How to Declutter a House

How to Declutter a House

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Minimalism. A buzzword that’s been thrown around more and more in recent years, and the essence of which has been lost due to its commercialization which focuses on the aesthetics of what minimalism should look like. This type of commercialization seeks to make you feel like if your home does not look a certain way, then you are not doing minimalism correctly. Do not be fooled. Minimalism is simply a lifestyle, or way of living. It’s simple living. You do not need to buy anything to enjoy the benefits of minimalism. The core concept of minimalism is to only keep things that bring you joy. If 15 pairs of shoes bring you joy every time you wear them, then keep them. There is not a set number on how many things you should own.

There are two types of clutter:

  1. Physical
    • Home, office, vehicle
  2. Mental
    • Cognitions, relationships, obligations

This article will focus on physical clutter only, and how to declutter a house and maintain a clutter-free life. Read on below for my minimalism implementation strategy that I developed after my most recent move to a smaller space.


There are many stressors in our everyday lives: relationships, jobs, finances, long commutes, child-rearing, etc. Clutter is also a stressor, but unlike the others, this one is easy to fix. There are several benefits to going minimalist:

  • Extra money
  • Less stress
  • Extra time
  • Mental clarity
  • Smaller carbon footprint
  • Easier to clean
  • Freedom from comparison with others
  • Visually appealing
  • Freed from the past
  • Find things easier
  • Opportunity to downsize living space
  • Happier

I know for me personally, it has transformed my life and my mood. Whereas before I felt like I spent most of my time on the weekends cleaning, organizing, and putting things away, now that time is spent doing things I actually enjoy doing. Also, my bedroom has been clean for nearly 2 months now, which is a record for me! It’s so easy to maintain it because I simply don’t own as much anymore.

Another bonus for me personally, is that if I am having a high anxiety day, I am less stressed because I know it won’t take much to keep up with my apartment for the day…or maybe two :).


Personally, I’ve tried to sort through stuff as I was packing for a move, and it was flat out disastrous. I would definitely not recommend doing this, because moving is already stressful enough. The best time to do this, would be either after you have completed a move and you are unpacking things, or if you know you are going to be in your current home for a while (at least a year I would say).


This is where things can get tough. It’s hard to implement minimalism because sometimes it’s hard to part from things due to the emotions tied up within an object or document. Outlined below is the strategy I used to get to rid of physical clutter. The examples I give for each category are not all inclusive, but rather serve as a guideline.

  1. Pick a room or a space.
    • Sounds silly, but you will be less stressed if you choose a single room or a space (e.g., closet) to focus your efforts.
  2. Set a time limit.
    • It’s best to start small here, and limit your efforts in the beginning to 15 minutes or less. If you find that decluttering is not stressful, then feel free to increase the time limit. But once the time limit is up, give yourself permission to stop and go enjoy doing something else.
  3. Pick the smallest box or drawer to start with.
    • For example, I started with a small plastic tote of cables/cords that I had, and a plastic tote containing my tools and other odds and ends. By the end of the session, I was able to combine the contents into one tote, and recycle the other.
  4. Start sorting.
    • Objects. Sort objects into four categories: Keep, maybe, donate, trash. This type of sorting is most useful for clothing, outdoor gear, tools, kitchenware, toys, books, DVDs, games, decorations, etc.
      • Keep: This category is reserved for objects that you absolutely love, and bring you immense joy when you play with them or use them. Necessities also belong in this pile, like shampoo.
      • Maybe: These are things you are not sure about. Usually this consists of objects that you think you might need some day, objects that you have an emotional attachment to, or objects that you spent a lot of money on. For these objects, I recommend putting them in a box, dating the box, and putting it somewhere where it’s not easily accessible. If you don’t visit the objects in the box within a year, then it’s time to donate.
      • Donate: These are things that are easy to part with and that are still in good enough condition to donate. Examples include gently used clothing, kitchenware, decorations, etc.
      • Trash: These are also objects that are easy to part with, but are in no condition to donate. Examples include underwear, clothing with holes, chipped or broken kitchenware, etc.
    • Paper documents. I find paper documents to be a challenging category for me to sort through, because it’s hard to anticipate which documents I will need in the future. It’s hard trying to figure out what stays, what goes, and what can be digitized without risking identity theft. I’m getting anxious even just typing about this category :).
      • Keep: Reserved for very important documents.
        • Ex: Passport, birth certificate, social security card, pet health records, student loan payoff papers.
      • Trash: These are papers that you don’t need, and don’t see a use for in the future. I would recommend shredding them all to protect your personal information.
        • Ex: Recipes I never plan on making, magazines I haven’t read, old taxes
      • Digitize: Documents that you want to keep, but don’t contain personally identifiable information that could be used in identity theft.
        • Ex: Undergraduate and graduate coursework, research papers, recipes, photos from photo albums (make multiple copies!!)
    • Digital files. Digital files can be hard to part with because computer space these days is practically free. Personally, I don’t really intend on going through my digital files one by one. Space is so cheap that it’s really not worth the time investment. Now, if I’m bored, I might delete an obvious file or two. But, this is a category that I am not sure is all that important to clean out. Same goes for email.
    • Cleaning chemicals. I do not own any, other than some draino for the occasional clogged drain. Need to clean a mirror? Water. Wipe down a window? Water. Clean the floor? Vinegar/water solution. Cleaning chemicals are bad for the environment, take up space in your home, cost a lot of money, and pose a hazard to pets and small children. I personally would eliminate these altogether as much as possible.


Good job! You’ve implemented my strategy to minimize your physical possessions, and you are wondering how you are going to maintain your new lifestyle. I have a few tips and tricks that I have used myself, that you might find useful.

  1. DVDs
    • Only purchase ones that you love, and that you are going to watch again. For me, these are TV series that I absolutely must have and can’t find anywhere else and Disney movies.
      • Other options: Rent for free from your local library, rent from a RedBox, rent from Amazon, Vudu, etc.
  2. Books
    • Again, only purchase those that you absolutely love, and will read again.
      • Other options: Borrow from your local library, buy eBook versions to store electronically.
  3. Paperwork
    • Decide what to do with it according to the framework above, as it comes into your home. Don’t let it pile up! Also, deal with your mail on a daily basis.
  4. Clothing
    • I refuse to buy anymore clothing because I have too many outfits as it is now, and don’t need anymore. I would suggest only buying clothing when your old ones need replacing. The other option, is if you buy something new, you get rid of something old. In with the new, out with the old.


And there you have it! My step-by-step guide on how to declutter a house, and how to maintain it going forward. Remember, minimalism is a lifestyle, it’s not something you purchase. It costs $0 to implement (unless you need a document scanner or a document shredder), and will make you feel a lot less stressed. While it won’t cure your anxiety or depression, it will definitely make things easier to manage if you experience a relapse, and aren’t able to keep up on things. The phrase “less is more” really applies here.

Happy decluttering! 🙂

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6 thoughts on “How to Declutter a House”

    • Thank you!! I hope you find them useful, and I REALLY appreciate you sharing my article to your Facebook page. 🙂 Happy spring cleaning!

  • I agree that if you manage to declutter and keep things to a minimum, it helps you feel lighter and think much clearer too. I am speaking from personal experience. I cannot even concentrate well at a crowded desk or if my room needs to be tidy! Thanks for this post which has helped to cement what I believed all along.

    • Yes!! Although I must admit, it’s much easier for me to keep my home free of clutter than it is my office. I have a hard time figuring out which papers to throw away and which to keep!

    • Haha it was there! This picture was actually taken right before my Qualifying Exam. The crumpled up papers are from that, and the book was on the floor for whatever reason. There is also a lip gloss (pink thing) in the photo. 🙂

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