15 Popular Principles to Help You Declutter

Over an average lifespan, it is estimated that we spend a total of one year looking for the things we lose. Imagine what you could do with that year. You could have spent it enjoying a tropical paradise, skiing in the snow, doing your hobbies, travelling the world and more.

In the US, American households rent a self-storage space for around $1000 a year. This can add up over the years. Instead of hoarding your belongings, why not start decluttering?

The Statistics of Clutter


It’s not only households that fall victim to clutter. Workplaces also face the consequences brought by clutter and disorganisation. In a survey conducted by NAPO, 27% said that they feel disorganised at work while 91% said that their efficiency and effectiveness could be improved if their workspace was more organised.

In a disorganised workspace, managers may lose up to 1 hour a day which can cost businesses up to $4,000 per year. Other notable statistics regarding clutter and disorganisation include:

  • 80% of the clutter found in homes is a result of disorganisation rather than lack of space.
  • 23% of adults pay bills late and incur penalty fees because they lose their bills.
  • 80% of papers filed are never looked at again.
  • 33% of workers admit they are hoarders.
  • 13% of workers are said to keep files older than five years old while 6% say they have files dating back more than 10 years.

Psychology behind declutter


There are different levels of the clutter “disease”. The worst tend to be the hoarders.

Emotions are often hiding behind the objects we keep. To start the process of decluttering, many people need to understand exactly why they save the things they don’t need. Most people feel emotionally attached to their belongings and so find it difficult to let them go.

Not all clutter is due to laziness. Some may have underlying medical reasons. Chronic hoarding, for example, may be due to ADHD, OCD and even dementia. Therefore the worst cases of hoarding are considered a psychiatric disorder. But don’t panic, you probably don’t have it, this is for extreme cases only.

The fear of letting clutter go is often accompanied by a feeling of anxiety. At some point, clutter may start controlling your life but this shouldn’t last long. Your belongings shouldn’t be representative of who you are, your good memories of people, life events and the places you’ve been to. According to Denver Post, getting organised often has more to do with psychology than with piles of possessions.

Decluttering Principles

#1 Stop the flow of clutter

The flow of clutter is the main reason you can’t seem to find a place to put your important things. This is due to the fact that you are bringing in too many new things and not getting rid of any of your old belongings.

This may not only happen at home but in all places you spend time like your workplace. On your table you may find huge piles of paper and documents including scraps of paper you think will be valuable in the near future, office supplies you seldom or never use but still keep in case they become handy. Every month a request for new supplies may come in at work, adding to the amount of things you have on your desk.

At home you may find more clothes than you wear, appliances you seldom use, and little things you keep in drawers for unknown purposes. And every day, you keep adding to your collection. Instead of mindlessly adding things to your growing pile of belongings or documents, sort through the existing things and do away with some.

#2 Declutter one item every day


The next step after stopping the clutter cycle is of course to start decluttering. But the thing is, decluttering can be very hard especially for beginners. It may take days, weeks, months and even years for some to really get the hang of it. The best way to start is to declutter one item a day. This will lead to an easy letting go of the things you think you need but don’t.

Start with little things like drawer clutter. When you finish this, proceed to bigger and more visible things. You can either throw away these items, donate them or take them to recycle centres in your community.

Max Wong, in his Do This One Thing a Day to Defeat Clutter Forever article, decided to give himself a decluttering challenge. He decided to downsize his belongings, 10 items a day, until he could fit his belongings in one layer in his closet. After 1 month he had let go of 1500 items and had a very noticeably neat and clean house.

Another challenge you can try is this #30DayGetChuckedChallenge popularised on twitter. To complete this challenge, get rid of 1 item on day 1, 2 items on day 2 and so on for 30 days. During that month, you’ll get rid of 465 possessions.

The trick is to start with the items you hate most. This makes it much easier to start. Then as you slowly progress, you will find the challenge becomes harder since the only items you have left are the ones you don’t want to part with. But to accept the challenge, you may need to exercise stoicism and continue on!

But if you’re ruthless and determined enough, why not try this challenge: 7 Days to an Organised Home Office.

#3 Start with the easy stuff


Start with areas of your home or office that contain the most easy-to-declutter stuff. Start in your study where most of the clutter will probably be papers and books and other small supplies.

Starting with easy stuff will make you feel that the decluttering is not such a burden. It can be good motivation to start. And if getting rid of things gets harder, remember that you don’t need to throw it away. Rather, try Freecycle or sell your old belongings on eBay.

Joshua Becker, a known blogger on minimalism, has some advice on how to start decluttering:

Take heart. You don’t need to start with the hard stuff. Instead, start at the easiest place possible in your home. Build up little victories and momentum by clearing the clutter from your automobile, a drawer, your living room, or maybe your bathroom cupboard. You’ll quickly begin to experience the benefits of living with less… and you’ll know what to do when you finally arrive at the seemingly impossible areas in your home.”

Develop discipline and focus and you’ll be decluttering in no time.

#4 Clear small areas at a time

Another trick is to know which areas of your house will take less time to completely declutter. Is it the kid’s playroom or your entertainment room? Kitchens, bedrooms and storage rooms are the last place you should declutter.

Don’t go from one room to another. This will keep you from finishing your plans. Instead do one room at a time and finish everything before you start decluttering another room. Starting in small rooms will help the progress of your work. You need not face big rooms with lots of clutter. Later on, when you are ready to start cleaning the biggest room, you will be able to do it better since you have already started the process.

#5 Start right away


One of the biggest problems you can face when decluttering is procrastination. You hate the fact that you need to do a big task so you put it aside and wait for some other time when you don’t feel so lazy. However, when you keep pushing things back they tend not to happen.

Don’t let procrastination take over your need to declutter! Get rid of small or impersonal items the very moment you think about throwing them away. Don’t leave it until later.

Pack up old books from school and donate them to your nearest library. Clean away your old electronics like chargers, old phones and extra computers and sell them on eBay. After starting the process, you can employ the techniques and principles we mentioned above like doing a decluttering challenge until you have no more clutter.

#6 Have a disposal plan in hand

You can go around your house aimlessly gathering and disposing of items, however, this can fail if you have no plan in the first place. Start with sorting out your belongings, packing up what you don’t want and organising the things you are keeping.

Follow these rules to ensure you don’t continue to clutter:

  • One year rule. If you haven’t used it for one year, then it’s time to pack it up for selling on eBay or for donation.
  • Broken beyond repair. Some people hold on to broken things and appliances thinking that they might be repaired someday. But many people don’t realise repairs often cost near the price of buying a replacement, depending on the item.
  • Not yours. If it’s not yours in the first place, why are you still keeping it? Give it back to the rightful owner and forget about it.
  • Just in case. The ‘just in case’ excuse isn’t good enough anymore. Instead of keeping that old computer monitor ‘just in case’, sell it or look for somebody who actually needs it.

#7 Forget guilt and obligation


You might feel guilty about letting something go right now but the satisfaction of an organised home is long lasting.

Don’t be guilty about getting rid of old presents or old tokens of friendship if you really no longer want or need them; it’s not your obligation to keep all of them. Communication is deemed more important than safekeeping of years-old wedding favours when it comes to friendship.

Here’s what Sue Kay says in her book, No More Clutter:

“It is important to accept the gift graciously in the spirit in which it was given. After that it’s up to you what you do with it. Forget the guilt.

If you are feeling guilty about getting rid of something, try to understand these emotional affirmations:

  1. The gift giver would not want the gift to gather dust in the storage.
  2. The gift giver would understand that I don’t want to keep the gift out of guilt.
  3. This is my own home and I should keep the things I want.
  4. I shouldn’t be overwhelmed by guilt, rather I should understand that I need to declutter better.

#8 Conquer the fear of letting go

There will be plenty of times where you will regret of things you’ve let go but you will get over it gradually. Remember, you will always make mistakes. But as Alison Hodgon says in Decluttering – Don’t Let the Fear Hold You Back:

“Don’t let the fear of potential regrets get in the way of a new lightness and freedom.”

Fear is one of the reasons why most people can’t seem to declutter. Other reasons include the following:

  1. Fear
  2. Guilt and obligation
  3. Procrastination
  4. ‘Just in case’ mentality
  5. Item was expensive

Don’t let fear eat you, conquer it and live a happier and clutter-free life. For a start, here’s 20 Things in Your Home to Get Rid of Now.

#9 Ask for owner’s permission


You may not be the sole owner of everything inside your home. Especially in big families, clutter can’t simply be taken care of without a group effort. The larger the family, the more clutter that needs to be taken care of.

But if you have the mission to live a clutter-free life, you may need to consult everybody before you organise everything or start throwing things away. It will be best if the whole family joins and decides what to discard and what to keep. This way, the drive to have an organised home is supported and strengthened. Everybody in the house should be given a choice before something is disposed of.

#10 Be ruthless

Desperate times call for desperate measures. No decluttering or organising venture succeeds without the hard resolve to put things away. One needs to be ruthless, to be focused and determined when faced with the big task of decluttering a home.

The same is true for office spaces. You don’t need three paperweights in your small desk. Unwillingness to declutter may often encourage you to procrastinate.

Kylie from Get Organised Wizard listed down the items many people ruthlessly thrown away which may also help motivate you to begin your own cleaning process. Here’s the article – Declutter Decisions: Inspiration to Help You be Ruthless in Your Declutter Project.

#11 Use eBay and Freecycle

If emotional attachment is stopping you from decluttering, try to use eBay and Freecycle to ease away the emotions you have attached to the item you have decided to part with. eBay will accept and sell your items online while Freecycle will send your item to anybody within their online community who needs it at that moment. Freecycle is operational all over the world.

For non-techies who wish to sell items, traversing eBay is easy and it will get you a worldwide audience for your items. In no time, you’ll get rid of your extra items and get cash in return to save up for other things. Sign up and start posting your items!

Sign up and register then look for that “SELL” menu at the top of the homepage. You’ll then be prompted to categorise the item you will be selling. Here’s what it looks like:

eBay 3

When the listing is done, all you have to do is wait for a buyer.

On Freecycle, look for community near you and start browsing or posting your own things to give away.


#12 Try Tushare

Tushare is similar to Freecycle but works like eBay. Those who wish to declutter may post their belongings by category and wait for those who are interested in it. Click the “Give Something” button if you’ve got something to get rid of and click the “Make a Wish” button if there’s something you’re looking for.


#13 Use the hold system

You may act tough but sometimes it can become really hard to let go of things. If this is the case, you may employ the Hold System technique where you collect the items you want to discard of and place them in a labelled bin or box as “clutter”. Wait for six months and check if you really had a use for the item or if it’s still really painful to let it go. If you feel it is easier to let the item go, find it a better home. But if not, try the technique for another month.

This system will work for some but it may be harder for others.

#14 Throw away toys


Toys often are the number one cause of clutter. Most kids will only play with a few of their toys while the majority sit in boxes or hidden in spaces gathering dust.

Decluttering of toys should be done before Christmas; this is the time when an influx of new toys will be at its greatest. The theminimalistmom blogger Rachel took three steps to declutter toys before Christmas. Here are her steps:

  1. Make a note of what’s being played with and what’s not.
  2. Decide your method of decluttering (do it with your kids or do it for your kids).
  3. Choose what will be donated, put in storage or sold.

#15 Organise the leftovers

Now that you have simplified everything in your home and in your workspace, the next step is to organise the remaining items. You need to keep things in a neat and tidy manner from now on since you did such a good job of decluttering.

Always remember organising should come after decluttering. Organising without decluttering in the first place can give you a false sense of tidiness. It’s like looking at a clean bedroom where all the clutter has been stuffed underneath the bed or in the back of the closet.

There are a few different ways to organise whatever remains. And it will be different for each room you have. You can find nifty tips and tricks and hacks all over the Internet for this. For now, check out Get Organised Wizard’s 30 Home Decluttering Hacks.


You don’t need to surrender to clutter. You can start reclaiming your living and working space. An organised and clutter-free home and office helps to achieve a sense of peace and serenity. A tidy place means tidy thinking as well. Going home to an organised house often eases tension from a day’s work, plus going to work and facing a clutter-free desk or workspace gets rid of any negative vibes. This leads to a more relaxed and happier you. Never let hesitation and unfounded guilt keep you from winning over your own space.

Have a happy and clutter-free life, readers!


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