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How to De-Clutter Your Home for the New Year

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A Full Plate is a column about family life and the home by contributing writer Laura Fenton, who explores the intersection of sustainable living and home design through a mother’s eyes.


I think we are all ready to say goodbye to 2020. As we head into the holidays, I am merrily wrapping presents and baking cookies, but I’m also running a covert operation to kick this year out of my home. With a long winter ahead, it feels more important than ever to take care of my home as a way to support my family’s wellbeing. Little by little I’m working to make my home more orderly and ready for a fresh start in 2021. Here’s how:

Streamline and detox cleaning supplies

Earlier this year when cleaning supplies were a hot commodity, I found myself stuck buying products that I wouldn’t normally choose (many of which are harsher than the usual things I buy). When I had to tell my son to leave the bathroom because of the cleaning fumes, I realized I didn’t want to keep trying to work my way through them. Instead, I am starting over with non-toxic basics like Bon Ami, Melijora all-purpose cleaner, castile soap, white vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide for disinfecting.

Get houseplants—even if you’re afraid of killing them!

I’m a notorious black thumb when it comes to houseplants, but for 2021 I am giving indoor foliage another go. Houseplants make my home feel alive, especially during these colorless winter months, and they help clean the indoor air. I’m starting small with a jade (hard to kill!) and a fern, and my goal is to have at least one plant in every room.

Confront the toy onslaught

For a month or so, I had been removing some of my son’s least played-with toys and putting them into a tucked-away spot, waiting for an opportune time to pass them on to another kid, but my clever kid found the stash. While my toy-decluttering plot was foiled, the toys did feel exciting to him again. So, we’re going to try to work together to identify some things he’s ready to part with (we’ll see how it goes!) and a few that we’ll put away to rotate in and out, so there’s less cluttering up his room at one time. My goal is not to expand our toy storage area.

Designate a home for kid stuff

I’m pretty organized and try to live by the old organizing mantra of “everything with a place and everything in its place,” but with a kid in the house, there’s always stuff that doesn’t have a place. I’m talking about the craft projects and nature finds my son insists are very “special” to him—even if they looked like garbage or compost to me. So I decided to put all his little treasures (sticks that are “extra cool,” a dragon made out of cardboard and pipe cleaners, a cardboard sword, some paper masks that came with an activity book) in one spot, which for now is a humble cardboard box. It feels so good having a place to put this daily debris—and by gathering it all together, it actually makes my son more ready to let go of some.

Make a school-at-home bin

My son does his homework and his school-at-home at our dining table, and as a result, the learning-related supplies have been covering every flat surface in our living/dining room. I cleared out a crate we already had and put everything he uses for school inside, including coloring supplies, scissors, glue, flashcards, and our learning-to-read curriculum. It’s so much easier to clean up and set up for schoolwork now. I don’t know why this took me so long!

Assess clutter hotspots

In addition to our mess of school supplies and a five-year-old’s treasures, there are a few other types of clutter that quickly build up (for example, hats, gloves, and masks in our entryway and toiletries on bathroom counters), and I bet there are similar spots in your home. I’m going one by one and finding a solution for each, like a wall-mounted basket for masks and a new shelf in our bathroom. Make a list of the clutter magnets in your home. I know from experience that fine-tuning these small pain points will make everyday cleaning so much easier.

Cook down the pantry

There’s all sorts of stuff lurking in the dark corners of my cabinets, like a random gluten-free bread mix, dried white corn, and canned mussels, and I’m making it a point to cook through some of it. I’m also striving to better organize the staples we use regularly. One thing I love to do is decant the things that come in plastic bags into upcycled glass jars, so I can actually see everything that I have and there are no clumsy sacks taking up space.

Photo by Laura Fenton

Deep clean the fridge

My other kitchen improvement is to do a deep clean on our fridge and freezer. The kind where you take absolutely everything out and scrub every shelf and cranny. I also like to wipe down all my condiment bottles with a white vinegar cleaning spray. Going forward, I’m also trying to get my family to stick to a designated shelf for leftovers to help us clearly see what we need to eat up.

Do a desk refresh

Like most of us, the “office” corner of my home has gotten a lot of use this year, and frankly, I haven’t looked forward to sitting there in a long time. So, I took everything off of my desk and went through every drawer to make my workspace feel like it’s getting a fresh start too. I also pinned up new “art” on the wall above my laptop. It’s nothing fancy (in fact, it feels a bit like a throwback to my teenage bedroom) but a few pretty pictures taped to the wall give me a new view and (hopefully) a little spark of inspiration.

Pay attention to visual clutter

The shelves in our closet were not messy per se, but the stacks of clothing, blankets, and bags were a lot to look at every day. After admiring a professional organizer’s handiwork on Instagram, I was inspired to buy some open canvas bins to hide my stuff. I know the experts say you can’t buy your way to organization (and I generally agree), but boy, our closet looks and feels so much better. Next up: The shoe storage situation, which is a hot mess.

Photo by Laura Fenton

Start over with socks

This isn’t a home improvement, but indulge me for a second. For years, I’ve been living with a bunch of random socks that were gifts or giveaways. This year, I got rid of every single singleton or hole-y sock in our house. I started over with a bunch of high-quality wool socks that are all the same color. My feet are so much happier in something cozy, and I love how much easier matching socks is on laundry day.

Embrace New Year’s Day cleaning

I’d like to propose that you add house cleaning to your list of New Year’s Day to-do’s. I always feel like what I do on January 1st sets the tone for the year ahead, which is why a run is also always on my first-day-of-the-year agenda. In 2021, I also plan to clean my house. I find that if I set a time for a deep cleaning and think about it as a positive action instead of a dreaded chore, the work is more satisfying. And there is truly nothing like the feeling of a clean house.

What’s the one cluttered corner you’d like to tackle before the year is out? Tell us in the comments.

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