5 Rules That Make Decluttering Painless

declutterThis is a partnered guest post.

When you can’t open the hallway closet without risking a head injury or finding anything in your garage requires a headlamp and a treasure map, it’s time to purge your stuff. Getting rid of extra stuff — do you really need that baby-blue taffeta gown you wore to your high school prom? — not only helps you find the things you need when you need them, but you can also make some extra cash and help others in need.


“That all sounds great,” you may be thinking. “But I have no idea where to start. And besides, I need this stuff!”

You’re not alone. Many people resist decluttering their homes because the task seems too overwhelming, or they are afraid to get rid of things that may need someday. However, by following these five simple rules, you can finally tackle your stuffed-to-the-brim garage or the overflowing closet and basement — and do it without tears and regret.

Get Help

The first step to decluttering is to get help. We’re not talking about your spouse or kids, who are likely to hinder the process. Ask your friend with the über-organized home to come over for a few hours or your friend who never holds back on her opinions. You can also consider hiring a professional. The idea is to get a neutral third party to offer their unbiased opinions on what you need to keep or toss. They can ask tough questions and provide honest opinions that will help you part with excess stuff.

Focus on Goals

While you should set goals for your decluttering, this rule is more geared toward what you should keep and what you shouldn’t keep. If an item does not have a purpose related to your life’s goals, then it needs to go. When determining whether to keep something or get rid of it, imagine your life in a few years after you’ve met a major life goal. What role does this item play in that image? Is it something that you can imagine as part of your lifestyle? If not, get rid of it.

Rent, Borrow or Improvise

Your garage is stuffed with items that you only used once and forgot about: tools, serving platters, sports equipment. If you haven’t used these items recently, you probably do not need to keep them. If you are on the fence about something, and it’s easy to borrow, rent or improvise a similar item when necessary, sell or donate it. For example, if you only go ice skating once every few years, do you need to keep several pairs of skates that constantly need to be sharpened? Or, would it be more cost-effective to rent skates at the rink when you need them?

Throw Things Away

Yes, you want to keep things out of the landfill. Yes, you want to help others. But if items are broken, damaged or otherwise unusable, throw them away. You wouldn’t buy ripped or stained clothing from a secondhand shop, would you? Would you buy a half-full bottle of hand cream or shower gel? If your beautiful bathroom vanity is hiding a collection of old cosmetics or almost-empty bottles, clean it out and throw things away. Learn from the experience, and only buy items you absolutely need and will use. Don’t waste space with unusable junk.

Play “Remember Me”

It can be hard to get rid of a formerly beloved skirt or a sweatshirt from your college days. But when you need space, you can only keep the things you use. If you feel like you can’t part with something, put it in a container and place the container out of sight. After 30 days, write down everything that’s in the container — without looking at the contents first. Anything you remember, you can keep. If the item isn’t on the list, donate or sell it. You’ll forget all about it in a few days.

Following these rules as you sort your belongings into “keep,” “donate,” and “toss” piles will help make the process painless. And at the end, you’ll be rewarded with a clean, organized space, the good feelings that come from helping others and, if you’re lucky, a little extra cash.


About the Author: Anna Walsh is a professional organizer who has a reputation for being ruthless when it comes to getting rid of extra “stuff.”


I'm a mother of 2 who likes to get involved in too much! Besides writing here I started a non-profit, I'm on the PTO board, very active in my community and volunteer in the school. I enjoy music, reading, cooking, traveling and spending time with my family. We just adopted our 3rd cat and love them all!

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  1. Good advice. I keep telling my daughter that this is “The Year of the Purge.” I am so tired of all the clutter.

  2. Remember Me – what a fun idea. That would definitely work for me.

    I need to get moving on the decluttering. I am pretty good about purging stuff… but then more stuff comes in. It seems like a never-ending cycle.

  3. I am gearing up for a major de-cluttering at my house, so thanks for the great tips.

  4. Can you come to my house? LOL

  5. I have some major decluttering to do especially in my kitchen.

  6. I learned a long time ago to throw things away. I used to hang on to stupid things thinking I would use them again, but never did. Now, I just trash it when cleaning up.

  7. These are great tips, thanks! We have a lot of decluttering to do before baby comes.

  8. I like “Remember Me”! what a cool idea… I think I would have forget quite a bit and have to chuck them all…

  9. When we moved, I had to take a hard look at what we owned and, honestly we purged a lot of it. Now I’m starting fresh and I always keep an eye on staying decluttered.

  10. I need to embark on another round of decluttering. SOON. Thanks for the tips.

  11. I love to declutter — I just throw everything out.

  12. I use to have a hard time throwing things out but now if it sits for months it is better off going to goodwill or trash.

  13. Throwing things away is hard for me — there is a LOT I can easily get rid of while other stuff I’ll keep (boxed up, even) for YEARS. We’ve been talking about doing a massive, massive purge. Our house needs it!

  14. We actually just de-cluttered and reorganized our garage and I am pretty proud of how neat and organized it looks now. Took a lot of work, but it was totally worth it.

  15. I need to follow those rules with my bedroom closet.

  16. Great tips but I still want someone else to do it!

  17. I have been doing a little bit of that today! Definitely not fun…. 🙂

  18. excellent advice! I am a slow but sure declutterer (is that a word?) I need to speed up my process!

  19. I am on a decluttering frenzy right now. I hate clutter so I’m doing my best to donate or toss out anything we won’t use in the next couple of weeks.

  20. Great tips, throwing things away is the hardest for me!

  21. I have so much decluttering to do. Thanks for the great tips!

  22. Good tips here. This is what I’m working on right now. I know how much better it feels afterward but I just wish I had more time for it.

  23. great tips this will be me for the next month

  24. I always feel so clean and refreshed after going through our clutter.

  25. Ok I need to play the remember me game. Great idea!

  26. I need all the help I can get with decluttering. Thanks for the tips!

  27. That remember me game is brilliant, but I KNOW I would still keep everything I didn’t remember!

  28. We’ve been trying to declutter with the new baby on the way. I totally agree that you can’t be afraid to throw things away. When it comes down to it, it’s all just “stuff” that can be replaced.

  29. “Get help” is the BIGGEST thing for me. I have a friend that has offered a zillion times, but I feel so weird about asking her to come over and help me declutter.

  30. Great tips. I need some serious help decluttering my house LOL

  31. I think having a goal in mind before you start definitely helps.