9 rules for a decluttered life

organized file folder
CC BY 2.0 Becky Wetherington

We hate clutter, but it's a constant unwelcome visitor to most homes. Here are some ways to fight it, once and for all.

1. Embrace the space you have

If you live in a small home or apartment, or in a house with miniscule closets (like mine), you’ll probably have more success at paring down your lifestyle to fit within a small space than trying to cram too much stuff into it. As an article on Apartment Therapy explains succinctly, “Let the size of your home dictate how much stuff you have, and not the other way around.”

2. Tidy and purge constantly

Tidy until it becomes a habit. Turn it into a game: “I’m going to put away 20 things before I go to sleep. Go!” Perhaps your limited closet space requires you to store seasonal items in an out-of-the-way place, in order to free up space for the rest of your clothes. Keep a donation bag somewhere nearby so it’s easy to pull items out of circulation as soon as you realize they’re not getting used often.

3. Pay attention to what’s not working

If a particular system isn’t working for you, then change it up and try something new. Don’t be afraid to admit that your personal style has changed, or that your needs have evolved. It’s by hanging onto things long after we should let them go that a home can start to feel very cluttered and even oppressive.

4. Have a place for everything

The “homeless” items are the greatest culprits of clutter. Have a specific spot where everything needs to go, particularly paper clutter such as magazines, bank statements (if you haven’t gone paperless yet), holiday cards, school announcements, etc. Establish a system for how and when those papers get moved out of the house and into the recycling bin.

5. Minimize the number of kids’ toys

If you have kids, then you’ll likely know how toys have a knack for increasing exponentially and spreading themselves all over the house. Fewer toys means less work (and irritation) for everyone. Try to keep them contained within specific rooms, and, by all means, train your kids to pick up their toys on a daily basis.

6. Go zero waste!

I’ve said this countless times on TreeHugger before, but once you eliminate many of the sources of packaging waste that enter your home, you’ll also free up a lot of space and time spent sorting garbage and recycling. This is a hard step to take, especially since shopping with reusables is not supported by many stores in North America, but it’s still worth a try.

7. Delay gratification

This can be tough, but likely the gorgeous lamp, rug, or new outfit that you simply must have loses its urgency once a bit of time has passed. Make it a rule to wait at least one week before returning to a store to buy something that’s caught your eye and, in the meantime, look around for other options so that you have a better idea of what else is out there.

8. Love it or leave it

Somewhere I heard it said, “You should never buy a piece of clothing that is anything less than fabulous.” Those are good words to remember when you’re trying on a shirt that’s a great deal, but just doesn’t feel quite right, or looking at a piece of furniture that you think could work in the living room. If it’s not absolutely amazing, just walk away. When you do buy something, stick to the "one in, one out" rule: if something new comes into the house, then something else has to leave.

9. Remember that experiences don’t need to be stored

Opt for an experience, instead of spending time and money on buying things for your house. Whether it’s a day trip to the library, park, or swimming pool with your kids, a nice dinner out with your partner, or a special vacation, actual experiences create lasting memories that add irreplaceable richness to life without needing to be stored anywhere.

Tags: Cleaning | Living With Less

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