Smart ways to declutter in 2024

how to declutter more sustainably and create some calm at home
Smart and sustainable ways to declutter your homeDamian Lugowski - Getty Images

Many of us dream of living in a calm, organised home, and use the start of the year as a big motivator for a big clear out. Around two-thirds* of us declutter in January. But with greater emphasis now on sustainability and the environment, is it time to rethink the way you do this? It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of shedding old stuff to make room for more — often without asking ourselves: 'could this item be repaired, recycled, donated, sold on or disposed of sustainably?'

So how can we do right by the things we no longer need, and be more mindful about the new things we’re bringing into our homes? We asked five decluttering experts for advice:

Whether you're looking to clear your hallway, organise your bedroom or sort out your make-up bag, these are the rules to follow when it comes to decluttering your home...

8 rules for effective decluttering

1.Declutter little and often

For Lynda Wylie of Tidy Rooms, ‘mini habits’ are key and she encourages people to let go of things around key times in the year. She says, “Use any traditions such as Christmas, birthdays, Lent, or changing seasons to help you let go of things. For instance, put a household item (or a bag of items!) in a box throughout Lent and by Easter, you'll have 40 items you can give to a food bank or charity shop.”

“Decluttering is a lifestyle, not a project,” says Juliet Landau-Pope, productivity coach and author of What’s Your Excuse For Not Clearing Your Clutter?. “It can take less than 15 minutes to sort out one drawer, so start with a very small space or a category of items and work from there one tiny step at a time.”

2.More storage isn't always the answer

shoe storage
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“When people ask me what they need to buy before they start decluttering, the answer is nothing,” says Juliet. She identifies three stages to organising, “none of which actually require you to buy anything”.

She says: “The first stage is to let go of your surplus stuff. Review and then reduce your things and think about what you can recycle and reuse. The second step is to organise the things that you've decided to keep (they’re staying in your life right now, but they may not be there forever!). And the final stage is creating systems and routines so that you can maintain order.”

3.Declutter using the circular economy

Around 30% of us admit to binning homeware items that could have been sold, donated or repurposed, according to research by Denby, as part of its 'Relove with Shelter' campaign. The survey also shows that 32% of us don't know where to start when it comes to finding a new home for items we no longer want that still have plenty of life in them, and a third admit to throwing away items instead of finding out how to dispose of them sustainably.

Finding a new home for pre-loved items is easier than ever now thanks to local WhatsApp groups, eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Depop. You can sell books, CDs, DVDs and games on Ziffit, and the Olio app allows you to give away unwanted food and household items to your neighbours.

It can help you let go of things if you know they’ll go to a good home and live on, says Lynda: “You can donate sewing machines and household tools to Tools With A Mission, and they go to people who need them in Africa. Meanwhile animal rescue centres love receiving old bedding and towels.”

4.Buy long-lasting products

washing machine last longer
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“There are a lot of different ways you can shop sustainably – buying products made with recycled materials, or from a carbon-neutral factory, for example – but nine times out of 10, the best thing you can do is buy long-lasting products,” says Tara Button, founder of Buy Me Once. Tara set up the online homeware and clothing store after being given a cast-iron pot with a lifetime guarantee and realising that she wanted to invest in products that would go the distance.

She said: “The average T-shirt lasts two and a half years, but if you have an item of clothing that lasts 10 years, then the cotton didn’t have to be watered, or ploughed, threshed, woven, manufactured, packaged, transported… It’s so much better for the environment.”

5.Grow your own style

It’s easy to be swayed by trends, so it’s important to know your home style and stick to it, says Tara. She explains: “Everything that we bring into our lives should be a considered choice rather than thinking, ‘I need something and this is easy, or this is cheap’.

“Having a plan is important – take the time to think about your own tastes and what your ideal home looks like, maybe even make a mood board. Otherwise you’ll buy a sofa you like but it won’t go with your cupboards or your carpet, and you’ll think, ‘Now I have to change my carpet!’. It’s an ongoing cycle of consumption,” says Tara.

6.Live well with less

how to declutter your home sustainably
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“Decluttering can help you live more simply, especially during the cost of living crisis,” says Lynda. “You know what’s in your house so you avoid buying duplicates – if you've already got it in the cupboard then use it up rather than buy more of it. Before you get anything new, picture where it’s going to live in your house. Have a physical boundary – for example, if you buy a lot of art supplies, dedicate two boxes and if it goes over that don’t buy any more.”

7. New homes for old things

When we’re surrounded by bags of clutter to get rid of, it can be hard to imagine that some people are living in furniture poverty, with nothing in their homes, not even flooring or curtains. But that’s often the case for families in social housing.

Emily Wheeler is the founder of Furnishing Futures, a small East London charity that furnishes homes using items that would otherwise end up in landfill. She says, “I started Furnishing Futures when I was in frontline social work. Children had no beds, there’d be no cooker, and it was impacting families. Women who’d fled domestic violence had lost everything.”

With a background in interior design, Emily knew that furniture brands often had a huge amount of ex-display or customer-returned stock. She now works with brands and designers to use this furniture in social housing. Furnishing Futures accepts some pieces from the public, if it’s in excellent condition, but look out for charities near you that accept furniture donations to help those in need.

8.Make space for what inspires you

Tesco homeware

Decluttering can have strong emotional benefits, says Helen Sanderson, a psychotherapist and author of The Secret Life Of Clutter: “I say to people, your home is like a garden. It's a living, breathing space. It needs cleaning and loving and caring for and maintaining.

“I think of this process as being mindful, rather than a chore. It's an act of self care. Ultimately, what it leads to is a sense of lightness, and then joy and possibilities come flooding back. If you have clutter, you’ve filled your space. But what can you make space for?

“Maybe you've got that box room that’s full of stuff. But if you clear and open up that room, and make it into your writing room or your crafting room or a space for a friend to stay, you start to live a life that is more about nourishment and expression, rather than consuming and drudgery.”

*Hillary's 2022

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