Declutter Your Home

top 10 rules for decluttering

Declutter your home and find space to breathe again. Decluttering is hard, but the resources here at Small Notebook will help you cut back the clutter and have a more peaceful home.

Top 10 Rules for Decluttering

  1. Start with the big stuff. Remove oversized clutter like old furniture, broken appliances, and empty cardboard boxes to make the biggest impact for your space, even if you never get around to the smaller stuff.
  2. Recognize what is really trash. Charities spend many volunteer hours and dollars sorting out the unusable donations. Don’t donate items to charity that should be thrown away.
  3. Be realistic about monetary value. Avoid spending too much time trying to decide if it’s okay to declutter an item that might be worth four dollars.
  4. Don’t declutter your family’s stuff without their permission. No one likes to discover their stuff is missing.
  5. Don’t play matchmaker. Are you waiting to find someone who will really appreciate your stuff? Don’t call all your extended family just to see if anyone wants your old mugs. Find a charity such as a women’s shelter that accepts most general household goods.
  6. Storage units should be temporary. Offsite storage can be useful in some instances, but if you rent one, you should have a plan for when you won’t need it anymore. If the years go by, the expenses will far exceed the value of what is being stored.
  7. Get a motto and stay motivated. My motto right now is “I want this gone by the time we move.”
  8. Set deadlines for when things need to go. If you want to sell something on eBay or have a garage sale, set a date for when it’s time to switch to Plan B to donate it, in case your stuff is still at home.
  9. Know the source of your clutter. Do you upgrade your stuff frequently? Do you buy too much because it was on sale? Have an idea in mind of what is causing most of your clutter, so you can avoid bringing it home in the first place.
  10. Don’t keep something out of guilt. You do not have to keep something that you do not like, just because someone gave it to you. It’s okay to appreciate the sentiment of the gift without actually keeping it. You don’t have to keep things associated with bad feelings.
What do you think is important to remember when it comes to decluttering? Find more discussion in the comments.
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I went through the decluttering last year… I think rule #1 should be once you have decluttered STOP going out to buy more stuff! Kinda started to fall into that trap a bit, so working on breaking that habit now :)
    Thanks for another great post!

    angelvalerie´s last blog post..Taking care of me

  2. Great tips!! I think its important to do another sweep of decluttering about 6 weeks after…. if you were umming and arring about an item the first time you are more likely to remember and decide to through it the second, rather than waiting 6 months and starting to umm and arr al over again!!!

    Maxine´s last blog post..How to start saving when you haven’t any money!!

  3. I have found that I have the decluttering bug! Last year I thoroughly decluttered our home and yet I find myself looking around to see what else can go. I ALWAYS find other things that I don’t want/need and get rid of them. It is a great feeling. When purchasing something I ask myself if we really need it or will it just become an object of my decluttering in a few weeks/months. It has greatly cut down on what we purchase, for us and for our children. Decluttering is cathartic!

  4. #10 is the hard one! Guilt! All the others are a piece of cake!

    I think it’s important to ask yourself, when it comes to knick nacks, does this add value to my life?

    Dana @ Letters to Elijah´s last blog post..Always Proofread

  5. I love angelvalerie’s comment about how you have to stop BUYING once you declutter! I also find that if I have a reminder from a charity I like to donate to, I’m more likely to declutter more frequently, which also makes decluttering easier. The Big Brother Big Sister Foundation regularly makes truck rounds where I live, and they mail out reminders about two weeks before they’ll be in your area. I love that, because it gives me a hard deadline to come up with at least three bags of good-quality stuff we no longer need to donate to them. I always keep a box in the garage to put stuff in too, so that if I come across something we no longer need/use I just put it straight in the donation box and it doesn’t come back out.

    maryanne´s last blog post..Blog favorites

  6. I struggle with 9 and 10.
    9. The sale stuff, I find I buy stuff because it is a “good deal”. I have gotten better about it, by I still find myself getting sucked in to good deals. I have stuff in my basement in boxes I bought from an employee sale and I still went to another employee sale and bought more. sigh………
    10. I look at what I paid for these items and well……I have a hard time getting rid of them, even though they have cost me so much more in time and trouble. This is especially true with toys and kitchen gadgets.

    Rdzins´s last blog post..Zucchini Relish (who would know!)

  7. My motto & current deadline is “getting it done by spring”, specifically the upstairs closets and kid’s rooms. Come spring the last thing I want to do is spring clean – I want to be outside.

    My strategy: 15 minutes a day (weekdays) with the kids. I guess my other motto is “little by little”. I’m fairly certain I’ll reach our goal in February but I like to build in the extra days so I don’t feel rushed.

    Things important to remember: the sense of peace I get when it gets done. Less stuff means more peace in our family. Less stuff means easier daily clean up so we have more time for fun, crafts and the other stuff we enjoy.

    renee @ FIMBY´s last blog post..The boy likes yarn

  8. Very good ideas. I especially like number 10 – that’s the one I really need to work on!

    Rachel´s last blog post..Reusing Old Envelopes

  9. I love FlyLady’s saying- if you don’t use it and you don’t love it, toss it! It is my dream to one day be living in a home that contains only the things that I use and I love.

    The other thing that I’ve discovered that is so simple yet makes such a difference- a place for everything, and everything in its place. That’s my biggest problem- I don’t have a place for everything, so not everything is in its place! Often, the reason I don’t have a place for everything is because half of it is clutter that needs to just go. Once I toss the clutter, there is a place for the items I need and love.

    Thanks for this great reminder!

    KaseyQ´s last blog post..Eat That Frog, Baby!

  10. My new self-imposed decluttering rules for 2009 include:

    * A new motto: the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time
    * One in, one out, no exceptions
    * I have a goal to not by new clothes this year (I’ve succeeded since late September) and I’m rediscovering some gems in my over stuffed closet
    * I’m purging things that I’ve been saving for “someday”
    * My small house is not the problem, owning things that don’t have a place is. If I don’t love it I’m letting it go to make space to display the things I do.
    * I’ve got my boys in on the act. I am a second grade teacher and they’ve learned that when I donate things they no longer need they feel much better about letting things go.
    * Finally, I’ve learned to say no to my mom who likes to pass on things to me that are cluttering up her life. This has not been easy, but each time it gets easier.

    Nicole´s last blog post..If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why oh why can’t I? 9.365

  11. When we were fixing up my Dad’s house to sell, we were swamped with tasks. That’s when we adopted the mantra we still use, “One thing at a time, first things first, next thing is…”. It’s like a cleansing breath when we get overwhelmed with our DIY list at home.

    Jen in KS´s last blog post..How’d we do and what’s ahead

  12. Thank you for number 10! Like Dana said, the others are a piece of cake! I am actually in a phase where I think I throw/recycle/donate too many things:-)

  13. These are great suggestions, everyone! It’s true, you’re never quite done.

  14. To go along with #4: encourage each other. My fiance is a pack rat, whereas I make regular sweeps to see what else we can get rid of. I always want to get rid of more than he’s willing to let go.

    Sometimes I have to remind him that we never use the junk, and sometimes he reminds me of reasons to keep things that, in my zeal to declutter, I forget about. It’s always a compromise.

  15. If you want to get rid of old towels, check with your local animal shelter. Mine requests donations of them.

    Also, many thrift stores sell clothing that they can’t use to the rag trade. I’m just noting this because of item number 2.

  16. SofaSophia says:

    As for a motto, and I can’t remember where I read this one, you could use “I’m moving overseas!” Of course this is a lie, but it can help you prepare for any adventure that might be coming your way and leave you with a decluttered home in the meanwhile.

  17. For me, it’s also a good idea to declutter one spot at a time. I can’t work on 5 different rooms. Focusing my attention on one room at a time makes me feel like I’m making progress.

    Nicki at Domestic Cents´s last blog post..Good Reads – Alliteration Edition

  18. All good suggestions! The one that’s really motivating me right now is, “everything no matter how big or small takes my TIME” if I have to move it, walk around it or pick it up, it needs to be of value and use or it has to go…sounds harsh ;)

    Sarah@Life in the Parsonage´s last blog post..Too Random for a Title

  19. My most important thing is DON’T buy storage containers, etc. BEFORE decluttering. After you’re finished, you’ll find that you need less containers – or maybe none at all! :D

    I like #8 – I list things for 3 days on eBay, if they’re in good condition. If they don’t sell there. I’ll post on craigslist for the same amount of time. After that, it’s off to Goodwill or our emergency food/clothing bank.

  20. Just the pep talk I needed! I love a Top 10 List. I was very tempted to print it out and post it on my bulletin board. (It would have just ended up on a pile on my desk with the intention of putting it on the bulletin board.)

    But I DIDN’T! Why not? Because that would be creating more clutter for myself. Yay! See how I’m getting it? You can be very proud of me.


  21. V. Higgins says:

    Great post, as usual! :-)
    I have the decluttering bug too! The hard part is I like to declutter dear hubby’s stuff too ;-) He’s a bit of a pack rat. #8 is really good because my mom has (literally) an entire wall full of boxes of books/old homeschool stuff that she keeps saying “I want to sell on Half/Ebay”… she’s been saying that since I started college… in 2003 :-P There are more boxes filling up my old bedroom too. Seriously, it’s not worth storing for longer than a month or two, if it doesn’t sell or you don’t have time to list it, just get rid of it, you’ll feel so much better!!!
    I need to do another decluttering run, for me if it’s out of sight (guest bedroom closet) then I forget it’s there until I look for something and then I go “aruggh!” (think Charlie Brown) when I open and see a mess.

  22. First of all, I struggle with #10 so much. The GUILT! I have an incredible knack for remembering where every time came from – particularly gifts – and I feel so guilty throwing out things that I know were lovingly picked for us. I need a new mantra for purging those un-useful gifts.

    My main mantra for decluttering is “Bird by Bird” – inspired by Anne Lamott’s famous book on writing. I get SO OVERWHELMED so easily. I have to remind myself to work in small chunks and small bits of time.

    Decluttering is so love/hate for me. I hate the process and put it off to the point it is way more work than it ever should have been. But then I love the ultimate reward of a well-edited home!

    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last blog post..evidently , things are tough all over

  23. these decluttering posts are coming at a great time for me. i am gearing myself up for some serious room changing and organizing that needs to be done in our home.
    i think i will adopt #10 as my mantra as i declutter my 2 year olds room. i feel bad getting rid of all the stuffed animals that were gifts to him. especially because he likes them all, but they sure do take up LOTS of valuable space.

  24. My advise would be if your first reaction is to toss it, then toss it! Don’t second guess yourself and don’t go back through you piles and “rescue” anything. Get rid of it and don’t look back.

    Janet´s last blog post..Yep, Michael Smith AGAIN…

  25. I NEED to do this at our house. My husband is a pack rat and it drives me crazy. He claims everything is a “memory” of some event in his life. I don’t mind him keeping some things, but he has to give in sometime. Does anyone have any advice on helping me talk him into tossing some of his junk? Our house is out of control! I don’t even know where to begin.

    Amanda´s last blog post..Toilet Paper at Sam’s Club

  26. I’m feeling desperate to get rid of stuff, yet not finding/making the time to do it!

    Last night I read an article in O Magazine about downsizing and simplifying that made me want to get rid of EVERYTHING!

    Vintage Mommy´s last blog post..I Want to Say “I Told You So”

  27. Although a big decluttering session is cleansing to my soul, I find the more kids I have the less able I am to have big decluttering sessions.

    Therefore, my number one rule for decluttering is to have a box available at ALL times ready to dump stuff into when anyone declares they don’t want it anymore, or I know we have two, or whatever else reason I want to get rid of it.

    Small steps are better than no steps!

    Taylor at Household Management 101´s last blog post..Household Notebook: Use It To Organize Your Home Life

  28. Thank you for the gentle reminders. Unlike most everyone else I find #10 to be pretty easy! It helps me that my family lives far away and doesn’t send too much stuff. Most other gifts come from my students and can disappear after being proudly displayed in the classroom for a few months. :)

    I am going to really try the one-in one-out rule this year, ESPECIALLY when it comes to clothing.

    I need help with papers. How do I organize bills and letters? Where? What can I get rid of? This is our constant struggle. :)

    liz´s last blog post..joys and hazards of a chinook wind

  29. I think it’s important not to get overwhelmed. Sometimes, the clutter monster can seem to big and overwhelming that it seems pointless to begin.

    We used to be extremely messy and our whole house was a disaster and I just didn’t have a clue where to begin. Even when working it hardly seemed like I was making a dent at first (we had not only our things but had interited his parents, siblings and grandparent’s things).

    Just remember that every bit of clutter you get rid of is getting you to the freedom that you want to have. I will never go back to the messy housekeeper that I was. I have messy days, of course, but it is never as bad as it used to be. I have developed good habits.

    I would not keep things for family members. If they don’t want them enough to keep them, than I don’t need to keep them either. We gave a time limit to his family and gave them time to get their stuff, then we tossed is or gave it to Goodwill.

    momstheword´s last blog post..SUPPLEMENTING OUR INCOME (THE EARLY YEARS)

  30. GREAT ideas! For me, #1 is simply “get started” – take a first step. I spend so much time “thinking” about what I have to do (instead of actually doing it) that it clutters my mind. When I finally “just do it” it turns out to be not such a big deal and rather liberating! Thanks for sharing. :) I pray your move goes well.

    Meriann´s last blog post..Formal Introductions

  31. I must start decluttering. Now. Oh, or maybe later… look! Eric made toast! Ok, I can declutter tonight. Oh no, we’re going to see Slmundog Millionaire tonight. Ok, tomorrow, definitely, is decluttering day. After we come back from hiking. Yes, that’s it. Tomorrow afternoon. Oh, and after…

  32. How timely! I was planning on getting rid of the kids computer desk and attached “stuff” (because the computer hasn’t worked for about 3 years now!). I need to let go! Thanks for the advice.

    Andrea´s last blog post..Reusable Produce Bags – Set of 3 large bags

  33. I been pick one small project a day to work on. It can be a drawer, a section of the closet, or a pile of paperwork. It makes it much easier to stay motivated. My biggest problem is my mom. She thinks that she should buy my boys something new every time she sets foot in a store. No amount of begging on my part will get her to stop and she acts as if I am depriving her of something if she isn’t allowed to “spoil the grandkids”. Makes my husband and I crazy!

  34. These are great tips. Well done and so true. I try to do the whole set the timer thing because I am the most distractable woman in the history of North America. Lucky for me, I am also highly competitive, so the clock keeps me focused. I must beat it.

    emily @ chatting at the sky´s last blog post..I hereby declare skates are from the devil

  35. My clutter rule- If I haven’t used it in over a year- I probably won’t and so it should go somewhere else. Of course this doesn’t apply to the children’s items as I’m always thinking..”but what if we have another, then they can use it.”

    Alycia in Virginia´s last blog post..Sacrifice Now or Live With Regret….

  36. I recently decluttered and wish I’d had these tips when I did.

    Geri´s last blog post..Taking Medications: Misunderstanding Prescription Labels

  37. This is a great list – thanks!

  38. I did a bunch of decluttering this weekend and I have a huge one to add.

    Do not accidentally take an out of print book you haven’t yet finished to Goodwill. I am so sad!

    Andrea´s last blog post..Flat Front Pants Tutorial

  39. My girls each got giant stuffed bears wearing Christmas sweaters this holiday. I knew that we did not have room for them but was afraid to donate them right away because they were so noticable. Now that a few weeks have passed and the bears have not been played with I’m ready to let them go. Thanks for the extra boost I needed to send them out.

    Lia´s last blog post..January in Arizona

  40. How inspiring! I need to continue to work on decluttering…we have way too much clutter in our house! Your post really made me motivate…

    Julie´s last blog post..Pictures From Last Spring

  41. How can you really enjoy the thing you bought last week,when it’s bury among the new things you bought this week….We clutter our life to hide from our true life and loves,sad as it may seem,TRUE LOVE IS BEING CHOKED BY CLUTTER.Peace and calmness helps us to appreciate what really matters to our heart,,be calm in the moment,,be for spend your hard earned money,,,

  42. How true is this, my biggest downfall is keeping stuff because someone gave it to me.

    Jenna @ newlyweds´s last blog post..5 off Huggies Coupons

  43. Anyone else fall into this pit? “I spent good money/X dollars on that. I can’t get rid of it.” Or: I have to wipe our personal info off the old computer before I can get rid of it. (That was 4 upgrades ago!)