The start of spring cleaning season often comes with lofty aspirations and hard-to-keep goals for finally getting organized at home. We tell ourselves we’ll declutter Mario Kondo–style and embrace minimalism, but that can be easier said than done. The truth is: You don’t need to commit to changing your whole life just to keep your space tidy. With a few simple tips, you can keep your apartment a little cleaner, reduce clutter-induced anxiety, and make staying neat a part of your existing cleaning routine — and now is the perfect time to start.
This can be a little tougher for renters, especially those in small apartments, but it isn’t impossible, according to professional organizer Sarah Dunn, who owns the San Diego–based organizing company Ready Set Organize.
As a renter herself, Dunn acknowledges the challenges of home organization in a small space.
“The smaller the home, the harder the project,” she says. “I am a renter. I live in 900 square feet and so I'm a forced minimalist… My space wouldn't allow me to be otherwise. The people that are renting in a smaller space have to be even more thoughtful about what they keep inside their home.”
The good news is: Dunn has organized spaces of all sizes — from 500 to 10,000 square feet — and armed us with organizing tips for spring cleaning in a small apartment.
Keep reading for a four-step guide to organizing that will change the way you approach your spring cleaning checklist.
If you don’t know where to start this springtime, find the nooks and crannies in your apartment that you see the least to clean out. A good example is a catch-all drawer, closet, or cabinet that you rarely open — but you know is filled with some stuff that you need to get rid of.
“Usually, the harder to access places are the ones that you're stuffing things in that you don't necessarily need at all,” Dunn says. “I have a cabinet above my refrigerator and I don't think we've really even opened it [in the two years since we moved here.] It might feel daunting to go, ‘Oh man, I have to climb up above my refrigerator,’ but it might also be an easier place to start for people because they're not using it as often and they don't have to really think: ‘Should I keep this?’"
Changing your mindset around storage spaces in your apartment can be an important step in the right direction, as well. Dunn does not like to call any drawers “junk drawers,” and instead opts for the term “utility drawers” because she tries to instill in her clients the idea that it isn’t good to keep items they consider “junk” in the home. If you haven’t opened a junk drawer or cabinet since moving in to your apartment, it can be a good indicator that some of the things in it are ready to be donated or thrown way.
Unfortunately, in a small space, elimination is usually necessary when it comes to creating an organized home — but it doesn’t need to be drastic. If you’re not ready to get rid of everything that doesn’t spark joy or donate all of your clothes to start a capsule wardrobe, don’t worry. Elimination can be as easy as going through one room and replacing clunky items that have only one purpose.
The kitchen is a good place to start, Dunn says. Between utensils, gadgets, and appliances, your kitchen may be filled with items that only have one use but take up a lot of space.
Is your drawer crowded by items like apple corers or avocado slicers? They may be convenient for those tasks, but if you don’t find yourself using them every day (or even every week), consider replacing them with a multifunctional tool, like a paring knife.
If it is counter space that you are lacking, then take a look at your appliances. Some cannot be reduced in size, like a microwave, but others, like your coffee maker, may not be the most space-efficient choice for your home. For a daily coffee drinker, a coffee maker seems like an absolute necessity, but consider your options. You don’t need to get rid of everything but the kitchen sink, but a few swaps can make a big difference.
“Could you pare that down to a pour-over coffee pot instead?” Dunn asks. “If you have a pour-over, you can tuck that thing into a drawer when you're done with it.”
And if you’ve decided you’re done with a particular object, good for you! Consider that, now, it may be helpful for someone else. Dunn regularly donates items for her clients when decluttering, or lists them on “buy nothing” groups on online platforms like Facebook. Buy nothing groups are an opportunity for people to give and receive items in good condition for free.
One easy way to keep drawers clean in your bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, home office, and beyond is with drawer separators or dividers. It can save you time, while simultaneously reducing clutter
“I used to take the time to fold my underwear, but what's the point? It doesn't save me time. It actually just adds time and adds stress. I might as well just throw them into the section of my drawer where I’m looking for it every morning,” Dunn shares.
Don’t head over to the Container Store for dividers or bins yet, though. Dunn encourages her clients to work with items they may have lying around the house first.
If you think a little creatively, a shoebox can be a container for cables, an old iPhone box can become a DIY drawer organizer for your utility drawer, and excess Tupperware (which we all know we have) can be used to separate your toiletries in your bathroom drawer or medicine cabinet. Take it a step further and repurpose plastic cups to organize your desk and use packing materials from packages to stuff your boots or purses to give them shape in your closet. All of these hacks are inspired by real professional organizing tools that you can buy in the store, but are sustainable options that don’t break the bank.
If you’ve tried organizing with household items and it’s not working, this may be another opportunity to look at a buy nothing group. Dunn says she has given away organizing products that were no longer working for her or a client’s household, so it can be a great place to find the tools that you need for free.
The idea of spring cleaning can be a bit of a hoax because, in order to live in an organized, clutter-free home, it takes more than completing one big day of chores. Don’t forget that spring cleaning is more of a start than a destination in your cleaning journey.
“I tell my clients that we're setting up a system that's easy to maintain for the next few months at least, or ideally a year, but organizing isn't a one-and-done thing,” Dunn says. With big life changes, like having a baby or moving or downsizing, you're going to have to revisit organizing.”
She stresses that the storage containers, organizing products, and systems that worked in one space may not work in the next, and that’s okay.
Recognize that you will have to regularly put a few minutes into tidying your living space. Dunn recommends establishing a cleaning schedule where you commit either five to 10 minutes of putting things away each day, or a bit more time once a week. The goal can be simple: “Make your place feel a little better than it was before.” You don’t need to do a daily deep cleaning in order to be successful.
“Making organizing work for you instead of the other way around is what's most important,” she says.
Need more inspiration to tackle your spring cleaning list this year? Check out our tips for storage solutions in a small space.
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