10 Decluttering Principles to Help Anyone Clear the Clutter

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Colleen Madsen of 365 Less Things.


“Declutter. Organize. Live.”

I have never considered myself a natural organizer. But in 2007, my family moved to Australia from the USA. Because we were moving into a smaller home, I found myself needing to declutter a large number of items. Fortunately, we were able to accomplish the task…but mostly, because I had no other choice.

Shortly after the move, a new stage of life surfaced. My husband was about to begin semi-retirement. And to prepare for our new life together, I set a personal goal to again reduce our possessions. Coincidentally, on January 3rd, a segment aired on morning television about people abandoning their New Year resolutions. Turns out, on average, most people only stick to their resolution for three days. Even though I had never been one to take on resolutions, I found great motivation in beating those narrow odds… in fact, the challenge was nearly irresistible to me

I decided at that moment to set a new resolution to minimize our possessions. I determined to remove one item each day for the next 365 days. I started with three items to make up for the missed days, and promptly began decluttering one thing a day for the rest of the year. I am happy to say I not only completed my resolution successfully but it was so simple and satisfying that I continued decluttering in my slow and steady pace (an average of five items per week) for an additional two years!

Over these last three years of decluttering, I have removed over a thousand things from our home. Also, through the process and through my writing, I have had opportunity to help many people realize their own decluttering goals as well. These conversations have sharpened my desire for simplicity and taught me important insight about clearing clutter. I have learned that understanding just a few key principles can help anyone clear their clutter.

The 10 Most Important Decluttering Principles I Have Learned to Help Anyone Clear The Clutter:

1. Stop the Flow of Stuff Coming In. Decluttering is a waste of time if you simply replace the old stuff with new. You’ll need to begin by slowing the flow of things entering your home. Determine today to buy less. Trust me, you won’t regret it. The freedom from desire to acquire is a beautiful thing.

2. Declutter at Least One Item a Day. Decluttering does not have to be a mad frenzy that disrupts your entire household. Over the years, my home has become quite minimalist by simply choosing one item a day to declutter. This gradual process began to change the way I think about stuff. Eventually, it became a way of life rather than just a crash diet of stuff.

3. Declutter the Easy Stuff First. There is no need to make things difficult by trying to declutter the hardest things first. Most likely, it will simply deter you from the task altogether. Instead, start with the easy stuff and then as you strengthen your will to reduce, the harder decisions will become easier.

4. Put a Disposal Plan in Place. Before you begin, investigate selling, recycling, donating and give away options for the items you choose to declutter. The more prepared you are for the task, the simpler it will be… and the more likely you will be to follow through. Ebay, Freecycle, and our local thrift store became my favorite disposal options. However there are endless others to explore.

5. Decide to Not Keep Things out of Guilt or Obligation. Your home should only contain the things you love or use. Don’t let incorrect thinking or other people dictate what you should keep or give away. Remember, if the items are yours, it is your choice to decide what to do with them.

6. Do Not Be Afraid to Let Go. The urge to hold on to items you think you might need someday can be eliminated simply by being realistic about what need really is. Many items in our homes may be useful, but they are not particularly necessary to our happiness, well-being, or the functionality of our homes. Seek to understand the difference.

7. Gifts Do Not Have to be Material. There are so many ways to honor loved ones without giving gifts that end up as clutter. Encourage people to follow this concept when buying gifts for you. Some alternative gifts are gifts of experience or adventure, a gift of time spent together, even cash gifts are appropriate in some instances. I have two clutter-free gift guides at my blog if you are looking for ideas.

8. Do Not Over-Equip Your Home. A home does not need enough linen, crockery, cutlery, or pantry supplies to serve as a hotel. Be realistic about your true needs. In the rare event an unusually large number of guests arrive on your doorstep, you can always borrow from friends, family or neighbors.

9. Do Not Declutter Things that are not Yours Without the Owner’s Permission. Everyone should have a choice about their own belongings, even small children. Honor them by allowing them to choose. You can encourage hoarding tendencies in others by ripping things away from them before they are ready to let go.

10. Do Not Waste Your Life on Clutter. Every item you own takes time out of your life: time to manage it, clean it, repair it, and maintain it; time to choose between objects of a similar category; time spent shopping for it… and that doesn’t even mention the time spent earning the money to pay for it in the first space. Decide to sacrifice less of your precious life on the pursuit and ownership of stuff.

These ten principles have kept me resolute for the past three years. I had no idea when I began this mission how much stuff I would relinquish over the next three years. What I originally thought was going to be an arduous task quickly became a way of life… so much so, we have just put a deposit on a beautiful, even smaller, apartment with fabulous views of our coastal city, a swimming pool, and gym all within walking distance of everything we want. Semi-retirement is becoming a beautiful thing. Decluttering made it possible.


Colleen Madsen blogs regularly at 365 Less Things where she inspires others to reduce their stuff one day at a time. You can find her on Twitter.

Image: Yorick…

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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  1. nan says

    Just returned from overseas 2 days ago.
    Have spent 5 wks with my sister to “de-personalize” my childhood home, BEFORE all the “keen helpers” are able to come in to shift furniture etc… after my mom’s death recently. (She has lived in the same house for 60 yrs.)
    People offering to help are great,….but dear mom lived through the depression after the war, and as a result was a saver and collector, (you never know when something might come in handy…) like her mother before her! …. so we as her daughters, needed to do one room at a time and methodically sort through. Personal and private things, the sort of thing other people can not really help with.
    We were shocked how few people, and institutions, schools and libraries were interested in having donated any books, whether encyclopedias, good fiction, non-fiction, travel and reference books, etc etc…..
    My parents had a huge library,and hundreds of excellent hard cover books on history, countries around the world, many subjects, as well as atlases etc ….
    We have donated a lot to Thrift Shops, and charity places, but so many good magazines, ie National Geographic, etc…just went to recycling…. The libraries are not interested in anything older than 5 yrs! (When we were all at school, we never had to go to a library, all projects and assignments were able to be done from home! much to the envy of our classmates!)
    So we DID appreciate their library….but today, everything is ONLINE, and so eliminates the need people seem to have for books. :(
    As a result we have vowed to “de-clutter” our own houses after this! My sister forwarded me this link….which is excellent, and which enforces our vow to commit to this!
    Starting the “de-clutter” this week! Thanks for the encouragement and comments of others as they have travelled this journey!

  2. Conni Haynes says

    I really need and want to do this. I am a senior citizen and I want to make things easier for my children when I pass away Any pointers would be very much appreciated. I have read your notes and they are awesome. THANK YOU VERY MUCH

    • Carol Woodson says

      Hi Conni, My mother passed away last September. (My dad had died a few years previous.) Things were way easier than I would have imagined. She gave things to each of her six children well before hear death. We delayed taking possession of most of the items until after her memorial service. No squabbles. :) We just haven’t gone through the photos yet, but duplicating and scanning old photos is so much easier with today’s high technology. I suggest you start asking your family and friends in a nice and appropriate way which items are meaningful to them and/or which things they would like to have. You may want to delay any giving commitments until you’ve considered the responses from several people. Then you can start giving to them well before you have even an inkling of passing away. Peace to you, Carol

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  4. Glenn D. Hudson says

    In the process. My friend and I are doing the “date” declutter. Sept 1-1 thing, Sept 2 -2 things and so on. If we make it to the end of the month more than 500 items will be out of the house. Sept 1 was 1 bag of trash, Sept 2 was 2 bags of stuff. Toss, give away, donate, recycle, sell. Committed to finding homes for 90% of the stuff. Our local town has Facebook pages for finding home for good stuff and curbside treasures. Next is the 40 hanger closet.

  5. Deb says

    ok, so how do you deal with stuff that is not yours but is still in your space, the owner does not want to part with it, but does not have room to store it?

  6. says

    These are very useful examples of proper decluttering principles. Whether you can optimise them in a quick emergency clutte clean-up it’d be even better because it may’ve happen to anyone – an unexpected visitor with little notification makes you sweat about whether your home is in at least an avarage condition. In the link in my name you will find my latest post about clutter clearance tips before a guest arrives.

  7. Tami Kenward says

    What to do with purposeful items? Contact local mental health and community service organizations who often assist individuals with “setting up a home.” Household items in good condition are a blessing to many individuals who most likely live on a very limited income. Ask for the housing program staff to get your items in the right hands. As for books, magazines, craft supplies, fabrics, etc., most of these organizations have day treatment programs for all ages that would welcome free resources. And, there’s always teachers who could use “free” anything. Many spend their own money on items produced in the de-clutter process and I’m sure they would greatly appreciate your items…or know someone who would. Think outside the box and network through friends, churches, non-profits, local support groups. You’ll be amazed at where and how you can help others.

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