Clutter. The mere mention of the word makes many of us gasp in horror. These days, the overarching mantra is that we should all learn how to declutter, simplify, go all Marie Kondo on our homes until they’re bare, minimalist to the extreme. We must toss out everything.
But what about those of us who actually like our clutter—or at least the things that make up that disarray—and actually cringe at the thought of sacrificing most of our worldly possessions?
The good news is you can fake it: It is possible to learn how to declutter your home without getting rid of all your stuff.
“Whenever I meet a client, the first question they ask me is ‘Am I going to have to throw everything away?’” says Laura Kinsella, owner of Urban OrgaNYze in New York. “The look on their faces when they are reassured they can keep anything they use or love is one of huge relief. Organizing should bring a client more peace and happiness, and it can be done without everything landing in a trash can.”
Here’s how to make your house look decluttered while holding onto everything your heart desires.
Group like things together
“Clutter is not always because of too much stuff—it’s often about the stuff being in the wrong spot,” says Felice Cohen, a professional organizer in New York.
She suggests categorizing and keeping like things together, such as placing all extra toiletries in one closet/drawer/cabinet, all magazines to be read in one pile, all workout T-shirts in one drawer, all mail to be read in one area, etc.
“It makes a space look more organized because it is; you’ve now created a system,” she says. “Bonus: It will also save you time when looking for things, as well as save you money since you won’t buy more of, say, Band-Aids, because you didn’t know you already had them.”
Another visual trick: Sort by color or size. On bookshelves, for instance, group books by color or height so there is a more cohesive feel.
Store things where you use them
Everything needs a place, it’s true, but that place also needs to make sense. It sounds like common sense, but you’ll probably be surprised by how many things you have in places far from where you use them most frequently.
“Tidy up your belongings by category, and store them where you’ll need or use them,” Kinsella says. “Coffee mugs by the coffee? Check! Toys in the playroom? Check! Umbrellas by the entryway? Check! It’s amazing how quickly you can restore order by this principle alone. When we store things where we don’t use them, clutter manifests.”
When it seems like you simply don’t have any more space, look up. Use the walls for additional shelving, hooks, and other organizational tools.
“When space is limited you need to go vertical,” says Ben Soreff, a professional organizer with House to Home Organizing in Connecticut. However, make sure you do it wisely.
“You want items not to just go in easy; we want them to come out easy,” Soreff continues. “Think about five big bins stacked. You aren’t going to ever get anything out of the bottom bin, so it basically doesn’t exist. Think shelves with front-loading clear bins.”
Find hidden storage in furniture
Look at your furniture. What spaces do they contain that might be used for storage?
“Furniture pieces can also offer creative storage options,” says Lior Rachmany, CEO and founder of Dumbo Moving + Storage in Brooklyn, NY.
Think also about places like underneath the beds (raise them if necessary), and use them to store (organized) bins. Might something fit under your couch? What about behind it? Also, when purchasing benches, ottomans, coffee tables, and more, consider the models with built-in, out-of-sight storage.
Corral those cords
A quick way to make a room look less cluttered is to attack the tangled, mangled accumulation of cords and cables which snake their way from our devices to surfaces all over our homes. There are a host of products on the market to help you clean up cords and free up space, like this cord box from Ikea, which lets you conceal chargers and cords in a sleek box that doubles as a charging station.
Rent a storage facility
If you truly are out of space, but have things you want to save, consider renting a storage facility. And don’t feel guilty about it.
“Organizing isn’t about throwing stuff out,” says Soreff. “That leads to regret. That is what your parents do when they’re mad your room is messy. That starts a bad cycle of thinking that getting rid of everything means the space is organized.”
On the contrary: Getting rid of everything simply means you don’t have as much stuff. Got it?