find a way to connect with real people when you’re finding homes for your belongings. It’s more rewarding and you know you were able to help someone out. It makes the whole de-cluttering process a lot more warm and fuzzy.
#3: The bathroom
Ooooookay guys, we need to talk about bathroom clutter. We all have it, we’re all guilty of buying beauty products and abandoning them a few months later for the newest thing. Eliminating these products not only clears up space in the bathroom, but it also clears your head.
Step 1: Empty the junk drawer
Hotel samples, lotions from gift baskets, and loose q-tips plague our bathroom drawers, countertops, cabinets and closets. We might not think this is a big deal, but the stress of digging through these objects and trying to find the right one or figure out if they’re expired is just not worth it. Please, just LET THEM GO. Find the products you love, and commit to using them. Of course I would suggest finding zero waste options, but that’s not really the point of this post. It’s about removing extra clutter that is visually stressful and making it harder to live day-to-day. If you clear up room in the closet by getting rid of all your free samples and abandoned beauty products, you can use that valuable storage space to clear off some counter space. Ideally, I like to only have essential everyday items (like my toothbrush and a bar of hand soap) out on the counter. This makes it easier to keep the bathroom clean and you’ll always look like you have your life together when you have guests over.
Getting rid of cosmetics is a bit more difficult, as most donation centers will not accept items that are open. I would suggest asking your friends locally if they have any ideas, because it does vary from place to place. I was going through my childhood bedroom over Christmas and I posted on Facebook asking where I could take open lotions and body sprays. I had several responses within minutes! There are several shelters near my hometown that would accept gently used products. Obviously for things like makeup, you probably can’t donate them. My suggestion would be to try to use them up or give them to a friend who likes makeup, but if they’re irritating your skin or really don’t work for you, don’t be afraid to just get rid of them. If you’re never going to use it, it’s going to end up in the trash someday. Don’t let your hesitation to throw things away overpower your needs. Clear drawers, clear head! You’ll know not to buy that cheap product next time, and can make sure you’re only buying what you need from here on out.
#4: Living Space & Decorations
The way we decorate our space says a lot about us. I’m a huge fan of quirky art and I want my space to reflect my design aesthetic and personality. Something I have come to terms with recently though, is that I do not dust. I just don’t do it. I’m so bad about keeping surfaces outside the kitchen clean, and I think it’s because there’s just too much stuff on them! A lot of work goes into dusting each picture frame, figurine, or decorative pot that sits on surfaces all around my house. I decided to simplify my decorations a bit, starting with my bedroom.
Step 1: Think vertically
Hanging art on the wall gets it off your horizontal surfaces and makes them easier to clean. I now hang all of my pictures and 2D art on the walls, and I have tried to keep knick-knacks to a minimum. I didn’t have a lot of 3D art, but I did have a lot of stuffed animals from childhood. It’s hard to go through things that have sentimental value, but try to be mindful about what actually brings you joy and is worth keeping in your space. Those stuffed animals were just sitting on my shelf, but they can bring joy to a little kid in a homeless shelter.
Step 2: Stop buying things and work with what you have
When you look at all the art you already have, I’m sure you’ll realize there is no need for you to seek more out. Assess what you have and how it works with your space. Hanging larger art makes the space feel bigger, in comparison to a bunch of small things. I made a photo collage on my dorm wall in college, but it got super dusty and made my tiny space feel even tinier. The same goes for 3-dimensional objects laying around on your desk or dresser. This could include trash or office supplies, but it also probably includes random knick knacks. The more clutter you have, the smaller the space will feel and the harder it will be to clean. Instead of buying the cute little figurines and random objects I see at thrift stores, I try to create a nice aesthetic with larger or more useful objects, like blankets, pillows, and candles.
Step 3: Keep it clean and organized
Along the same lines as decorations is just clutter in general. I’m guilty of leaving receipts laying around, leaving cups out, putting something down “just until I can figure out what to do with it” and leaving it there for weeks. This is a bad habit I’m really trying to break. If an item doesn’t serve a purpose for me, I’ll dispose of it properly or find a way to donate it if it can serve a purpose for someone else. If it’s something I need, I find a place for it. Categorizing your storage is really useful. Games go here, books go here, important files go here, electronics and charging cables go here, etc. Don’t just throw everything on your desk. If everything has a home, you’ll always know where it is and where it needs to go after you’re done using it. You could also consider using a bulletin board to keep important things like receipts or parking tickets within view, but off surfaces.
I would also recommend digitizing important files so the paper copy can go in the recycling bin. You can use apps like Scannable to digitize papers. It will take a photo of the document and turn it into a flat pdf. You can also use the app ReceiptHog to take a photo of your receipts and get points that add up to Amazon gift cards!
Keeping surfaces mostly clear makes them a lot easier to clean and allows for some flexibility in the space. If I need a surface to throw my purse on or to temporarily store some stuff I’m going to donate, it’s not hard to find one and nothing has to end up on the floor. This also means your house is always ready if you want to have friends over, and you don’t have to be embarrassed that you have stuff laying around everywhere and no free surfaces to put your fancy cheese tray on (this is a theoretical scenario, I have never assembled a cheese tray but I assume some people do).
#5: Keep Going & Stay Positive
If you went a little easy on the de-cluttering process the first time around and you still feel like your cabinets and closets are overflowing, that’s okay. You can keep repeating this process until you feel satisfied that everything you own is being put to good use. I keep a box in a designated area for donations. This makes it easier to get rid of things and takes some of the pressure off the de-cluttering process. Rather than dedicating a day to go through everything, you can assess as you go. By designating a space for donations, you’re opening yourself up to let go of things.
I could go on and on about the benefits of simplifying your space, but you really need to give it a try to see what a difference it can make. To recap, I would suggest:
- Start with your closet. It’s the easiest thing to control, and you’ll get a taste for how great it feels to get rid of excess stuff. If you’re like me, you’ll get hooked on simplifying your life and you’ll start organizing other parts of the house.
- Figure out what you need and get rid of the rest. This applies to every area of the home.
- Ask Facebook! Your friends are a wealth of knowledge and you’ll be able to find good homes for most of the stuff you want to get rid of.
- Keep a box handy for donations. And make sure you are consistently re-assessing your needs.
- Have fun! The process should not make you sad. Getting rid of unnecessary belongings can feel scary at first, but the end result will simplify your every day life, make cleaning easier, and you will feel great.
Let me know below if you have any de-cluttering tips of your own, or know of any unique organizations for donating used goods!