The Simple Guide to a Clutter-Free Home

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

I have lived most of my life in a cluttered home. Closets were full, drawers wouldn’t shut, things weren’t put away, and unfinished projects could be found in most rooms. That was, unless somebody was coming over. Then, the entire family would pitch in to make sure the house was presentable. Looking back, the problem with clutter wasn’t that we didn’t notice or care. Instead, the problem was we could never get ahead of the mess or ever seem to develop a system that would keep our home clutter-free.

But that is no longer the case. Today, almost every room in our home rests in a state of order – free from the life-robbing presence of physical clutter. Over the past several years, we have found a system that works very well for our family of four. And I am perfectly confident you can do the same… no matter how far away from clutter-free your home may seem.

Consider implementing the four steps found in this Simple Guide to Keeping Your Home Clutter-Free:

1) Believe it is possible. Most of us know it is entirely possible to live in a clutter-free environment. I imagine that is what attracts you to this guide. You are just looking for some extra help to get there.

But some of you are not so sure. Your house has been cluttered for so long, you have given up all hope of ever living any other way. For you, the first step to living in a clutter-free home is to take heart and believe it is entirely possible. Realize that you will never get there if do not resolve in your mind that you can accomplish it. So find some hope and take one small step. Then, take another… and another… and another…

2) Remove the excess. Our homes are full of things. Clutter begins to appear most prominently when we own too much stuff. Conversely, the fewer items we own, the easier it is to keep clutter at a minimum. The first (and most important) step in keeping your home clutter-free is to remove the excessive possessions that are stealing our lives, time, and energy.

In your process of removing the excess, it can be helpful to find a working definition of clutter to aid you in this step. Early in our journey, we began to define clutter as a) too much stuff in too small a space; b) anything that we no longer used or loved; or c) anything that led to a feeling of disorganization. With that as our guiding filter, we slowly moved from room to room, removing everything that fit the definition above.

In some cases, this step is easy:

  • Junk drawers full of unneeded items (rubber bands, old batteries, or old keys).
  • Closets full of clothes you no longer wear.
  • Decorations that are no longer meaningful and/or outdated.

In other cases, this step will take more time and intentionality:

  • Large projects such as the garage, basement, or attic.
  • Sentimental items that have collected over the years.
  • Books.
  • Other family members’ clutter that have begun invading common spaces.

The most important key in completing this step is to start with the small and easy projects first. Begin there. As you do, you’ll build up small victories. Then, after the small victories have been won, you’ll find extra motivation to begin tackling the harder cases of clutter in your home.

If you still do not feel fully capable on removing the excess possessions from your home, find encouragement in an intermediate step. For example, put the items you can’t quite part with in a cardboard box out of sight with a date on it. Getting rid of unnecessary possessions is essential, but it doesn’t have to be a race.

3) Implement habits to manage your clutter. For most of my life, I thought the key to maintaining clutter was found here. Just organize, clean, and organize again. But I was wrong. Because I had not taken the time to remove the excess in full (or in part), I could never get ahead of the clutter in my home. There were just too many things in too small a space – no matter what system we tried to implement. As a result, healthy clutter-clearing habits never had opportunity to emerge. So do not skip the removal step, it is absolutely important. And the more energy you put in removing the excess, the easier it will be to find and develop habits to better manage the things you keep.

Once you have cleared the excess, you will be able to better discover which habits keep your living space free of clutter. And once you experience the freedom and stress-free life of living clutter-free, you will find these habits easier to embrace.

Some of these habits will recur daily:

  • Cleaning the kitchen after each meal.
  • Placing daily-use items (clothes, books, toys) back in their designated homes.
  • Fully-completing projects around the house.
  • Developing an evening routine.

Some of these habits will center on specific locations that serve as clutter collection sites in your home. For us, our kitchen counter typically collects items (mail, schoolwork) during the day, our living room sees a highly-volume of traffic each day, and one of the bedrooms in our home finds itself a bit messier than the others. Each of these specific locations require extra effort and energy than the others.

Some of these habits will center of seasonal needs:

  • The changing of the seasons.
  • The need to remove excessive possessions after holidays and/or birthdays.
  • Significant life changes (birth of a child, new employment) will also require refocusing and adjustment.

Over the years, we have found clutter attracts clutter. Once it begins to collect, it requires intentional action to clear it away. Develop for your family healthy habits today to manage the daily use of the things in your home. Once identified, you’ll find them much easier to implement.

4) Slow the accumulation of possessions. To live is to consume. It cannot be avoided – especially in our society and culture. But if the influx of possessions into our homes can be slowed, clutter can be managed efficiently.

To slow the accumulation of things in our homes, we need to change our mindset and begin evaluating our purchases differently. Realize that your purchases cost far more than the price on the sticker. Each one will also require time, energy, and effort once they enter your home. Before making a purchase, begin asking yourself these questions:

  • Is this item really needed?
  • Do I have a place to store this when I get it home?
  • How much extra work will this possession add to my life?
  • Am I buying it for the right reasons?

This thought-process isn’t designed to keep you from making purchases ever again – at least, it’s not supposed to. Again, to live is to consume. But these questions are designed to bring intentionality into your life. They raise in your mind the awareness that some purchases take more from our life than they offer. They help you know the difference. And slow the accumulation of clutter-causing items into your home and life.

Again, it is completely and entirely possible to live in a clutter-free home. With this simple guide, you’ll be well on your way. From somebody who has lived both, I can quickly attest that once you begin to enjoy the physical and mental freedom that accompanies clutter-free living, you’ll make extra effort to ensure your home does not slip back into the home it used to be.

If you’d like to know more about the most important principles we learned during our journey into living with less, you’ll find great value in our book, Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life.

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. says

    Great read! I also try to get rid of 10 items a weekend. On Sundays, I go through all mail and toss, store, or shred. I also put a timer on in the evening for 10 minutes, put music on, and clean. It’s amazing how much you can do in ten. When I shop for new clothes, I plan on donating the same amount of items I purchased.
    – Neville
    http://www.frugalnev.com

    • Brenda says

      Great advice!!! After surgery in July, which I was lucky to survive, I started to rethink everything. I became so suddenly aware of life’s excess. I started purging one box, cabinet or closet at a time and have slowly accumulated a huge pile of items to sell or donate. I am excited to have less. I feel like I have healed mentally along with healing physically. Now, I will tidy up daily and make intentional purchases. Thank you for this site!!! I find it so helpful,refreshing and uplifting!!
      Brenda

    • Marta from Chicago says

      My New Year’s resolution was to make it my first priority of the day to get rid of ten pieces of paper per day, daily junk mail doesn’t count as part if the ten pieces of paper. It’s now August and every paper is filed with the exception of 1 box!

  2. says

    Beautiful post! The belief it’s possible is definitely the first step as you mentioned. But after a little bit of work it really becomes a new way of living. It’s a lifestyle that is so much easier, simpler and much less complicated.

    • RE. says

      I’m finding decluttering really difficult. My apt has no closet space. They’re tiny and we have so much stuff everywhere. Since having my child we have all these clothes that people give us and nowhere to put them. Mail ie bills are another problem they just keep accumulating and not things I can throw out. There’s nowhere to put our shoes either. It all stresses me out along with the accumulation of toys and strollers. Ughhh I’m totally overwhelmed. It literally makes me miserable. I’ll try starting small like suggested. The other thing I am trying is throwing the clutter in boxes and after a few weeks if I haven’t missed it I throw it out or pass it on to someone else. Thanks for this article !! It’s inspiring to know that some people living clutter free lives were once clutterers. Seems like my friends that aren’t clutter bugs have always been that way so until I read this I felt discouraged. Now I feel inspired !! Thanks again!

      • Megan says

        Don’t be discouraged! I had a similar issue with mail and signing up for paperless billing and e-mail notifications has helped a lot. Also, consider getting a wooden crate from Home Depot and keeping it by your door for shoes. Also, get a donation box and keep it by your front door (or wherever) and toss items in it as you realize you no longer need/want them. Don’t forget you’ve got loads of people cheering you on! It’s a marathon, not a sprint. :)

      • CS says

        When I lacked closet space I just bought a set of easy to assemble and dissemble shelves from target and put them against a wall. They were around $50 and I use them constantly. Boxes are cheap at staples. I also recommend either a bankers box or filing cabinet for sorting incoming papers.

      • Marta from Chicago says

        Just make sure you spent @15-30 minutes on the rask per day. TV programs make it seem like clearing the clutter and organizing is accomplished in a few hours.
        So not true! I’ve been at it since Jan 1. Slowing down the process was losing my storage space in the basement where I rent. Nonetheless, forming a habit takes time; It’s not an over night thing.

      • Marta from Chicago says

        Collect all toys, for instance, and decide @10 toys or less that are reasonable to keep. All else, donate to a day care at any local community organization. That’s what I did with my kids toys each year. Then next week, collect all clothes and all the clothes that don’t fit anymore become rags(if stained) or go to the thrift store. That’s what I recommend, tackle one problem at a time, and usually takes the whole week if you need to, to tackle a problem.

  3. Andrea says

    The need to have and posses something that you think will make you happy is almost nil for me now (I never thought I’d get here, but I have!). When people try to give you clothes you can’t wear or knick knacks, just tell them gently that you are trying not to bring any more things into the house. My mom picks up little things at garage sales and stores and tries to give them to me, and I tell her I really don’t need it, but thank you. She just gives me a “Really? How can you not want this?” look. She’s finally getting it. Baby steps are getting me there.

    • Margie says

      I too finally realized that buying things didn’t make me happy. I am slowly minimizing my home… Slowly being the key word.. I told everyone at Christmas, if I couldn’t eat it, drink it, bath with it or wear it, do not get me anything…I don’t need more stuff…. Consumable goods only!

      • Bobbi Kies says

        That is the key. Years ago, I started giving consumables as gifts. They are very much appreciated, as they are usually something the recipient wouldn’t buy for themselves, such as a nice bottle of wine, luxury soap, gourmet coffee, etc. They can use it and enjoy it and it’s gone!!!!

  4. Karen Anderson says

    I started de cluttering after my husband passed. I have started using the timer on my phone. 30 minutes per room. It is amazing how much you can get done in 30 minutes. I am now down to 2 rooms, then the garage. Thank you for inspiring me to get busy.

      • Marta from Chicago says

        The weekend project is decluttering and organizing together has helped us not to fall in the same patterns of buy, buy, buy. Now when we see something beautiful, we look at it as if it were a museum piece–it’s enjoyed visually for as long as we need to enjoy it visually, and then we walk away.

    • RLSCS says

      I also started decluttering after my husband passed. We were together for 20 years and he never threw anything out, ever. The task of going through his things is so overwhelming. He’s been gone for over 4 years and I am still struggling.

      • Debbie says

        God Bless. That’s gotta be tough, I am about to run 60 and really need to de-clutter. I need to get on with it.

  5. allie says

    While I find your article helpful, I think a more in depth approach is needed. Anyone can google “how to declutter” and come up with loads of results. The problem is really why we hold onto certain things in the first place and getting past that before we can actually declutter. Getting rid of the excess sounds good in theory, but if it were as simple as that, most people wouldn’t have clutter. It’s the process of getting rid of the excess that really needs attention.

    • Jodi says

      I agree. I’ve always been able to organize, but ridding oneself of excess is an entirely different matter!

    • Marta from Chicago says

      You are so right. My problem is with paper. Oddly, paper only related to a job I don’t even want to be in. One reason I’ve been able to get rid of so much paper now is because I made the decision to go to school to be what I really want to be. I’m able to let go of these papers to make study space available for my goal.

  6. Judy says

    I hear ya. Just lead by example. Verbally express the positive of the “clean/open” space. It’s a slow process…but sooner or later it rubs off on the rest of the family.

  7. Michelle says

    Mr Becker

    I found and started to follow your blog as of February of this year. Your points on how to live a clutter free life and adopt a minimalist lifestyle really resounded with me. I have adopted the lifestyle, much to the bemusement of those who know me. The emotional and physical freedom is incredible. Selling some, giving away most has been a reward in of itself, that is until I approached my books. Five large bookcases and a love affair with books for over 50 years, the decision to part with most is proving to be very painful. I am persevering and I am making head way. The largest book case is empty and the bookcase is gone – 4 more to go. The link in this article concerning books written by guest blogger Robin Devine is very helpful. Thank you for your openness in sharing your thoughts and methods, and too for the many links to other like minded bloggers.

    • Marta from Chicago says

      A local church by my house has a big mailbox(outside) designated for any community member to take or leave books free. This is where every book I’ve read goes. Perhaps you could have your place of worship to do the same.

  8. says

    The new year always inspires us to clean and organize our homes, and it feels so good! I started early and, per your advise, have been getting rid of things I don’t need or love. I found a way to turn this “junk” into “treasures”. I am selling these items on ebay and using the proceeds to help a community in Northern Uganda. I feel happy in so many ways. http://www.giveitupforgulu.com

  9. AC Johnson says

    Your articles have been so inspiring. I was already in a slow journey to simplifying my life. However, since around October 2014, I have actively shed my home starting with shoes, clothing, moved to the kitchen, bedroom junk and moved back to getting rid of more clothing. This was a very freeing activity. It made me think clearer and be more intentional about my purchases. I still have a lot to do as a recovering pack rat but I will get there with your help. Thank you very much!

  10. says

    Spring cleaning doesn’t have to be an epic event. I tackle spring cleaning the same way I often approach my workouts: 10 minutes at a time! Commit to one task for 10 minutes, and if you feel like continuing on – go for it! If not, at least you started the process. Longlands Carpet Cleaners Ltd.

  11. Joanne says

    Pretend that your house is on the market and you may have a showing any minute now. Clean and tidy with no clutter, plus organized closets will become a lifestyle.

    • Marta from Chicago says

      This helps me when I feel lazy, except I imagine my mother coming over and I’m using my home as a model for her to stop having a cluttered house.

  12. The Virginian says

    Keep stove-table-TV-Computer and Bed. what you wear though the week. Take everything else to goodwill are where ever. Like my mother used to tell me if you don’t use it every few days its just collecting dusk. And she was right.

  13. says

    These habits have been so effective. I spent so little time cleaning and decluttering because it is second nature. I am able to have guests at the drop of the hat, exercising my gift of hospitality. I have so much extra time for fun and family now, and truly feel freer. Thank you for your inspiration, Josh.

    • Marta from Chicago says

      Same here. Cleaning used to be a burden. Now it is a breeze. I have to admit, I have only one room that’s a hot mess.

  14. says

    I’ve been blogging about our process to having a clutter free home – designating clutter free spaces has helped me and my family get a taste of the benefits of living clutter free. Not there yet, but slowly making progress!

  15. Gwen says

    I’ve read Marie Kondo’s great book on decluttering, and did the home, except for all of the collections my husband (the pack rat) has collected over decades. (I honored him by leaving those alone. So far.) Boxes and boxes of comic books, record LP’s, old books, trading cards (boys and their toys)….to his credit he has them stored in appropriate-to-the-collection boxes, but the 2 spare bedroom closets are filled with them, and the top shelves in each are bowing. I have tried to honor his ‘hobbies’ (that he never pulls out and uses or even looks at), but it’s starting to bug. Any hints?

    • says

      Yes Gwen . Take all your husbands boxes outside to garden on a sunny day, on the pretext of airing them . Then ask him if there is any of it he still wants to be patr of his life . He may surprise you and ditch it all .

    • Marta from Chicago says

      Convince him to sell it on ebay. Money would go towards finally taking that trip he has always wanted, or other memorable family event to happen.

  16. Juli says

    Great article! My husband and myself retired a year ago and have spent the year getting our home ready to sell. We have de cluttered and simplified. We are moving to a small home and plan on spending our time with experiences and not with so much stuff. Our new motto is “less is more” . You article is spot on.

  17. says

    I have a question about managing all the papers and mail that we get on a regular basis. Secondly, I hardly have any closet space to store any of kids karate gear, shoes, etc. Thirdly, the kitchen also have very little storage space, and the school snacks that I get from Costco as kept in a corner in one of the rooms. Please let me know if there is a better way in organizing all of these?

    • Marta from Chicago says

      Make a menu for the week where leftover dinners can rollover into the next meal. This way you can reduce how much food you are buying. For example, I make baked chicken to last me the week, but side dishes vary. The chicken is so delicious the family doesn’t mind eating it every day for a week. Less to wash and less food wasted.

    • Marta from Chicago says

      Paper coming in the mail I think is the easiest problem you have. Keep the bills. All else seems like advertising stuff. So, if you have everything you already need then throwing out advertising should be easy to let go of. Remember, should you need something in the future, you already know the stores you like to shop at anyway to get those things.

    • Marta from Chicago says

      When it comes to snacksing at home, try to elimate chips. Substitute bananas, nuts, and homemade shakes. You’ll save space and $$$$$.

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