Clear the clutter

By Berny Unruh, K-State Extension Agent
Berny Unruh

            The start of the new year may be the best time to find your favorite system for clearing out the clutter in your home. Everyone has their own way of doing things, so I will share my plan and you can adapt it to fit your style.

            The strategy I use is to start with a small space such as a closet or a drawer instead of cleaning and organizing the entire room. If it is a drawer, I dump the entire contents out into a box or on to the bed. If I am cleaning a closet, I take all the contents out and they may cover the entire floor. Then I start sorting the contents into three categories: Toss, Keep and Decide.

             The “Toss Box” can be a trash bag or box for any item that is going to be thrown away. There might be obvious things that you nor any other person will ever use. Any item that is broken, worn out, ripped or stained needs to be disposed of. Be kind to your local thrift store and do not take them stained, torn or non-working items.

            Once you have gotten rid of a few items, then more difficult decisions have to be made. Most of the items in the “Keep Box” will go back into the drawer or closet you are cleaning out. However, if that closet is overflowing, is it possible that some of the out-of-season items can be stored in a vacuum seal bag or a storage container until the next season rolls around? Believe it or not, I have notecards in my dresser drawer with a list of what is up in the very top cupboard in each room! 

            I only put back into the drawer or the closet the items that I will be using on a regular basis. There may be items in the “Keep Box” that may have strayed from their original designated spot in your home and they need to be returned to a more appropriate location. If it is easier for you to add an extra box in your sorting system, feel free to do so.

            The “Decide Box” can also be called the “maybe box” and to me it is the most difficult part of my system. If I have not used an item for four or five years, what are the chances that I will ever use it? One year I got rid of a large piece of striped fabric that had been stored for ten years and the next year we needed some striped fabric for a big circus tent! Oh well!

            Some of the items from the “Decide Box” may be donated to a local thrift store or given to a family in need. Some items might be placed in a container for the next garage sale. A very few of those items might be placed in the out-of-season storage box, but then you will have to make the same decision again next summer.

            It is beneficial if you can involve family members in your cleaning and de-cluttering project, so they have some ownership in what is thrown away and given away. With younger members of the family, plan the project so it only lasts for a short time. After an hour, the sorting project becomes less fun.

It is every family member’s job to keep items picked up and put away. If a little bit of cleaning is done every day it does not become such an overwhelming task. More information can be found in the K-State Research and Extension publication “Cut the Clutter and Get Organized”

            Berny Unruh is the Family and Community Wellness Agent for the Cottonwood Extension District.  She can be reached at 785-628-9430 or at