15 Clutter Busting Routines For Any Family

Several years ago, my family and I decided to start living a minimalist life. Since then, we have tried to remove all of the possessions from our home that are not essential. In doing so, we have found new opportunity to spend our time, energy, and finances on the things that are most important to us.

Also, we became far more observant about how our things rob us of our precious freedom. We have learned that just like most families, no matter how hard we try to stop it, stuff inevitably continues to enter our home… nearly every single day. And so we work hard to remove any clutter that begins to accumulate in our home. Along the way, we have picked up (and try to practice) some helpful clutter busting routines.

Here are 15 Clutter Busting Routines that we have found particularly helpful in our home:

1. Place junk mail immediately into a recycling bin. Take note of the natural flow of mail into your home. Placing a recycling container prior to your “mail drop-off zone” can catch most of that junk mail before it even reaches your counter. And as an added bonus, you’ll begin to look through less of it too (think advertisements).

2. Store kitchen appliances out of sight. Toasters, can openers, coffee makers… they all take up space. And while it may not seem like much space by looking at them, the first time you prepare dinner on a counter without them present, you’ll quickly notice the difference. If you think it’s going to be a hassle putting them away every morning, don’t. It takes less than 6 seconds to put each appliance away… once you’ve found a home for it that is.

3. Remove 10 articles of clothing from your closet today. Go ahead. If you are typical, it’ll take you roughly 5 minutes to grab 10 articles of clothing that you no longer wear and throw them in a box. Your remaining clothes will fit better in your closet. Your closet will be able to breathe again. And if you write “Goodwill” on the box when you are done, you’ll feel better about yourself as soon as you drop it off. Most likely, you’ll find yourself inspired to do it again.

4. Fold clean clothes / Remove dirty clothes immediately. The way I handle clothes these days is one of the biggest clutter changes I have made in my life. Unfortunately, I used to be a “throw-them-on-the-floor” guy. But now I handle each one right when I take it off. Dirty clothes down the clothes chute. Clean clothes back to the hanger or drawer. That’s it. It’s really that simple. How do the dirty ones magically appear clean and folded in my closet you ask… I’m not sure. You’ll need to ask my wife.

5. Kids’ bedroom toys live in the closet. Not on the floor. Not on the dresser. But in the closet. And when the closet gets too full of toys, it’s time to make some room. Hint, it’s usually safe to remove the toys at the bottom of the pile.

6. Kids pick up their toys each evening. This has countless benefits: 1) It teaches responsibility. 2) It helps kids realize that more isn’t always better. 3) The home is clean for mom and dad when the kids are in bed. 4) It’s a clear indication that the day has come to an end. Gosh, you’d think with all these benefits it would be easier for us to get the kids to do it…

7. Fill your containers for the garbage man. Use every trash pick-up day as an excuse to fill your recycling containers and/or garbage cans. Grab a box of old junk from the attic… old toys from the toy room… old food from the pantry… old paperwork from the office. If once a week is too often, do this exercise every other week. You’ll get the hang of it. And may even begin to enjoy trash morning… okay, I won’t go that far.

8. Halve decorations. No seriously, I mean it. Grab a box and walk through your living room. Remove decorations from shelves, tables, and walls that aren’t absolutely beautiful or meaningful. You may like it better than you think. If not, you can always put them back. But I’d bet my wife’s old high school yearbooks that you won’t return all of them.

9. Wash dishes right away. Hand washing some dishes takes less time than putting them in the dishwasher. This applies to cups, breakfast bowls, dinner plates, and silverware. If hand washed right after eating, it takes hardly any time at all. If however, hand washing is just not an option for you, be sure to put used dishes in the dishwasher right away. Nobody likes walking into a kitchen with dishes piled up in the sink or on the counter… and it’s even less fun eating in there.

10. Unmix and match cups, bowls, plates, and silverware. Uniformity makes for better stacking, storing, and accessing. If there is a souvenir cup or mug that is so important to you that you can’t live without it, that’s perfectly fine. Just don’t keep 5 of them. Mom, any chance you are reading this?

11. Keep your desk clear and clean. Drawers can adequately house most of the things needed to keep your desk functional. And a simple filing system should keep it clear of paper clutter. The next person who sits down to use the desk will thank you.

12. Store your media out of sight. Make a home for dvd’s, cd’s, video games, and remote controls. They don’t need to be in eyesight, you use them less than you think. And if you remove them from your eyesight… maybe you’ll use them even less.

13. Always leave room in your coat closet. There are two reasons why coats, shoes, and outerwear keep ending up scattered throughout your home rather than in your closet. The first reason is because your coat closet is so full, it’s a hassle to put things away and retrieve them quickly. Leave room on the floor, on the hangers, and on the shelves for used items to be quickly put away and retrieved. The second reason is because you have kids… but you’re on your own with that one.

14. Keep flat surfaces clear. Kitchen counters, bathroom counters, bedroom dressers, tabletops… After you clear them the first time, keeping them clean takes daily effort. Receipts, coins, and paper clutter just keep coming and coming… it’s just easier the second time around.

15. Finish a magazine or newspaper. Process or recycle immediately. If you’ve finished the paper product, process it and rid yourself of its clutter immediately. Good recipe in there? Put it in your recipe box and recycle the rest. Good article that your husband will enjoy? Clip it and recycle.  Article that your friend will enjoy? Clip it, mail it, and recycle (or better yet, search for it online and send it that way). Coupon too good to pass up? Cut it out and recycle. Stacks of magazines and newspapers serve little purpose in life but to clutter a room.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. Sara says

    Great post!

    I have been working on decreasing our belongings and living more simply over the past 6 months. We do a little day by day. I was SO happy to see that some of your list is already engrained in our day-to-day! We still have work to do, but it felt like a pat on the back and encouragement as we move on to more “difficult” decisions.

    While I was the instigator of this process, my husband is on board too… we are realizing how much more freedom we have. He spontaneously dumped a whole bunch of stuff from the office this weekend!

    One thing that wasn’t on the list that has been super valuable to us is the idea of gatekeeping – we don’t bring new things into our space unless we’ve really determined it’s useful and necessary.

    Looking forward to exploring more of becomingminimalist!

    • says

      It’s the same here! I was the first happy with the idea of de-cluttering and little by little, all the family is happy whit that. We, first, did a big de-cluttering and sold all the stuffs we didn’t use or want anymore. Now, we pursue the de-cluttering one item by day. So, every members of the family (we’re 5) discard one item, so it’ll be 35 items at the end of the week!! I’m very happy with this new habits, it fells so liberated!! Enjoy minimalism!

      • Lynnsey Schneider says

        I love the idea of getting rid of 1 item every day. Although I should make it at least 1, otherwise it will take me years to see a difference. But the every day part, I think is really powerful.

    • Teresa Forrester says

      I really agree with the ‘gate keeping’! It has made a big difference in keeping the spaces clean instead of recluttering our home with more when we have worked so hard to clear it out. God bless!

  2. says

    Thanks for the tips!
    I drown in the amount of things in my home. I’ve been wanting to get rid of so much stuff before I even realized that there’s a name for it. Minimalist.
    This post just pushed me to get to it. ^__^ Thanks again!

  3. says

    Thank you so much for the wonderful tips. I have decluttered my life starting five years ago and still have a long way to go. I love these tips. I was wondering if you don’t mind, i could add some of my own tips to yours. What i found extremely helpful in my decluttering process is Categorizing. In order to not get overwhelmed, categorizing and tackling one category at a time was a huge help for me. Here in my blog post, you can see some simple ways i decluttered my own life.
    http://thegreenminimalist.blogspot.com/2013/05/6-ideas-on-how-to-de-clutter-your-home.html
    Thank you again for your wonderful and life changing blog.
    Paris

  4. Jess says

    While the article is very helpful, I wanted to just point out that when getting rid of household items, there are many other beneficial places to donate your items to other than Goodwill. While goodwill is nice in that they put people to work, their are many non-profits that need donations of goods to be used by people with real need. Homeless shelters, battered women’s shelters, and animal shelters are all great places to donate to, as well as Salvation Army. Also, instead of recommending that people throw their things away once a week to clutter the landfills more, donating the items would be more beneficial to those in need and the environment.

    Not trying to nitpick, I just feel like a big part of being a minimalist for me means giving to others the things I don’t need, and having a minimal impact on the environment as well :)

    • Teresa Forrester says

      I no longer give to Goodwill. They appear to be helpful, but aren’t. I try to donate to the local charities that are on a smaller scale but still making an impact on our community. Agreed!

      • C Caffrey says

        Check with women’s shelters, organizations for the homeless and those helping people get a fresh start back to work, refugee centers, churches that have clothing closets, detox/rehab facilities that need clothes, auxiliaries for public hospitals (which I found sometimes need clothes for accident victims who’ve come into their care). See if there are local drives for families who’ve lost everything to floods or fire. You can also donate household things to people who are trying to eke out a living selling at local flea markets. As long as you’re keeping lists, try and keep an ongoing list of community organizations (w/ contact info) Many communities have Freecycle organizations that post items for people to come pick up curbside. I think you can even post things you’re getting rid of to Craig’s list. Just, preferably, not out of your closet and into a landfill. Mother Earth has serious digestive problems. : (

  5. Ava Feronti says

    This is great! Let me add a couple more:

    GO PAPERLESS!!!

    I keep a cross-cut shredder next to my computer station, which is where I open mail and do paperwork. I don’t just throw junk mail away, I actually shred it! This helps prevent identity theft, in case creeps are going through your mail. You don’t want them having access to your credit card offers!

    Regarding mail: I open and scan all important mail and store in mail folders on my laptop. Unless the source document was a legal document (which, very few are…) I immediately shred it upon scanning as well!

    I have a folder in My Documents named “Financial Info.” In that folder are sub-folders for all my accounts. Car payments. Car insurance. Power company. Cable. You get it. When I pay bills online, and the receipt pops up, I print that receipt to a PDF and store it in the appropriate e-file. For a file naming convention, I always start with the year first: YY-MM-DD, as that way, my files will sort in true chronological order. If you name your files MM-DD-YY, your files will sort by the month. So my receipt for my car payment will look like this: 2013-07-17 Car Payment__paid $500.00
    Also, by using that syntax, I can find everything I need!

    • Kelly Tribble says

      Ava, I LOVE your ideas. I am (mostly) paperless and am a little OCD on the naming conventions, too. I love your naming conventions for sorting. While my real-world life is a disorganized mess, my computers and cloud storage is searchable… making things really easy to find. Your organization is admirable.
      Cheers!
      Kelly

    • G says

      YES! My dad got me a printer-scanner-copier for Christmas last year, and I have scanned like crazy. Best. Gift. Ever. If I’m not sure if something’s important enough to keep, I just scan it anyway! It takes up, what? A few kilobytes? :-) ANYTHING to get rid of paper!!! I’ve gone paperless with as much stuff as I can, and this gets rid of what’s left that I’m still getting in the mail.

      • Susan says

        Just don’t forget to have a good backup regime or when your hard drive has a bad day you could come seriously un-stuck.

  6. Kelly Tribble says

    Really great post. I have been trying to deal with the dishes and dirty clothes for a while (especially trying to convince myself that I needed a separate storage place for “semi-clean” clothes). Now, I just put the clean ones back in the drawer or closet and the dirties (which, in Texas in the summer is pretty much all of them) into the hamper.

    Dishes… that’s another issue. I think I’m just going to have to break the dishwasher and start a new routine. :)

    I have been cleaning out our house (on a kind of rampage) for nearly a year now. I probably have taken at least fifty 42-gallon industrial strength trash bags to the curb. I’m sure the trash guy HATES turning on to our street and seeing that mountain some weeks. :|

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Noelle says

      For “semi-clean” clothes, I hang both shirts and shorts inside-out on hangers on one side of my closet.

      • Jason says

        I do something similar…but I hang them “backwards.” I put them back on a hanger, but, instead of hanging over the “front” of the rod in the closet, I turn the hanger around and hang it from the “back” of the rod.

  7. Dee Sulenski says

    Have been trying to follow The Flylady,for years, with minimal success. You are an inspiration and right this minute the back of our truck is FULL–to be taken to GoodWill, today! Thankyou!

  8. Melanie Resler says

    I agree with Jess. Goodwill is a business disguised as a charity. Ask a thrift store if their employees are volunteers. If they are, then you know most of the money is going to the charity and not to highly paid executives like Goodwill has. They show a TV commercial with handicapped employees. They are not getting even minimum wage. A low percentage of their profits actually go to charity.
    http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/06/25/disabled-workers-make-pennies-an-hour-and-its-legal/

  9. Marcus Mobley says

    Almost through reading Simply for the first read. Cleaned out my desk at work and at home. Gone through my clothes once now making a second round. Just finished reading “More or Less Living a Life of Excessive Generosity”. That is what started me on wanting to become a minimalist or at least my version of it.

  10. says

    Hello Joshua! My name is Tara Ursulescu. I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Soulwoman eMagazine (link is above). I live in Calgary, AB, Canada. I am currently working on our August SIMPLICITY issue and was wondering if we could re-print your blog above on 15 Clutter Busting Routines to Declutter Any Family? Our founder, Dr. Mia Rose, from Australia, loves your blog! Please let me know as soon as you are able as we hope to publish our August issue on line very soon! Thankyou! My email address is also above. Feel free to contact me at any time. Tara Ursulescu, Editor in Chief, Soulwoman eMagazine

  11. Renee Hollman says

    Living this way is fantastic!…
    Why I started? I realized it took me longer to find a tool than it did to do the project I needed the tool for…So needless to say it applies everywhere!

  12. Jazzy says

    I just love reading these columns – it always inspires me to start reducing my collection of clothes – I thrift shop but when I do I always figure – hey its not expensive – so I load up, but there’s only so much a body can wear.
    So off I go again to start purging…..:) Blessings to you! ♥

  13. says

    A great post … I’ve been working at simplifying and it’s a bit tough with a packrat son and husband … but I’m getting there a little at a time. :-) Up next books …

  14. Jay R says

    Heh, I actually open my mail at the mail box. My recycling bin is just 2 metres away, and most of my mail ends up in there directly. Just a few select pieces of paper make it inside.

    Another habit I have is to put the coat hangers of shirts I wear into my dirty clothes basket. When I pull my washing out of the machine, I have exactly the right number of coat hangers in the basket. The shirts go back on the hangers and I hang them on the line this way – no fiddling around with pegs (apart from jeans, bed sheets etc). When dry it takes one sweep of the hand to gather my shirts and they go straight into the closet from the same hand.

  15. Shirley Corbin says

    New to this site and enjoying it very much. Our local library sells donated books and magazines at rock bottom prices to make extra money. It keeps them out of the landfill and they get a second life. It’s a win-win situation. Just a thought.

  16. Anand Menon says

    Hello Joshua, Thank you so very much for this site and your postings. It means a lot. I have been a member of a spiritual organisation for 24 yrs now and believe this “clutter disease” is there everywhere. I live with my wife and I got this realization of minimal living and started giving away stuff. Just 2 of us were having so much unnecessary stuff (special spoon used by my mother to feed me – still there after 45 yrs. etc etc) that after clearing all we feel energized and focused. We do not have a TV now and are feeling more focused.

    I want you to please write something about clearing stuff where there is emotional quotient. Like a dress used by a departed brother (that I am not in any way going to use as it does not fit and is outdated) etc.

  17. Teresa Forrester says

    I’m still continuing my journey. As of this year over 2000 items have been removed from my home. The journey continues! There is room in my cabinets, and dusting is so much less. Cleaning the rooms that have been cleared out is simple and easy. I’m looking forward to the rest of the house getting done. I’ve even earned money off of the unused items, which is a needed bonus! Getting more is no longer the goal, so I am not bringing in as much either. Praise the Lord for this new found freedom!

  18. ravesmom says

    I’m new to your page, and I feel like finally there’s someone else is like me. I’ve been doing all these for years, I’m still a work in process though. I look forward to reading along. So far I love what I’ve been reading. Keep up the great work!

    • says

      By :By :By :RE: I’ve responded to that mlpuitle times too. You really do need to get your memory checked.what probably happened is you never answered the question satisfactorily and I just never wasted my time remembering why.No, what happened is you’re incapable of understanding the explanation, and therefore disregarded it.Stated differently, it’s hard to remember what you can’t understand.you can’t explain Europe’s low costs. simply can’t. you’re wrong. sorry to say it. in Europe costs are half and everyone is covered. that’s it. Rate this comment: 0 0

  19. Laureen says

    I’ve been at this for a long time, and it just gets more fun every day. This past month we took 350# of paper to be professionally shredded. This past weekend I helped my daughter clean out her pantry. It feels good, and I love the look of open space ready for something wonderful to come.

  20. Pam says

    I’ve learned a lot over time living in rented houses (we were a defence force family for 20 years) and one of them is if I ever live in another house I want one long straight bench without any sink or stove in it. A U shaped kitchen is lovely but have stove and sink at the side and the empty bench the longest bit if possible. Makes it easy to cook as you have maximum space

  21. says

    As part of her design business and background, clutter busting, or as Ms. ST calls it, (she learned the hard way that “Clutter Busting” sends clients running because they fear getting rid of all of their beloved things), Abundance Management” has always been a part of the process. Part of her career was as a “Design Homer” for Home Depot back in the day when they had them. She learned an important lessons working there. HD has a cart for every department for their “go backs”. She adopted this routine at home as well. When a flat surface becomes congested, she starts by swiping everything into a pail or tub. Then she separates them by the “department” they belong in, i.e., hardware, plumbing, electrical, tools, kitchen, bath, bed…etc. Sometimes she leaves the tub and waits to see what she uses regularly out of it. The rest, well goes elsewhere. It is amazing how much “stuff” one can have and not look cluttered if it is set up as collections, so to speak or if you use decorator items for other uses (storage). So she starts out telling clients, she “can do amazing things to help their homes look reduced of abundance and more decorated without ‘getting rid’ of anything”. Usually, as she proceeds, they say, “Oh, don’t put that back, we don’t want that anymore”. It’s just something many don’t have the time to do for themselves. Of course her personal goal is to do what you prescribe for a more abundant life of freedom from things. You’re a great resource for people on this path. Thank you.

  22. Betty says

    My friend invited me to participate in her garage sale this next weekend. I have already taken a half a pick up load out of my house. Things that meant something to me years ago, but not now, are all going. If it is not useful, heirloom, or very precious to us, it is gone.

  23. Crystal says

    In reply to #12: I have found a way to remove some of the dvd/cd clutter. I have a couple of cd wallets with the sleeves, and put all of our dvd’s and cd’s in them then throw away the separate plastic cases that they come in. This way I have all of our movies and cd’s together in one spot. I also have a separate wallet for all of our kids’ dvd’s, that way if we go on a long trip, it’s easy to throw in the car and they have their whole selection of movies to choose from in one place.

  24. Paula says

    Hi Jonathan
    i have a question for you regarding food/grocery shopping/meals etc. I am a mother of three boys age 15,18 and 21 who all live at home with me. I feel overwhelmed with the amount of money and time that goes into feeding my family. I try to keep it simple but it doesn’t seem to work. I find food waste upsetting but cannot seem to avoid it. Any suggestions?

    • says

      One way I avoid food waste is planning ahead for double use (such as grilled steaks one night, beef and broccoli over rice the next, using cut-up chunks of the steak), I also keep a couple of plastic freezer boxes in the freezer, one for soup, one for chili. Left-overs such as a few spoonfuls of corn, a couple slices of friend potatoes, a 1/2 cup of beef gravy, etc. go into the soup bin. Tomato sauce, tomato slices (diced up), left-over bean dip, crumbled hamburger, etc. go into the chili bin. When a bin gets full, I put it into a pot, add broth, tomato sauce, extra beans or veggies, season to taste, and presto! A pot of almost free soup or chili, made from what you might otherwise throw away!

  25. says

    I can’t stand how crazy full our closets and dressers look. I have many clothes that I never wear, but they’re still hanging in the closet. I have to find room just to put my clothes away after laundry.

    Getting rid of clothes I don’t wear is gonna feel awesome!

  26. Debbie says

    These are great ideas… I’ll probably be moving in about 5 months
    and wouldn’t be great if this was all done by then and I’ll only
    be bringing what I LOVE! esp. all the books I have…

    Thanks.

  27. Franky says

    Put a sign on your letter box to say NO JUNK MAIL then you won’t end up with the excess paper you’re throwing out!

  28. Nikki says

    Freecycle.com is a great way to get rid of things you no longer need and benefit others in return on a more local level.

    • Lynnsey Schneider says

      I find this really works for me. And when I do shop I no longer stop to browse the magazine stand. I have a huge problem getting rid of magazines (daft I know) so have just stopped buying them. After all I can still read last year’s… *sigh*

  29. Michell says

    We spent this past weekend (Friday and Saturday) cleaning our basement. There was 22 years of STUFF in there and it was overwhelming. My youngest son (he’s 15) called us hoarders… I had to disagree with him. We had 22 years of stuff that when we didn’t know what to do with it upstairs, we ‘put it downstairs for now’. Well, too much of that happened over the past 22 years and it all had to go. It feels great to be able to walk in the basement again… to have my laundry area back! We have been trying to do this for years but never made the commitment to follow through…. this time we did it…. we didn’t stop and although it was a tiring weekend… it was well worth it. My upstairs is next… the kitchen…. my clothes AND hubby’s clothes. Thanks for all of your encouragement!

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