Rules for Decluttering

10 Simple Strategies for Conquering Clutter

A few simple rules for decluttering can make a huge difference in the battle against clutter. I doubt any of them will come as a surprise to you. You’ve probably heard them before in some form. The magic is in the consistent application of these basic principles of home organization.


Rule #1: A place for everything, and everything in its place.

As far as I’m concerned this may be the most important of the rules for decluttering. I can’t stress enough the importance of having a place for everything. When things don’t have a home of their own they start to pile up, creating clutter.

The essence of organization is the application of this rule.

Rule #2: If you get it out, put it away.

Among the rules for decluttering, this is the one most often touted by parents and rightly so. It is an effective way to control clutter. It’s simple. It’s straightforward. It yields results.

The more stuff that gets left out, the more clutter you have. Put clutter in its place by putting things away.

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The Multi-floor Dilemna

If you live in a house with multiple floors, putting things away can sometimes be a pain if it means climbing stairs to do so.

The way that we deal with this in our home (2 stories plus a finished basement) is to use the stairs as a staging ground for misplaced items. When I am done using something that belongs on a different floor of the house, I immediately place it on the stairs where it serves as a visual reminder to take it with me the next time I go up or down.

This method saves having to make multiple trips up and down the stairs (which is inefficient, time-consuming and tiring). At the same time, it prevents clutter build-up because stuff doesn't lay around for days (or worse) waiting for someone to put it in its rightful place. The trick is getting your family to utilize this simple method as well (and not leave stuff laying on the stairs). 

Rule #3: If you haven’t used it in more than a year, get rid of it.

As far as rules for decluttering go, this one is not (in my opinion) universal.  I recognize that there are things that are necessary that are used infrequently. For instance, perhaps you own a power generator but you haven’t used it in more than a year because you haven’t had a power outage. Count your blessings and keep the generator. The value is in the insurance that it provides, not in its regular use.

That said, this rule does apply nicely to frequently used items like clothing, household items, and so forth. If you’re reluctant to part unconditionally with something that hasn’t been used in more than 12 months, try placing it in a ‘to get rid of’' box and setting it out of the way for a month or so. If you don’t miss it during that time, you can feel good about letting it go.  

Rule #4: Practice purging.

Purging is one of the most essential of the rules for decluttering. If you’ve lived in your home for 10, 20, 30 years or more without purging, the idea of sorting through all of the acquired stuff can be intimidating, if not completely overwhelming.

Recruit some friends or consider hiring a professional organizer to assist you in the task. It’s well worth the effort (and even the expense).

You will be amazed at the power of purging! It’s cleansing – not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. It’s refreshing. It’s rejuvenating. It’s truly awesome!

Once you’ve streamlined, your work is not done. In order to be effective, purging needs to be an ongoing process.

Establish a regular routine of clearing out the unnecessary, unwanted, unused stuff that has a habit of accumulating over time.

Train yourself to evaluate things as you encounter them. Set aside those items that don’t measure up in a donation box, and take it to a local charity once it’s full.


Recommended Reading

Interested in learning more about the purging process? Click on the image on the right.

Rule #5: Toss your trash.

If it’s faded, broken, stained, worn out or missing parts, get rid of it. 

This is one of my favorite rules for decluttering because it’s so easy to implement and so frequently violated. 

People have a tendency to hold onto things that have lost their value or usefulness in the vain hope of restoring them to their former glory.

It’s not going to happen. Hold a brief moment of silence in honor of the much loved but no longer useful item and move on with your life rejoicing in the clutter you’ve cleared away.

Rule #6: Give back what's not yours.

Here’s a no-brainer: give back stuff that doesn’t belong to you. Why let other people’s stuff clutter your house?

If someone forgets something at your house, take it to them.

If you borrow something, give it back.

Don’t let stuff you don’t even own stake a claim on your space.

Often people mean to give stuff back, but they forget. Try establishing a designated space in your home, preferably near the most frequently used exit, where you can temporarily stow stuff that needs to be returned. Then make a habit of taking it with you when you walk out the door and delivering it to its rightful owner.

Rule #7: Don’t transfer clutter.

You know you’re guilty of violating this rule. I know I am. It happens when you know something shouldn’t be where it is, but you’re not exactly sure where it belongs. Instead of finding it a permanent home, you simply move it to a new, slightly less conspicuous but still inappropriate location.

If you’re going to take the time to move whatever it is (and you should), take the time to find it a proper home (see Rule #1).

This also sometimes happens when you’re purging. Instead of truly organizing, you just shuffle things around. You clear off one surface by transferring its contents to another. That’s not organizing; that’s procrastinating. Be decisive.

Rule #8: Stop clutter before it enters.

One of the surefire rules for decluttering is to stop clutter before it has a chance to take root. You do this by evaluating everything that enters your home. Some simple ways to stop clutter before it happens include:

  • Shred or recycle junk mail immediately.
  • When it makes sense to do so, use your phone to take a photo of fliers, announcements and other forms of written communication in order to reduce the paper clutter entering your home.
  • Avoid free samples, give-aways and other unwanted or unneeded items that are often forced upon us as consumers. Politely refuse such offers unless it’s something you know you’ll use.
  • Be a thoughtful consumer. When considering a purchase, ask yourself if you really need it. Is it worth the expense? Where will you put it? 
  • Don’t let others convince you to make purchases you’re not fully committed to.

Rule #9: One in, one out. 

This is one of the most frequently proclaimed rules for decluttering. It is the idea that every time you bring something new into your home, something old needs to be removed. In recommending this methodology, I am not suggesting you wander around your home looking for something to toss out every time you make a purchase.

What I like is the principle behind the precedent. Simply put, we should all be seeking for balance when it comes to material possessions. We should be seeking to control clutter rather than succumbing to it. We should think before we buy and regularly take stock of what we own, passing on that which is no longer wanted, needed or appreciated. We can be the master of all that we own.

Rule #10: Follow the clutter litmus test.

William Morris, an English textile designer associated with the British Arts and Crafts movement, said this:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. 

Amen. Could there be a better ‘test’ for identifying clutter? I don’t think so. If all that you own is either useful or beautiful to you, yours will be a home where balance and harmony reign.


Try implementing the rules for decluttering in your quest for this happy, clutter-free existence.


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