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Feeling The Fall Cleaning Itch? Here's Your Gentle 5-Step Guide

Emma Loewe
September 3, 2021
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Image by Felix Chacon / Stocksy
September 3, 2021
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As another summer comes to a close, you might be feeling the home improvement itch—especially as the pandemic keeps shifting the way we use our spaces.

"I'm seeing people approach this fall almost like a big spring clean," Tracy McCubbin, a decluttering and organizational expert, tells mbg. But before you do, McCubbin has one suggestion: Be kind to yourself!

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Life is overwhelming enough these days, and nobody needs the added pressure of feeling like their home has to be perfectly neat and tidy too. Instead, follow this low-stakes guide to fall cleaning and say hello to a gentler, more manageable way to declutter and organize:

Step 1: Take a good look around.

Even though you've probably been looking at your space a lot lately, doing so with an eye for clutter and excess will help you prioritize your fall projects. Do a walk-through of your home and imagine that you're seeing it for the first time. Which areas look great, and which ones are a little stagnant or cluttered? Which objects do you love, and which ones don't catch your eye like they used to?

Step 2: Do an initial declutter.

After this audit, you can do a quick declutter. As professional organizer Maeve Richmond notes, a lot of people may find that the things they previously held dear have lost some meaning since the pandemic began.

"I don't know about you, but the pandemic taught me that I don't need so much in life," Richmond says. "If you haven't already started letting go of things—it's time." For help deciding what stays and what goes, check out mbg's comprehensive guide to decluttering, and remember this advice from McCubbin: If you haven't used it in the last 18 months that you've spent at home, you're not going to use it!

There's no need to tackle your whole home in a day. But if there's anything that immediately sticks out as something to sell, donate, or (responsibly!) toss, now's the time to do so.

From there, you'll want to take a good look at what's left, asking yourself if anything can be reused or repurposed in the upcoming season. "This past year I turned to my own home to shop," Richmond says, and in the process, she found "new vases for flowers, new boxes for office supplies, and even new home decor."

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Step 3: Consider how you'll use your space this season.

While it's hard to know what the future holds, consider what you need your home to do for you right now, in this particular moment of what McCubbin calls our "pre-post-pandemic" world.

Are you still doing a lot of virtual meetings? One of your projects for the fall could be decking out your Zoom cocoon so it's more functional and comfortable. "Move things around—clean and clear and shift the camera 'just so' to avoid awkward door frames or overtly cluttered shelves [in the background]," Richmond recommends.

Are your days of dressing up for the office behind you? Maybe you'll want to rejigger your closet to put casual favorites at the forefront and uncomfortable heels at the back.

Start to think about those projects that will make your life, as it stands right now, a little more seamless.

Step 4: Make a mental list of your projects.

Next, it's time to map out the parts of your home that you think could use a touch-up. While you might be tempted to write them down into a big, binding master list, Richmond actually cautions against it. Previously a to-do list devotee, in pandemic times she's found value in a more lax approach.

"The magical thing that occurs when the earth stops spinning even for a bit is that our brains slow down too. And when our brains slow down, clarity appears," she says. "It was during this clarity that I realized, everything I need to do will happen when it is supposed to happen."

So by all means, make a mental list of projects you'd like to tackle this season, but don't put too much pressure on yourself to get them done within a particular time frame. Again, being kind to yourself is key. Trust that the projects that get done on your own terms will probably turn out better in the end anyway.

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Step 5: Clean and organize as you have time throughout the season, keeping shortcuts in mind.

With this mental checklist stored away, you can go about your fall with an idea of the things you'd like to get done, that you feel will have the biggest impact on your space and your quality of life.

In the name of being gentle with yourself, McCubbin recommends tackling them in bite-size chunks (30 minutes here and there as you're listening to music or a podcast) and taking organizational shortcuts where you can. These are the really quick touch-ups that take next to no effort but have a big payoff in terms of how they make a space feel.

Here are a few of her favorites:

Transfer your clothes to matching hangers.

While it only takes a few minutes (and can be done with the TV on), McCubbin says that transferring clothes to matching hangers has a super high reward. Plus, it's a low-stakes way to revisit your closet and maybe think about letting go of anything that isn't worth the trip to its new home.

As far as types of hangers, she likes thin felted ones for everyday clothes and IKEA's thicker wooden ones for coats and heavier items.

Shop: IKEA BUMERANG, Target Suit Hanger Hook

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Get clear boxes for miscellaneous items.

For the piles of stuff that you don't have the wherewithal to meticulously sort through right now, McCubbin says that popping them in clear containers is an easy way to at least give them a home, ensuring that they stay easy to find. While she's not usually a fan of plastic (who is?), she admits that reusable plastic containers are one of the first things she beelines for during trips to the Container Store.

Shop: The Container Store Multi-Purpose Bins

Add a felt liner to your drawers.

And for that jewelry or dinnerware drawer that you had big plans to organize to the nines but haven't gotten around to, McCubbin suggests decking it out in a felt liner.

It's a similar idea to the closet hangers: As you add things back, you may find it easy to do a little extra decluttering. If not, no big deal, you still got some pretty new drawers out of it!

Shop: IKEA KOMPLEMENT Drawer Liner

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The bottom line.

While organizing your home can feel like an all-or-nothing job, this fall routine proves that it can be a more gentle, satisfying endeavor—and one that is majorly worth it at that.

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Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.