Teenager gaming in a messy room

Life-changing strategies for decluttering

How to "transition from a disheveled youth to an "orderly oldster"

Mental health and wellbeingHobbies and Interests
By VoiceBox ·


TeeJay is a professional humorist, part-time overthinker, and full-time water drinker.

Life-changing strategies for decluttering

If you’re anything like me, you probably spent a sizable portion of your childhood with a messy bedroom, complete with piles of half-dirty half-clean clothes strewn about like a Caligula afterparty. Maybe you responded to the prodding adults in your life with snide and self-assured comments such as “Who even cares if it’s messy in here, it’s my bedroom, I can do what I want with it!” only to come to the harrowing realization in young adulthood that maintaining a clean space is, in fact, important and necessary. 

Somewhere between getting old enough to invite potential romantic partners into your bat cave and moving out of your parents' home, either to a dorm or a private apartment, you likely learned to embrace the cleanliness standards of your foot-tapping, finger-wagging, I-told-you-so-saying authority figures from years past. 

Conversely, if you’re nothing like me, you may have been a squeaky clean little angel from day one, and the very thought of a loose clothing article sends you into a panic-induced coma. If that’s the case, congratulations. Imagine me giving you a big round of applause and a virtual cookie, kiddo, keep on being you. 

Either way, a few extra tips, tricks, and ideas for maintaining a clean and healthy living space should benefit us all, particularly during the holiday season into the new year, where clutter can become excessive and resolutions can be quickly made and discarded faster than a holiday dinner feast. 

1. Get some functional furniture to make the most of a tight space.

Many people find themselves in cramped studio apartments or dorms in their late teens and early twenties. This leads some to embrace minimalism, while others simply embrace living in a Wall-E style trash pile. The good news is, there’s a healthy in-between to owning too many items and no items at all. 

The first step is to acquire some space-saving furniture. One of the best purchases I’ve made was a bed frame with drawers underneath. This allows you to put your clothes and other items away neatly and out of sight when you have no closet. The same can be said for items which hang off the wall, allowing you to utilize storage space off the ground without dumping everything on a computer chair. 

2. Mise en place 

Remember that everything has its place and every place has its thing. Visualize your belongings in the same way you would visualize silverware. You retrieve it from the designated silverware drawer, you use it, you clean it, and return it to its home from whence it came. Sometimes we forget to designate specific spaces for items like clothing, keys, or phone chargers, which is why they wind up lost or damaged. 

Designate a single specific space to keep items like your keys at all times when not on your person, and commit to keeping them there. This method will create a well-ordered system to ensure your belongings don’t wind up missing, while freeing up space in your home. 

3. Dress like a cartoon character 

Look, we all have bold clothing choices collecting dust in the back of our wardrobe. The items we purchase while mentally embracing the mantra of “Someday I’ll wear this.” But let’s get real for a second: That hot pink ball gown has been sitting untouched in the back of your closet since 2013, it’s time to give it up.

In reality, most of us have a few different outfits we cycle through on our normal routine, with the occasional “nice” outfit thrown in to spice things up. One method for ensuring you’re getting the most out of your wardrobe is pushing all of your clothes toward one side of the closet. As you wear each item, move it to the other side, until finally after 6 months or a year, everything that remains on the unworn side can likely be gifted or donated. 

If you have one or two items in your closet that you just can’t part with, or they hold sentimental value, consider boxing them up instead of taking up precious space in your wardrobe repertoire. 

4. Stop buying useless junk 

This is one of the hardest nuts to crack for many people. I’ve spent my fair share of paychecks on silly trinkets and dead-end hobbies, only to leave hundreds of dollars of merchandise to collect dust for months at a time before begrudgingly trashing or donating them. 

Living in a capitalist society which commodifies money and objects over time and relationships leads many of us to buy into rampant consumerism, purchasing random loose-end objects just because we want to experience the thrill of buying something. This is a habit that should be curbed in general, but it becomes imperative to cease this behavior if you’re living in a tight space. In order to avoid becoming a hoarder, exercise extreme vigilance when making a purchase. Ask yourself “Do I really need this?” “Does this item belong in my limited space?” and “Can I actually believe it’s not butter?” 

And to that end, try this next method if you find yourself wavering. 

5. Buy something? Trash something.

Need a more specific mantra in order to avoid wasteful spending? Give this method a shot. Every time you make a new purchase, do so with the preordained knowledge that you’re sentencing one of your beloved items to the glue factory in its place. 

Remember that you only have space for a finite number of objects, and that you are already operating at max capacity. Once you have enacted a state of mise en place within your home, you’ll need to maintain that by assigning a space to each new item you bring in. Think of your bedroom like the Chachapoyan Fertility Idol from Indiana Jones. Every time you pick up something fun and valuable, be prepared to leave behind a sack of sand of equal or greater weight. 


My roots as a messy kid continue to haunt me now that I’m a hardcore stickler for a neat and tidy space, but these tips helped me to transition from a disheveled youth to an orderly oldster. The strategies above may not drag you kicking and screaming into the world of good housekeeping, but they should give you a good baseline to tackle the world. Whether you’re living in a dinky dorm or a magnificent mansion, these concepts should aid you in your journey to living like a “real” adult who isn’t chided by their elders upon every visit. Good luck, and god speed.

You can purchase TeeJay's comedy in bite-sized chunks on Fiverr or absorb it for free on his comedy column.

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