Does Decluttering “Work”?

Coat Closet Before & After

Who remembers this before & after scene of our front hall closet?

Gosh, it made such a difference in our mornings when I did this back in January. We got rid of a lot, so that this closet had just exactly what we needed it it everyday. Instead of having seven mismatched gloves, we had one pair for each person – with a backup pair. Because: Cleveland.

Instead of spending 15 minutes searching for one scarf, the kids were able to quickly grab it out of their basket on their way to the bus.

The closet stayed like this for a good long while. But then life and summer and all manner of things got in the way.

Messy Front Hall Closet
Oh my gosh – just look at the floor! 

One lesson this mess of a closet has really brought home for me is that decluttering only “works” when you put in the time to keep it that way. Daily maintenance is essential. 

Think about your kitchen. It doesn’t stay clean if you don’t take the time to wash and put away the dishes. Likewise, you can’t expect a closet to stay decluttered if you don’t hang up the coats and toss the gloves, hats & shoes into the right basket. (Hint: The floor is not right basket.)

Over the last couple of months, our closet has slowly spiraled out of control. We weren’t doing the daily maintenance – the cumulative effect of which is the mess you see above.

You know those signs that teenagers put on their bedroom doors: “Open at your own risk”? That was this closet!

I knew I needed to tackle the situation before winter officially hits, so this morning I caffeinated myself up and took half an hour to go through everything. I can’t believe the difference just 30 minutes makes!
After weeks of avoiding the closet, I was amazed that the effort to “reset” things was much less than I had feared.

Neat & Tidy Coat ClosetAlthough, it was pretty funny when my daughter said — after seeing the entire entryway and much of the living room floor covered with closet contents — “Wow! This is a HUGE mess! Maybe you shouldn’t have tried cleaning the closet!”

Decluttering Coat Closet

After pulling everything out of the closet, here’s what I did to whip it back into shape:

  • Removed all the coats, jackets and winter boots that no longer fit and added them to our “giveaway” pile – For the record, I still think we have too many coats & jackets, but at least now everything in this closet fits and is worn regularly
  • Sifted thru pockets and tossed out food wrappers and other garbage (eww!)
  • Threw away gloves that were missing their match (six half pairs!)
  • Hung up the coats on semi-matching hangers

Use Shoe Bag to Organize Gloves & Scarves

  • Utilized a shoe bag from our old house (that we haven’t needed in our new house) to organize the gloves and scarves – a KOAB reader mentioned doing this on Facebook and I thought it was a great idea!
  • Put all the hats (we have a lot!) into one basket on the top shelf (not sure how this will work, but I’ve noticed that we tend to share hats anyway, so I decided not to sort them by person)
  • Returned most pairs of shoes from closet floor to their rightful owner’s room
  • Tossed slippers into a basket and put winter boots on a boot tray

My office is right off the front hall, so every time I walk out of my office, I take a quick peak into the closet! Bliss!

Does Decluttering Work?

Does decluttering “work”?

Some of the rooms / spaces that I decluttered last January are still looking just as good today as they did 10 months ago.

A few of them are like this closet (or even worse!).

So over the next 7 weeks, I am going to “re-hit” those spaces and share with you what I’m learning about making changes that stick.

Today’s lessons:

#1. Daily maintenance is the key to long-term decluttering success.

#2. Once things start to spiral out of control, it usually only takes a short time to “reset” it. Stop putting off the job!

31 Days of Decluttering

Do you, too, feel the need to get a better handle on the stuff in your house? Check out my 31 Days of Decluttering challenge! Maybe you’re willing to take on one project a day (remember: small ones count!). Perhaps you’d rather pick four problem areas, and give yourself a week to work on each one. Maybe you just want to tackle your basement for once and for all. It’s all good! Everyone is welcome to join.

Day One: Decluttering the Toy Storage Closet
Day Two: Decluttering the Top of a Bedroom Dresser (Finish What You Start!)
Day Three & Four: Decluttering the Master Bathroom
Day Five: Decluttering My Desk
Day Six: Join the Decluttering Challenge
Day Seven: Decluttering the Computer
Day Eight: Decluttering the Night Stand
Day Nine: Decluttering a Kitchen Counter in Less than 10 Minutes
Day 10: Decluttering a Bedroom Closet
Day 11: Taming the Paper Clutter
Day 12: Decluttering the Coat Closet
Day 13: Decluttering the Linen Closet
Day 14: Reader Share: Decluttering the Play Room
Day 15: Reader Share: Decluttering the Front Hall Table
Day 16: Is Clutter a Sensory Issue?
Day 17: Decluttering the Kitchen Cupboard (Food Storage)
Day 18: Clutter & Decision Fatigue
Day 19: Decluttering the Kitchen Pantry
Day 20: Reader Share: Keeping a Decluttered Pantry
Day 21: Decluttering the Spice Drawer
Day 22: Decluttering the “Her” Master Bedroom Closet
Day 23: Organizing and Backing Up Digital Pictures
Day 24: Declutter the Tea & Coffee Cabinet
Day 25: Decluttering the Home Office
Day 26: Decluttering Pots & Pans
Day 27: Benefits of Minimalist Wardrobe


  1. What can I say!?! Routine maintenance applied to de-cluttering is similar to the manner with which you approach your budgeting – at least it seems that way to me. Now, I don’t think one must de-clutter every day or every week or maybe not even every month. Perhaps there is another person in the family who could take on the role of ASSISTING you in the process. What do you think? No, well it was a thought!

    Love your posts Mara. They bring joy and love into my life. Thanks much.

  2. Surie Zoberman says

    Hi Mara!
    I really enjoy reading your posts. I’ve been coaching women as a professional organizer for over 15 years now.
    The formula I suggest is based on Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out. The acronym is SPACE:
    A- assign a home
    C- containerize
    E- equalize (regular maintenance)
    I wish you success as you address the other areas of your home!

    • Mara Strom says

      YES! Any tips on the “E” part of the plan? That’s where so many of us fall down!

      • Surie Zoberman says

        The key to effective maintenance is to build these mini-sessions into your schedule the same way you would attend to any errand, chore, appointment etc.
        This won’t be difficult if your space was organized well with efficient systems in place.

  3. Margaret StashEmpress says

    Couple of comments — its not just daily maintenance — sometimes you need to reassess — that is — I never put away “junk” — yet every year when cleaning for Pesach — there’s all this “junk” — where did it come from? For example — when I had 3 kids in day camps & 2 in sleepaway camps, I needed 6 bottles of sunscreen — one for each kid & one for the house (me, baby, etc.) — so after the summer I wasn’t going to throw them away — they were still good. But at some point — 3 of those kids are married, 2 are teenagers — I don’t need 6 bottles of sunscreen! so — JUNK!

    Same with just about everything we put away — it was good when we put it away, even if its sitting nicely on a shelf — it needs to be reassessed every so often to see if its passed into “junk-land”.

    Similarly gloves, socks, etc. that have lost mates — we put them back in the drawer assuming the mates will show up from wherever they’ve been vacationing — dryer, under the couch, wherever — at some point they need to be reassessed — do they still fit anyone? How long have they been single? At some point they pass the stage of “singles waiting for their zivug” & need to be dealt with accordingly.

    And so on…..

    • I LOVE THIS COMMENT! And you are so right – it’s really important that even if we are neat & tidy, we still need to build “editing” time into our process. Now that you mention it, my daughter has a stack of pair-less socks that I need to toss!

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