The pandemic has altered our lives in so many ways. But perhaps the biggest adjustment for many of us was the immediate change from spending just a few hours at home each day to spending all day, every day at home.

Stay-at-home orders have required that rooms be reconfigured to accommodate exercise, working from home and distance learning. It has also made us reckon with our possessions and mull the value of the stuff surrounding us. Indeed, many of us feel like we have been hit over the head with what we already knew: Most of the items in our homes do not “spark joy.” And, in fact, they overwhelm us.

So, while everything else in our lives has been turned upside down, why not go all in and think about how to streamline our homes and lives? Here are four areas where a little paring down might make you feel happier and more in control:

1. Pantry

With so many people eating and cooking most of their meals at home, our pantries have been working overtime. Not only have we packed them with food and paper goods, we have also stockpiled cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and hand soap while trying to avoid unnecessary trips to the store. Spending a little time organizing your pantry will pay dividends by making it easier to see what you have and get what you need without having to move everything around. Place like items together, stack things to maximize space, and consider bins to corral items.

Check your expiration dates. Use the oldest items first, and if there are things you haven’t used in a long time, clear them out to make room for the things that are cycling in and out the most.

Try to “shop” your pantry before heading to the store or placing an online grocery order. And try to use some of the items you bought at the beginning of the pandemic before buying more. If your pantry or cabinets are overflowing with canned goods but you can’t bear to eat another can of beans or chickpeas, consider moving those items elsewhere — perhaps to a basement closet or a bin in a spare bedroom — so you have room for the food that is being consumed regularly.

If there is kitchen gear you haven’t touched — even while cooking at home more — it’s probably safe to donate it. (Getty Images)
If there is kitchen gear you haven’t touched — even while cooking at home more — it’s probably safe to donate it. (Getty Images)

2. Kitchen and housewares

If you’re cooking more but there are things in your kitchen that you still haven’t used, you’re probably never going to use them. Donate them or give them to a friend or relative. Most charities are not accepting donations right now, but you could post the items on a neighborhood email group to help a family nearby.

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Culling unused items will create additional storage space that will make it easier to clean up and put things away.

An exception, of course, is everything you use for entertaining. Keep these items if you think you’ll use them when you can start hosting parties again; they can be stored with lesser-used items elsewhere.

Having only what you want and need in your kitchen may encourage you to continue cooking more at home, even when you can go back to restaurants.

If casual Friday has become every day, reorganize your closet to prioritize your new style. (Getty Images)
If casual Friday has become every day, reorganize your closet to prioritize your new style. (Getty Images)

3. Clothes

Another change many of us had to make, almost overnight, was creating a new “work-from-home” look that is both presentable and comfortable. Loungewear has replaced typical work outfits, and many of us haven’t taken anything off a hanger in months.

There is so much uncertainly about when we’ll be able to go back to our offices or get back to our regular routines of getting dressed up for work, but it’s still a good time to reassess our wardrobes and decide what we feel good in, what we’ve outgrown and what we are probably never going to wear again.

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All of those items you routinely passed over in your old life — and haven’t touched in months — can probably be safely set aside for donation. And you might even want to consider reorganizing your closet to move all of your comfortable new staples front and center and move your more formal workwear to the back.

If you’ve come to enjoy tasks such as making your morning coffee, keep them in your routine, even as things move back toward normal. (Getty Images)
If you’ve come to enjoy tasks such as making your morning coffee, keep them in your routine, even as things move back toward normal. (Getty Images)

4. Lifestyle

Forced out of our usual routines, we have an opportunity to contemplate how we spend our money and time, to consider ways we may want to streamline our lives moving forward and assess what is really important to us.

Perhaps you’ve discovered you like making your coffee at home and want to skip visiting the coffee shop every morning, even when you do go back to work. Or maybe the daily walk you’ve incorporated into your life during the stay-at-home order is something you want to continue when you start working outside of your home again. Or maybe you’ve decided you love not having to commute at all and want to find a permanent work-from-home solution.

Perhaps the loss of travel opportunities, sporting events and dinners out with family and friends has made you reevaluate what makes you feel happy and fulfilled. So maybe another practice to extend post-pandemic is to commit to buying fewer things and to save for experiences instead.

There have been some silver linings to this crisis. It has given us a new outlook on virtually every facet of how we live, and some of the lifestyle shifts we have made can be long-lasting and improve our lives for the better.