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How to Declutter and Organize Your Home: Minimalist Life

Updated on January 31, 2011

Realize the Problem and Obtain the Right Equipment

I admit; I'm a minimalist, but this wasn't always so. I remember the days, weeks, and years very clearly of stepping over toys and shoes, and often times tripping over same. My life became mundane and stress ridden. When reaching for one box of cereal often times resulted in a splattering of other food items falling from the pantry, spending ten minutes looking for a book bag sent my stress through the roof and my child late for school; I knew I had to do something. I was living in a cluttered mess and the stress was taking it's toll on me.

If you find yourself where I once stood ( or tripped, or fell), my guess is organizing and clearing  your home of clutter is on the "to do list".  Keep in mind that no matter how one lives, or the economic status of their home and belongings, decluttering the home doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Even the best of houses can become cluttered and unorganized.  The first step then, is admitting that there is a potential cluttering problem and heading off from there.

To begin your job, you will need:

  • A box or two of 30 gallon trash bags
  • Boxes for items you wish to keep, donate, or give away
  • Boxing tape
  • A few permanent markers
  • A broom, dustpan and large, clean trash can (you will be bringing the trash can into your home)
  • Arrangements for distractions such as smaller children and pets. Can the animals be crated for an hour or two? Is there alternative care for the children- a grandparent's house or the like they can go to? 
  • Ample time. How long you wish to declutter, when, and how often is entirely your choice. You may decide to knock out one or two rooms at once, or one room per week. Again, the choice is yours.

Where To Start

When I began my decluttering and organizing process, I fumbled with these two questions quite a bit. In all honesty, I tried to clean the clutter without actually riding myself of any of it. That created neatly stacked piles of clutter which surely wasn't my ultimate goal.

Take a look around your home and decide which area you would like to clear first. You may decide to start with rooms that people see first, such as the living room and work your way back from there. Contrary, you may decide to begin in the bedrooms or even the garage. It doesn't really matter where you begin, just as long as you begin  your way to a stress free and clutter free home.

I would generally not start in a room that could be an intermittent "stocking room". For example, if you plan to begin by clearing out three rooms, that old mud room may be the best spot to temporarily place trash. Likewise, you may not want to begin in the garage for the same reason. Pick an area that trash will be placed and avoid that area momentarily.

After Deciding Where to Start- What Goes?

This has to be the hardest part of organizing a home; deciding what to throw out and what to keep. The truth of the matter is, almost every household has items in it which haven't seen a ray of sunshine or been used in quite some time.  Asking yourself a few simple questions when decluttering and organizing can help you decide whether you should toss an item.

  • When was the last time this was used? If it has been more than a year, the likelihood of you needing that item is pretty slim to none; unless it is a seasonal item to begin with.
  • When will I ever use this item? If you find yourself asking this of particular items, it may be time to part with them. Remember, you don't have to throw them away as donating is always a great idea. But lets be honest with each other: Are you really going to use that tabletop grill Grandmother gave you five years ago?
  • Am I keeping this item just because a friend or relative gave it to me? Now don't get me wrong, we all keep sentimental trinkets: items our children drew us, that blanket our Aunt sewn for us, etc. But, if you find yourself keeping, not using, and generally stashing items that friends and relatives have given you over the years, keep a few things in mind: they probably forgot they gave you the item(s), particularly if they haven't been "out" and able to be seen for quite some time.
  • Is it broken? If it is broken, not a high quality item and cannot be fixed, toss it. Likewise, if it is a high quality item and cannot be fixed, throw it away.
  • Do I even know what this is? If you can't explain it, and asking family members if they can results in "neat" or "I have no idea", get rid of it. If it was a highly important item, it would have been with the item it belonged to.

A general list of things that you can or should get rid of are listed below for your consideration:

  • Linens. Remember that sheet you bought your  now 15 year old son when he was a toddler? I doubt he is using it anymore. A good rule of thumb is to keep all currently used bedclothes and only 1 to 2 extras for guests.  Thrown the rest away or donate them. Also, curtains and draperies. If they aren't being used, throw them away; especially if you own your own home. Why? If you own your own home, you probably have all of your windows dressed and won't be needing extras.
  • Toys. If they are broken, missing pieces, or haven't been used, throw them away or donate them.
  • Clothes. Clothes are a great item to donate or give away. Are you really going to wear that sweater again? You haven't touched it in five years, so I doubt you will now. The majority of clutter can usually be found in the children's rooms. Unless you are keeping children's clothes for hand me downs, now would be the time to donate them or give them away.
  • Knick-knacks, collected household trinkets and gifts. Although already briefly touched upon, these items can tend to overwhelm a home. While it was much appreciated plastic doll  your best friend gave you ten years ago, the doll is now looking shabby and well... scary today. Throw it out.
  • Personal items: ( toiletries, makeup, soaps, jewelry, etc.) Go through all of your personal items with a fine tooth comb as to not potentially toss any gems. Do you really need 10 different brands of soap? Is that the same makeup you  had three years ago? The bacteria content of it is probably off the charts! Do you really need those ten watches? What about jewelry that is broken but of rather low quality to begin with? And, those five wallets and thirty purses- do you really need them?
  • Paper items ( books, drawings, old coupons, etc).  If the kids have outgrown the books, you have read the books, or they are being used as door stoppers- those are all really great indications that they can find a nice resting area in the trash can. If you aren't going to read it,  have already read it, can't explain it,  and aren't going to benefit from it- toss it. You knew I was going to say that though.

The purpose of decluttering and organizing is not to do what I had formerly done: rearrange the clutter. If you set out to make the best of your living home and space, have realistic expectations of yourself and what you wish your home to be.  Set goals for yourself and remember to reward yourself! For example, after decluttering the living room, you decide it is pretty barren. There is nothing wrong with then purchasing one quality item for the space to draw attention to its openness and cleanliness. I wouldn't suggest more than one item per room as the purpose of decluttering and organizing is not to overwhelm the space once again. The life of a minimalist is freeing and stress free. Keep that in mind.

After Surveying My Area To Start: Now What

Now what? Well now, you drag that clean trash can into the room and begin. By now you should have decided what goes and stays. As you move around the room, you can take your trash can with you and deliver it to the designated temporary trash place when it is full. You should have boxes and boxing tape at your side for items  you wish to donate, give away or store for safe keeping.  Use the permanent marker to mark all boxes so you know will that particular box should end up. Mark the boxes as such:

  • Donation box
  • Give to: and write the name of whom you wish to give the box of items to
  • Box includes: And write what it includes such as "memories from our Mexico vacation"


Now Relax and Reward Yourself!

It could have taken you two days to clean one room, or maybe two days to clean and organize the whole house. Really, how fast you did your job is completely up to yourself and the ability you have to find time to do such. Great job!  But if that former living room; once filled with toys, dog toys, shoes that haven't been worn in years, and a collection of knick knacks you never really enjoyed it now clean and organized; it is time to sit back and pride yourself on your work.

As you gaze at what you have accomplished, and are not done with the rest of the home, you can gauge how you feel quite easily. Are you less stressed? Are  you finding items you need more easily? Are you now thinking of painting that clean room or remodeling it? Great! Often times after decluttering and organizing a room, a natural instinct will set in whereby you wish to improve the room altogether. That's fine and entirely your choice. Remember to keep any future decorating ideas and purchases to a minimum and you will be setting the proper foundation for a bit more of a stress free home.

Most importantly; however, is to make any future purposes for the home based on need. While you were organizing, did you notice that there wasn't a coat rack? Now may be the time to make such a purchase. Are you missing a storage unit for shoes? A magazine rack? Purchase items that will make your life easier. After all, we all need life to be a bit easier, don't we?

Minimalist Life: Has it Helped You?

Has decluttering and organizing your home helped your stress levels?

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    • kartika damon profile image

      kartika damon 6 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

      I am on the same page - have spend the past 6 months declutter and it feels wonderful - as an artist and collector, I just had a bit too much. Now I'm almost a minimalist - and love your description of the process of decluttering!

    • profile image

      lilly 6 years ago

      dont toss books, donate them

    • profile image

      oilviscositychart 7 years ago

      Well written post but please add photos and videos.If you have time,visit

    • Golfgal profile image

      Golfgal 7 years ago from McKinney, Texas

      this is a great hub and we all need to do it!!! I will definitely come back to read this over. Thanks for the inspiration to simplify my life.