Skills for a Well-Run Home

Learn the basic methods to stop clutter and retrain the family to a new, uncluttered outlook.
Photo Labels Help Organize Shoes in Boxes

Photo Labels Help Organize Shoes in Boxes

Photo by: DK - House Works © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - House Works , 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Getting organized means different things to different people, but in most disorganized homes, you’ll find clutter.

Clutter gets between you and the things you want to do. Living in a cluttered home, nearly every action is handicapped and impeded. Either you’re wasting time looking for something you need, pushing clutter out of the way to create a workspace, or you’re simply distracted by the scatter of out-of-place items.

Problem is, attacking the clutter itself won’t resolve the issue, because the "stuff" is just a symptom. What causes clutter is a cluster of personality traits, thinking, and behavior. To rein in clutter at home, you have to start with you: your thoughts, your habits and your day-to-day behavior patterns.

Reversing the tide of clutter is a slow and steady job, but the rewards are great. In this section, we’ll focus on basic methods to STOP clutter and retrain the family to a new, uncluttered outlook.

The STOP Clutter Method

Household clutter is made, not born. Its hidden cause? Deferred decision-making. Each item of clutter in your home represents a frozen decision or an incomplete action. Worse, the stale energy of piled clutter attracts more clutter, accreting together into an avalanche of pent-up "must-do, should-do, wanna-do" decisions that are tiring even to contemplate.

For example, bringing in the mail, you notice a catalog you’d like to browse, so you set it aside on the counter. Next day, three more catalogs, a stack of bills and a page of pizza coupons land in the pile, and by the week’s end, the lone catalog has mushroomed into an unwieldy stack of magazines, letters, bills, permission slips, and store receipts that will take an hour to sort, file, and finish—and you still haven’t found time to peruse the new catalog. The STOP clutter method fights clutter at the heart by thawing the decision-making process. It’s short, sweet and powerful, and is designed to help you blast through all those frozen decisions quickly—no more sitting on the fence in the face of chaos! By forcing you to make decisions rapidly, you cut through the mass of clutter and regain your organized home. Using the STOP technique, you’ll attack clutter in four easy steps: sort, toss, organize and put away.

STOP Clutter Tools

The tools you’ll use for each STOP clutter session are simple. They’re designed to set limits, encourage decision-making, and make it easy to wrap up each session of cutting clutter. You will need a kitchen timer, three large boxes and a garbage bag.

Cleaning Against The Clock

Cleaning Against The Clock

Staying focused is half the battle for maintaining a clean house. Try setting a timer to work in each room for about 10 minutes. You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish in such a short time.

Photo by: DK - House Works © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - House Works , 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

A timer: Stopping clutter, like acquiring it, is a long-term process of short steps. Too often, the initial excitement of attacking the clutter problem causes people to bite off more than they can chew—or decide, store, or put away in a single session. Result: torn-up drawers, stacks of “I-dunno” items and a sense that the job is never finished.

Using a timer to keep STOP clutter sessions short and complete keeps the declutter momentum going, and prevents burnout. You’ll use your timer to start and stop each session so that you can finish the put-away step and leave the newly decluttered area clean and ready for use.

Three boxes: The put away, storage and sell/donate boxes lie at the heart of the STOP clutter method. Labeled “Put Away,” “Storage” and “Sell/Donate,” they’re the decision-making engine that drives the declutter process.

Use sturdy, good-sized boxes, preferably with handles and lids. Look for records boxes (sold in office supply stores), or scour supermarkets for lidded produce boxes. Handles make it easy to circle the house at the end of each STOP clutter session, emptying the Put Away box. Lids help you stack the Storage and Sell/Donate boxes as you gather out-of-season items or set aside boxes for donation or a yard sale. Lids also help to cut the temptation to peep inside and return decluttered items to their old haunting grounds. Out of sight is out of mind!

A garbage bag: An opaque garbage bag or garbage can is star player in a STOP clutter session. Here’s where you’ll entrust all the true trash, the quicker, the better. Black garbage bags prevent the declutterer (or family members) from having a change of heart. If it can’t be seen, it won’t be returned to the scene.

Take It a Step at a Time

To harness the power of the STOP clutter method, assemble your boxes and garbage bag and set the timer for 15 minutes. The timer’s bell will tell you when it’s time to stop deciding and start putting away. Working in 15-minute increments (plus another 5 minutes to return put-away items and stow the tools), you stay fresh and motivated to do the job.


Put Away Loose CDs

Put Away Loose CDs

Photo by: DK - House Works © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - House Works , 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Turning to the day’s chosen clutter cache (the area around the telephone, for example) take the first step and sort the items being decluttered. Quickly move through the pile of clutter that surrounds the phone, making a quick decision about each item: should I keep this here, put it away, sell it, or throw it away?

If the item belongs in the area being decluttered, sort it into a pile of like items: pens with pens, paper clips with paper clips and notepads with sticky notes. If the item is an intruder that must be put away in another location, such as a pair of socks, consign it sort to the Put Away box. Surplus items that can be donated to charity or sold are tossed into the Sell/Donate box, the proper place for the plastic flower pen and the clunky grocery list holder. Items that more appropriately belong in household storage areas, such as light bulbs left over from December’s holiday decorations, are tucked into the Storage box.

Trash Can is Must When Decluttering

Trash Can is Must When Decluttering

Photo by: DK - House Works © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - House Works , 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited


As you sort, toss trash straight into the garbage bag. Expired coupons, supermarket receipts, scribbled bits of paper, nonworking pens all go straight into the garbage bag.

Desk Organization with Boxes and Canisters

Desk Organization with Boxes and Canisters

Photo by: DK - House Works © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - House Works , 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited


When the entire area has been sorted and the trash tossed, it’s time to organize. Take a good look at the newly decluttered area, and find ways to organize the items that belong there. Corral pens next to the phone in a pretty coffee mug. Place the phone book neatly beneath the phone base. Consider ways to organize the area for best use; can you replace messy message slips with a hanging write-on/wipe-off white board?

Put Away Items in Their Proper Place

Put Away Items in Their Proper Place

Photo by: DK - House Works © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - House Works , 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Put Away

When the timer rings, or the area is cleared, it’s time to put away any out-of-place items identified during the STOP clutter session. Take the Put Away box and circle the house, returning items to their proper places. Toss the garbage bag into the garbage can, and return the timer and boxes to a closet or shelf, where they’ll await the next STOP clutter session. As the storage boxes fill, add them to a storage area and begin a new box. Decide when you’ll attack the household’s next clutter magnet and note it on your calender. Finally, admire your new, organized telephone area. Using the STOP clutter method, you’ve created a working center for phone calls and messages.

STOP Clutter: The Junk Drawer

All homes have at least one of these: a drawer for small, often-needed items. The contents of this catchall arena seem to expand like bread dough, multiplying at will whenever the drawer is closed. When the mess reaches the rim of the drawer, it’s time to STOP clutter.

1. Sort. (Image 1) Assemble your tools: timer, boxes and garbage bag. Set the timer for 15 minutes. Open the junk drawer, and begin the sort step. Sort items that belong in the drawer into like piles, and keep sorting until the timer’s bell rings or the drawer is cleared.

2. Toss. (Image 2) Throw any trash, broken or valueless items into the garbage bag. Place items that belong elsewhere in the Put Away box, and tuck any items for storage in the Storage box. Surplus items that are still useful go to Sell/Donate.

3. Organize. (Image 3) Once the drawer is empty, organize the survivors in the cleared space. Use drawer dividers to separate batteries from postage stamps, pens from store coupons. Bundle or bag small items to make them easy to find.

4. Put Away. (Image 4) When the timer bell rings, stop the session and put away the items in the Put Away box. Store the timer and boxes for the next STOP clutter session. Toss the garbage bag in the trash.

Keep Reading

Next Up

The Paperless Home

Cutting down on paper will help keep your space greener and clutter-free.

How to Get Rid of Clutter in Your Home

Follow these simple steps to help tackle paper clutter and more.

Quick Tips for Home Organization

Try these quick home organization tips for maintaining a clutter-free home from basement to attic.

Home Office Organization Quick Tips

Follow these easy tips to declutter your small home office.

Home Organization Rules

To better organize a home, create and establish centers for household activities.

5 Quick Tips for Home Office Organization

Is your home office sharing space with the family or living room? Professional organizer Vicki Norris gives tips to help you organize your home office no matter what room it's in.

How to Make Your Home Office Work for You

Follow these organizing tips for an inspiring and motivating work space.

10 Home Office Hacks to Get You Organized Now

Working from home sounds great — unless your home office is a disaster. Follow these 10 simple tips to help declutter your space.

Fighting Clutter From the Inside Out

Let go of clutter by dealing with essential emotions and questions.

Top Tips for Throwing a Successful Yard Sale

Throw the best yard sale in the neighborhood with these clever tips.


Shop This Look

Found a living space you love in HGTV's Photo Library? Get the look in your own home with products from Wayfair.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.