30 Days to a Happy Home
This is how to get it clean and calm
ORGANIZE YOUR SPACE AND CLEAR CLUTTER THIS MONTH WITH JUST ONE SIMPLE STEP EACH DAY—YOU’LL BE HAPPIER AND HEALTHIER FOR IT.
You know that glorious feeling when everything is in its place? That’s a happy house. A clean living space has been linked with improved health, better focus, and even increased energy, but more than half of Americans say they’re stressed out by clutter—and don’t know how to deal with it. There’s a solution, and it lies in tackling the mess one task at a time. “You don’t have to do everything at once or perfectly,” says Becky Rapinchuk, author of Clean Mama’s Guide to a Healthy Home. “Just do one task daily, and you’ll see how much it improves your mood.” If you’re prone to an allor-nothing mindset, try to remember that little things can go a long way in sprucing up your home. Here’s a month’s worth of quick, doable tricks to make life a bit more sane. Junk piles, you’ve been warned.
CLEAR A SURFACE, ANY SURFACE
Focus on one or two clutter hot spots that are small enough to be swept clean right away, like your nightstand or your coffee table. It’s low-hanging fruit, but it’ll make your home feel a little neater and inspire you to whip other areas into shape, says Melissa Michaels, the author of Make Room for What You Love. Shoo the mess off one surface into a box, then walk around putting stuff back in its rightful place (or in the trash).
LOSE OUTDATED FITNESS GADGETS
We love the ’90s too, but equipment purchased when the Macarena was hot has probably outlived its value. Dump anything that’s dusty, then stash the good stuff—say, resistance bands— in a basket near where you use it.
MAKE THE KITCHEN LESS MUGGY
You can never have too many coffee mugs…said no one ever. Pull yours out of the cupboard, pick about 10 that you actually use, and donate the rest, says Sara Pedersen, creator of the blog Time to Organize.
DISOWN OWNER’S MANUALS
Most are posted online, so you don’t need paper copies. Plus, the digital ones are much easier to search through—that is, if you actually end up needing to read them at any point.
CHOOSE ONE HIGH CLOSET SHELF TO CLEAN
The dark corners of the closet often are forgotten and consequently get filled with dust and clutter. If you have many shelves that are overloaded with clothes or knickknacks, don’t panic—just choose one to organize today. “Take everything off, wipe down the shelf, and ask yourself if you really need or want each thing,” says Rapinchuk.
RETIRE OLD MAKEUP
It could be harboring bacteria or fungi. Ditch lipstick and foundation after a year and mascara after three months. Also dump anything that is in a cracked or icky case, that has changed consistency, or that smells funky.
PICK A SPOT FOR ODDS AND ENDS
Surprise—we like your junk drawer! “Sometimes we need the relief of opening a drawer and tossing in things that don’t yet have a home,” says Karen Kingston, the author of Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui. Still, junk drawers need attention. Tip out the contents and sort them into three piles: items to put somewhere else, items to chuck, and items you’re not sure about (keep those, but scrap ’em if they haven’t been used by the next cleanup).
GIVE SOME SOCKS THE BOOT
Get rid of any that are holey or living the single life and fold whatever’s left. “The drawer will be neater, and you’ll fit more in it,” says Barbara Reich, the author of Secrets of an Organized Mom.
SAY NO TO PAPER BILLS
They have a funny way of turning into paper clutter. If you haven’t started doing bill payments digitally yet, go online and set up at least one today.
MAKE A SINK SCRUB
It prevents a strong odor in the morning! “A nightly sink scrub sets the tone for the next day,” says Rapinchuk. Create her gentle go-to scrub: Fill a quart-size mason jar with a box of baking soda and mix in 30 drops of essential oil. Sprinkle the powder over a wet sink, add dish soap, and scrub.
PART WITH KID ART
Those bins full of projects your children made ages ago? Instead of holding on to the physical items, take photos of them. The memories are what count, and pics can trigger those. If there are a few you can’t bear to let go of, put them on display instead of leaving them to clutter up the basement.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Pick a drawer you use every day and organize it into distinct sections—or better yet, use a divider! We spend a year of our lives looking for lost items, according to the National Association of Professional Organizers, but dividers make it easy to find what you need. They also stop items from shifting when you open or close a drawer.
GET OFF ANNOYING MAILING LISTS
To cut down on credit card offers you just have to tear up, visit optoutprescreen.com or call 888-5-OPT-OUT, suggests the Federal Trade Commission. These are run by the major consumer reporting companies, and you can request to stop receiving offers for the next five years or even permanently.
HAVE A SHREDDING DATE
Some chains like Office Depot offer services to shred sensitive paperwork. Check their websites for details and commit to a day to head in, or rev up your at-home shredder to clear out unneeded yet sensitive documents.
TIDY UP YOUR TAKEOUT MENUS
Trash the ones you’ve had since the Bush administration, along with any you and your family know by heart or can easily bookmark online. Give the rest a more discreet and accessible home in a vinyl folder tacked inside a pantry door.
USE A LABEL MAKER
Try it on pantry or linen closet shelves. “It creates a visual cue to put things where they belong,” says Donna Smallin Kuper, creator of the blog Unclutter.
ORGANIZE THAT FRIDGE
If yours is like a black hole—leftovers go in, but they don’t always come out—take a few minutes to chuck anything that’s outdated or unidentifiable. Then pull shorter items to the front, Pedersen says. That’ll make it harder for food to get lost and easier for you to see what’s there before a grocery store run.
DO A DEEP DIVE INTO YOUR WARDROBE
Grab all the “someday” items (as in, “I might need this sequined dress for a ’70s throwback party someday!”) and boost clothing karma by giving them to a pal or to charity. Chances are if you’re not wearing it now, you won’t in the future.
CLUTTER-PROOF THE LIVING ROOM
Tell your family that your main living space now has a strict cart-and-carry policy, says Cynthia Ewer, the author of Cut the Clutter. That means while everyone’s welcome to hang out or do homework there, any items they haul in must be collected when they leave. To make it easier, stock up on baskets with handles to help kids (and grown-ups) ferry stuff in and out.
WIPE DOWN THE BASEBOARDS
You may not give them much thought, but banishing the dust and grime on your baseboards makes a big difference in how clean your home feels.
“Use baby wipes, which have moisturizer that works really well to gently clean wood,” says Rapinchuk. If it’s uncomfortable for you to crouch down or work on your knees, use a long-reach duster or the crevice attachment on your vacuum cleaner.
FENCE IN MESS
Stick pretty serving trays here and there. Like bins, they help you corral smaller items together in one place (say, napkins and condiments in your kitchen or beauty products in your bathroom).
DEJUNK YOUR JEWELRY
Empty tangled costume pieces onto a table, thank them for the good times, and weed out anything that’s chipped, broken, or out of style.
DITCH THE CLUTTER BLINDERS
You can get used to ignoring your mess with enough practice, so work on zeroing in on items that don’t belong in a space, says Rita Emmett, the author of The Clutter-Busting Handbook. Starting now, glance over your shoulder every time you leave a room. Anything out of place? Take it to the right spot.
CHECK FOR LIDS
Give food containers a new job requirement: They must have lids, or to the recycling bin they go. To cut down on strays, store lids on their respective containers.
Decorative pillows are like bunny rabbits—get a few cute ones, and pretty soon you’re overrun. Scaling back is an easy way to make a room feel less chaotic, says Ruth Soukup, the author of Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind & Soul. Take some away for a month and see if you miss them.
MARTHA UP YOUR SHEETS
Pros swear by this classic Martha Stewart move: When you’re putting away laundry, stick folded sheets inside a matching pillowcase to store sets together and make them easier to keep track of.
LOOK FOR SNEAKY STORAGE SPACES
There are spots around the house, like the backs of doors or sides of cabinets, that you tend to ignore. But with a few good hooks, they could help you get stuff out of the way. Pick the ones you’ll use most.
CALL IN CHARITIES
Some, like the Salvation Army, let you schedule pickups online so you can clear out those books and old clothes you boxed up but never got around to dropping off at a donation bin. Remember to get a receipt for tax purposes.
ELIMINATE EXPIRED MEDS
Get rid of any that have changed color or odor or that are in unmarked containers and can’t immediately be identified. Dump them out of the bottles and into a plastic bag with an unpalatable substance like kitty litter or coffee grounds before tossing them. Even better, ask your pharmacy if it hosts drug “take-back” programs, or check a site like disposemymeds.org for initiatives in your area.
Take a deep breath, look around your space, and celebrate your progress. Your home is calmer and happier, and now so are you.