15 Simple Decluttering Rules that Help You Clear the Clutter

Declutter your entire house and keep it that way with some simple decluttering rules that make a tidy home entirely possible.

Not much of a rule follower? Imagine the list of rules is like the assembly guide to a piece of Ikea furniture. A little annoying? Sure, but also essential to a successful outcome.

You see, you can’t just take a few boards and some fasteners out of the Ikea box and whip out a brand new dresser in 10 minutes. You have to start by skimming the directions and making sure you have all of the required pieces.

Decluttering is no different, and these simple rules are the directions that will help you tackle your clutter problem once and for all.

clutter-free living room from following the decluttering rules

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15 Decluttering Rules to Make Decluttering Easy

The decluttering process can be pretty frustrating and overwhelming at times. You might even be tempted to hire a professional organizer to do it for you.

Before you call Marie Kondo, check out these helpful rules and give decluttering a try on your own.

1. Know Your WHY

One of the most important decluttering rules is to know your WHY.

Why do you want to declutter your home? Think about how you accumulated so much stuff, then think about how your life will be different when you have less clutter.

Knowing your WHY makes it easier to answer those “toss or keep” decluttering questions. It can also help you work through any emotional attachment you have to a family heirloom or your kids’ artwork.

If your Why is that you’re tired of tripping over all of the shoes and jackets in your home, you might just need an organization system to keep the shoes picked up.

On the flip side, if your Why is that you’re downsizing to a much smaller home, you really need to think about getting rid of unnecessary duplicate items and only keeping what is absolutely necessary.

Knowing your Why will make a huge difference in your decluttering progress.

What is the real reason you want to declutter?

Is the amount of stuff in your home bothering you? Are you always searching for lost items? Does the clutter cause arguments with your significant other? Are you downsizing?


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2. Have a Plan

You don’t need to be a project management specialist or have every minute mapped out in your planner, but you should at least create a simple outline or to-do list before starting a decluttering session.

I know it sounds mundane, but even if you’re the highly focused, spontaneous type, a basic outline of a plan will help you stay focused and accomplish your goal.

Benjamin Franklin said it best, If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.

At the bare minimum, your plan should include a simple schedule with the area you want to declutter and the time allotted to each decluttering session.

When I don’t create a plan, I end up doing what I call ‘angry decluttering’. Angry decluttering is a little decluttering tantrum I throw because I can’t find something or a normally organized area has gotten really messy.

I usually make a much bigger mess before it gets better, and those little fits end with me being late for something because I really didn’t have time to declutter at that moment.

Having a plan would have kept me on track and on time.

Full disclosure, I occasionally recommend breaking certain decluttering rules under special circumstances, and this is one of those rules. If you’re struggling to create a plan, and that’s preventing you from decluttering, skip the plan for now.

to do plan, cup of coffee, and a pink flower on a light blue background

3. Change Your Mindset

Every challenge in life is a matter of mindset and perspective. Decluttering is no different.

Changing your mindset is just looking at decluttering from a different perspective. It’s like flipping a switch.

Instead of thinking about what you’re losing or letting go of, start thinking about what you’re gaining by those things being gone.

Stop thinking about how much you paid for something and start thinking about all of the time you’ve wasted organizing, moving, and storing something you never use.

Don’t feel guilty because you don’t want something you received as a gift. Appreciate the gesture and let go of the actual item.

4. Take ‘Before’ Pictures

I really should have listed this decluttering rule at the top because it’s one of the most impactful.

I always recommend taking before, interim, and after pictures of any decluttering project so you can see all of the progress.

If you’re not wild about interim pictures, you can skip those, but the before pictures are really helpful in documenting your progress and keeping you motivated to declutter.

When you’re in the thick of decluttering, your mind visualizes the condition of the space. You forget what the initial picture really looked like and it can skew your perspective of your progress.

I compare it to losing weight. You know your pants are looser and that bra is fitting quite a bit better, but when you look in the mirror, you still see that same person.

Compare those before and after pictures, and it’s an entirely different story. You can easily spot even the slightest differences and progress.

messy closet before being cleaned out

5. Remember that Organizing isn’t Decluttering

You can stack a bunch of papers in a neat pile, and tuck a few miscellaneous items into a pretty basket, but it doesn’t mean they’re no longer clutter.

Do you really need those things? Have you used them in the last year?

If the answer is no, they’re all still clutter and you’ll end up having to deal with it everything eventually.

Organizing your things before decluttering is one of the biggest decluttering mistakes you can make. It’s all still clutter, and it won’t stay organized for long.

6. Give Yourself Grace

Stop beating yourself up. Nobody’s perfect!

Clutter is sneaky and builds up gradually. It didn’t get this way overnight, and you probably won’t get it cleared out overnight either.

You might not even be able to get rid of a lot of stuff the first couple times you declutter, but each time you do it, you’ll get rid of more.

When you get stuck and just can’t part with something, set it aside and move on to easier things instead of letting it derail your progress.

If it turns out that you really love the item and it isn’t causing you any stress or discomfort, It’s probably not really clutter after all. You just need to find a permanent home for it.

7. Start With Easy Decisions

The best way to tackle any project or task is to start with the easy part and let the successes help you build momentum and keep you motivated.

Some of the decluttering dilemmas you encounter will be really tough, but the momentum from the small successes will help you power through.

Start with the obvious garbage and recycling, then move on to the bigger decisions. Save the toughest (usually paperwork and sentimental items) for last so they don’t stop your progress.

empty boxes and wrapping being decluttered

8. Declutter at Your Own Pace

There is no right or wrong way or timeline for decluttering. You don’t have to do declutter your entire home in 1 week to be successful.

The only time-bound decluttering rule is to do what you have time for.

If you can only spare ten minutes at a time, a couple of times a day, that’s enough to accomplish one decluttering task. You’ll be surprised at all the things you can declutter in just 10 minutes.

Those 10-minute sessions will add up. Just a couple of 10-minute decluttering sessions per day adds up to over 2 hours by the end of the week.

9. Eliminate Duplicates

Duplicates are the enemy of a clutter-free home.

Yes, it’s nice to have a back up if something breaks or is dirty, but if you never use it, it’s taking up valuable space.

When was the last time you checked your linen closet? How many sets of sheets do you have for your bed? If you have more than two, it’s time to declutter.

Realistically, one set should be enough, but if you prefer to make your bed right away, then keep two so you can make the bed while one set is in the wash.

Just remember, you’ll need to have adequate storage space in your bedroom or somewhere else in your home to store the set that isn’t on your bed.

However, this is one of the decluttering rules you can break under specific circumstances. If you use an item in several different places and in different ways, it might be better to keep more than one.

For example, I have three pairs of scissors in my kitchen, one in my master bathroom, one in my living room, and one in my office.

Each pair is for a different purpose and has it’s own storage space in each specific room. If I only kept 1 pair, I’d be looking for those scissors all of the time.

10. Only Keep Your Favorites

Collectibles and memorabilia are a huge clutter trap.

Once a person starts collecting, it becomes about having ‘all the things’ instead of the ones that really appeal to them.

Just because you really love one figurine doesn’t mean you have to acquire all of the figurines in the same series. Buy the one you really love and forget about the rest.

They’ll only take up space.

11. Declutter Your Own Stuff

One of the most important decluttering rules for success is to only declutter your own stuff.

The quickest way to an argument is to start getting rid of somebody else’s stuff before they’re ready to let it go.

Think about how you’d react if your significant other started decluttering your closet, or worse yet, your craft room!

If your significant other has a lot of clutter, offer to help or try these tricks for getting them to do something without having to nag, but don’t just start decluttering for them.

12. Progress is Better Than Perfection

Let me say that again, Progress is Better Than Perfection!

Even the tiniest step forward is still a step forward, especially when talking about decluttering.

You might not be able to remove all of your clutter at once, but just decluttering one flat surface or one drawer is still progress – and 1 less area you have to worry about.

Aim for at least one small step of progress each day, then go big when you have the momentum and time.

13. Build a Decluttering Habit

Pay attention to the things you use regularly in your home, and more importantly, the things you never use.

If you constantly bypass that leopard print blouse you wore in your twenties, it’s probably time to donate it. What about that panini press you’ve used once in 10 years because it’s a pain to clean?

If you haven’t used or worn something in the last year, you probably aren’t going to. Let it go.

If you do this as a habit, you’ll find that clutter doesn’t build up nearly as fast, and when you do a big decluttering project, it won’t take nearly as long.

Decluttering is a Journey, Not a Destination!

14. Keep a Donation Collection Box

During your daily life, you might come across something you no longer need. Most people will just put it back where they found it and move on. Don’t do that!

Keep a cardboard box in an out of the way spot where it’s convenient and accessible. Any time you come across something you don’t want anymore, place it in the box for your next donation trip.

Once the box is full, drop it off at your local donation station or arrange a pickup.

woman decluttering her closet and setting clothes aside for charity

15. Stop Accumulating Random Things

This is probably one of the most important decluttering rules. You need to stop accumulating random things! Never acquire an object you don’t really love or have a specific need for.

That chocolate fountain is on sale and would come in really handy for a wedding reception, but what are the odds you’ll be hosting one any time in the near future?

Then there’s that dresser on the neighbors curb.

It might be really nice with a new paint job and some pretty drawer pulls, but do you really have the time for that? More importantly, do you have room for that?

One of the best ways to combat clutter is to stop bringing it into your home. Be intentional about your purchases. Otherwise, you’re just accumulating clutter.

Bonus Decluttering Rule: Celebrate Your Successes

This one is a bonus rule, and quite frankly, my favorite!

Acknowledge and celebrate your success after each session. You made progress and that deserves to be celebrated regardless of how small the progress is.

The celebration can be as simple as comparing the before picture to the current state and exclaiming out loud ‘I win today! I did a good job and made progress!’

Once the entire project is done, ramp up that celebration and treat yourself. Think manicure or relaxation massage!

However you decide to celebrate, you did a great job, and you deserve it.

a clutter-free living room with white furniture and a vase of flowers on the coffee table

Decluttering Rules Help You Create and Maintain Clutter-Free Spaces

Let’s review the decluttering rules so you can get on your way to a clutter-free home?

Know your Why and have a plan before you start decluttering so you have some kind of direction.

Change your mindset from what you’re losing to what you’re gaining so you’re ready to let go of all of the things you don’t really need.

Take ‘before’ pictures so you can see all of your progress, and remember that organizing isn’t decluttering. You’ll still have to deal with the clutter at some point.

Give yourself some grace. Decluttering is tough and you can’t change the past so quit beating yourself up. You’re going to run into roadblocks, and the process is going to take as long as it takes.

Start with easy decluttering decisions like garbage and recycle to build momentum. Continue working at your own pace to eliminate duplicates and things you don’t need.

When dealing with collections, keep only the pieces you love and get rid of the rest. Stick to decluttering your own stuff. You have enough to deal with without starting a fight.

Remember that progress is better than perfection, so if you’re having a hard time making a decision, set it aside and keep going.

Once you’ve finished your decluttering sessions, there are a few things you can do to keep clutter from creeping back in.

Create a new habit of decluttering and keep a ‘donate’ box nearby so you can fill it as you come across things you no longer want or need. Most importantly, stop accumulating random things you don’t really need.

Last but not least, celebrate each success no matter how small. Decluttering is hard work and each accomplishment deserves a celebration.

What clutter related rules do you follow in your home?

What should you not do when decluttering?

other decluttering mistakes you might be making.

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