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20 Decluttering Rules the Experts Say Are “Life-Changing”

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If you’re up to your eyeballs in mess and clutter, it might be time to roll up your sleeves and start decluttering! But you may be asking yourself questions such as, where should you start decluttering first, how do you know what to get rid of and what to keep, and how do you keep the mess from creeping back? If you’re feeling stuck and overwhelmed, here is a list of simple decluttering rules to guide and inspire you.

But who makes up these rules of decluttering? And what are the benefits of having rules for decluttering your home?

Today you will learn all of that and more so that you can maximize your success and create the clutter-free life of your dreams – let’s dive in!

A woman pulling a book off a shelf to read the rules of decluttering.

๐Ÿ“ What is a decluttering rule?

A decluttering rule is a guideline to follow that gives you a framework for how to effectively declutter your home and keep it organized. There are many different decluttering rules out there, but they all have one common goal: to make it easier for you to get rid of clutter and keep it out.

There are rules that can be applied to every aspect of the decluttering process, from start to finish; these may include:

  • Mindset shifts to improve your chances of success.
  • Knowing what to keep and what to get rid of as you declutter.
  • Tips to make letting go easier.
  • Strategies to declutter faster.
  • Ways to reduce the incoming flow of clutter.
  • Ideas on how to stop buying stuff you don’t need.
  • Rules to help your home stay clutter-free – forever!

โญ๏ธ Benefits of having Rules for Decluttering

In a previous blog post, we dove into the benefits of minimalism and reducing clutter, such as improved health, a happier marriage, smarter kids, increased life satisfaction, and more. (Read that post here if you haven’t already – there are links to all the research, statistics, and studies!)

Those things are all well and good, but how do you declutter to the point that you can enjoy those benefits?

That’s where these declutter rules come into play!

Rules facilitate easier choices and make it simpler for you to create decluttering plans, execute your plans, and reach your big goals.

Particularly for beginners who find it hard to declutter, decluttering rules can provide a solid framework of what to do and how to tackle a tidying project without getting overwhelmed or burned out.

READ MORE: 20 Reasons Declutter is Hard (and What to Do About Each!)

A woman follow the best decluttering rules to know what to get rid of and what to keep

๐Ÿ’ช Popular Decluttering Rules

Here are ten of the most popular decluttering rules of all time. These are general guidelines that decluttering veterans and real-life minimalists use and recommend to keep clutter away.

1. Know your “why”

Most of us go through life on autopilot and don’t put much thought into our day-to-day actions. If that sounds like you, it might be time for you to sit down and think about what you want your life to look like.

This process of re-aligning your values and beliefs can help you live with more purpose and meaning. Knowing your motivation or “why” behind decluttering will help keep you on track when the going gets tough and decluttering gets difficult.

Are you decluttering to simplify your life? To reduce stress? To save money? So that you don’t have to clean as often or as much? There are no wrong answers here, but if you can identify your decluttering “why” it will be easier to stay motivated throughout the process.

2. Start with your favorites

One decluttering rule that I love is to start with your favorites. Why? Because it’s easier to get rid of things when you have a reference point for what you truly love.

I call these your “North Star” items; just like sailors used to navigate the treacherous seas by the light of the stars, so too can you use your favorite and most cherished treasures to illuminate the path to your clutter-free future.

No matter if you’re decluttering an entire room or just tackling your wardrobe, pulling out your favorites first will help you notice what you really love, use, and need and let go of the rest.

3. Value yourself more than your stuff

One of the most important decluttering rules is to value yourself more than your stuff. But what does that mean, exactly?

It might mean reminding yourself that your worth as a human being isn’t based on what you own and that you needn’t feel compelled to keep up with the Joneses. It might also mean remembering to make time and space in your life for things that matter the most to you outside of your stuff.

If you’re spending too much time managing your stuff instead of enjoying your life, you’re overvaluing the things you own and undervaluing yourself.

4. Function over form

One decluttering rule that often gets overlooked is the importance of function over form. In other words, go for practicality over prettiness.

This decluttering rule is crucial because it can help you let go of things you might be holding onto simply because they’re aesthetically pleasing. Even the nicest and most expensive sofa in the world isn’t much use if it’s not comfortable to sit on – so why would you keep it?

Avoid getting carried away with trying to create an “Instagram-perfect” and minimalist aesthetic home. Instead, focus on keeping stuff you actually use and decorating your home in a practical way.

I promise you can still have a beautiful home without needing to own all-white or uncomfortably fashionable furniture.

5. Decluttering is not “wasting”

A lot of people get caught up in financial guilt and feel like they are wasting money by getting rid of perfectly good items, saving them “just in case” or because they don’t want to “lose money.”

It’s time to get real; it doesn’t matter how much you paid for that Prada dress if it’s just sitting in your closet, unworn, and with the tags still on two years after you purchased it!

The same can be said for unread books, toys your kids don’t play with, and exercise equipment collecting dust in your basement.

As a rule, the money is not wasted in getting rid of the thing; it’s wasted when you buy the stuff in the first place. Let go of the guilt you feel and focus on being more intentional with your shopping going forward.

6. Plan to succeed 

When it comes to decluttering, it pays to plan ahead. One important aspect of planning is setting realistic goals and timelines. Trying to declutter your entire home in one weekend is not only overwhelming, but it’s also unlikely to be successful.

It can also mean creating systems for getting rid of clutter, brainstorming solutions for challenges that pop up, and finding ways to stay inspired and motivated when you start to lose momentum.

“Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

– Benjamin Franklin

7. Declutter the duplicates

Getting rid of duplicates is an quick and easy way to reduce the amount of stuff you have to deal with. If you have two (or more) of something, ask yourself if you really need both items.

In many cases, one will suffice, or you may be able to find a better solution that doesn’t involve keeping multiples.

8. Have a place for everything

If you want to declutter your home and keep it that way, having a designated place for everything is essential. This rule is especially important for items that get used daily.

When everything has its own “home,” it’s much easier to put things away and keep your space tidy. Make sure the rest of your family knows where those items go!

9. Change your habits

If you don’t change the patterns of behavior that lead your home to become cluttered, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to keep it clutter-free going forward!

Breaking old habits can be difficult, but it’s worth it if you want to declutter your home for good. If you struggle with impulse spending or other lousy money habits, it’s time to turn over a new leaf.

10. Progress over perfection

There’s no such thing as a home that’s 100% tidy all the time, and that’s okay! Life happens, and sometimes your home will reflect that.

The important thing is not to get discouraged — keep moving forward with your decluttering journey, and know that every little bit counts.

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”

– Confucious

A beautiful minimalist home with white walls and plants that follows rules for decluttering to keep it tidy.

โœ๏ธ Expert Rules of Decluttering

Now that you’ve read ten general decluttering rules, here are rules from decluttering and minimalism experts and published authors on this topic.

11. The 90/90 Rule

This rule comes from Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists, who suggest that when you’re trying to decide if you should keep or get rid of an object, ask yourself if you’ve used that item in the past 90 days or going to use it in the next 90 days.

If the answer is no, you’re free to let it go!

12. The 20/20 Rule

Here’s another rule from The Minimalists: the 20/20 rule! If you’re on the fence about something and it costs less than $20 and would take under 20 minutes to replace, then go ahead and declutter it.

As someone who practices sustainable living as well as minimalism, I take this rule with a grain of salt, but it’s worth considering.

13. The 5 by 5 Rule

There’s a saying that goes, “If it won’t matter in five years, don’t spend more than five minutes worrying about it.”

If you’re someone who gets stuck on what to declutter and what to keep, remind yourself of this rule to keep things in perspective. In the grand scheme of things, that one small choice isn’t going to matter all that much!

14. The One In, One Out Rule

The one in, one out rule is a game-changer in maintaining a clutter-free life! To use this rule, when you want to bring a new item into your home, you need to get rid of something you already own to keep things balanced and equal.

You can learn more about this rule and how to modify it here.

15. The One Touch Rule

The one-touch rule is a tidying technique that can help you keep on top of your mess and make cleaning up a breeze.

To use this rule, you must deal with an item as soon as you touch it. That means if something needs to be put away, you put it away then and there instead of leaving it out for later.

Remember, the person who did the touching is responsible for the putting away – spouses and kids should be held accountable for tidying up after themselves! (It’s going to take some time to make this habit stick, but it’s well worth it.)

16. The Container Concept (Dana K. White)

Dana K. White’s book, Decluttering at the Speed of Life, made this list of the top decluttering books of all time because of her oh-so relatable approach to decluttering.

The container concept is a principle that helps you set boundaries for how much stuff you can own and need to store in your home.

It could mean decluttering the rest of the clothes once your dresser is filled up or removing extra art supplies once your kids’ desk is full. Once the container is filled up, that’s that!

Kinda like that cat meme:

“If it fits, I sits.”

– Cats


17. It’s either “yes” or “no”

In his decluttering manifesto, Goodbye Things, Japanese minimalist and author Fumio Sasaki wrote: “If it’s not a “h*ll, yes!” it’s a “no.’

This might appear easier said than done, but when you take the time to consider, why would you want to fill up your life with maybes and so-sos, when you could surround yourself with stuff that is amazing, incredible, and that you love?

18. Keep things that spark joy

This decluttering rule was made famous by Japanese decluttering expert Marie Kondo. The basic idea is that when you are decluttering, you should pick up each item in your hand and ask yourself: “Does this spark joy?”

If it doesn’t, then it’s time to say goodbye to that thing.

READ MORE: What is the KonMari Method? 20 Gentle Do’s and Don’ts for Tidying Up

19. Let go with gratitude

This rule also comes from Marie Kondo, and it’s beneficial for sentimental people who have trouble letting go of clutter. Kondo teaches people to say thank you to each item they declutter because giving gratitude helps bring closure to your relationship with that thing and makes letting go easier.

You don’t have to bid every single thing you get rid of a tearful goodbye, but when you find yourself getting emotional over something you know needs to go, this technique can be super helpful!

20. Don’t be a burden to your loved ones

It might sound a little bit morbid, but the premise behind Margareta Magnusson’s book, Swedish Death Cleaning, is simple and healing: as a rule, you should declutter your things before you die so that they aren’t a burden to the loved ones you leave behind.

As someone who struggled to declutter sentimental items after losing my family and childhood home, I can’t begin to stress the importance of this!

๐Ÿ’ก Final thoughts about setting declutter rules

I hope these decluttering rules have inspired you to start decluttering your own home! If you need more motivation or help getting started, check out my blog post on how to declutter your entire home or grab the free printable decluttering workbook down below!

Do you have any decluttering rules for yourself?

Drop them in the comments section below, and you might help or inspire someone else in their journey!


๐Ÿ“Œ Pin these decluttering rules to read again!

A list of the top 20 best declutter rules to get rid of clutter in your home and stay clutter-free


  1. Great list and summary of the best advice from professional organizers and declutterers. My favorites are the “100% YES” or “no” tip and Swedish death cleaning!

  2. I come from a long line of hoarders.
    I know the pit fells, but now I’m learning the reasons why I’ve gathered so much stuff. Folks used to come over, I said a bomb when off his here and the shrapnel was junk mail and dog hair. The other deflection from awkwardness was “As you can see, we’re in The Broken Egg” stage of our omelet.
    The came the quarantine and nobody came over, so we were free to avoid cleaning anything up and new? There’s no omelet in sight and we’re old people. And if we had any idea how to declutter, we’d have tried it before.
    Your 20 Rules are a godsend!!

  3. I use (and love!) “The Container Concept.” And while it’s probably my favorite from this list, I’ll admit it works best when used in conjunction with the other tips. When decluttering a space, I rarely end up wanting to put back more than can actually fit after I’ve taken everything out and separated it out into “donate”, “trash”, “sell” and “keep” piles. In fact, sometimes I find there is a great deal of EXTRA space left in the drawer or cabinet in question. What an amazing feeling. But if there is ever more than can comfortably fit in it’s own designated spot inside that space… then I know that something else needs to be “let go” or relocated before I can call it a day.

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