You can tell the new year is getting close when your local big box store has miles of storage bins and boxes on display. It’s almost as if January has become the unofficial “Get Your Life Organized” Month.

With work, school, family and hobbies – stuff can pile up fast. And the resulting clutter may be more than just a visual nuisance (or tripping hazard). It might affect your mental health.

Research from the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute suggests that clutter in our homes and workspaces can cause a lack of focus and ability to process information. This lack of focus can lead to sensory overload, decreased productivity and anxiety.

Tackling your clutter may help bring peace to your home or office. But where do you start? Here are a few ideas to put you on the right track.

Start small – and get help

If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of clutter, start small and take it slow. Pick a room – or even a drawer, dresser or closet – and set a timer for 30 minutes. You’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish in a short time each day.

Also, resist the urge to take it all on yourself. Children as young as two or three can help sort items, and spouses should tackle their stuff. Doing this together can be fun and a learning experience for everyone.

Categorize and sort

Create piles for what you plan to toss, donate and keep. There are a few strategies to help you decide. Ask yourself:

  • Have I used it in the last year?
  • Would I buy it today?
  • Does it fit (my space, my décor, my body)?
  • How does it make me feel?
  • Do I have multiples of one thing, and do I need them all?

If you can’t decide, you can make another pile for “maybe keep.” Store your maybe keep items away for a few months, and if you don’t miss those them, you can bet you don’t need them.

Organize and store

Now that you know what you want to keep, it’s time to organize. Whether it’s the garage, the kids’ playroom, your closet or the office desk, think about what you use frequently vs. rarely and consider the following:

  • Store your rarely used items (think table saw, Christmas decorations, a sequined dress or 2015 taxes) up and away from your frequently used items.
  • Sort your frequently used items and decide how to store them. For example, buy a drawer organizer for desk supplies, a bin for all of your flip flops, a box for the kids’ painting supplies (from paintbrushes and paints to smocks) or a small toolbox just for a hammer, screwdrivers and pliers you use regularly.
  • Store your frequently used items for easy access. You don’t want to reach over or crawl under to get to what you use daily. Store these things on countertops or close to the front of drawers and cabinets.
  • Consider browsing Pinterest for inspiration. There is no lack of creative, cool organization ideas for maximizing your space.

Maintain and minimize

Now that everything has a place pledge to keep it up. Make a pact with your family to “only touch things once.” This means don’t set anything down with the intention to put it away later. Putting things away as you are done using them saves you a lot of time looking for lost items or cleaning up. For example, you can:

  • Sort mail straight from the mailbox into the recycling bin or the “to be paid” folder in your desk.
  • Fold laundry right out of the dryer and immediately put the clothes in the drawer or closet.
  • Put the screwdriver back into the toolbox after you use it.
  • Put your purse, keys or wallet near the door or in their spot, every time.

You can also reduce the amount of clutter entering your home by considering what you threw away or donated.

  • Too many magazines? Consider online versions or canceling the ones you never read.
  • More jeans than you can wear in a year? When the urge strikes to buy another pair, think about the bag you donated (and the time and energy it took to get it there).
  • Multiple finger paints? Maybe the kids don’t like them after all. Ask them, and if not, donate them to your child’s teacher or daycare.
  • Bags full of take-out containers with no lids? Consider recycling all of your mismatched plasticware and purchase a good set that you use exclusively.

It’s a new year and a great time to create your clutter-free, peaceful 2020. Good luck!