Decluttering golden rules – 7 laws the pros never break

These seven decluttering golden rules are as good as laws in the expert’s eyes

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Decluttering is, by far, one of the most daunting household tasks, but with the right approach, it can transform your home and your daily routine.

Luckily, the experts have developed a set of decluttering tips that can help anyone, both experienced and novice, breeze through their decluttering tasks, even if they have previously been decluttering when they feel overwhelmed.

Here, they reveal the decluttering golden rules that help them be better at decluttering and home organizing and explain why following these to a t is enough to tidy even the worst of messes.

Decluttering golden rules

These seven decluttering rules are the only tricks you need to stay on top of your household clutter, experts assure.

1. Know your 'why'

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Knowing where to start when decluttering is often the biggest hurdle to progress. Katie Clingman, professional home organizer and owner of Settled in Soundly makes it a rule that the first step should always be to plan before you take action:

‘Before you start decluttering, ask yourself why it's important to you to get organized. How is a lack of organization impacting your day-to-day life? What is your vision for your space?’ she begins.

‘Defining your goals and reasons for getting organized is critical to setting yourself up for a successful decluttering session. Whenever you get stuck during the decluttering process, remind yourself of your 'why' for a boost of inspiration to keep going.'

2. ‘Don’t eat the elephant whole’

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Although it can be relieving to get one big task done all at once, Francesca Verri, holistic lifestyle, and minimalist coach and life architect suggests that you should never declutter a whole house in one day – or as she phrases it, ‘don’t eat the elephant whole.’ Instead, you should declutter a home room by room or even corner by corner.

‘One rule I swear by when decluttering (or doing any task or project that feels heavy and layered) is to keep it small – also known in my book as don’t eat the elephant whole – because it helps to keep things simple and deliberate.

‘Decluttering is daunting enough. If you bite off more than you can chew you will just get indigestion! You will feel quite overwhelmed, and won’t get started at all. Keeping the scope of the work small is not just a suggestion. It is a necessity. To be successful in decluttering you must start small as it can help make the project feel more appealing.

‘Pick a spot like a bedroom, an office, or the kitchen. And then break that area down to an even smaller area like a dresser, a desk, a drawer. Then get started. When you can focus on a smaller part of the whole you keep that overwhelm at bay. And that is an important component of making progress and staying on track.’

3. ‘Clear the decks’

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‘The next rule for decluttering that I absolutely swear by is doing what I call clear the decks after every decluttering session,’ continues Francesca Verri, holistic lifestyle and minimalist coach. ‘When you declutter you are letting go and discarding what you no longer like, need, and use. After a little time your purging categories (trash, donate, keep) can feel heavy which can thwart your desire to continue.

‘I recommend you put away the decisions you have made. That means moving the trash or recycling to a bin or dumpster, the donated pile to the car or the garage, and putting what you are keeping away, in its proper home – including things that belong to someone else that you must return to help declutter without making a mess.

‘You’ve done the hard work making those decisions. You don’t need to constantly be reminded of them or have to maneuver around them. That only allows overwhelm to build. When you clear the decks you will see your progress, and feel that gratification which is an important motivator to keep you on course.

‘Before you move to another area or start another declutter session, clear the decks so you can start again in a clear way,’ she adds.

4. Don’t push perfection

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In the age of social media, it is easy to feel inadequate about how our home looks and how organized or tidy it is. Comparing ourselves to others is never going to make your to-do lists less overwhelming.

When setting out on your decluttering journey, make it a rule that you don’t compare yourself to others, urges Chelsi Jo, professional home organizer and founder of Systemize Your Life:

‘Don't let anyone ever tell you that a professional organizer is the only way to get your house in order. The pretty bins, the acrylic containers, going to all of the fancy stores to buy all of the things, having a Pinterest board, none of that even matters,’ she assures.

‘I lived in my own house with all of the things kind of taped together. We made it work and it was amazing. I helped my friends do it too. And I want you to know, without a shadow of a doubt, it is completely possible for you to get your house in order.’

5. Follow the SPACE process

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One of the most valuable decluttering lessons I have learned is that when decluttering feels stressful, it is vital to develop a system. This reduces the number of choices we need to make as we cut through our piles of stuff. One rule Katie Clingman, professional home organizer sets out for herself is to follow the SPACE process tidying technique for every area she declutters:

‘This is an acronym from Julie Morgenstern's book, Organizing From the Inside Out, at Amazon, that stands for Sort, Purge, Assign a Home, Containerize, and Equalize,’ she explains. ‘We love it because when it's followed in order, the process is nearly foolproof! Each step builds on the previous to set you up for decluttering success.'

6. Use tangible objects to help you sort

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A great hack minimalists use to keep their homes tidy is to set out physical aids to help them declutter. For Chelsi Jo, professional home organizer, this is so useful it has become a hard and fast rule in her Escape method:

‘Anytime you go to declutter anything in your house, you need to have four boxes, bins, or even just piles that can be imaginary,’ she says. ‘Sometimes we go into the garage and I'll even draw with chalk four very large squares out in the driveway, that works too. Here's what they stand for:

  1. The first one is a hard yes, the Absolutely box. We're keeping that thing. You can set your own rules on how you make this yes. But a good rule of thumb is have I used this in the last year? Or do I plan to use it in the upcoming year? If the answer is no, you get rid of it.
  2. The second one is the Maybe box – “I'm unsure about this item.”
  3. The third is a hard No box – “I'm definitely not going to use this.” And that no box for me is a donation pile.
  4. And then the last one is a trash pile – This is just garbage and we need to throw it away.

7. Don’t think of it as a project, but maintenance

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‘If you want decluttering to be quick and easy, this is one hundred percent a practice that will flip a switch in your brain,’ promises professional organizer Chelsi Jo.

‘The way that you've been thinking about decluttering all along is that it's going to take so much time. Or that it has to be such an ordeal and truly, it does not have to be. This is often a roadblock to progress,’ she says.

‘Decluttering needs to become maintenance in your home, like doing the dishes, doing the laundry, taking a shower, and making your bed. And you might think, “Well, I'm not very disciplined at those things either. So I'm already failing,” but you're not. I am constantly on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, looking for things to declutter. I am always asking myself, have I used this? Am I going to use this?’

Establishing your own decluttering golden rules and following in the footsteps of the experts is one of the best ways to get motivated to declutter. Laying out a plan and setting boundaries for yourself and your home will contribute to a cleaner, tidier space without piling on the stress.

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.