Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Cramped dorm rooms are commonplace, sharing living spaces with other students is the norm, and stacks of textbooks and other studying materials can quickly pile up. The result? A cluttered room overflowing with more stuff than you can and taking a toll on your mental health and peace.
We have compiled 20 simple yet efficient tips to help you on each phase of your decluttering journey, tailored for college students to maximize their limited space throughout the semester.
You can start decluttering immediately by grabbing whatever mess is nearest. However, that doesn’t mean you should. Decluttering fast, efficiently, safely, and successfully requires planning and preparation.
Before starting this journey, you should consider what is your end goal beyond just decluttering.
Sure, having a neat and clean home is what you’d like, but when do you want to do it? What is the messiest area? What worries you the most? Do you want a minimalistic aesthetic, or do you want to focus on keeping as many of your things as possible?
Your approach to decluttering can vastly change depending on your answers to these questions.
After determining your goals, it’s time to hone your strategy. After all, no general dives into the battlefield without a plan.
There are multiple approaches to decluttering, honed by experts on the craft. For example, the KonMari method crafted by Marie Kondo encourages you to declutter by item category rather than by room—for example, organizing clothes and books. On the other hand, the Peter Walsh method enables working by room and removing every item from the space before rearranging it.
Whatever method you choose, be sure it suits your needs, space, and schedule.
After determining your goals and strategy, the vision for your home is nearly complete. You have the terms for your plan, so now it’s time to write it down.
Taking notes of your goals, strategy, and step-by-step plan is an excellent way to ensure you remain on track and efficient. At the same time, it’s a great way to see your progress and how far you’ve come—the recipe for motivation.
Pro tip: Be sure to write as many detailed and small steps as possible—big goals such as “decluttering the bathroom” are ambiguous and won’t give you any sense of accomplishment.
The most important part of the preparation stage is to remain realistic about your possibilities.
Do not try to bite more than you can chew or do everything within a single day—it can demotivate you and make it harder to keep going forward. Any change is positive, no matter how tiny, so it’s better to work with what you can do rather than aspire to the impossible.
Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and dive into the meat of the process—decluttering. After all the planning and strategizing, you’re ready to take action and create a more organized and efficient space.
No matter what decluttering method you choose, the next step is to evaluate every item you own. You have to consider how much you use it, how much you need it, whether or not it has sentimental value, and, finally, what you want to do with it.
One effective method is to list down the items you know by category or area, which helps you keep track of what you own. Another strategy you can use is to evaluate how frequently you use each item within a timeframe (e.g., six months or a year) and decide if it’s worth keeping around.
Did you know that your wardrobe and bookshelf are the most challenging areas to evaluate item usage? Both spaces are prone to clutter, and you are much more likely to resist getting rid of them, even when you may not need them.
Solution? Have an extra critical eye.
Being fashion-conscious is terrific, but it may be worth considering if you need all those trendy pieces. A good option is to keep a few basic, highly versatile staples you can mix and match.
Bookworms have to do their homework, too. Do you need physical copies of all the books you own? Consider renting your semester’s textbooks rather than buying them brand-new and opting for audiobooks or digital copies may be worth considering.
Classifying the items you don’t want in specific subcategories is something you can do while evaluating the items for the first time, or maybe even decide afterward. Regardless, it’s worth going the extra mile and dividing what you no longer need into three categories—sell, donate, or repurpose.
Although donating is a great option and noble cause, as a college student, you should consider that the extra income from selling can be a significant help. Your best options for reselling are books and clothes, as they often have a good market value.
If the idea sounds appealing, you can sell used books online with BookScouter and your clothes through DePop or Poshmark.
The number one enemy of decluttering? Demotivation.
If you start slow or take too long to see results, you could begin to lose steam and drive to continue, making you stop altogether. On the other hand, as you continue organizing your home, you may feel tempted to trail off from your strategy and branch off to do other things.
Although you are not guaranteed instant failure if you do these, it’s best practice to stick to the plan and remain consistent. As a college student, you have little time and plenty to do—rather than big bursts of effort left loose, it’s much safer to invest a little bit of time every day according to your chosen strategy.
Finishing decluttering is not the end of the journey. After removing those needless items, you must reorganize what you kept.
Proper storage options are the number one enemy of clutter and your best bet to keep everything organized. Not only does it help you maximize your space, but it also prevents items from piling up on hidden corners and flat surfaces.
Folders, desk organizers, shoe racks, jewelry storage, bookshelves, or kitchen carts are excellent solutions to keep everything in one place. Best part? You can find some of them for very, very cheap.
Owning great storage solutions can significantly reduce clutter, but they can be virtually useless if you don’t use them properly.
To keep your space organized, it’s essential to assign a specific storage space to every item you own. After decluttering, you can allocate a drawer, box, container, or folder for everything according to your needs. This way, you will always know where everything is and can easily find what you need.
We all know students’ living arrangements can get a little cramped, and space is a bit of a luxury. That is why ensuring you can take advantage of every area is quintessential.
For example, you can install plenty of vertical shelves to keep textbooks and other items in place to take advantage of aerial space. Likewise, you can keep shelves under the bed or in door corners to ensure plenty of room for everything you own.
Pinterest boards are full of colorful and creative ideas worth exploring, and some may make you dream about transforming your student hub into an aesthetic masterpiece.
However, remember that what looks good on camera isn’t necessarily sustainable. Storage and organization patterns are best if practical and suited to your needs and habits—a color-coded bookshelf may look pretty. Still, it’s worth considering if it fits your lifestyle.
Congratulations! You successfully decluttered and organized your living space. Go you. But you are not done yet—the biggest challenge is maintaining the status quo and keeping clutter away.
The most accessible spots to clutter are always flat surfaces. It’s a matter of convenience—placing miscellaneous items on top is as natural as breathing, and little by little, these accumulate and give the impression of a messy home.
From now on, make a conscious effort to keep countertops and tables as free of clutter as possible. Remove those keys, pocket the spare change, put your textbook on the shelf, and throw away that can as soon as you’re done; you’ll see how clutter will not have a chance to settle.
A storage trick to ensure ongoing orders is to store similar items together all the time.
For example, keep your cosmetics on one shelf or your stationary on your desk drawers. If you keep all “family items” in the same place, then the odds are that you will never forget where they are and, therefore, remember where “their home” is.
This trick can nip messiness in the bud—after all, if every item has a home and you know its address, it won’t be an issue to ensure it always stays there.
Did you notice you no longer like one of your shirts the way you did before? Or perhaps you realized that you accidentally got two copies of the same book? If so, a good idea would be to set up a permanent declutter box and put all the items you want to give away there.
Why? It prevents forgetfulness—if you don’t act immediately, you’re likely to forget about this issue and may accidentally contribute to long-term clutter. By setting up a box for these items, you can set them apart from the rest and keep them there until you get extra time to sort them out.
Consistency is the key ingredient in a clutter-free life. Maintaining regular orders is much easier if you do a little bit every day rather than setting aside a week or more to fix the accumulated mess.
Set apart five minutes daily—maybe before sleeping or after your classes. Inspect rooms and common messy spots, checking for items away from their designated spots. Putting them back in place won’t take longer than a couple of minutes, and it will make a world of difference in the long term.
While maintenance refers to little everyday things you can do to keep things as they are, it’s also essential to prevent clutter from returning by making long-term changes in your habits.
As a college student, it’s natural that studying-related items clutter your place more than anything else.
Consider renting your textbooks each semester to prevent cyclical clutter and significantly reduce your expenses. It gives you access to the information you need, but only within the time it will be helpful. Once you’re done, you can return it without further complications.
With so many responsibilities and things to do, you deserve to treat yourself and buy things that make you happy. However, do your best to avoid impulsive purchases and, instead, try to think if you really need that new item.
Is it a necessity, or is it a fad? Will that expense add to your clutter? Add things to your online cart and leave them overnight so you can ponder these questions.
The number one clutter culprit in a student’s life is paper. Between copies, notebooks, and other miscellaneous sheets, you will have more paper than you can handle, which can quickly turn messy.
Solution? Go digital.
Rely on note-taking apps, online textbooks, and digital notebooks to give you reliable and easy access to your materials. You can search for information, highlight important data, and share things with others without further complication, and you can access the data anywhere without cluttering your living space with a single paper sheet.
Expenses can grow fast as a college student, and you may become overly attached to what you own or the freebies you get on campus, even if they’re just collecting dust in a corner. After all, what if you do need them sometime soon?
If unchecked, this can make you hoard books, notebooks, and other things that, realistically, are only occupying your already limited space, thus making clutter a never-ending nightmare.
None of the tips on this list can be helpful if you refuse to let go of things that have already fulfilled their purpose. Believe it—you will have plenty of time to grow, so for now, make your college life easier by keeping things simple.
Find answers — straight from the author — for the most common questions about this article.