12 Clutter Culprits and the Best Ways to Organize Them

In this excerpt from the new book A Dirty Guide to a Clean Home, author Melissa Dilkes Patera shares her go-to ways for organizing clutter.

Do you feel your home is cluttered? Certain items take up way too much physical—and sometimes emotional—space. Clear them out, and you’re on your way to an organized home. They are:


Let go of things you are holding onto because they were a gift. Realize that the gift has already served its purpose. Release yourself from the feeling of obligation to someone else. Its purpose was to symbolize love or thoughtfulness from the person who gave it to you. You’ve said thank you, felt the love and are now free to let it go.


There are not many good reasons to keep your university textbooks or that romance novel you read five years ago that was good but isn’t even in your top 10. Books are meant to be read and shared, not collect dust, so if the book has served its purpose for you, it’s time to pass it on to someone who can enjoy it, just as you did.

Your kids’ schoolwork and art

I know, I know. I know. The very idea of getting rid of your kids’ art can feel like you are throwing away your actual child. But I am here to tell you: It is okay to say good-bye to the snowman he made from socks four years ago. Have one box set aside per kid to keep the most treasured items and take a picture of the rest and save it on a flash drive. The memories are forever but the things don’t have to be.


From every tourist attraction you’ve visited on a road trip and every “you are the world’s greatest (Insert your personal world’s greatest title . . .),” I can guarantee you that mugs are taking up at least twice as much space as they should. Just remember that most mugs were given to you by people who didn’t really know you—that’s why they gave you a mug.


Mickey ears from Disney World, participation ribbon from the sciencefair in the fourth grade, the giant foam finger from the football game backin ’93. You and I both know you don’t go into a box and look at them often. It’s time for them to go.

Towels and bedding

We often have too many linens,especially with kids. Come up witha number of how many sets youactually need and use, then donate the rest. If you have kids, take my wordfor it, you’ll need a few spare for those middle of the night pee or puke incidents. Animal shelters are a great option for towels, and human shelters are perfect for extra sheet sets.

Makeup and perfume

First of all, this stuff expires. Second of all, if you didn’t like the way that perfume or the hand cream your best friend gave you smelled yesterday,you won’t like how it smells tomorrow. Why not just cut to the chase and throw it out?

Medication and sunscreen

Again, these expire, and these expiration dates are a matter of health and safety. Medications and sunscreens will become less effective overtime and expired medication can be dangerous. These need at least a yearly purge.

Take-out containers
Holding onto a take-out container because it feels wasteful to get rid of it doesn’t unwaste that item. If you’re never going to reuse it, it needs to go.

Water bottles

You probably have one from every conference you’ve ever been to and gym you got roped into joining. It’s okay to say good-bye to the ones you never use and only keep the ones you actually do.

Kitchen gadgets and utensils

You don’t need six spatulas, four corkscrews, three lemon zesters and two different nut crackers. Think about what you use, what you need and get rid of the rest.

Reusable bags
You need a few in the house, some in your car, maybe one or two in your purse and that is it.

My favourite tools for organizing

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to toss them out, you just need to find the most convenient way to organize them. The key is figuring out what works for you and your space; whatever that is, that’s the right answer. These are some that I love.

Collapsible laundry baskets

They store flat, so they take up very little space when they are not in use.

Over-the-door shoe storage

These are great for lots of things, not just shoes, because they’re just pockets. You can use them for socks, underwear, and belts if you’re limited on drawer space; or hats, mittens, scarfs, cleaning supplies, craft supplies—whatever you want!

A non-skid lazy Susan

I don’t want to put oil and other spillable items directly on the shelves because they could potentially damage the cabinet. A lazy Susan also helps you easily access and maximize your space.

Shelf dividers and adjustable drawer dividers

For separating, organizing and maximizing space.

Sliding baskets for cupboards

These are great for accessing items in deeper cupboards.

Shower caddies

Like the back of the door shoe storage, you can hook them anywhere and the uses are endless. It’s great for those accessories that don’t have a home: belts, sunglasses, watches, ties, etc.

Baskets, bins and boxes

These are the classic organizing tools. Think about where you’ll be storing them. Do you need them to be stackable? Would it serve you if it was clear plastic or opaque? Are you happy with them open or do they need a lid? My recommendation would be to go for durability. It wins every time.

Clear pantry containers

Visible and easy to see when you need to replenish items such as flour, rice and pasta.

Dirty Guide To A Clean Home

From the book, Dirty Guide to a Clean Home by Melissa Dilkes Pateras. Copyright 2023 by Melissa Dilkes Pateras. Reprinted with permission.

Next: 6 Smart Ways to Have a Clutter-Free Home in 2024

Originally Published in Best Health Canada