The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)



There’s no doubt about it: not only can clutter accumulate in your home, but it can seem to build up in your brain too. The more "stuff" that accumulates, the more daunting it can be to clean around it. And what’s more, the idea of purging your possessions can sometimes feel insurmountable. But reducing general clutter can be liberating and bring a breath of fresh air wafting through your living space. Here are some tips for paring down – which not only leave you with a cleaner house, but also can help others in need and lead to more sustainable living.


Room by Room

Don’t look around your entire house in despair. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Focus on one room at a time, or even just a drawer. Perhaps one week, you clear out only old magazines and catalogues that have piled up everywhere. Or, maybe you just tackle the playroom. Success breeds success, so if you can see just a little bit of progress, you’ll be more motivated to continue with the task at hand. Make three piles: "relocate," "donate," and "toss." You’ll be amazed at how much clutter you can cruise through if you do it in short, focused spurts. Plan a treat afterward to reward yourself and your participating family members!

Group Like Items

Gather like things together. Ask yourself if you really need multiple versions of the same item. For example: how many flower vases or pairs of rain boots do you use at once? Keep the one or two that you love, and donate, sell, or give the rest to a friend. Consider a "favorite collections day" for the family. Have each person do a show-and-tell of their favorite saved items in a category – such as baseball caps or cookbooks. Then, rank them by favorites and brainstorm together to think of new "homes" for ones that are lower on the list. Perhaps cookbooks could find a new home at a local school, or baseball caps would be welcomed by a youth organization in town.

Fill a basket (or bag)

Get the whole family in on the fun. Give each member a basket or paper grocery bag, set the timer, and see who can fill it the fastest, with the most stuff. It’s a great teachable moment to help kids visualize those items they used to play with or wear in the hands of someone who will look at them through new eyes. Just make sure kids stick to their own rooms. Nothing kills the spirit of cleaning like a little sister poking through her big brother’s treasures.

Get Creative With Storage

If you need new storage containers, be sure to measure the space they’ll occupy and the contents to go within them, then take your measurements (and a tape measure) with you when you’re ready to shop! But you may have lots of options already available. Glass jars could be used for storing desktop office supplies or spare buttons. Large closet bins you used at a previous home, or a laundry basket that’s too small for your typical load could be assigned new jobs in your organizational system. Spray paint the bin to match your entryway décor and use it near the front door to collect incoming boots and shoes; place the laundry basket in the garage to lasso sports gear. A giant unused vase can be repurposed as a kitschy umbrella stand, too! Kids can take part in your these efforts, too.  For example: craft paint and decoupage can transform old shoe boxes into colorful, jazzy storage containers.

Keep, Toss or Donate/Sell

It helps to make three piles to keep, toss or donate. Once you find homes for what you want to keep and take out the trash what to do with the rest? You can sell them, or donate. Sure, you might make some cash selling the items. And that’s great. But they may not sell quickly or easily or at the price you think they should. Fortunately, there are a lot of organizations that will happily take your goods. Some will even pick up boxes or bags left outside of your house. Consider the following:

  • Local libraries for books
  • Day cares, preschools or children’s hospitals for toys (just make sure there are no recall items.)
  • Dress for Success for business attire

The following organizations happily accept clothing, toys, appliances, housewares and more, and may come to your home or office to pick them up:

And there are more charities to be found at The Giving Effect.

Moving Forward

One In, One Out Rule

For every new item that comes into your home – be it an article of clothing, decorative item, book or toy – get rid of a similar item. If you’re feeling really overrun, change the ratio: one in, two out. It’s important to realize that you don’t need to keep every give you get. You can try to return items if you know where they came from. Or you can sell them on eBay or Craig’s List. Many communities even have social media-based swaps.

Make It a Family Project

Assign different family members specific areas that they’re in charge of tidying every day. Dividing up the work and responsibility will make it much more manageable. If you have younger kids, consider setting up a sticker chart to reward them for doing their tidying job every day.