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When my kids were little and I was a SAHM, Summer Vacation is something I both looked forward to and dreaded at the same time. We always had a blast and packed a lot into our summer vacations. The dread? The MESSES. The messes, the bedroom disasters, the toys, and clothing and shoes (oh my godddd the shoes!) floating out of their designated places and into the rest of the house, like a flood of junk invading my space. I like for everything to have a home within the home: A place for everything, and everything in its place! <– that’s what I like to say. And then they all mock me. And I don’t care. I always made it a point to de-clutter twice a year- once before summer vacation started, and again between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. That said, you can declutter any time that works for you! Since it takes 20 days or less, this method can be used any time of the year.
Nowadays, my kids are adults and my youngest is in college and has her own apartment in Chicago. (And guess what? It’s clean. I know. Her bedroom at our house was a disaster zone, but her apartment? Guest Ready. IDK what changed, but I am relieved it did because there were some dark days in her childhood bedroom…) But even though they are adults, guess what I am still doing? DE-CLUTTERING. I
hate loathe clutter. And because I know how I get when my house is out of sorts, I have always made it a priority to keep clutter to a minimum and my spaces organized to contain the clutter.
With summer vacation looming, I wanted to share the 20 day (that’s right, no weekends because I know life= baseball/softball/soccer/swim/lacrosse season and there’s a good chance your weekends are monopolized with kids’ sports) or less (if you don’t have kids) de-cluttering method I used when my kids were kids, and continue to use now because clutter has a way of creeping into our lives. My husband particularly likes when I throw or give something away, and then buy it again later. Like when we downsized from a house to a condo and I got rid of everything, and then we bought a house again and I had to re-buy everything. heh heh
Ok, let’s get started:
Even if you do not have kids this method is for you, because as I said, my kids are not kids anymore, and I still follow this process. Want to hear the best part for the no-kids-people? You’re done on Day 16. Days 17, 18, 19 and 20 are for the kids’ rooms. (Because we had 4 kids bedrooms. If you have two kids bedrooms you’ll be done sooner, too!) These 20 days of de-cluttering tasks are meant to be done on weekdays in an hour or two. If you have an area that is not bad and doesn’t take long to do, feel free to jump ahead or combine a couple days. Just be sure to use the checklist to stay on track so you finish in 20 days!
Things to keep in mind as you are de-cluttering:
- Remember, you are doing this to simplify your life an get rid of unused items.
- Is this something I actually use?
- If I was shopping today and saw this item, would I buy it?
- Do I love this item? Does it make me happy to see it, or is it just collecting dust?
- Why do I still have this if I am not using it? Is it sentimental? If so, do you realllly need it? If you do, can it be packed away and stored in your attic or basement? Is it because getting rid of it means you wasted money on it? Well, that money is spent. It’s already gone. There is no point holding onto an item that was a waste of money and is now a waste of space.
- Is the item broken and you’re “going to fix it?” Let’s face it, if you haven’t made it a priority to fix by now, you’re not going to fix it. Toss it.
Day 1: Gear up.
You will need a large, sturdy box (maybe more if you have a lot of clutter), a laundry basket and garbage bags. Label the box “DONATE.” This box is going to follow you around the house as you de-clutter. If you have a lot of stuff, or if you have kids who have a lot of stuff their rooms have been collecting for years, you will need more boxes. Uhaul has great boxes that you can buy one at a time or by the bundle. The small and medium sizes have handles, which is helpful.
Wasn’t that easy? You’re now ready to start.
Day 2: Kitchen countertops.
If your countertops have collected all sorts of items that do not belong there, start putting things in their proper places and throw away or donate items that are old or out of date. Go through papers and mail and throw away any that are outdated or junk. If you have notes/papers/etc. on your refrigerator, go through these papers as well. If you have a bin that you put mail in, go through this bin.
You will need a place to save “important papers.” File papers that you need to save long-term, such as anything you will need for taxes, your car title that came in the mail 2 months ago, your kids’ birth certificates you used to register them for school LAST year, etc.
For things like bills, take an hour or two asap to sign up for paperless billing and automatic bill pay on everything you possibly can. This will save you so much time and reduce the amount of paper clutter coming into your home. If you can delegate this task to your high school student or significant other, do it! They can help, too, and your high schooler needs to learn how to function as an adult anyway- plus knowing that your electric bill is $147 a month is GOOD for him or her. They need to know what stuff costs and why they aren’t getting $194 gym shoes this month. Or ever.
As I said above, you need a place to store important papers. Maybe it’s on your fridge, or maybe you could use some wall bins. Whatever it is, find a storage solution that works for you. I have a three-tiered bin (like the one below) that holds current papers to be addressed, take out menus, and area attractions since we have frequent visitors. Here are some ideas to consider:
I love this command center. It is great for sorting papers, notes/grocery lists, keys, etc.
Whatever style you choose, choose something that will work with your life and style!
The last item for today is your kitchen table. If you have an eat-in kitchen, or a nook, or an island that has become more of a catchall and less of a place for the family to connect over a meal, clean it off. NOTHING should be on the eating surface that isn’t used for meals: placemats, napkins, salt & pepper, paper plates, etc. *Maybe* a centerpiece, but keep it simple. I have a large farmhouse tray on my table that holds everything we use at meals:
How cute are the little turtle salt & pepper shakers?! I love turtles. The tray is nice because when people are over and we need more table space I can pick it up and move it out of the way.
Day 3: Countertop appliances.
Small appliances that are not used on a daily basis don’t need to be on display- unless they are super cool, like your Kitchen Aid mixer or your fancy espresso machine. If it doesn’t make you happy to see it, store it in a cabinet or closet when it’s not in use. Slow cookers, toasters, blenders and other items you don’t use very often are taking up valuable real estate on your counters. Put them away! My handy hubby ran an electrical outlet into our pantry, which is where we keep our countertop microwave and toaster so it is out of sight.
Day 4: Kitchen cabinets and drawers.
Next up, your cabinets. Start at one side of your bank of cabinets and go through each shelf. Get rid of containers that don’t have lids, donate serving dishes you haven’t used in years, weed out your 26 coffee cups and keep the ones you like to drink coffee from.
Move on to the drawers, do the same as above as you did above. If it’s a gadget you never use, donate it to someone who may love it. Get rid of the 35 pairs of chopsticks- you will get more, I promise!
Make sure your kitchen items are in cabinets that make sense: the glasses and plates should be near the dishwasher so you can quickly put them away, the utensils should be near the stove, etc.
If it makes sense, check out our 15 Game-Changing Snack Stations post and consider adding a snack station to a cabinet or your pantry.
Day 5: Fridge and pantry.
The front/sides of your fridge are already cleaned off from Day 2’s tasks. Now it is time to tackle the inside. Throw away old food, freezer items and condiments that are past their prime. Deep clean the fridge. Put the food that is still good back in the fridge. Keep the condiments organized on the door bins: salad dressings together, sandwich condiments together, etc.
Moving on to the pantry, take everything out and throw away all expired food, and any food that is open that you’re never going to use, such as the 6 boxes of 1/4 full pasta boxes. (I would make “Pasta Surprise” and use it all with regular pasta sauce, but my family doesn’t care about noodle shape and just.wants.food.) As you’re narrowing down what you’re keeping, decide if you need additional storage items to keep everything organized. I am a big fan of glass containers and jars labeled for baking staples. Here is a (terrible) picture of my baking supplies:
I really, REALLY had to let go of my neurotic need for everything to match with all of those different jars. I could not find a set that had enough size choices to accommodate everything from a 5lb bag of flour to a small canister of cocoa, so I took several deep breaths, let it go and bought/used what I had to make it work. The labels are from The Painted Hive and she is no longer making them, BUT she will make you a free custom pdf of the labels you’d like if you want to DIY. (I think they would be super easy to DIY.) There is another row or two behind these for tea, oats, pancake mix, etc. I love these dictionary labels so much I pretty much ordered every one I could think of and went to town!
***Good job- you’ve made it through Day 4 and your kitchen is totally de-cluttered!***
Day 6: The junk drawer.
If you have a “junk drawer” organize it. Enlist the kids to test all of the pens and markers and only keep the ones that work. If you do not have a junk drawer organization insert, consider purchasing one to make it easier to keep this drawer organized in the future and easy to find what you’re looking for! I like this one because it fits perfectly in a standard 12″ drawer and the top organizer slides, allowing it to hold more items.
If you’d rather DIY a drawer organizer, or go to town and DIY a bunch of them for several drawers to keep costs down, DIY Home Sweet Home shares and easy (and super cheap!) tutorial on how to DIY drawer organizers and not waste any space. This is great because it’s designed by you to accommodate your things!
Day 7: The bathroom(s).
Starting in the linen closet, make sure your sheets are stored in sets: fitted sheet, top sheet, pillowcases. Here is a great way to store sheet sets so you are not rifling through your cabinet looking for a complete set:
I keep extra sheets in each bedroom in a basket labeled “sheets.” This way guests can change their beds when they leave. (I’m talking “guests” like our kids, my brother’s family and close friends, not REAL guests. If we have “real” guests I’ll change their linens. But kids, family and close friends? I tell you what, in the event I stay at their house, I’ll change my sheets, so they can do the same here. This place is like a revolving door all summer. :p )
Next up, towels. If your towels are ratty and torn and stained, please, Please, PLEASE treat yourself to some new towels. Amazon has some really pretty patterned towels, like these and these. I love pretty towels, but I also love IKEA towels because their bath sheets are very reasonably priced. I prefer all white towels because they can be bleached and people’s skincare products don’t stain them. Another tip? I *love* black washcloths because mascara and eyeliner doesn’t stain them! Hand towels are a different story and I do like to add some color and patterns to our bathrooms with hand towels. I also keep a supply of new hand towels that I pick up on clearance so I can swap them out when they get gross.
Fold your towels neatly with bath towels, hand towels, and washcloths in separate piles.
Do you have things other than linens in your linen closet? If so, organize them! Throw away items that are no longer presentable and organize the rest. We also store extra toilet paper, light bulbs and our iron and ironing board in our linen closet.
We have plastic Sterlite bins (below) with lids in our bathroom linen closet: First Aid, Meds, Trauma Kits (we live in the woods on a lake, so we need to be prepared) and Extras. Extras are toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, Dollar Tree hairbrushes, razors, etc. that we can replenish when we run out or give to a guest who forgot theirs. I love the size of these bins and also that they are easy to label and they stack!
Day 8: Bathroom vanity and medicine cabinet.
Now that the linen closet is done, it’s time to tackle the vanity and medicine cabinet. Take everything out and throw away anything that is empty, expired or nasty. Wash the shelves, drawers and cabinet bottom. Donate duplicate items and items you don’t use, like the 1/2″ curling iron you’ve had since 8th grade. If you haven’t used it in the past year, get rid of it, you don’t need it! When you put items back in the cabinets, put them back in an orderly fashion so you can easily find what you’re looking for. You don’t need every type of medicine in your medicine cabinet. Put the seldom-used meds (cold medicine, allergy medicine, etc. in a container in your linen closet or on your vanity cabinet bottom. Keep the daily medicine (ibuprofen, vitamins, contact drops, etc.) in the medicine cabinet.
Now is the time to go through alllllll of your make up, too. Did you know makeup can expire? It sure can! If it’s gunky, crusty or has an odor, throw it away. If you have lipsticks and eyeshadows in colors you don’t care for, toss them!
Day 9: The Laundry Room.
If you have cabinets in your laundry room (you lucky duck!) now is the time to sort through them. If you have cleaning supplies you don’t ever use, toss them. (Be sure to check your town’s local waste disposal ordinances- not everything is allowed in the trash.) If this is where you keep rags, fold them neatly or contain them for easy access. If you have room, consider moving all of your cleaning supplies to this one, central location and freeing up space under your kitchen sink and bathroom vanities.
Day 10: Entryway/Mudroom.
Even if your house doesn’t have a dedicated entryway or mudroom, you can still make it functional. Check out this post on 10 Functional Entryways to Inspire Organization for some ideas. Begin by clearing any papers, shoes, backpacks, book bags, sports bags, etc. from the area. If you have an entryway organization system in place, clear out anything that doesn’t need to be there and get it set up with book bags, purses, shoes you wear most often, etc. Donate sporting goods, shoes, and supplies you no longer use. If you don’t have an entryway storage system, consider something like this to corral shoes, coats, pack packs, and purses. Even if you do not have a dedicated entryway, one or all of these pieces might fit on a wall close to your door with some creative furniture rearranging! Even just getting your shoes under control will go a long way in de-cluttering your entry space.
I love all of the shoe cubbies, plus the spots to hang backpacks and work bags!
Day 11: Master bedroom.
It’s time to break it to your husband: The shorts he wore in high school don’t really “still fit” and they don’t really “still look good.” Donate them, and anything else that is out of style. Who knows, someone might be throwing a Throwback to the 90’s costume party and they will love his stuff. (If your husband has taken charge of his own wardrobe – hats off to you!- let him go through his clothing. If he is like my husband, after you go through his clothing, rotate his t-shirt pile so he doesn’t consistently wear the same 3 t-shirts over and over and over. <gahhhh>)
Go through all of the clothing in your dresser and closet. Donate anything that doesn’t fit, that you haven’t worn in a year or more, and that is no longer your style. For the remaining clothing in your closet, turn all of the hangers backwards like this:
When you wear something, turn the hanger the correct way. Any clothing on backwards hangers that remain at the end of each season should be donated because you haven’t worn them! This is such an easy way to prove that you do, or don’t wear something and whether or not it should take up valuable closet space.
Organize your dresser drawers by keeping seasonal items together: one drawer for t-shirts, one drawer for sweaters, one drawer for jeans, etc. For socks, underwear and bras you can purchase drawer organizers like this, or DIY them using the link above.
I’m sure this was kind of a HUGE JOB so you’re done for the day!
Day 12: Master bedroom, part 2.
Next up: shoes and jewels.
Go through allllll of your shoes. If you no longer wear them, donate them! Someone is sure to love them. If you have a shoe storage solution in your bedroom, utilize it. If you do not, consider purchasing one. I am not a “shoe girl” so all of my shoes are tossed in a basket in my closet. I pretty much wear black clogs all fall and winter, gym shoes and a handful of flip flops/ sandals in the summer, so nothing that needs to be stored separately or protected. If you need a space-saving shoe storage option, my daughters and a couple of my girlfriends use this one:
It’s really sturdy and holds up to 24 pairs of shoes! It’s about 12″ wide, too, so it does not take up much space at all.
There are lots of DIY shoe storage options, too, like this one from Hometalk:
This uses cardboard boxes, so it’s super cheap (or free) and would work perfectly for flip-flops and flats!
Now it’s time to organize your jewelry. If your dresser has a built-in jewelry drawer or drawers, it should be pretty easy to get everything put away and organized. If you don’t have a built-in jewelry drawer, you can designate a drawer and use the DIY drawer organizer above to make custom cubbies for your bracelets, rings etc. There are TONS of DIY jewelry storage ideas on Pinterest so take a look! Saved by Love Creations put together this post on 50 DIY jewelry storage options! I am sure you’ll find something fantastic. If you’d rather purchase something, this one is pretty flippin’ awesome! It’s a mirror that hinges open and displays all of your jewelry. My youngest daughter has a similar one she bought at IKEA. It holds so much stuff! This one is nice because you can hang it on the back of your door. The IKEA one needs to be wall mounted.
Throw away costume jewelry that is broken and donate any that you no longer care for. For “real” jewelry, even if it’s broken, don’t throw it away! You can either have it repaired, or take all of the gold to a jeweler and sell it to them. They will take earring studs, thin old necklaces- anything gold- and make you an offer based on current gold values. You may be surprised what that old jewelry adds up to!
Day 13: Pet supplies.
Yes, even your dogs outgrow their clothing and toys. If you have multiple leashes, bowls and toys, keep only the ones that your dog uses. My dog is very picky about his chew toys, so if we buy something he doesn’t like we donate it. Some other lucky dog might find it to be a fine chew toy.
He’s super cute though, so I don’t care if he rejects my gifts. Our other dog has NO INTEREST in toys and has never once chewed on anything! He does, however, loooooove his clothing. He stands on his hind legs and helps me put his winter sweaters on. Such a weirdo!
Day 14: Email.
If your inbox is out of control, pour yourself a glass of wine and hunker down. If your inbox is tidy, you can still have a glass of wine, but you have the night off!
A cluttered inbox makes me nuts! I usually try to keep it under 20 or so “unreads,” but recently it was up to almost 300 because I have been so busy with the blog and other life stuff. It took a couple hours, but now we are back in control.
You may be tempted to go through and delete everything that is junk, but that is an instant fix to another problem: too many emails! Instead of just deleting, go through and unsubscribe to all of the lists you don’t read or no longer apply to your life. Most lists have a quick unsubscribe option so it only takes a second. Trash the email after unsubscribing.
Once you’ve unsubscribed to all of the lists you don’t need, go through and do a bulk delete of everything you don’t necessarily need to read right now, but you’d like to keep receiving emails from them.
Open whatever emails are left and address them: file, delete, respond, etc.
Whew! Hopefully that only took a glass or two of wine and not a whole bottle. 😉
Day 15: Your car.
Let’s face it, you practically live in your car. No wonder it’s sort of a mess. Take 30 minutes to clean it out and stock it with items you may need.
Start with the door bins, throw away all of the garbage you’ve shoved in there. Next, the back seat. Toss junky kids toys from fast food, and all of the wrappers, school papers, artwork (you don’t have to keep every piece!) and anything else that hasn’t made it into the house, and should not make it into the house. When my kids were little these car seat organizer things didn’t exist and I am so jealous because these would have been a must in our car!
I just love those! It’s so handy to have everything in one spot so your kids can be in charge of putting things away.
Now it’s time to tackle the console and glove box. Take important papers, like the title to your car, and file them in your filing cabinet. Throw away old receipts, condiment packages and anything else you don’t need.
What should be in your glove box and console? Things you need! Insurance and registration, manual and any roadside assistance info you could need can go in the glove box. For the console: napkins, wet wipes, ibuprofen, hand sanitizer, chapstick, $20 in emergency cash, tampons, granola bars for on the go snacks (and car trouble) and anything else you have found you need while in the car. (I keep a spare pair of sunglasses and a dog leash in my console in case I happen upon a stray in need.) I also make it a habit to clean out any garbage in the car while I’m pumping gas. There’s nothing else to do, so you may as well clean out your car!
Finally, clean out the cup holders (they may pop out to be cleaned in the dishwasher, so take a look) and make a calendar entry to schedule time to have your car washed and vacuumed.
If you don’t have kids, good news, you’re done! Enjoy your organized house and give yourself a pat on the back because you got through this de-cluttering in 15 quick days, without monopolizing your precious weekend time! Now make sure you take the donation box(es) to your local donation center so they aren’t living in your car for the next several weeks. 😉
If you do have kids, good news, you’re almost done!
Day 16: Kids toys and games.
If you have a playroom or an area in your family room or living room dedicated to kids toys, today is the day. (If your kids have toys in their bedrooms you’ll get to those in the next day or so. Today is about the toys that are invading the rest of your house.)
Start by going through all of the board games. If it is a game you and the kids still enjoy playing, set it aside. Donate all of the games that are intact, but no longer enjoyed. If games are missing pieces, throw them away.
Once the games are sorted out, find a place to store them. If you have a playroom, this is easy. If you do not, can you store them on the shelf of a closet? Maybe your coat closet or a linen closet has room. This way they are accessible and kids are likely to only get out one game at a time.
Next up: Toys. Again, go through the toys your kids no longer play with and donate the ones that are in good shape and not broken. If they are broken or missing parts, throw them away.
If your kids have too many toys, consider packing 1/2 of them away for now. In a month or two you can get those toys out and put the ones you’ve left out away. By rotating the toys your kids will play with them longer and not get bored as quickly. It’s like getting new toys without buying new toys!
Whatever toys are left need to be stored somewhere. Bookcases, bins, open shelving or a large toy box make it easy for kids to put things away when they are done playing.
If your kids’ toys are stored in your living room or family room and you don’t have an organization method, these sofa tables with storage are awesome!
I love that this is so stylish, but anything could be in those baskets and no one would know they aren’t filled with fluffy blankets. This is a great way to corral kids’ toys when you don’t have a dedicated room in your house for toys!
Days 17-20: Kids bedrooms.
We have 4 kids, and we had 4 kids rooms, so depending on the number of kids bedrooms you have, you may be done in fewer than 20 days, or if you have more than 4 kids bedrooms you may need some additional days. Either way, no matter if you have one kid or nine, the process is the same for each bedroom. If you want your kids to help, by all means, put them to work. If you have kids who are tiny hoarders who will cry if you throw away their gum wrapper collection, leave them out of this and get it done. They will get over their garbage that is missing. (My youngest used to save every.stinking.thing. It drove me INSANE. I cannot tell you how many times I said, “GRACE! This is ACTUAL GARBAGE!” Thankfully that passed and her apartment is now super clean and she doesn’t hold on to stuff for years.
- Starting with all of the surfaces, put away items that have been left out. Donate knicknacky crap you don’t need and they won’t miss. No child needs a collection of ceramic cats or fake teeth.
- Go through the closets and dressers and donate clothing that is too small and/or will not fit next season. Take an inventory of what they need clothing-wise so you can be on the lookout for deals.
- Organize their closets. I loved using these shelving organizers when my kids were younger because they could get their clothes out for the week, which eliminated school morning meltdowns.
- If toys are kept in the bedroom, donate the toys and games your kids have outgrown. Toss anything that is broken or is missing pieces. Consider a small bookcase for the closet that will keep toys out of the main living area and allow your kids to put them away in their proper place – out of sight- to eliminate visual clutter.
- These wire cubbies are nice because when they are stacked two high they are just 29″ tall. If you have more vertical space then horizontal, you could stack them taller one by one, or rotate this so it is 3 high and 2 wide. These are great for toys, board games, books, etc.
- Collections. If your kids have sentimental collections, keep them, but consider installing shelving around the top of the room to display these pieces so they are out of the way. My oldest daughter had a Disney snow globe collection that was so sweet, but not something that was ever played with, so they were stored on display shelves, rather than just on her dresser top taking up needed space. Work with the space you have and the collections your child wants to keep, but be sure these items are out of the way and not cluttering up your surfaces.
And now you are all done and the main living areas of your house are totally clutter free! Everything is in its place, and you’ve gotten rid of everything you do not use, want or need. I bet you feel a billion times better about the state of your house, and I bet you are ready for summer vacation, too!
Last, but not least, here is a printable checklist to check off each day as you complete it. This way if you do the days out of order it’s not a big deal, and you will stay on track with the daily tasks!
WOW! Not bad for less than 3 weeks! Your entire house is now decluttered and organized. How great is that?
Want more ideas? Take a look at our posts about cleaning tips- they will save you so much time!
For more organization and decluttering ideas, visit our DIY for the Home: Cleaning & Organization Tips board on Pinterest. There are hundreds of ideas from other great bloggers!