Decluttering Vs. Organizing: What's The Difference?

If you're trying to get your home in order, there are two main steps you'll need to take: decluttering and organizing. While some may use these terms interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing. So if you mix them up, you may end up skipping important steps in the tidying process, which could result in you holding onto things you no longer need or never finding the right place for an item. This is why it's important to know the definitions of each of these terms and how to apply them in your life.

In an exclusive interview with House Digest, Mary Jo Contello — Owner of Organized by MJ in Houston — explained what both are and pointed out how they differ. "The process [below] is how you go from decluttering to organizing," she shared. "In my head, they go hand in hand, or ... flow from one to the other."

Decluttering specifics

According to Contello, there is a specific order that you need to follow when tidying. "You have to declutter before you can organize," she explained. "Decluttering a space is taking away everything that doesn't belong or is needed in that space. If something is expired or not used it should be trashed or donated or moved to a more appropriate area." Ideally, this phase of the process is when you pare down the largest number of items that you can, as the fewer possessions you have, the easier your space will be to organize.

You don't have to toss everything though; Contello does point out that some items just need to be relocated. Perhaps you keep some things in a certain area — say, towels in the linen closet — but it would make more sense for them to be stored in another area of the home, like in a cabinet under the bathroom sink.

What exactly is organizing?

Once you've completed the decluttering phase, then it's time to organize, as noted by Contello. "Next you want to group like things together," she suggests. "If you were organizing a pantry you would put all your pasta together and so forth."

There's a specific reason Contello advises you to tidy up in this manner, too. "Now you can see what you have and how much you have of that group/item/product," she continued. "You can then corral/group your items into an area in the space. If possible you want to then put them in a box/basket/bin to keep them organized." Note that it's crucial that you organize your items before purchasing any containers, as you could end up wasting either your time and money by buying the wrong kind for your needs. Finally, you can make the area both aesthetically-pleasing and functional by placing items inside your bins and storing them away.