10 Ways to Declutter: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you want to, you can become a minimalist overnight by renouncing all of your possessions.  Hire a firm to do an estate sale, or call 1-800-GOT-JUNK, and get rid of everything fast.  Keep some underwear and toiletries, a couple pairs of pants and a couple of shirts, and your most comfortable shoes.  Maybe you can keep your phone and some ID.  Now you're a minimalist!

Of course, that's not a realistic approach for most of us.  In fact, I don't know anyone who would choose to live like that, including myself.

A slower, less drastic approach works better.  So I recommend this step-by-step guide.

simple living room

10 steps to a simpler home

1.  Stop the bleeding.

Just like an emergency worker doing triage, you need to stabilize your situation before you can continue with the process.  This means you need to stop buying unnecessary things.

You can never reduce clutter until you stop bringing it into your home.  You need to get control of your shopping habits, which will also help you save money and get out of debt.  More importantly, you'll start to reshape your relationship to material things, which is the essential beginning of a minimalist mindset.

2.  Get rid of obvious things.

This includes duplicates of things you use all the time (like your seven extra spatulas and the old technology you kept just in case your newer stuff failed), as well as stuff you never, ever use (such as clothes with the tags on and the dusty exercise bike).

Fill up a few boxes, put them in your car, and donate (or trash) them the next day.

3.  Get rid of more obvious things.

Now that you've cleared some of the clutter, you can look around and see things you missed the first time around.  Box those up and get them out of the house.

4.  Clear your floors

Make it a rule that there should be nothing on the floor but furniture and rugs.  You're going to love the space you create by removing clothes, sports equipment, books and papers, boxes, or whatever else is on the floor.  Put away the things you need and use, and if you don't know where that is, either make a place for them or consider whether they belong in your house at all.

5.  Clear other flat surfaces.

This includes table tops, counter tops, dressers, and shelves.  They don't have to be completely empty, but should only be topped with a few essential objects.  Other items you need and use should be put away, and the excess should be boxed up and removed.

To keep these spaces clutter-free, adopt a mantra:  "Don't just put it down, put it away."

6.  Evaluate the big stuff.

One quick way to make more space in every room is to remove furniture you don't use.  Consider the living room chair no one likes to sit in, or that corner desk that's just a home for clutter.  Do you need every bookcase, the old-fashioned entertainment center, or the china cabinet?  If you're decluttering what you've stored there, maybe those big pieces can go.

7.  Start on the hidden spaces.

Get into closets, cupboards, drawers, and under each bed, one at a time.  Don't overthink the process, and don't get sentimental about things just because you've had them for a while.  (If you encounter truly sentimental or nostalgic items, set them aside to go through later.)

Here's how to handle the guilt about how much you're discarding:

  • Let guilt strengthen your determination to stop bringing unneeded things into your home.  If there's anything to regret, it's that you acquired so much clutter in the first place, not that you're letting it go.

  • Transform the guilt into gratitude for all that you have.  The fact that you have clutter is indisputable evidence that you have more than enough for your needs.  Give thanks.

Don't forget those other hidden spaces – your phone, computer, and other tech.  Remove unused apps, blurry photos, extra streaming services, and more.  Just because it's digital doesn't mean it's not clutter.

8.  Cut back another 10%-20%.

At this point you've probably simplified quite a bit, and the decision-making process is becoming easier.  Those books you won't be reading again, the toys and games the kids never play with anymore, and the supplies for hobbies you no longer pursue can all be removed.

9.  Get emotional.

For emotional reasons, there will be things you find it hard to part with.  This group includes family mementos, gifts, childhood items, special-occasion clothes, and more.  However, keeping this stuff in the basement or back closet doesn't make any of it seem that special.

It's good to remember that the emotions you feel don't depend on any physical object, but live permanently in your heart and mind.  As you realize this, you can start to choose the items that best represent the people and experiences of your past, and find ways to use or display them.  The rest of the things buried in storage can be passed to other family members, sold, or donated.

10.  And repeat.

This process doesn't come to a permanent end unless you renounce everything like I described at the beginning of this article.  We're alive, so we buy and consume.  After going through the steps you probably consume much less, but clutter will slowly creep into your life if you let it.

Plan on 15 minutes each week to remove the extras, and aim to reduce this to five minutes or less as you practice new habits.  The slow process you've followed has transformed not just your home, but you!

Minimalism isn't magic, but it can do amazing things.  Over and over again, studies show that it's not our belongings that make us happy, or even secure.  Instead, relationships, experiences, and what we've learned make all the difference.  We pay lip service to this truth, but need determination to actually live it.

With 31 chapters for a whole month, my new book The Daily Minimalist contains hundreds of tips and encouragements to help you be a rebel who challenges the more-is-always better beliefs and values of our society.  Let The Daily Minimalist show you what minimalism can do for you.


  1. Love the "stop the bleeding" analogy.


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