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. Joy says

    Colleen help! please!
    I have a lot of clothes; I bought them at a time when the economy was good and clothing in the stores wasn’t so trendy and you could wear them year after year even today. The problem is that, I don’t have the closet space for everything that I have. I have absolutely no sentimental attachment to these items, I would give them away in a heartbeat, it’s just that, all my life my weight has fluctuated and I have a set of clothes for when my weight is down and a set for when it’s up, and there is that summer winter wardrobe thing as well. Also, some of these pieces haven’t been worn in a while, but I keep them in case I have an event to go to that way I don’t have to buy something new, I just can shop from my closet or wherever it’s stored. I so desperately want to get rid of this stuff but I just cannot afford to keep buying new clothes for the fluctuation and special occasions. Please help!

    • Katie says

      Joy, I don’t know if I can help but these are my suggestions. I, too, go through weight gain and loss but I don’t keep a full wardrobe for each size.
      I have read that we wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time, and that seems to be true in my case. Go through your unused wardrobe first. Are you still working? If so, take out those items you LOVE that can be combined with other things. A plain black dress with a pretty scarf, or that purple sweater you love so much. Keep just a few items out of your thin wardrobe or your heavy wardrobe if you wish to start there. I have found dresses and skirts are easier to alter. Preferably, get rid of those fat pants that are too baggy or those thin clothes you will never be able to fit into again. They only serve as a reminder that our bodies have changed and we build up guilt and hard feelings. We are entirely too hard on ourselves! Get rid of those reminders.

      Are you retired? If so, jettison those work clothes – take them to the Goodwill or your local consignment shop. Do you notice what people wear? Do you notice that your friend Martha wore those same brown pants earlier in the week with a jacket? Be ruthless! Would you purchase any of your wardrobe today if you were out shopping?

      Over the past year, I’ve gotten rid of just about everything. This is what is in my closet right now:
      1 pair black dress pants
      2 pairs jeans
      1 pair multi-purpose soft brushed cotton slacks
      1 pair sweats
      3 long sleeved T-shirts in bright colors
      3 short sleeved T-shirts in bright colors
      1 fleece vest
      1 nice dress jacket
      1 little black dress

      I can go just about anywhere with this wardrobe and it takes up less than 1/3 of a bedroom closet. Best of luck.

    • says

      I am starting a new ‘uniform’ type wardrobe which allows for me to gain or lose weight and still look good (like you, my weight fluctuates quite a bit). Old Navy has great, cute jersey skirts, for example, that I call ‘a skirt version of sweat pants’. Also, Check out Project 333:
      “Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge that invites you to dress with 33 items or less for 3 months.”

    • Laurie says

      Joy, for a few years my weight has gone up & down and I too had clothes of varying sizes for each season (for work, for weekends and for formal occasions). I finally got sick of all the storage containers full of clothes and decided to lose the weight for good. I donated all my larger size clothes. Now when my clothes get a little too tight it serves as a reminder that I need to make better food choices and remind me to get more exercise, cause my stock pile of larger size clothes is gone and I refuse to buy a larger size. This has reduced my clothing clutter and my body clutter.

  2. says

    Love this site, very inspirational and thought provoking! I am in the process of eliminating not useful things we have accumulated over the years and books that we have been finished with a long time ago. Your site coincided with my connections to helping the poor in Gulu, Uganda, the timing was perfect! So, I am now selling these items at our Parish’s garage sale and on e-bay. I not only look forward to having a more organized, less cluttered home but will use the proceeds to make a difference in someone else’s life. Thank you! http://www.giveitupforgulu.com

  3. Gaylene says

    I love the idea of getting rid of 1 item a day. That makes this whole simplicity/minimalism/decluttering/decrapifying look like it isn’t all that hard! I’ve cleaned out most of my closets this year and think I may be able to go back through them again in the next few months and be able to get rid of even more stuff. Thanks for the wonderful idea!

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