Getting Clutter-Free

yellow flowers in a vase

If you would like some specific guidance as you prepare to spring clean, check out my previous post on the subject.

But if you're new to minimalism, or just starting to declutter (or even if you're an old pro, and just want a little tune-up), you need to understand why you're doing what you're doing, where to start, and how to maintain all of your good work.  Here are some basics to help you on your way.

9 Basic Decluttering Principles

1.  Identify your values.

Minimalism highlights the things you value by removing everything else.  But it's a personal decision.  What's important to you will be different from others.  The goal isn't deprivation – it's satisfaction.

So maybe you need plenty of extra seating because you entertain often, or you sew your own clothes and also make the costumes for a local theater group.  You want to make space for these activities and their tools, even though a formal dining room with fancy dishware or a dedicated sewing room might not look "minimalist" to someone else.  

Remove what doesn't matter to make room for what does.

2.  Include your partner.

A common question asked by people who long to simplify is "What should I do about my roommate's/spouse's clutter?"  And the answer is:  you must respect him and what he values.  Work on your own clutter first, and reach some agreements about shared spaces.  Talk about what you each want from your home, and keep talking until you arrive at guidelines you both feel comfortable with.

3.  Don't simply reorganize – declutter.

It's common for people to confuse "organized" with "clutter-free."  But minimalists know you can't organize yourself out of a mess.  You must start by choosing the possessions you need and want, so that you know exactly which things to remove.

Don't run out to buy new containers or a fancy organizing system.  Instead of filling each space in your home with as much as you possibly can, even if it looks organized, choose the best, the most useful, your favorites.  Those things get first dibs on the space, and the rest can be purged.  It's not an emotional decision, it's a practical one.

4.  Start with the easy things.

You don't start simplifying by getting rid of your beloved grandmother's china, even if you never use it.  You start by getting rid of duplicates, freebies, things that don't work the way they're supposed to, things you've never liked (even if they were gifts), and dusty boxes in storage with contents you no longer remember.  You know these things aren't important and that you won't miss them.

As you live with some newfound space and clarity, it becomes easier to determine which of your remaining items actually contribute to your life, and which are unneeded.

5.  Have a place for everything.

You know you've decluttered successfully when everything you own has a home and can be retrieved or put away with a minimum of fuss.

6.  Create new habits.

Habits keep your home clutter-free.  Don't just put things down in a random spot – put them away.  Make your bed, and keep up with laundry, dishes, and the mail.  Take 15 minutes every week for a quick purge.

7.  Be mindful.

When you're not paying attention, clutter could creep back into your home.  Without thinking about it, you might return to old habits of acquiring things on impulse and hanging onto things "just in case."  You might be influenced by advertising or by what a Facebook friend has or does.  Practice being a gatekeeper.

8.  Remember the benefits.

Clutter isn't cute.  It's not funny.  A cluttered life is frustrating, stressful, wasteful, and exhausting.  Once you understand the freedom and ease that minimalism can bring, don't look back.

9.  Make your own choices.

As you practice a simpler life, you get good at focusing on what you need and want, regardless of what other people do with their time, money, and energy.  You may choose to live in a smaller house, keep only one car, or give up TV and a few social obligations because doing so makes you happier.  Follow your head and your heart, not the crowd.


  1. In the past, I consistently overestimated the amount of time it would take to maintain a clutter-free home because I was comparing it to the amount of time it took to manage the clutter in a home that was filled with lots of things. Don't make the same mistake as me :-) #6 is crucial-- a few new habits that only take a few minutes of intentionality each day are all it takes to maintain a clutter-free home once the systems are in place.

    1. Hi Mike. You make a good point! Habits can make or break us, and I write about them often. Your comment prompted me to add a link in #6 to a post I published earlier this month entitled "Habits of the Minimalist Lifestyle." I hope you (and other readers) find it helpful!

  2. FYI (#2), you are making assumptions about which gender either 1) reads this blog, and/or 2) is the one with the clutter problem

    1. Hi there, and thank you for your comment. If you read more of my blog, you'll notice I definitely DON'T make assumptions about the gender of my readers, or of their partners, or of who has a clutter problem. I find using the pronoun "they" or "their" to be ungrammatical unless I'm using other plural nouns and verb forms, and "he/she" to be clunky. So I swap "him," "her," "he," and "she" on a regular basis, often within the same post, in an attempt to include everyone. I've definitely known people of all genders to have a problem with clutter, and I also realize that not every person has a partner (or even just a roommate) of the opposite gender.

    2. Thanks for the clarification Karen!

    3. You're welcome! I don't mind being reminded to write for ANY reader. Of course, I'm a middle-aged, middle-class white woman from the U.S., so that's my background and reference point. But I aspire to write for an audience that includes people of all ages, genders, faiths, and nationalities.


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