10 decluttering projects you can do in 30 minutes or less

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Facing a cluttered space can feel disheartening — who has the time (or frankly, the desire) to spend all day clearing clutter? But the thing is, making progress toward a clean, clutter-free space doesn’t have to be something you devote an entire day to. Instead, by carving out bite-size chunks of time to work on clearly defined tasks, you can get the serene space you deserve in a way that also works with your schedule. Here are 10 quick ways to get started.

1. Edit one bookcase. If you have a large book collection spread throughout the house, sorting through all those books at once may not be practical. So start with something more doable instead — like one bookcase. Keep an empty box or shopping bag by your side, and fill it with books you no longer want or need. When you’re done, immediately carry the bag (or bags) to your car and make a plan to drop them off to donate or sell. Here are a few things to consider as you edit:

  • Have you read the book? If not, be honest with yourself: Are you really likely to read it in the future, or are you keeping it out of guilt?
  • Did you enjoy the book? If it wasn’t a real favorite, consider passing it on.
  • Will you reread it, refer to it or lend it out? Even if you enjoyed a book, if you’re not likely to ever pick it up again, out it should go.

2. Clear the kitchen counter. The kitchen counter is such a common dumping ground for all sorts of stuff: school notices, rubber bands, shopping bags, receipts, to-do lists and on (and on). Set your timer and get to work — recycle unneeded papers and put away items that belong elsewhere. If you need a drop-spot on the counter, make it a clearly defined zone to prevent clutter sprawl in the future: Try a bowl for pocket change and a tray or basket for mail.

3. Make space under the kitchen sink. When was the last time you really looked under your kitchen sink? This area tends to become a storehouse for random cleaning products, plastic bags and jumbled tools. First, pull everything out and give the cupboard itself a cleaning. Next, replace only the items that you actually use, that are full and in good condition. Recycle empty containers, bring bags to a plastic bag recycling drop-off (available at many markets) and move less-often used tools elsewhere.

4. Make your bedside table an oasis of calm. Why make a cluttered nightstand the last thing you see before bed and the first thing you lay eyes on in the morning? Clear away the toppling piles of books, scribbled notes and old water glasses, and wipe away the coffee rings — it’s time for a fresh start. Replace only your current reading, a journal and pen, and perhaps a candle or a small vase with flowers.

5. Winnow your wardrobe, one drawer at a time. Rather than attempting to tackle your entire closet in one go, set your timer for 30 minutes and start with a single drawer. Keep working your way through your clothes, one drawer at a time, until the timer goes off. Keep two empty bags or bins by your side as you sort, placing quality clothes in good repair in one bag to sell (or donate), and worn-out clothes in the other bag (drop these in a textile recycling bin).

6. Simplify the linen closet. Do you know how many sets of sheets and towels you own? If you’ve been accumulating linens for years without purging the old ones, chances are your linen closet is full — or overstuffed. Take this 30-minute session to sort out your household linens, pulling your least favorite (or most frayed) sets to bring to a textile recycling bin or a charitable donation center. If you hope to donate your old linens, be sure to check with the donation center first, because guidelines on acceptable donations can vary widely. For instance, some may accept tea towels but not bath towels.

7. Organize art supplies. Whether you have kids at home or are an artist yourself, the art supply cupboard is bound to get messy. Toss out or recycle empty containers and dried-up markers. Neaten up what’s left, and if the cupboard still feels too packed, consider offloading a bag full of art supplies to donate to a local school or a family shelter.

8. Sort out the toy chest. Half an hour isn’t nearly enough time to go through a child’s entire room, but it should be adequate for clearing out one particularly messy toy chest or bin. First, remove all the toys to an area where you have some room to spread out. Put toys that obviously belong elsewhere back in the right spot (for example, return stray pieces to the puzzle box) and toss or set aside broken items for repair. Fill a bag with unloved toys and put this immediately in the car — otherwise, the toys are likely to migrate out of the give-away-or-sell bag and back into the toy chest!

9. Remove worn and outgrown children’s clothes. Working through one drawer, shelf or hanging rack at a time, pull out any of your child’s clothes that are too small, or too damaged, to wear. If you plan to save items for a younger child, neatly fold them and place in a bin labeled with the size (for example, 2T) in a storage closet. Place any clothing that is too worn or damaged to keep or sell in a bag destined for your closest textile recycling bin.

A note for crafters and quilters: If you’re planning to do a creative, crafty project with those old clothes (like a baby-clothes quilt or bunting), be mindful about the total quantity you are saving, and select only the most beloved and meaningful items to keep.

10. Clear your desktop. The next time you find yourself procrastinating instead of getting your work done, step away from aimless social media scrolling, and set the timer for a desk-centered clutter-blasting session instead. Sort and file important papers, shred and recycle unneeded documents, test the pens in your pen cup, and clear out the drawers. There, doesn’t that feel better?

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