If you’re a tidy person by nature, decluttering and organizing your space might be one of your regular rituals.
But for everyone born without the organizing gene, it can take months or even years of living among clutter before you feel motivated to take charge of your space.
Here are a few telltale signs your home is in dire need of a good organizing session, plus tips for how to get started.
You can’t use your kitchen table for family meals because it’s covered in clutter.
Professional Organizer Tiffany Hill says the kitchen table “tends to be a place people drop off paperwork, including mail, work papers, and kids’ school stuff.” Rather than let these items crowd your dining space, Hill recommends taking care of them immediately upon entering your home.
“Your table should be used for enjoying meals together, not looking at piles of paper,” says Hill.
You can’t open your Tupperware cabinet without causing a plastic avalanche.
If your kitchen cabinets are stuffed to the brim with pots, pans, and mismatched plastic lids, it’s time to do a little cabinet overhaul.
“People tend to hold onto things like Tupperware because they think may need them one day,” says Hill. “Chances are, you are using the same five pieces over and over. It’s time to let go off the excess.”
The pile of shoes on your closet floor is covered in a thick coat of dust.
If your stuff is covered in dust, it means you’re not using it very often. And if you’re not using your things very often, it could be for one of two reasons: 1) you don’t like your stuff enough to use it or 2) it’s not organized well enough to access easily.
Either way, some serious decluttering is needed.
You can’t open a storage closet without the fear of something falling on top of you.
When your storage spaces become so crammed with disorganized junk that you can’t actually access what you need, a deep-clean is definitely in order.
You feel blah and uninspired when you walk into a room.
“The things around you can directly affect your mood,” says Hill. “If you are in a calm, clean, clear space where things are put in order, then you can breathe easier and feel better. If you have piles, stacks, and unfinished projects all over your home, you are more likely to feel unmotivated, unproductive, and generally in a sluggish mood.”
It takes you more than 20 minutes to get dressed in the morning.
If choosing an outfit in the morning takes way too long, it’s probably time to organize your clothes. “You should be able to see all your clothing and select attire needed for any occasion quickly and confidently,” says Hill.
You feel anxious walking through the door.
Returning home at the end of a long day should make you feel comforted and relieved — if coming home is giving you anxiety instead, it’s time to think about what you can do to clear your space.
You’re always losing your keys and other important items.
If you can’t find important papers and daily necessities like your keys or wallet, your home is probably too cluttered.
“Being organized is more than just making a space look pretty,” says Hill. “Being organized saves you time, money, and can even reduce your stress.”
You order take-out every night because there’s no way you’re cooking in that messy kitchen.
Professional Organizer and author Felice Cohen says avoiding cooking in your kitchen because there’s no space to chop vegetables or compile ingredients is a definite sign you need to get organized.
You’re too stressed to relax in your house so you spend as much time as possible away from home.
Your home should be your sanctuary — if the clutter in your space is making it impossible to unwind, it’s time to do something about it.
You’ve given up on making your bed in the morning because your room is already so messy anyway.
You’ve probably had this thought once or twice: “What’s the point?” When you’re feeling resigned to the mess in your bedroom, a little organization effort can go a long way in changing your attitude.
Your bathroom counter is a graveyard for old makeup supplies, half-used moisturizers, and random hair products.
If your bathroom countertops are covered in beauty supplies and toiletries you never use but feel too nervous to get rid of, you need to get organized.
You have a habit of being late.
Your constant lateness could be a direct result of living in a cluttered, chaotic home. When your space is disorganized and messy, even the simplest tasks require much more time.
It’s April and your holiday decorations are still up.
Your obsession with twinkle lights aside, keeping Christmas stockings or plastic pumpkins lying around well into spring is a good sign you need to do a little decluttering.
You can’t work at your desk because it’s covered in piles of catalogs and miscellaneous papers.
Your desk isn’t a storage area. If you can’t use it for its intended purpose as a workspace, you need to rethink your organization methods.
You wear the same two t-shirts every day because you can’t bear to sift through the heaps of clothes in your closet.
If you’re wearing the same beat-up T-shirts for every outfit not because they’re your favorites but because you can’t confront the madness in your closet, it’s time to dive in and declutter.
You feel embarrassed to have guests over.
Cohen says not wanting to invite friends over out of fear of them judging your home is a telltale sign you need to get organized. After all, you should feel excited and happy to share your space with close friends and family.
You’re always running around the house frantically trying to find something before you head out the door.
When everything in your home has its own designated space, you never have to worry about turning over couch cushions or emptying all your drawers to find your sunglasses or purse.
You eat cereal for every meal because you can’t make sense of the chaos in your pantry.
If you’re sticking to one basic food item for every single meal, it’s probably because you’re scared of dealing with all the expired or moldy groceries you might find hidden away in your pantry.
You feel overwhelmed with the decluttering process and don’t know where to begin.
According to Cohen, feeling so overwhelmed with the clutter in your space that you don’t even know where to start is a surefire sign that, no matter how impossible it may seem, you desperately need to start.
Tips for tackling the clutter
Put things away after you use them. This tip is simple, but completely life-changing. “If you get in the habit of cleaning as you go,” Hill says, “you won’t have a big mess to deal with later.”
According to Hill, people often use the excuse that they’ll sort the mail or wash the dishes later. “The problem is that when later comes you are tired, or focused on something else, which leads to more clutter in the long run.”
Create simple systems. Hill recommends creating systems for organizing your space, whether it’s laying out your clothing the night before a big work meeting or developing a streamlined process for sorting junk mail and bills.
Get rid of a little bit at a time. Cohen says it’s crucial to remind yourself that not everything has to be done at once. You can take small steps to accomplish what you want: set a timer and work for half an hour, see how many things you can organize during a TV commercial break, or simply set a goal to get rid of five items a day.
“These baby steps get you going by removing the pressure of getting it done all at once and making it like a game, a challenge. Chances are, once you get rid of a few things, you see it’s not that hard and you may even be inspired to get rid of more,” Cohen says.