Several years ago, my family and I decided to pursue minimalism. 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.
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 to help those who are just getting started with minimalist living.
Here are 15 Clutter Busting Routines we have found 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 when you have a minimalist kitchen. 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. Practice kitchen counter organization to have a clutter-free countertop.
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, clean, and minimalistic. 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.
Greta Seward says
That’s funny that you said that. I was making chicken tortilla soup this morning. I grabbed my old metal can opener and used it. I was thinking, “I had an electric one years ago and never used it.
I guess I donated it.”
If u don’t use it, out it goes!
I have been following your readings for about a month or so now. I am now at 13 full trash bags of unused items from my home that I have donated to Candle Lighters. The de-cluttering is making me feel better and less stress. I have downsized my gas guzzler for a more fuel efficient car. When I go shopping, I question myself, “do you really need that? Will it serve a real purpose? Or are you going to use that before it spoils?” I have sold my 4BR/3 full bath home (I had been planning to sell before reading on minimalism) and looking for one for 2 people and 2 dogs (and cost less).
My next decluttering goal is to tackle the garage!
Nancy Slaybaugh says
Restore (Habitat for Humanity) takes tools and building materials.
I enjoyed your suggestions so much. I am 75 years old and know that I am never too old to learn new things. I am cleaning off my kitchen counters. Thank you!
Carla Cochran says
Thank you for your blog!!! It is extremely helpful. At my age, empty nester, it is true… your children leave and you finally look around snd ask… “What happened?! Where did all this STUFF come from?!”
It really can be a problem!!! My husband and I don’t buy anything extra anymore. Only the essentials. God has blessed us with so much. It’s time to give back!
Carla Cochran says
Joshua… I have an extensive and expensive library ? of antique books. What do you suggest I do with them? I really do t want to get rid of them… especially now that I have a granddaughter. Your thoughts?!
Antique books are trendy decorations! It’s OK to keep things that bring you joy! Arrange them artfully on your shelves and enjoy! It’s the piles of unused unnecessary clutter that bring stress and need to be gutted (I have a hard time getting rid of books, too! The way I talk myself into periodically reducing my library of books is by saying I am putting them back into circulation so others can enjoy them!).
Google used book dealers…in our town we have book sellers that will come to your home and do an estimate on what your books are worth and they may even buy them! New homes, for old books!
Adults need to put their toys away each evening also! Great article, some ideas I’ll definitely be adding to my routine.
Good article! I love that it was practical and easy to read! It all made sense. thank you
Faysal Sikder says
I too love the concept of keeping the kitchen dishes cleaned and counters cleared. I just recently moved and have a bit more to do, but I am enjoying the process immensely.
Maria Pinto says
With Covid the Libraries in my town have only Curbside Pickup & will not take donations. But Post Covid I am sure they will start again, accepting Dvd’s, Books, & Magazines. If you are able to set aside perfectly good magazines you will most likely be able to donate them. For me it is a treat because they sell them for a whopping .25 cents. compared to an average of $10.00 in the stores.
Jane Watson says
Great idea to take unwanted books to the library. Thanks
We have “little libraries” in our city, and there is one outside our area’s library. It looks like a little house on a pole. There is a big window in the front, and it’s a “take a book, leave a book” kind of thing. But I’ve taken a bagful of books and stuffed them in there neatly, and sometimes I just take one or two for my MIL. If you read, they’re a great place to drop off some books every time you go to the library. Our library doesn’t take donations of books.
Hi not sure if all libraries have this but where I live there is an App called Lily. All u need is a library card. You can borrow books, magazines etc and read them in your phone, internet or Kindle. Due to Covid library was closed but reading on my Kindle is great! Try it! I think u will like it and it also saves the clutter of books being read and money being spent!
Maria Pinto says
Thanks Joshua for the little bits of humor you have inserted in these tips. Decluttering may be daunting but put on some music, take your time and then enjoy the end results.
I too love the concept of keeping the kitchen dishes cleaned and counters cleared. I just recently moved and have a bit more to do, but I am enjoying the process immensly.
Where I have found the most hepful to be minimalist is when i am in my office. after being retired, i became minimalist not by choice, but now love it. i used to have the compulsion to keep all my notes, letters, bills and statements and even have them in several boxes for future audit. i own my business that came to a close after i was hospitalized and being on disability. so, with my mails when they actually come in, i open it keep the letters to read in a pile, then all the empty envelop in a second pile. This way, I only have a light amount of papers to read, and i keep the used envelops as scrapepapers. i have seen a lot of more space on my desk ever since. although i only shred once the pile is getting bigger (if i am mindful with my dates) it also is a good way to save the environment.
I keep my bills for at least a year, and then have great fun running the shredder …
Dan Staton says
Hi, pals ! Isn’t it great to step up to the challenges ? I would remember the same about my mother. She had this same idea about my clothes. In the past, we would also air dry our clothes or open the windows very wide. This required us to have a few to maintain. We’re easy on this and have new clothes every now and then just for the New Year only. It was a quite fun. So to speak, we only had nice new, well-maintained clothes. It’s such an old school, of course.
Andrew Baker says
Before I got married I did a bicycle trip across Canada. Behind my bike I had a small touring trailer for gear. On my handle bars I had an over the shoulder carry case for valuables. As every item had to be hauled up every hill and mountain I was forced to take minimalization to the extreme. I learned that life is not about things but people and experiences!! When done right the less one has the more they have!!
Judy Johnson says
I am just going to argue one point here. When you take your clothes off for the night, don’t stuff things back in the drawer. If you have worn it, it needs airing out. I am fortunate to have a much larger closet than I need, so that I can hang clothes up to air (and stay neat) in their own section. Thanks for all the great articles
Prakash Ghai says
Store kitchen appliances out of sight: Well this is a great tip. I will try this one and I am sure my kitchen would look bigger and cleaner. Thanks :)
Kids toys stay in the closet: Absolutely right. All that we think is that, oh these are just toys and then later we don’t even bother picking them up and kids don’t do that either.
Wash dishes right way: There can’t be a better way to prevent all the mess you need to deal with if you choose to clean a day’s worth of dishes together.
Just joined a few weeks ago and made huge improvements already! One suggestion for the 1st bullet regarding junk mail:
You can opt out of pre-screened offers at optoutprescreen (dot) com. This keeps the credit bureaus from sending companies your info if you meet certain credit criteria. It massively cut down on junk mail I received. You can opt for 5 years or permanently. Best to keep it from showing up in the first place. And you don’t have to enter your ssn. Just your name, address and (maybe) phone number.
Here’s a page from the FTC about this website, so you know it’s legit:
Years ago, when I worked in an office, I told new people everything should be filed alphabetically or by date. I had a file marked 1-31, and it didn’t take a genius to keep everything done on time. Some people are more comfortable with huge piles of clutter everywhere. I have a small closet and it is not full. I have seen large walk in closets stuffed with junk. My mother had two huge closets stuffed with clothes and another closet full of fabric and yarn. I can’t stand to live like that.
Faye York says
So glad you mentioned closets. I am new to this endeavor. I am strive to be organized and neat but I also have a great deal of “things; shoes, clothes accessories……Somehow having so much make my aspirations of organization and neatness a desire/wish. I will attack my closet first and move on from there. :)
Lisa Hardison says
I was fortunate enough to win your book from Samaritan’s Ministry and have enjoyed it immensely! I highly recommend The More of Less. It is very easy to read, well written, and well-organized!
Thank you so much for writing it!
joshua becker says
Awesome! I am glad you enjoyed the book.
Stephanie Ess says
Your wife washes and puts away your laundry for you? Sorry, but that joke is not funny, and if it’s true it’s not fair. Is your minimalist lifestyle possible due to the large and unequal mental load placed on your wife?
Oh goodness laundry is one of my chores as well After 48 years of marriage I don’t see it as a mental load. My husband has chores that I’m glad I don’t have. We appreciate what we do for each other and our home. It’s a good thing
Doreen Mosterd says
Agreed. It’s give and take; I’m happy to do the laundry in our home and hubby is happy to do vehicle maintenance etc. No resentment, no competition; just cooperatively working at what we each do best and willing to serve each other with love.
In my house, I fold the clothes (because he hates doing that) and he dries the dishes and puts them away (because I hate doing that.) There are other chores we have split, mostly because one of us does a better job than the other. While there are some that still do the “wifey does the lady chores” thing, not all designated chores are done out of misogyny.
very good Kitty, very good
Tami Shadoan says
Paper clutter as always been a problem of mine. Holiday decorations take up so much room. I’m happy I found your page. Thank you for the words of advice
If you make decorations out of paper, you can recycle them. Or just make a few, and decorate one small area.
I need this encouragement! I am minimalist living in paper chaos and too much furniture, going to start reading about how to start! Kids grown, grandkids older except 2 and hard to part with cute stuff! Now hubby, 4 pets and still chaos! Don’t need anything else????
We aren’t the best at keeping our home decluttered but both kids are good at answering “Is this precious?” It’s amazing how many bags of junk they can get rid of & out of their rooms when they truly evaluate purpose and preciousness.
My husband and I are constantly trying to purge and remove items that we feel are unnecessary. The balance is “grand”parents, who for sentimental reasons like buying the knick knacks, making or creating things for their grand children, etc that is harder to tackle. We feel pressure from parents to hold on to things that we really do not want to have to hold on to. We live in a big city, smaller home, and like feeling free from possessions… We don’t want to feel overwhelmed, etc with what we have…
Yes! I keep saying to my parents and my husband’s, “Please, do not buy us any stuff. We have a ridiculous amount already.” And then it’s Easter and we end up with baskets-full from one set of grandparents! Agh! It’s a nice gesture, but doesn’t help us out any. Now that I’ve warned them a billion times, I don’t feel bad returning or getting rid of it!
We used to have a bunch of coffee cups, too many. So a number of years ago I designated a shelf for coffee cups. I let everyone in the family pick their favorites and once the shelf was full that was it. When we get a new mug (my husband gets these often from suppliers at work) I will ask the family if anyone wants to keep it and if the mug won’t fit on the shelf something has to go. No more matching coffee cups but everyone has their favorite and my cabinets aren’t full of unused mugs.
Sandra Lucas says
Wonderful absolutely wonderful
Kristine Galarza says
My family is so unorganized this really helped.
About kids toys: one plan I know of is to allow the child to keep toys received as gifts (birthday, Christmas) for one month along with the others. Then the child must select something to remove. This is a replacement approach. Books and musical instruments can be excluded.
Janice Grek says
Great idea! You might even want to have your kids go through their things prior to Christmas or their birthdays in anticipation of new toys. Just before Christmas, parents that can’t afford much could be relieved to find used toys in good condition to put under their trees.
When my sister and I started working one morning a week at the local food pantry we decided to bring some things that we no longer needed.
That was over a year ago and wow, what a great motivator it has been!
We now bring something almost every week. For example, knick-nacks, nail polish, anything in good shape that we just don’t need or want. One time my husband and I cleaned out the whole kitchen and found no fewer than 10 spatulas (just one example of how much stuff we can’t possibly use) and brought them to the pantry. They flew off the free shelf.
It’s so gratifying to see people who have little get so happy over Christmas ornaments, towels, things we take for granted. We’ve also brought books and they flew off the shelves as well.
If you have an electric can opener, there’s a good chance you have WAY more clutter than you think.
carol havener says
I tried so many different products to keep my kitchen bench top organised with all our everyday essentials. The Space Cube keeps everyone organised, plus it’s a docking station!
This is Laith from Novi Michigan, I guess I am a minimalist without me knowing as I believed not get the things unless I really need it. Teaching kids this message is not been easy. I tabulated “The 10 Most Important Things to Simplify in Your Life” and wrote down what we do now and I have hit every item. Rather than buying turtle shell for my daughter’s theater class, I decided to make one from old t-shirt and aluminum foil from dollar store, and paint, she had to make it.
We do have reasonably big house, but we run at minimum. Unless we need it, we don’t buy it. I am really trying to get the wife to reduce decorations – even Christmas tree. I love Christmas but hate shopping and Christmas tree is the concept to buy more stuff to put under. In past years, I would send emails to all family members not buy our kids gifts (yes, I was labeled Mr. Scrooge).
I still think I need to do more to make kids understand the value of life is not from things but rather from family… I don’t know if I’m succeeding though. My kids seem to want to have something to buy everytime we go out… I’ve already over used the “we did not come here to buy this – but we can here to buy that” and most of time it works – where is the balance?
I think this message may be late 4 years later, but have you ever heard of the 5 love languages? One of them is giving gifts/recieving gifts. To an extent some kids may feel loved when you buy them things and unloved when you don’t. A way to buy something for them without creating a bunch of clutter is buying a small candy bar for them at the checkout counter, or you could tell them that if you do buy something for them then they need to get rid of a toy that they currently own and immediately put the toy in the car to drop off before the child opens the new toy box.
Sue L says
Thank you Joshua for this article. It has made me look differently at some of my lifestyle choices and what it could potentially mean down the road for my children to clear up. I will be going through your archives to read up on more tips and advice to move towards a clutter free life.
great issues altogether, you simply received a new reader. What may you suggest about your post that you just made some days in the past? Any certain?
Jocelyn Harte says
Hi Joshua Sorry if someone else has mentioned this but can you suggest people get a no junk mail sign for their mail box that is a move towards stopping junk mail being produced.
Jo Cook says
Today I delivered one sixth of my kitchen things to a local charity and the people there were so happy to receive them. I have been decluttering for a few years now. It becomes much easier to do when you see for yourself how much simpler life becomes without the complications of too many things. The more we dispose of the more we seem to find to get rid of . Thank you Joshua !