When you have children, your house explodes with stuff – things you never knew you needed, but now can’t live without. But there’s a fine line before your house moves from being busy to being cluttered. So we’ve put together the ultimate guide to containing the chaos.

The important thing to understand about decluttering before you even start is that it is an ongoing process. It may seem daunting to start with, but just keep going. The more organized you become, the easier it is to maintain.

1. You’ll need a pen

When we think of decluttering, most of us would immediately reach for a bin bag and start purging, but this is where we are making a rookie mistake, say the pros. First, make a plan. The more prepared you are, the simpler and easier the process will be, and the simpler and easier it will be to maintain.

2. What do I want?

Next, set some goals. “Ask yourself, ‘Why do you want to declutter?’ Now identify how you want your space to function afterward. Without this, you won’t know what you’re working towards.

3. Think ahead

Before you begin, investigate new homes for the items you want to keep. “Ask yourself: ‘Do I need, want or love this item?’ Any one of those is a valid reason to keep something – but if you don’t know where to put it, it becomes clutter.

4. Where to start

Take a step back to identify the one area that will have the biggest immediate impact on your life if you can get it sorted, and start there. Start with what you can see. Always start in one area and work your way around the room.

5. Get to work

Sort your items into four piles: Trash, Give Away, Keep and Not For This Room. You could use bin bags, plastic tubs or boxes – these four allocated containers will help give you a sense of direction and motivation. As you sort, each item goes into one of these containers.

6. Sort by type

Everything that you intend to keep can be sorted by category to make it easier to pack away – and find later. For example, we sort our own wardrobe into categories like denim, trousers, blouses, blazers, formal wear, etc. This way, she says, it’s far easier to pack away and is much quicker to pull items out in the mornings. The same basic rule applies to everything, especially toys.

7. Use a timer

It may sound crazy, but Anni advises using a timer set for ten or 15 minute increments. Work solidly for that ten minutes, and then make sure you can see what it is that you’ve put away.

8. Assess as you go

Once you’ve spent some time organising one area, take a breather and step back to take a look at what you’ve done. Ask yourself, ‘Is it working?’ This is the quickest and easiest place to make a change. Very often, what you plan might not be entirely practical for everyday life, so stop to check as you go, before you move onto the next task.

9. Be realistic about time

It’s a lovely idea to think that you’ll be able to sort out your whole playroom or closet in a day, but the chances are that you won’t be able to do it quite so fast. You may not get finished in a day, because it takes time to make decisions about where things go.

10. Reward yourself

Stay motivated with a reward system once you’ve completed a task – you’re worth it. Just don’t buy any more stuff. Get a massage, have a coffee break with friends or see a movie – reward yourself with a treat, not a thing.

11. Label everything

It may sound dorky, but all the experts agree – labelling is key. When items are labelled, it’s much easier to find what you need and pack it away consistently. There are lots of great labelling options available, and it can be very discreet.

12. Let it go!

Once you’ve gone through the process of sorting your items into the Keep, Donate and Toss piles, take them out of that room. For Trash this might mean the local dump or a recycling centre, while Donate items can go to any number of worthwhile charities. Many of these organisations will also collect from you.

13. How to win in the playroom

Any kids’ play area, particularly if it’s also a bedroom, can be a clutter magnet. Even if the room has multiple functions, it can still be kept tidy and well organised. Try to zone the room, with as little overlap between the different areas as possible. Use furniture to create sections for reading, painting and floor play.

14. Simple storage for kids

Let your children choose their own storage containers. Color coordinated containers or transparent ones make great storage for children. Label them or put a picture or photo on the outside to show what lives inside. Make sure the storage is easy to handle, and for young children, hampers or baskets kept at eye level or lower are simpler for tidying.

15. Use all your space

It’s not only floor, cupboard or under-bed space that’s available to you. You can also use high shelves to store items that have sentimental value, but aren’t played with that much.

16. Monkey see, monkey do

If you want your children to help you keep neat and tidy, you have to model the behaviour that you want them to emulate. Not only does this give them something to mimic, but your kids are learning to be self sufficient at the same time.

17. Allocate spaces to family members

This is no time to play the mommy superhero – to win the clutter war, you need the whole family on board. Make the rules for staying tidy together as a family so that everyone knows what they need to follow. Allocate areas of responsibility to family members, for example, the study to Dad, the playroom to the kids who play there, etc.

18. Shopping for products

Ahem, yes, it was the buying of things that got you into this position in the first place, but some well chosen organising products can make all the difference between calm and chaos. However, never buy organising materials until you know what you need to organise. Organising materials will not fix the problem if you are not committed to deciding where items belong and ensuring that what you purchased fits that space and your way of living.

19. Make it stick

Find a system that makes sense to you and is easy to maintain. Once you’ve done the hard work of decluttering your house, you must set a maintenance routine – use labels, have places for items to return to, set aside time each week to clear away – otherwise it will be all too easy to fall back into bad habits.

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