Seven routines and guidelines to live as an unclutterer — no super powers necessary

You’re not a superhero? Well, neither am I. No unclutterer I know is a superhero, either. We’re all just non-superheroes doing our uncluttered, non-superhero things.

To an outsider, an unclutterer can appear to have super powers. But, trust me, unclutterers don’t have the ability to wave a magic wand and instantly be clutter free and organized (although, that would be an amazing power to possess). Instead of magic wands, most unclutterers simply do a little work each day and adhere to a few simple guidelines to keep from being overwhelmed by an avalanche of clutter.

These aren’t laws, but these are the routines and guidelines most unclutterers follow to keep clutter at bay:

  1. Have a place for everything. If something you own doesn’t have a place to be stored, it will always be out of place and cluttering up your space. Everything needs a home that is easily accessible so you can find it when you need it.
  2. When you’re finished using something, put it away. You can’t easily find something if it’s not in its proper storage location. Don’t waste time hunting for things, simply put items back when you’re finished using them. If you’re finished using something for good, put it in the trash, recycling, shredder, or donation bin.
  3. The fewer things you own, the fewer things you have to store, maintain, put away, clean, etc. You don’t need to be a minimalist, just focus on getting rid of the clutter so you’re only caring for the things you value.
  4. Only own things with utility and things that bring you happiness. Not everything in your home needs to be useful, but the things that aren’t useful need to at least make you happy. If you have a knickknack that you curse at every time you dust, it’s time for the knickknack to be passed along to someone else. If something that was once useful is no longer useful, it’s time to get rid of it, too.
  5. One in, one out. If you buy a replacement good, get rid of the inferior good you’re replacing.
  6. Everyone does his/her part. Everyone sharing your living space, including you, needs to lend a hand around the house out of respect for the others living in the space. Irrespective of how you choose to divvy up the major load of housework, everyone should: put away items after they use them, put their dirty clothes in the dirty clothes hamper, and clean up all messes he/she makes.
  7. Do a little every day. When you do about 30 minutes of dedicated work on your home each day, you can pretty much cover everything you need to do over the course of a week. How to set up a daily routine is explained in the article, “Ask Unclutterer: Exhausted after work,” and also in more detail in my book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week.

You don’t need to be a superhero to follow these seven routines and guidelines. You, too, can be an unclutterer — no super powers necessary.

17 Comments for “Seven routines and guidelines to live as an unclutterer — no super powers necessary”

  1. posted by MaryJo @ reSPACEd: Budget Organizing on

    Excellent, excellent list. I think #2 (when you’re finished with something, put it away) is the quickest way to make the biggest difference in most people’s homes.

    And #6 (everyone does his/her part)is a crucial part of home maintenance that often gets neglected in these types of articles/posts on organization. I’d like to add that #6 includes teaching your kids to put their things away when they are done with them. It can be a hard skill to teach, but the pay-off for parents (less housework, more free time) is worth it!

  2. posted by DawnF on

    Great post! Easy, basic guidelines that really EVERYONE can do and be successful at!

    If a child is old enough to pick up a toy and play with that toy then they are certainly old enough to put the toy back in it’s storage place when they are done. There should be NO excuses for kids to just dump their toys (clothes, dishes, etc.) wherever they feel like it ~ unless they are learning by example from their parents…

    Have a happy, organized 2012!

  3. posted by Heidi Poe on

    #5 is a great one that’s very easy to ignore. We bought a new exercise bike to replace our old broken one a few months ago, and JUST TODAY did we finally get the old one out of our apartment. It’s been driving me crazy that entire time because it was blocking the door that held the broom, vacuum cleaner, and other items like that, so I cleaned less often and BLAH it was a mess for a while.

    Same thing with a broken toaster. The old one went out today with the broken exercise bike. I’ll try really hard to not do that again!!

  4. posted by Wednesday on

    What a coincidence! I spent the morning piling everything in the bedroom closet in the middle of the room. I just completed typing out the notes in your book to begin sorting and took a short break while the printer warmed up.

    And behold! your post was in my in-box, echoing the very things I’d just outlined from your book. If I needed a sign from the universe to finish this project this afternoon, that was certainly it. The sun won’t stop, and since I’m using the bed to sort on, I can’t sleep until I’m done.

    Thank you for making things so clear in “Unclutter Your Life in One Week” (which I got as a Christmas gift last year…so embarrassing not to open it and use it until this year), for being stern yet simple. My mother is a clutter-bug, and I’m not telling her I’m tossing out stuff. If I did, she would only take it home which solves nothing. Shhh!

  5. posted by Karen on

    A possible #8 would be, Claim Don’t Blame. Claim responsibility for keeping your home/life organized and don’t blame others for your lack of organization. Even if someone else’s actions are thwarting your own for instilling peace and organization, take the time to constructively discuss it and work out a solution that meets both of your needs. You may not always (ever?) hold the same definition of what “clean and organized” means, but blaming someone else without claiming your own part of it rarely leads to a solution.

  6. posted by Merrilee on

    I love this blog! I gave my husband the rule 1 in 2 out because he still likes to go to garage sales even though we are at the stage of paring down. I really agree with # 3, too. We are gradually letting go of things with sentimental value that are not being used or looked at. If it is really hard for me to let go, I take a photo of it and create a scrapbook page about it.

  7. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    Karen — I like your #8!

  8. posted by priest's wife on

    What a perfect list- I’m printing it out and taping to the bathroom mirror

    happy New year!

  9. posted by Jonathan @ punchlifeintheface on

    I love the list. An extra one that perhaps I need to pay a bit of attention to would be “Don’t ignore the messy areas just because most of the house is clean”. Guess I’ll be uncluttering my laundry room tonight then.

  10. posted by Heartlover1717 on

    Great list! Nos. 3 & 4 are of special significance in my own home…

  11. Profile photo of

    posted by ninakk on

    I would like to take the opportunity to “invite” those of you readers, who are not registered to use the forum yet, to join us non-heroes over there. Within only a few days, several readers have de-lurked and brought fresh ideas to it.

    I would like to go off in a tangent regarding #1-3. Don’t buy more storage until you know what will stay and what will leave. No point in organizing what leaves.

    And re:#5, don’t take responsibility for the things that are to be donated. Just release them and don’t worry about exactly who will benefit from it.

  12. posted by Sheila on

    Great list, such little things that can make a huge difference.

  13. posted by Natalie in West Oz on

    @ninakk. I love watching Hoarders and it hits me every time that when its time to get rid of things they cant – because they are going in the bin. I bet if someone from a charity turned up and explained they could really use some of those items, that it would be easier for those people to let go of more of the stuff.

    I have to say though, a friend of mine came over and was upset at how much weight she’d lost and how nothing was fitting but said it was too embarassing to go shopping. Being a person of larger size and having just gone through some smaller size clothes (which were her new size), I gave her the clothes that I had considered too good to throw away and was going to keep (I had an accident and put on weight but was keeping them because I WILL lose weight at some point). She happily took them and the next day said how she didnt like how the dresses looked on her and her son needed some material for school so she offered to cut them up for him (they were BRAND NEW with tags still attached) but her daughter pipped in and said she loved them and so now they are her play dresses.

    To be honest, I was FURIOUS at the waste of brand new items that I would have kept except that I perceived a need. It took a lot of self talk to accept that once I had given them, it was her choice what she did with them. I will say though, I wont be ‘helping out’ that person anymore, or at least telling her not to tell me what happened to the items!

    as for the list, its up on my fridge. Lets see if my husband ignores it like the other list full of sensible ideas for keeping the house in order (written for my ADHD son who doesnt absorb rules and needs to be told).

  14. posted by Rosemary on

    Another one: purge until it fits.

    An alternative way of looking at it: only put back what will fit. Get rid of everything else.

  15. posted by Jonda Beattie on

    A very clean and concise blog. Love the way you have presented your ideas!

  16. posted by Andrea B on

    Ahh! #2, my nemesis! I’m still working on that one, despite enjoying most other parts of the organizing process.

    And I love Rosemary’s suggestion of purge until it fits. I think that’s one reason moving has really helped us get organized! Three moves in two years of marriage … ay yi yi, but we’ve gotten rid of probably 1/3 of our stuff that way and haven’t missed it. :)

  17. posted by Rebecca on

    “Purge til it fits” is half my resolution for 2012. The other half is #1 up there – I’m sick of my place never being truly tidy, and at the moment it can’t be. There are too many items which have no “away” for putting away.

    Goal part the first is to downsize and reorganize the entire basement by mid-March – wish me luck!

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