Clean like you mean it: the ultimate guide to spring cleaning your home | Life and style

Open your eyes

If you’re unsure where to start with decluttering: “Walk around your house as if you’ve never been there, or are looking to buy,” advises Jenn Jordan, a Yorkshire-based Marie Kondo who organises homes in Leeds and London. “Your house will tell you what it needs. Or you can start by gamifying the task – try getting rid of 10 items in 10 minutes.”

Space is as important as stuff

“Clutter is magnified by small spaces,” says Caroline Solomon, a New York- based lifestyle expert whose TikTok @neat.caroline has more than 276,000 followers. “It’s tough medicine, but let your space define how much stuff you own. If you live in a one-bedroom flat, don’t cram it as full as you can.”

Clean start

Empty the wardrobe completely, says Dilly Carter, presenter and professional organiser. Make piles on the bed of like with like: shirts, dresses, blazers, etc. Go through each pile and reduce. Ask yourself: do I need 20 pairs of jeans and 15 skirts? (Spoiler, no!) Does it fit? Do I love it? Do I have space for it? Take out winter clothes, bulky coats and knits and vacuum pack them – store them under the bed or in the loft. Put what’s left back in, hang left to right, heaviest to lightest and keep things in garment groups.

Many charities, including Oxfam, BHF and Save the Children, offer a free downloadable postage label or will send you a bag for donations via their websites. Consider sending work-appropriate clothing to Smart Works, a UK charity that gives unemployed women confidence to reach their full potential and secure job interviews. Your local council will have a list of clothing donation points where items are sorted for donation and recycling. For Londoners, Traid will collect larger quantities of clothing from your home. Book a collection via the website. Collection4Clothes offers nationwide collections for donations.

Dispatch stray socks

Purge your house of every stray or abandoned sock. Once rounded up, do not look for their pair. Put all the strays in a bag, ready to go to your nearest textile recycling spot. Then, joy of joys, get yourself a sock organiser for your drawer. A Place for Everything does them in grey linen, each sock tray has 16 compartments. Pair, roll up, pop in. Get to it and put your best foot forward.

Don’t blame your tools: ‘The things that clean your things also need cleaning,’ says Caroline Solomon. Photograph: Kellie French/The Observer

Marshal your handbags and shoes

To achieve a fully functional space that utilises every inch available, says Erica Davies, stylist and author, first work out how many bags and pairs of shoes you have so that you can plan the storage accordingly. “For bag storage, I swear by canvas boxes which I buy from Homesense. Each box has a ‘theme,’ whether that’s bright clutches or useful day bags, so I know where to find each immediately. I have also switched to thin velvet hangers from TK Maxx, which streamline any bulk. With shoes I try to keep some on display, but I have lots of flats and trainers that I have to store at the bottom of the wardrobe spaces. It’s a busy, packed space, but I am really good at regularly clearing out pieces I am not wearing enough – a lot goes to resale sites, such as the Second Row or Matisa Market, or I sell through Fashion Reboot, a project I started locally with a friend. It has to be that way because I like to see everything – otherwise you miss pieces and don’t wear them!”

Streamline your beauty products

Go for multipurpose products, says Observer beauty expert Funmi Fetto. Back in the day one could get sniffy about products that claimed to be excellent at tackling everything. Jack-of-all-trades and all that. But times have changed; formulations and knowhow are much better. Jones Road’s Miracle Balm (£36), for example, is brilliant as a bronzer and highlighter, and provides a swash of colour for eyes and lips. A good retinol like Ole Henriksen’s Double Rewind (£59) will smooth and exfoliate the skin, tackle acne flare-ups and also minimise the look of dark spots. Multitasking products are not only financial wisdom, they will save you time. And clutter.

Ditch the big stuff

It’s time to purge the home of that rusty ironing board or spare mattress for sleepovers that no longer happen. All you need is a skip, which your council may offer via a community scheme. They tour boroughs, a little like a dull pop band, setting up on your street for everyone to dump their unwanted washing machines and mattresses.

Clear the way

“Before diving into a deep clean, decluttering is essential,” say deep-cleaning experts The Cleaning Gurus. Go through each room and set aside items you no longer need or haven’t used in the past year. Make piles for charity shop donations, regifting and chucking.

One room at a time

When cleaning, work room by room, to avoid feeling overwhelmed, advise The Cleaning Gurus. Start from the top of the room and work your way down: ceilings, walls, furniture, floors. Pay special attention to overlooked areas such as skirting boards and light fixtures.

Clean your cleaning products

The things that clean your things also need cleaning, reminds Caroline Solomon (@neat.caroline). Wash your microfibres. Sprinkle baking soda in the drum to deodorise your washing machine. Run a dishwasher cycle with a bowl of vinegar in the top rack, and use a toothbrush to clean the filter.

Corral your cleaning products

Get yourself an easily portable task basket or container for your cleaning products with every different type of flannel, handheld brush and cleaning product you’ll need for each room, advises Benji Lewis, interior designer. Easy access and knowing that it’s all in one handy place is half the battle.

The Cleaning Gurus: ‘When cleaning, work room by room, to avoid feeling overwhelmed.’ Photograph: Kellie French/The Observer

Get the children involved

“The most important tip when it comes to decluttering kids’ toys is, involve them in the process,” says declutterer and psychotherapist Kate Ibbotson, founder of A Tidy Mind. “Regularly refer to the fact that most belongings don’t last forever and letting go of the old makes space for the new. Let them see adults in the home decluttering regularly – we have to practise what we preach! Have them come with you to drop items off at a local charity shop or the recycling centre and encourage the mentality that by passing some of their toys on when they have outgrown them is a good thing. Always gain their permission before getting rid of a toy – this builds trust and makes them feel in control of the process, which will make them more confident and decisive in their decluttering decisions in future.”

Everything in its place

Home organising has little to do with hacks, but relies more on setting up sustainable systems. Pick spots for your keys, glasses, wallet and headphones. A tray can help. It’s the same effort to throw a coat on the floor as to hang it on a hook.

Van Gogh you!

If your kids love craft, don’t jam their creations into a box, says Anna Greenaway of decluttering service Thelovelytidy.com. Curate a little gallery and display their art so everyone can enjoy it. At the end of the month go through the backstock and decide what to keep, what to photograph and what to let go.

These boots are made for hiding

Keep the shoes you regularly use by the door, and the rest somewhere else.

Stick to makeup shelf-life dates

Expiry dates are there for a reason, says Funmi Fetto. If you’ve had your mascara for over three months, bin it. If your foundation has been knocking around for 18 months, bin it. If you’ve not used that lipstick for over a year… You get the gist. At best, using old products will not provide the efficacy you need. At worst, they’ll give you an infection.

Chuck dud pens and pencils

When was the last time you sharpened a pencil? Pull out all your old felt tips and pencils (or your kids’) and set up a little factory – bin those that are broken or without lids, and bring new life to the blunt and forgotten.

Bank your books

There is something exquisitely satisfying about scanning the barcode of an old book, and an app instantly offering you hard cash for it. The impulse then, of course, is to take your app (try Ziffit) and start scanning everything in the house you want to get rid of, from candles to sons, but sadly the tech is not yet up to spec.

Show your keyboard some love

Your keyboard is disgusting. It just is. One study tested a load of computer keyboards and found they contained strains of everything from bacillus (which can make you sick) to staphylococcus aureus (which can cause upper respiratory tract infections). Here’s how to clean yours: dip an old toothbrush in a half-vinegar, half-water solution and scrub between the keys.

Towel refresh

Towels can become a breeding ground for bacteria. Recycle threadbare ones in the textile banks at your local household waste and recycling centre. For an eco-friendly softener, add a cup of white vinegar to the tray of your washing machine.

Prune kitchen gadgets

We don’t always need more storage space, we just need less stuff, says decluttering YouTuber Madeline Hegedus, AKA the Minimalist Mum. First, ask yourself: Do I really use my slow cooker? When have I last used this waffle maker? Do I avoid using this sandwich maker that’s hard to clean? How many travel water bottles do I really need? If I lost this item, would I replace it at full price?

Cupboards should work for you

Madeline Hegedus asks, are the spices and cooking oils close to the hob? Are your teabags close to the kettle? Do you have lots of random packets of rice and pasta? Before buying containers, declutter first. You might find you don’t need as many containers as you thought. It’s not about having a perfectly aesthetic cupboard, but rather a functional one that works for you. For a lean, clean pantry, take everything out, then sort products into those you can let go (toss, recycle or donate, and don’t forget to check those expiry dates) and items that belong somewhere else in your home.

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Larder lovelies

There’s nothing more joyous than being able to see what you’ve got in your larder or kitchen cupboards. Sort and store according to kind. Put tins in wooden storage bins: they come in different sizes at A Place For Everything. Put pasta in clear, labelled containers. Put bags of spices and bits and pieces in Hay’s fab, bright, stackable crates.

Sort and store your jewellery

Make a feature of your jewellery storage and display favourite sentimental pieces in a glass display box. This way you can see everything at a glance and it’s easier to dust. Oliver Bonas offers all kinds of attractive and affordable jewellery storage options in colourful glass or ceramic trinket trays; having everything on display makes you more likely to wear it. Tackle larger collections with Muji’s transparent mini drawer units (from £20) and build a customised storage solution. Donate unwanted (and even broken jewellery) to alzheimers.org.uk; donations of old jewellery have raised more than £2m so far.

Be your own bouncer

Smaller wardrobes benefit from a militant technique: one in, one out. Bought new black jeans? Out with the old. “The Jedi level is throwing out things you love, ahead of time,” says Caroline Solomon (@neat.caroline). “If you’ve worn a sweater to death, maybe it’s time to let go, and make space for something new.”

Regift cosmetics

Skincare and cosmetics are never returnable – which is annoying if you’ve bought the wrong shade or simply don’t like a texture or scent, says Funmi Fetto. So either re-gift it (this does not apply to mascaras. For lipsticks and creams just scrape the top off ) or, if totally unused, donate to charities like Beauty Banks, which offers drop-off in 100 Superdrug stores nationwide.

Sell wardrobe bygones

First, sort things into piles for resale and donation. You can sell items and clothes online at sites like eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Vinted – the last one is great for reselling children’s clothing and high street fashion. It’s free to list items and buyers pay the shipping charge. You can pay a fee to gain better visibility on the item feed and newsfeed using the Spotlight and Bumping options. Reluxefashion.com will evaluate your designer pieces and email you a price list. Royal Mail offers parcel collection right from your doorstep. Don’t over-fantasise the cash potential of car boot sales, advises Jenn Jordan. “You’ll wake up at 5am to drive to a field and argue with a member of the public about £1, before going home with 40-60% of what you arrived with.”

One fragrance at a time

However tempting it is to have a few on the go, try to use up one fragrance before shifting to another – that way you don’t end up with over 73 almost empty bottles that have long gone off but you still can’t bear to throw in the recycling. Ugh.

It’s easy being green

Keep it simple, using multipurpose cleaners that work on various surfaces, and eco-alternatives to harsh chemicals, to harsh chemicals, advise The Cleaning Gurus. “Or make your own, using simple ingredients like vinegar, baking soda and essential oils.” Baking soda and white vinegar are basically magic. Other magic is available. For bleach discoloration on counter tops, Connoisseurs Jewellery Cleaner can reverse yellowing – but patch test first. Water stains in wood, meanwhile, can be evaporated using a hairdryer. Keep it moving to avoid damaging the grain.

Get rid of monsters under the bed

Feng shui tells us to avoid storing anything emotionally charged under the bed. Avoid family photos, diaries, tax papers or anything work-related. Go for something with no emotional baggage – like linens.

Height hack

Need to make more storage space under your bed? Buy bed raisers.

Oil you can eat buffet

The mesh screens in your cooker’s extractor hood can and should be removed and degreased in soapy water. Disgusting, but deeply satisfying.

Steam dream?

You can rent steam cleaners, often by the front of supermarkets. Your carpet is not the colour you think it is.

Sweeter dreams

Rotate and air your mattress, and use the upholstery attachment on the vacuum (if you haven’t lost it) to suck up any dust. By which we mean your dead skin.

Make your spoons shine

You can resparkle your tea-stained spoons by putting them in a mug with washing powder and boiling water, and leaving for an hour. If the mug was also stained? Double your money.

Microwave magic

Fill a bowl with boiling water and slices of lemon, and microwave for five minutes. Leave to sit for five minutes more, to steam clean the interior walls, then wipe them down. Put the turntable in the dishwasher.

Scale up

Boiling white vinegar will descale your kettle, while immersing a detached shower head in a bowl of it will decalcify any clogged jets. Wash off before you reattach. (Having said that, a vinegar rinse leaves hair shiny and smooth, and can even treat eczema.)

Clean psychology

The act of tidying can represent a variety of emotional needs. For some, it is purely functional. Others may confront issues of control and territory. Others closely associate cleaning with being kept in mind. “Couples often talk at cross purposes,” notes Hannah Sherbersky, associate professor at Exeter University and CEO of the Association for Family Therapy. The untidier partner isn’t usually trying to communicate that they don’t care about the other, but that’s the argument that ends up being had. “They generally don’t realise there’s a bigger meaning.” If your housemates have very different ways of operating, discussing these will help you navigate competing needs.

Disappearing act

Magic erasers have been a hero product for years, cleaning crayon off walls and grass stains off white trainers. They are as abrasive as 6,000-grit sandpaper, however, so use delicately and not on precious surfaces. Cut in half to double your use.

Thanks, I love it?

Hanging on to unwanted gifts weighs us down. There’s an anxiety that friends and family “are going to come round and wonder where their stuff is. They won’t,” reassures Jenn Jordan. Often the gift is the gesture of giving, not the object itself. If needed, have a difficult conversation about your tastes and feelings about space, and steer them towards things you’d prefer.

Cool kids knowhow

If you’ve defrosted the fridge, wiggle it away from the wall and vacuum the fan and coils on the back, too.

Pomodoro it

To improve productivity and focus, try the Pomodoro management technique – set a 25-minute timer followed by a five- or even 10-minute break. Split each task, or even room, into “Pomodoro intervals”. Listen to your favourite playlist or a podcast, get into a flow state and… enjoy.




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Open your eyes

If you’re unsure where to start with decluttering: “Walk around your house as if you’ve never been there, or are looking to buy,” advises Jenn Jordan, a Yorkshire-based Marie Kondo who organises homes in Leeds and London. “Your house will tell you what it needs. Or you can start by gamifying the task – try getting rid of 10 items in 10 minutes.”

Space is as important as stuff

“Clutter is magnified by small spaces,” says Caroline Solomon, a New York-based lifestyle expert whose TikTok @neat.caroline has more than 276,000 followers. “It’s tough medicine, but let your space define how much stuff you own. If you live in a one-bedroom flat, don’t cram it as full as you can.”

Clean start

Empty the wardrobe completely, says Dilly Carter, presenter and professional organiser. Make piles on the bed of like with like: shirts, dresses, blazers, etc. Go through each pile and reduce. Ask yourself: do I need 20 pairs of jeans and 15 skirts? (Spoiler, no!) Does it fit? Do I love it? Do I have space for it? Take out winter clothes, bulky coats and knits and vacuum pack them – store them under the bed or in the loft. Put what’s left back in, hang left to right, heaviest to lightest and keep things in garment groups.

Cool kids knowhow

If you’ve defrosted the fridge, wiggle it away from the wall and vacuum the fan and coils on the back, too.

Pomodoro it

To improve productivity and focus, try the Pomodoro management technique – set a 25-minute timer followed by a five- or even 10-minute break. Split each task, or even room, into “Pomodoro intervals”. Listen to your favourite playlist or a podcast, get into a flow state and… enjoy.



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