How to declutter: experts offer tips for organising small flats

Experts offer advice for sorting your stuff and getting rid of things you no longer need, helping you save time, room, and money

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2012, 1:59am

One wonders why so many words are spent advising on how to declutter. Do we really need entire websites of tips, or even this newspaper article, to state what seems obvious? Just buy less. If only it were that easy.

Going down the road of reduced consumption brings benefits in the long run, but it doesn't deal with the existing stockpile of old clothes, unused gadgets, and mementos.

In the middle of the Extra Space National Organising Week in Singapore, from September 3 to 9, we asked a handful of declutter authors for their best advice.

"[Empty] the contents of the room, drawer, or closet. Then carefully consider each item in turn, and decide if you really want to return it to the space. I think decluttering is much easier when you're deciding what to keep rather than what to toss," says Francine Jay, author of The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organise, and Simplify Your Life.

"Be nice to yourself in the letting-go process," says Brooks Palmer, author of Clutter Busting Your Life: Clearing Physical and Emotional Clutter to Reconnect with Yourself and Others. "We often feel overwhelmed when we see all of our stuff. So be easy on yourself and pick one small area to begin. Pick up one thing at a time and ask, 'Do I still love and use this, or can I let it go?'"

Debbie Lillard, author of Absolutely Organised and Absolutely Organise Your Family, advises resisting temptation in the first place. "Always shop with a list and buy what you need," she says. "[And] find a charity or donation bin that is convenient to you. Make it easy to purge."

There's nothing wrong with hanging on to some sentimental items, says Sheila Chandra, author of Banish Clutter Forever. But it's important to rationalise your hoard. Quality, not quantity, is Chandra's mantra.

"Pick out the best 10 to 20 per cent and ditch the rest," she says. "And get the most out of what you've kept by making a beautiful display with them. People spend so much on 'stuff' to make their living spaces look interesting. But a display of items that are truly unique to you and your history is a genuinely cool way to personalise your space."

Old letters can be framed and hung, or displayed in a cabinet. Make sentimental items accessible in a photo album or special "memory box".

If it still sounds too hard, you can always hire a professional organiser. Georgina Wong of Asian Professional Organisers is based in Singapore but also serves Hong Kong clients.

For a fee of between S$750 and S$1,000 (HK$4,600 and HK$6,200) for a full day in Singapore (international assignments are quoted separately), Wong will examine your lifestyle and motivation, and give a formal quotation outlining three or four key objectives, and a timeline for achieving them. Expect a series of visits, especially if off-site storage is to be used or arrangements made for shelving to arrive.

"However, we try to repurpose existing furniture and items," says Wong. "Particularly in Hong Kong, where most people rent rather than own their homes, we suggest removable pieces that can be moved around and into future abodes."

But why do we need such a service in the first place? In our busy world, Wong reasons, clutter is the one thing many of us can't deal with. "Life is becoming more hectic, which requires us to be more efficient," she says.

"If we don't get our homes and workplaces in order, we will be overwhelmed and burdened by the very goods that were supposed to enhance the quality of our lives," she says. "Investing a little time in getting organised means freeing up space - physical, mental, and in the diary."

Typical problem areas in Hong Kong homes include not knowing how to maximise space or use appropriate storage solutions, Wong says.

So here are Wong's key tips:

For studies: Use magazine holders to keep files upright rather than creating stacks of paperwork on surfaces. "Don't forget you can also organise digitally. No file should be more than four mouse clicks away."

For kitchens: place items such as cups, coffee and tea bags on slim-line, wall-mounted shelves.

Maximise space: The most important practice when living in a small space is to store vertically. Utilise corners of rooms, whether to eke out a triangular computer table or to mount a wash basin in a tight bathroom.

Hang everything: This will avoid taking up floor space. Suspend lights from shelves or under cabinets. Use hanging baskets to create more storage in the pantry or closet.

"When you're organised, you avoid misplacing things [and] buying duplicates," Wong says. You'll also save time by knowing where things are, and feel good about your environment.