Inside: Learn the top 4 decluttering rules and what you need to know before you start decluttering.
“What is wrong with me?” I grumbled to myself. Dirty dishes covered the counter, the wet laundry in the washer had started to reek of mildew, and dog fur rolled across the floor like tumbleweeds in the old west.
When my first son was born and I became a stay at home mom, I floundered. Housekeeping is not my forte — in fact, it is something that I’ve always struggled with.
Growing up, my room was the messiest place in the house, cluttered wall-to-wall with only a narrow pathway from the door to the bed.
I had a friend in high school who was quite the opposite. She had hundreds of barrettes of every shape, size and color, meticulously organized on ribbons that draped down from her mirror.
Even then, I knew I could never organize that many possessions. Years before decluttering became a massive obsession, I knew that my only hope to have a tidy space was to have less stuff.
Fast forward a decade or so. As a new mom, I felt like a failure. “What is wrong with me?” I thought.
“Why can’t I figure this out when everyone else works full-time, has four kids, volunteers at school and church, finds time to keep a clean house AND has home-cooked dinner on the table every night? And I’m over here failing at simple tasks like unloading the dishwasher or moving the wet laundry over to the dryer before it starts to stink.”
You know what was wrong with me? Nothing was wrong with me. I was a loving mother and caring wife. I just hadn’t learned the habits yet to keep a house clean.
Rules for Decluttering: What you need to know before you start
Here are the rules for decluttering I wish I knew before I started decluttering.
Decluttering Rule #1: Focus on progress, not perfection.
How often do we see beautiful clutter-free homes, then feel down on ourselves for not being able to have the same?
It’s easier to see the 20% we haven’t done than the 80% we have.
As you go through this decluttering process, you’re going to feel sad. And exhausted. And ready to quit.
In these moments (or months) of despair, remind yourself to focus on how much progress you have made already. Do you have an area that was not accessible but now is fully functional?
Related: 5 Tips to Help You Declutter Your Life
My master bathroom is my source of pride and my sanctuary. Whenever I feel I’m doomed to live my life in clutter, I retreat to my master bathroom.
I hear the echo of my feet as they walk across the bare tile floors. The counters are empty, except for toothbrushes and hand soap.
I run my hands along the cool countertop surface while looking in the mirror. And I feel a sense of peace and calm that covers my body.
And I remember: THIS is why I want to declutter my entire house. This sense of calm and peace is why it is worth it.
Decluttering rule #2: Keep a decluttering box.
A decluttering box is as simple as a cardboard box you keep in an accessible area of your home.
As you’re going about your typical day, you might find things you know you don’t need. These items can go immediately to the decluttering box.
I find this decluttering tip extremely helpful in those too-busy-to-breathe seasons of life.
When my second son was born and we were still trying to figure out what it meant to be a family of four, I didn’t have time to shower let alone have dedicated decluttering time.
But as I went through my day, I’d find things I could throw out, like a pen that no longer worked or things to donate, like the birthday gift that we already have.
Instead of letting this small task remind me day after day that I forgot to do it, I could just dump donations into the decluttering box and move on with my day.
Decluttering rule #3: It takes time to build magnificent muscles.
You wouldn’t expect to be swole after one trip to the gym. So, why expect to be a professional organizer after a few decluttering sessions?
After all, decluttering is a muscle. The more you do it, the quicker and more discerning you become.
When I first started decluttering, I couldn’t even throw out items that were broken. I struggled with the gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach, telling me I was being wasteful and maybe I could fix it someday.
Over time, that gnawing feeling has dissipated. I have no problem donating toys my kids aren’t playing with or throwing out papers from preschool as soon as I’m done reading them.
The only way I got to this point of making quick decluttering decisions was to declutter, over and over again.
Decluttering rule #4: Don’t expect it to happen all at once.
Oh my goodness, let me start with a trend I’ve been seeing on social media. The magic pill has found its way into decluttering in the form of “Speed declutter in 30 minutes” or “Declutter your entire home in an afternoon.”
Do not feel like a failure if you can’t declutter your home in one day, one month or even one year. You are not a failure.
You are a human being with a lot of stuff that will take time to get through.
It’s okay if it takes a while. It’s okay if you have to declutter more than one time. It okay if every time you are ready to get down to work, your child’s magical spidey sense tells them they need to be held…right NOW.
This may not be something you want to hear, but I’m four years into the process of decluttering. And I’m still not done.
Because as stuff goes out the door, stuff comes back in. Birthdays and Christmas bring with them a lot of toys, and the once-a-year 50% off everything at Goodwill brings with it a lot of new (to me) clothes.
Learn more: Josh Becker, the OG of minimalism, has a great list of 10 easy ideas for getting rid of clutter.
4 easy rules for decluttering:
- Focus on progress, not perfection.
- Keep a decluttering box.
- It takes time to build magnificent muscles.
- Don’t expect it to happen all at once.
You can do this!
Maybe as you read this, you’re surrounded by clutter. The couch is filled with a pile of clean clothes waiting to be folded and the kitchen is a disaster zone.
You know what’s wrong with you? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
You are amazing. You are a hard worker who goes above and beyond, even if you feel like giving up. You just haven’t learned the skills necessary to keep a house clean…yet.
That’s why I am here. I am your online best friend, here to walk you through your decluttering journey. Take these rules for decluttering and just get started!
More posts you may love…
- The best decluttering checklist to crush overwhelm immediately
- Declutter your home in 20 minutes per day
- How to declutter toys in 8 easy steps