6 Easy Ways to Declutter Your Life

Quick: Grab your handbag and find your favorite lipstick or gloss. Now, how long did it take to dig out the tube—more than five seconds? Did you have to tack on extra time to unearth your purse from a pile of everything else you carry around—gym bag, work bag, etc.? Yep, me too. That's the trouble with clutter: Not only is it unsightly but it's also stressful and a total time waster! A disorganized closet (where's that dress I want to wear?) and missing keys don't exactly make getting out the door in the morning stress-free. And it's especially annoying this time of year, when extra minutes are in short supply. So SELF went to the organizational experts for fast and simple solutions on tackling clutter where it happens most. Keep reading—your life is about to get much, much easier.

 organize your life

Tidy your bathroom cabinet. It's the first thing you open in the morning (after your eyes, of course), so a neat space starts your day right. Box up products you don't use daily in a "drugstore" in your linen closet, suggests Erica Ecker, owner of The Spacialist, an organizing firm in New York City. To save room in the cabinet, put toothpaste and ointments in a cup rather than let them lounge horizontally. If the cabinet has two doors, stow hair products on one side and skin stuff on another to get ready faster. Metal cabinet? Stick a magnet to the door—tweezers holder!

Clean out your bedroom closet. It's time to get a little ruthless. Start by grabbing a trash bag and weeding out any fashion mistakes, garments that are irreparably damaged or anything you haven't worn in two years or more, suggests decluttering pro Joy Mangano. Earmark still-serviceable rejects for pals or charity; kick the rest to the curb. Now look at what's left: Is there anything you could move outside the closet—say, coats to a standing rack, or summer clothes to bins under the bed or into cute boxes stacked in a corner? Remember, there's no rule that says you have to hang everything, so transfer casual, OK-if-they-get-wrinkled pieces to a dresser. You might even consider adding a dresser to your closet: "If you group all your short hanging items in one area and your long hanging garments in another, you'll free up a clear block of space below the short items for a low chest or a rod doubler," Mangano says. For everything that's left, utilize space savers (some of which you might already own), such as swing-arm hangers, which hold multiple pairs of pants or scarves; large S hooks for hanging belts, bags or umbrellas; or a hanging shoe organizer. And, voila—finding an outfit for work has never been easier!

Lighten up your handbag. Carrying a jam-packed purse makes a pleasure stroll feel like a slog (and locating that lipstick we talked about earlier an exercise in frustration). Downsize by dumping out your main bag and ranking how many times a day you use the "necessities" you're schlepping. "You need one or two credit cards but not all of them; a couple of checks but not the whole book," notes Lisa Zaslow of Gotham Organizers in NYC. Reinstate your true indispensables—wallet and keys, lip balm, cell phone—and leave the rest home. Apply the frequent-use principle to all you carry, and save the heavy lifting for the gym.

Streamline your wallet. A tidy billfold saves time and—believe it or not—cash. If you have a smartphone, enter loyalty cards into the free CardStar app, which stores bar codes so clerks can scan your phone. Stash gift cards near your fave credit card, Ecker says. "If you bury them in the back, they'll lose value before you use them," she adds. Business cards belong in an inner pocket, where they'll stay pristine, the better to make a good impression. Cull receipts and coins nightly. No more rummaging at the register!

Organize your digital desktop. To streamline your computer screen, dump desktop documents you haven't accessed in three weeks and probably won't again into an "old files" folder. Pull strays into folders for your projects. Scrap haphazard Post-its plastered on the monitor and jot reminders using Stickies software. "You can change their color and size to categorize them quickly," Ecker says. Next, turn your attention to your email account. Reserve three 15-minute blocks—in the morning, again at midday and before you leave work—to handle messages. "The longer something languishes in your inbox, the more stress it creates," says Karen Leland, coauthor of Watercooler Wisdom. Either delete, reply or forward to someone else to handle. (That last one is called delegating, and you should do it often.)

Simplify your home office. To make paying bills a breeze, pay them online. Digitize one account today, another tomorrow, and so on. People who pay bills online do so in 15 minutes a month, whereas those who write out checks take two hours, a Harris poll finds. Try it; you'll like it (maybe not the bill paying, but the hour and 45 minutes for that novel you've been meaning to finish). As for junk mail, station a recycling bin by the front door and get rid of flyers, catalogs and other throwaways as they cross your threshold to prevent them from becoming a teetering pile on your desk. "Treat mail as you would a suspicious intruder: Let it into your home only after you've vetted it," says Peter Walsh, author of It's All Too Much. Place legitimate mail in a folder and deal with it once a week.

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