Ahhh spring. Global warming may be making the transition of the seasons increasingly confusing. But come mid-March, I always find myself itching for renewal and change after months of hunkering down—whether the sun is out or not. While the impulse may be be to buy a bunch of new stuff—say goodbye to winter boots and hello to the “toe down” sneaker—a better tactic can be refreshing your living space with some good old-fashioned organization and spring cleaning.
True, the Marie Kondo approach of aggressive purging may work for some. But I find that identifying ways to make my living space more functional is a more holistic way to spark quotidian joy—one that prevents me from recklessly getting rid of things I might actually want to own come next winter. Reducing clutter is one thing, but increasing functionality is perhaps a better way to start anew and find some internal zen. Here are five ways to do it.
Transition your wardrobe
There is something deeply satisfying about transitioning your wardrobe from one season to the next. It also has the added benefit of improving how you dress: When you can see what you own more clearly, it’s easier to get dressed in the morning—and easier to see pieces you may need to buy to be equipped for the changing season.
When you’ve worn your winter coat for the last time this year, that’s a good sign it’s time to stow away the heavy sweaters, knitted scarves, and hats and make way for lighter jackets, linens, and cardigans. Show your tired winter coat some love by dry-cleaning it before you put it away for the season (your future self will thank you) and hand-wash any knitwear before saying goodbye for a few months. Vacuum pack or stow your winter clothes in plastic under-bed bins or in an empty suitcase if you’re low on storage space. If you haven’t worn it in the past season, that’s a good sign you should donate it instead of storing it.
To make your closet look like it’s something you might find in the Instagram Explore feed for just a few bucks, invest in a uniform set of hangers. Having all your clothes hung at the same height will not only be easier on the eyes, but also make it easier to find something to wear and to hang your clothes back up when you’re done with them.
Sort out your pantry
If Goop is anything to go by, pantries are the new status symbol. But you don’t have to have all your gluten free flours in uniform preserving jars to improve your pantry setup. Simply decanting half-opened bags of of dried foods into upcycled jars or plastic containers can make a huge difference. Storing like with like—Quartzy food reporter Annaliese Griffin recommends categorizing by grains, flours, nuts, legumes; baking stuff; and spices/herbs for cooking—can make it easier to see what you have on hand. Plus, storing your ingredients in air-tight containers will make them last longer, too. (You’ll also cut down on waste by always being on the lookout for containers to re-use; kosher pickle and Bonne Maman jam jars are the ultimate prize).
Start by clearing your shelves completely and giving them a good clean, as well as cleaning the cabinet doors and handles. Throw out any foods that are out-of-date or unlikely to be used (like that 2/3 used bag of goji berries you bought for a recipe six months ago and never used again). And then distribute what remains into jars and containers (before you do, pour boiling water in them to get rid of any food remnants and make sure they dry thoroughly). For daily staples like coffee, tea, sugar, and oats/cereal consider buying a uniform set of countertop jars for easy—and attractive—access.
Tackle your paper trail
In the digital age, we theoretically have less paper and mail than ever before. But because filing cabinets and proper desks are becoming scarce—laptop on the couch, anyone?—we find ourselves in the situation where the papers we do want to hang on to have no proper home. Thus, they end up strewn about our desks and coffee tables and kitchen counters, begging us to find them safe harbor.
The solution is to create a pared-down filing system. Gather all the paper—bills, junk mail, magazines, invitations, and receipts—lying about your house. Decide what you want to keep (do you really need 14 half-read copies of the New Yorker?) and recycle what you don’t. Then, by some inexpensive magazine folders (Muji sells collapsable ones in packs of 5) as well as some inexpensive plastic sheet folders. Again, put like with like, and then file each category into its own plastic folder. Stow the plastic sheets into the more attractive magazine folders, which can be placed on a bookshelf, table, or desk—and you’ll never have to look at an errant sheet of paper again.
Give your living room a deep breath
Sometimes your living room just needs a good shake-out to feel new again. Pull up any rugs and small furniture items that are easy to move, and temporarily place them in another room. Move large items of furniture into the middle of the room and vacuum underneath them thoroughly. Before you put them back, take stock of the room—could you rearrange the couch? Or get rid of that chair? Shake out any rugs outside (or out the window) before placing back down and vacuuming. It will feel as though your room has taken a deep breath.
Consolidate your bathroom products
The bathroom cabinet is one of those places where things seem to linger for years, untouched and unused—and increasingly crusty. No more. Remove all your bottles, soap bars, products, and packets from your cabinets and rigorously cull anything you don’t use on a regular basis. Avoid those “just in case” items that have been sitting around for years (they might even be out of date). For medicines or first aid, make a dedicated pouch you can store out of the way to reduce clutter. To make use of miniatures or hotel freebies, consider assembling them into ready-to-go toiletries bag for carry-on travel.