There are ways to declutter and keep your mess under control even if your local donation center still isn’t open yet. Here are some expert tips for keeping your space clean in the meanwhile (and all the time, really).
Normally, this is the time of year that many of us would be carrying out spring cleaning around the house, while also throwing away excess clutter.
But, as of mid-March 2020, most donation centers, including Goodwill and Salvation Army—where people would normally be hauling car loads of donation items as part of their spring cleaning process—are temporarily closed due to the pandemic.
Despite these necessary interruptions to our usual process, experts say there are still ways you can get your house in order while in quarantine, even if donating isn’t a possibility right now.
Here are pro tips from eight organizational experts that will help you to get further with your spring cleaning efforts while stuck at home.
Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Spring Cleaning Your Space
1. Start Small
When a large task, such as organizing the home, feels too daunting, it’s often the case that people will put it off and say they’ll do it “tomorrow” instead of today.
But if you can break the overarching project into more manageable parts, you’ll likely feel less overwhelmed and more mentally able to get started.
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Instead, take a moment to prioritize and “decide what you consider a high priority and go from there,” explains Shearer.
“We always say to start with a drawer. The faster you see your progress and how life-changing it can be, the more motivated you will be to move on to the next project,” Teplin adds.
Amy Tokos, certified organizational expert and NAPO Board President Elect, agrees. Her advice is to “start with three things you want to get done. More than that can get overwhelming,” Tokos says.
“Then pick the one to start with and get it on your calendar,” Tokos adds. “The biggest issue we have now is too much time. The availability of time can create a cycle of procrastination. Getting time set aside on your calendar can help you be more strategic with the planning of your projects.”
2. Set Yourself a Schedule for Cleaning
If you’ve become a quarantine couch potato (like many of the rest of us), it can be difficult to find the motivation to suddenly clean the entire house from top to bottom.
That’s why Andrew Mellen, professional organizer and author of “Unstuff Your Life!” and “The Most Organized Man in America’s Guide to Moving,” recommends “scheduling blitzes of time to organize your home, lasting between five minutes and three hours max to pick up [your home] and put things away.”
“If you live alone or with roommates and they don’t want to play along, use the same time limits and work by yourself,” Mellen adds.
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3. Attempt to Make Cleaning and Organizing More Fun
While going about your spring cleaning routine, you can make things more enjoyable by “putting on some fun music,” Mellen says.
And, if your family is helping out with household chores, you can “make it a playful competition with some sort of prize for the person who picks up the most things in five minutes,” Mellen adds.
By implementing an element of “fun” into these everyday tasks, checking everything off of your to-do list will hopefully feel like less of a chore. And your family will likely feel more incentivized to help out around the house. (Fingers crossed!)
4. Create a Designated Holding Area for Items You Intend to Donate
For the items you intend on donating once quarantine is over, you’ll want to establish a designated holding area “in an out-of-the-way corner of your house,” says Gretchen Rubin, author of the bestselling book “Outer Order, Inner Calm” and host of the “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” podcast.
“Put the things in boxes and seal the boxes as soon as they’re full, to prevent people from digging things out again, and so they’re ready to go as soon as possible,” Rubin says.
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This designated holding area could be “in a spare bedroom or the garage,” says Regina Lark, owner of A Clear Path, a Los Angeles-based professional organizing company.
“Or, if you’re not driving right now, like so many, perhaps keep donations in your car until you can drop them off,” says Laura Ellis, owner of Organized by Ellis.
Since “there’s not a lot you can do right now, I recommend bagging everything and staging it off to the side,” Lark adds. Wherever is most convenient for you.
5. Organize “Like with Like”
It may come as no surprise to you that these organizational experts also have a process in mind when it comes to how and where you should store your soon-to-donate items.
“If you have space in your garage, basement, or home, sort items by type in boxes or bags, whatever you have on hand, then clearly label the contents,” says Lisa Ruff of NEAT Method. “For example, ensure electronic waste (or e-waste) goes in a separate container from clothing and toys.”
You should also consider organizing your items “like-with-like,” Lark says. “Fold clothes and place them in large plastic bags, use boxes for breakables. Use newspapers and magazines as stuffing and place them between breakables in the boxes.”
It’s a good idea to also label your sealed boxes (or bags) so you know where each box is being donated.
“Be sure to mark them ‘DONATE’ with a marker or a piece of paper taped on” and add the destination,” says Sharon Lowenheim, a certified professional organizer and owner of Organizing Goddess.
If, for example, you are donating a box of items to Goodwill, you’d write: “Donate: Goodwill” directly on the box.
“Just remember to donate them once we are allowed to be out and about again!” Lowenheim adds.
6. Take Advantage of This Time
When we say “take advantage” of this newfound time that quarantine has allowed many of us, we mean try to see all of the hours spent at home as an opportunity.
“It’s an ideal time to tackle long-delayed projects. I’ve been working on projects that will make my life easier and that will also allow me to throw something away,” says Lowenheim.
For example, “years ago, I hired a company to digitize the photos from my daughter’s early childhood, before I started using a digital camera. But, at that time, I never went through the photos to rename them something that would enable me to search for a particular photo when I wanted to find it. Now that I have so much free time, I tackled that project. The end result is that I can now easily search my photos and can throw away all of the negatives.”
Additionally, going through an overstuffed drawer or cabinet to get rid of anything that isn’t needed anymore, and rearranging what’s there to make it easier to find things, would be another example. Those are the kinds of projects I have on my list now that I’ve finished my photo project.
This time can also be used to clean out areas of the home, such as the refrigerator and the pantry “to get rid of expired food and old leftovers,” Lowenheim says. She adds that you can “do the same with the bathroom.”
“Remove everything from the medicine cabinet, throw away anything that is expired or doesn’t get used anymore, wipe down all of the shelves, and then put what’s left back,” Lowenheim says. “Put the most used items on the lower shelves and the least used items at the top.”
Related Reading: 10 Photos That Will Make You Want to Organize Your Closet
7. Think Ahead to Avoid Creating Clutter in the First Place
In order to avoid creating clutter around your house, Lark says you should not be buying items unless you genuinely know that you’re going to use the item and have a place in mind where it can be stored.
While it may be a difficult rule to swallow (or at least accept) for those of us who are hoarders at heart, Lark says this is really a “simple” rule to follow once you get used to thinking this way.
Whatever you’re bringing home, you need to know beforehand “where it will live,” Lark says. “Honestly, I suggest that herein—people stop bringing things through their front door, unless you know when you’ll use it and it has a place to live.”
8. Stop Comparing This Year to Past Years
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that the spring of 2020 has been a one-of-a-kind experience. This pandemic has shut down schools, prompted millions of layoffs, and has forced many of us to stay home for weeks at a time—just to name a few of the outcomes.
Given that the outbreak has caused donation centers to shut down, now is no time to beat yourself up over spring cleaning. After all, it’s simply not possible to accomplish everything you normally would on your to-do list when everyday businesses you rely on are literally shut down.
Instead of beating yourself up about what you “had done at this time last year,” try to give yourself a break. Lower your expectations, relinquish some control, and do what you can for now given the current situation.
Header image courtesy of Lisa Romerein / Getty Images