Sometimes, I feel like making my house presentable is half the battle in hosting a party at home. If think about it even more, there are a few phases of “presentability”:

  1. Clutter-free.
  2. Clean.
  3. Magazine-worthy.

Most of the time, I’m stuck on #1: clutter-free, so let’s start there. Because really, all you need to achieve are #1 and #2 to host a party. Magazine-worthy is just what we all want after watching too much HGTV.

So here are my favorite 12 steps to declutter my house and keep it tidy. I’ve tried a lot of different approaches, and these are the things that have stuck with me and actually work.

With two kids and a hoarder (I mean “husband”) I feel like there is never enough storage space in our house. It doesn’t help that we run three small businesses out of our home. But the problem is not the house: it’s too much stuff.

I went through a pile yesterday of last year’s Christmas cards. I feel good that I eliminated the pile, but seriously? Last year’s Christmas cards? That’s not a house problem, that’s a me problem.

Here are the tricks and reminders that keep me motivated.

1 – You can’t organize chaos.

That truth bomb is courtesy of Fly Lady, who was my original clutter-busting inspiration. Every time I look around and feel overwhelmed by piles and things that are out of place, I remind myself that Fly Lady says “you can’t organize chaos.”

Part of her solution is 15 minutes of decluttering a day via the 27-Fling Boogie. I swear I’m not making this up. Grab a trash bag, pick a spot in your home, and spend 15 mintues tossing 27 things. Do that daily, and you’ll have a clutter-free home soon enough. Throwing things away is way easier than trying to organize them.

I know that come most Saturday mornings, I have grand ideas about how much decluttering and cleaning I can do over the weekend. But that’s not realistic most weekends, as we shuffle between events. (Travel ball, anyone?) But 15 minutes a day of tossing stuff I can do.

2 – Does it bring you joy?

I read Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. And I enjoyed it and decluttered my closet just like she said. But let me give you the Cliff Notes version: hold up each thing you’re struggling to get rid of and ask yourself, “Does it give me joy?” If the answer is no, out it goes. Yes, you will feel stupid talking to your stuff, but darned if that doesn’t work.

I also love her corollary about how objects can serve their purpose. You sister gives you a sweater that doesn’t flatter you, but you feel like you have to keep it because it was a gift. NOPE. The sweater served its purpose in being the gift. If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t have a purpose for you and out it goes.

The same rings true for my stack of magazines with the articles I might want to look at again or the one story I haven’t read. Does hanging onto the stack of magazines make me feel good? Or does it make me feel guilty for not completing something? It makes me feel guilty!! And that is just pointless because a magazine is all about temporary joy. So out goes the stack.

The toughest area for me to declutter is my party/craft studio. “But I might want to use it again!” often keeps me from getting rid of something. And sometimes I’m right! I don’t like to repeat myself when I style parties, but I do have some signature items I’ll use over and over. Signature items = worth keeping. Specialty items that are specific to one theme are great targets for decluttering. Look at every party or craft item in the light of, “Could I use it again? Do I love it?” That may mean that the pink cake stand goes and the white one stays. If you want more detail on tackling party or crafting clutter, read this post.

There. I just saved you $10 and a couple hours reading time.

3 – Put the stuff in the right room.

If it’s not toss-able, the stuff needs to find it’s home. But I say it’s a win just to get it in the right room. For instance, my daughters’ hair elastics do not belong on the kitchen table. Neither do bills or week-old newspapers.

I’ve given myself the baby step of putting the stuff in the right room. Once everything is in the right room, and it’s only the stuff you need to hang on to, then the organizing can begin.

4 – Do you want to go paperless?

For me, the answer is always “YES!!!” The less stuff that comes into my house, the less I have do declutter later.

5 – Finish the task.

I am the queen of doing too many things. And I think that’s true for all moms. I tend to finish a project, not clean up, and then rush to the next thing I need to do — like making dinner. I figure I’ll clean up later, because cleaning up isn’t urgent in the way that getting “the thing” done was urgent. In the end, I wind up with a kitchen island scattered with fabric, a hot glue gun, a camera and the makings of dinner.

So what I tell myself now is that I’m not done until the stuff is put away. I actually feel a lot calmer when tasks are done all the way and my counters are clear.

6 – Your decor isn’t pretty if you can’t see it through the clutter.

If the thought of decorating for a holiday or a party makes you groan because it seems goofy to add even more stuff to your stuff, I get that. Why do vignettes in magazines look so pretty? Because there are clear slight lines in the photos. It’s not the cute Home Goods find next to the jar of peanut butter and an unloaded backpack. It’s just the cute Home Goods find.

You know what motivates me to make sure I can see the decor I’ve collected and love? Touring a model home. There is nothing else that makes my house feel so cluttered as thinking about the perfectly decorated model once I walk in my back door.

Now, part two of this thought is, “But do you also have too much decor?” I have Christmas decorations that are gifts from my MIL. They aren’t my style, and I never put most of them out. But the husband can’t part with them, and I respect that. For the decor that I do have authority over, I do the whole “Does it bring me joy?” thing and then I’m firm about Goodwill-ing the joyless decor.

7 – Go for the little win.

In addition to the daily 27-Fling Boogie, Fly Lady will give out assignments like, “Declutter your bedside table”. Not declutter your entire bedroom — all you have to do is pick up one table in your bedroom. You can do that! And then it will look pretty and you’ll feel good about it and then you’ll want to declutter the next area.

So even if you don’t choose to follow Fly Lady and her assignments, give yourself your own assignments. After all, you know where your house’s own trouble spots are.

Tip: if you’re trying to get party ready, focus on your public spaces. Don’t get sidetracked by the pile of unfolded laundry in your bedroom. You can get to that later.

8 – Pick up as you go.

If you pick up as you go, you won’t have decluttering hanging over your head later. One of the things I struggle with is decluttering in the midst of chores that are never finished. Laundry is never done. Dishes are never done. They are constantly regenerating. When you’re just barely keeping up with daily chores like laundry and dishes, it can be tough to think about adding daily cluttering to your routine. But, it is simply easier to keep up with decluttering than to tackle a massive pile all at once when it feels impossible. So how do you balance daily decluttering with daily everything else?

This is where you always hear advice like “sort through the mail over your recycling bin.” I think that mindset is right. Daily decluttering becomes a habit and habits take a while to form. In the end, decluttering is more satisfying to me than a routine chore like laundry. I feel like the results are (eventually) longer lasting. You’ve just got to dig in and do it, form the habit, and appreciate that later you don’t have even more to do. Remember: you’re only doing 15 minutes at a time.

If you really feel like you don’t have 15 minutes for daily decluttering, I have two questions:

  1. Are you watching TV? If the answer is yes, you have time.
  2. Can you enlist help? Which leads me to…

9 – Enlist help.

Unless you live alone, everyone who lives in your house helps create clutter and so everyone should help dispense with the clutter. Now there are obviously exceptions to this idea, and of course chores have to be age appropriate. But, if someone is sitting and staring at their phone while you are whirling around trying to do it all, put your loving family to work.

I’ve found this tactic usually works:

  1. Announce what needs to be done in advance.
  2. Tell my family that I’ll be asking for help.
  3. Explain that help needs to be given before something fun happens.

It also helps to be very specific and concrete about what I need done:

  • “Please unload the top rack of the dishwasher.”
  • “Please go through this pile and put what you need to keep in your room.”
  • “Please build a spray painting stand for me.” (Okay, that last one was for my husband, but he did it for me before he went to get his coffee this morning, so my method works on all ages!)

10 – Garage sales are procrastination.

If you’re thinking about having a garage sale to get rid of your stuff, maybe skip that idea. I have held garage sales, even recently, and I’ve felt good about what I earned by holding them. But honestly, unless you are Dave Ramsey debt snowballing, skip the sale and take your stuff to Goodwill.

If your goal is decluttering, then get the stuff out of your house as soon as possible. Don’t hold onto it for a couple of months hoping to make a few hundred dollars. All that does it create another pile in your house. And guess what happens at the end of the garage sale? You wind up taking a pile of leftover stuff to Goodwill anyway. So why not skip the garage sale step and go straight to Goodwill.

11 – Once you declutter, you get to shop.

Now I know that may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out. When you know what you’re going to keep, you know how much there is and what the dimensions are. That means you can go purchase the appropriate storage containers. I am personally very happy with the woven grass basket at the top of my hall closet that now corrals our winter hats and gloves.

12 – Schedule your party.

There is nothing like a deadline to get you motivated. I swear, the more parties we host, the less cluttered and cleaner our house is.

Here’s a question: Have you gone clutter blind?  Walk into each room as if you were a first time visitor. Slowly look around the room. Where do you eyes land? Now, go bust that clutter pile.

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Plus, you'll get all the latest blog posts from The Party Teacher.

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