Uncluttered aphorisms

At Unclutterer, we abide by the motto “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” In addition to this motto, we also have a number of uncluttered sayings that work their way into many of our posts:

  • The less you own, the less you have to clean. This applies to quantity of objects as well as square footage in your home.
  • One in, one out. If you buy something new, you need to get rid of whatever it’s replacing.
  • If you get it out, put it back. An especially great rule to implement to keep your home and office orderly.
  • Guilt is not a reason to keep something. This one is self explanatory.

What mottoes or principles inspire you to keep clutter out of your home? Share your motivating sayings with us in the comments!

63 Comments for “Uncluttered aphorisms”

  1. posted by Chris on

    One rule, that I rarely follow but works when I do, is “touch it once”. I.e., when I empty the cereal box, drop the bag in the trash, break up the box and take it out to the recycling immediately. Beer bottles don’t pile up – rinse them and out to the recycling. Etc.

  2. posted by skittles on

    My father’s favorite…. but I’ve come to appreciate it.

    “I once cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

    It has a way of putting things into perspective.

  3. posted by marylynn on

    “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” – William Morris

    This is such a great approach. I try to remember this when deciding what to keep.

  4. posted by Joe Ganley on

    I’ve always enjoyed how Laid-Off Dad (http://laidoffdad.typepad.com/) refers to “negative crap-flow.”

    Also, I’ve heard the “touch it once” philosophy referred to as OHIO – Only Handle It Once.

  5. posted by kat on

    One of my favorite one-liners is “It’s just STUFF.” It’s something my mom started saying after our house was broken into and the thieves got away with many things with sentimental value (e.g. jewelry passed on from her mother). It’s a reminder that there are many things in the world more important than these THINGS which have a tendency to take over our lives — and that the things are not the happy memories they represent. Of course it’s good to keep things that you cherish, but it’s also important to be able to step back and remind yourself that you could live without it, and, in the cases where the stuff is not adding anything positive to your life, let it go.

    It also reminds me that, however much we want to think otherwise, stuff is abundant and easily replaceable. The world is full of it! “It’s just stuff”… there’s nothing special about it. You can always get more.

    Another good one, related to the “touch it once” rule mentioned above (also good!) is the “two-minute rule”, which is part of Getting Things Done. (I read that book and, while most of it didn’t work so well for me, a couple of the productivity tips did stick with me.) If there’s a task you can do in under 2 minutes, don’t put it off til later — just DO IT. I find that helps me keep on top of the little household stuff, since a lot of the 2-minute tasks are related to processing mail/papers and putting things back where they belong.

  6. posted by Jakob on

    I don’t know if my translation is correct.
    My mom always said “Never go empty” or german “Nie leer gehen”.

    It means that when you go to your kitchen because you want to grab a beer, you grab the coffee mug that stands on your desk and put in your dishwasher.

    It’s like drive-by shooting but with less drive and shooting but more walk and cleaning…

  7. posted by Jonson on

    I go by the rule “…if you’ve not used it in 3 months, you probably dont need it” and it works, every 3 months I spend a weekend re-evaluating things, and usually end up throwing out 2 trash bags worth of stuff (or selling it now-a-days)

  8. posted by Sara on

    My big rule is, “If we haven’t used it since we cleaned the closet last time, it’s going.” We clean our closets every 6 months and there’s always a bunch of stuff we can get rid of.

    I, however, suck at this when it comes to my own closet. I need to live by your “One in, One out” rule. My closet is very full. Very organized and I know everything that’s in there and where to find it, but very full.

  9. posted by PrairieGal on

    When my husband and I bought our first home, I really wanted at least 1000 sqft, but all we could afford was a cute little 860 sqft. “Less to clean!” my friend told me. I still smile when I can zip through dusting the baseboards or washing the floor.

  10. posted by Jessica on

    This is one I started hypnotizing myself with when I decided not to live in squalor any more:

    “A clean home is a gift you give yourself!”

    I have now kept a clean house for ten years.

  11. posted by Sheena on

    “If it doesn’t have a place, it doesn’t belong.”

    I also tell myself that “when I need it again, I’ll be at a place to have it again”…therefore I don’t need to keep ten pair of jeans.

    For clothes..if I haven’t worn it in six months…they must go… (unless its extremely seasonal or specific)

  12. posted by Joan on

    “What if we had to sell the house tomorrow?”

  13. posted by jess on

    If I come across something tucked away (back of a drawer, hidden in a box) and think ‘I didn’t know I had this!’ then it’s fair to assume I didn’t need it in the first place and out it goes…

  14. posted by Sheena on

    These are all good things to keep in mind seeing as to the fact that I move into a studio apartment in two months.

  15. posted by Guen on

    I found my favorite clutter related saying in one of Peter Walsh’s books: “Don’t throw good space after bad money.” No matter how pricey an item was, if it’s not useful, doesn’t fit, or you just plain don’t want it – don’t keep it!

  16. posted by Wilhelm Scream on

    @Jess: That’s a favourite one of mine! If I didn’t know I had it, it obviously wasn’t important enough to occupy brain space, so it can’t be important enough to occupy real space.

  17. posted by reba on

    “would i pay someone to move this” if not then i don’t need it, only keep what you really love

  18. posted by Lily on

    I have 8 big boxes of guilt items on my front porch for donation today! They are full of things I’ve held onto for years – things I didn’t want, but felt terrible parting with because of guilt. I started with scheduling the pick up before I had even decided on what to donate, figuring it would force me to chose some things to get rid of. With the deadline looming, it just got easier and easier to fill the boxes. What a freeing feeling!!

  19. posted by Sherry on

    I can’t quite remember the exact words my mother used but it was something along the lines of “we never have the time to do something right, but always have the time it takes to correct our mistakes from not taking the time to do it right”. In other words, do it right the first time!

  20. posted by Catbird on

    I’m quite fond of the old “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”. It’s a nice reminder that I don’t *need* new stuff, I can make do with all the stuff I already have.

  21. posted by Joe Fusco on

    When things get out of hand, or out of balance, our motto is “declutter with extreme prejudice.”

  22. posted by anonymous on

    After a while, you don’t own your possessions.

    Your possessions own you.

  23. posted by gypsy packer on

    Get it free, replace it cheap, sell the freebie for replacement cost.

    Works more often than you would suspect.

  24. posted by Nicole on

    “You get what you pay for.” Keeps you from buying more crap!

  25. posted by Amanda on

    “I can still lead a full and complete life without [item goes here].” When my grandmother finally had to move into an assisted living facility, it took months with this motto and some tissues, but it worked! One of my aunts actually came up with it, and we’ve all been using it ever since.

  26. posted by Janet on

    “Buy the best and cry once.” Or in other words, take the time and/or money to buy quality rather than quantity.

  27. posted by Sheryl on

    “Clean as you go”. My Marine Sergeant mother taught me this (yes, I’m serious…”pre-me”, she really did wear combat boots!;-))

    I can cook a huge meal and by the time it’s on the table, all of the cooking utensils are in the dishwasher, or washed and put away. It drives me crazy to see dishes and ingredients pile up, until you have a big mess to clean up later.

    She also taught me the same thing that Jakob’s mother taught him, which is basically to “always leave a room cleaner when you exit than when you enter”. Now if I could only instill these concepts in my extremely ADD husband and son…

  28. posted by Olga on

    These are all great sayings! I like the one that goes along the lines, “The inside of your home reflects the inside of you”. When my home is messy, it’s just not as tranquil and stress-free as when it’s neat and clean.

  29. posted by Nana on

    As an older person, I sometimes remind myself, “Do I want my children to have to deal with this?”

  30. posted by Shandy on

    “If it’s on the floor, it’s out the door.”

  31. posted by Eleya on

    “The stuff you own, owns you.” An easy reminder that we take on responsibility for everything we acquire.

  32. posted by Bakelite Doorbell on

    When in doubt, throw it out.

  33. posted by A.M.B.A. on

    Less is more.

  34. posted by Kate on

    I second Nana (do I want my children to have to deal with this?). Parents, write down your memories, take photos, or make a videotape. But don’t attach meaning to the objects themselves. It just causes guilt later on when your child does not have room for them but can’t bear to part with the “memories.”

  35. posted by catmom on

    Great minds think alike! Some mottos I’ve heard of before and the ones I haven’t, love them too! I have to tell myself “It’s one more thing taking up space in my house.”

    BTW, last week I dropped off some books and magazines to the used book store and got store credit, then yesterday dropped off a box and a large bag to Goodwill. If I had the nerve I would have jumped up and down and shouted “yay” but instead I got into my car and said “yay” to myself. On both days it was safe to say that I was one happy camper!!!

  36. posted by cv on

    This only works for certain types of items, but I often ask myself “How much would this cost to replace if I wanted it again?” It usually convinces me to throw out the old t-shirt, the third ladle in the kitchen drawer, or the copy of a classic novel available at every used book store in the country. If I keep tons of items that I “might need one day” and end up using only a fraction of them, I don’t really come our ahead when you factor in storage and psychic costs.

  37. posted by joan V. on

    A place for everything and everything in its place!

    And when shopping – do I really need this?

  38. posted by Daniel on

    “When you know where you are going, you know what to carry.” – Don Aslett

  39. posted by Ajana on

    I also use reba’s “would i pay someone to move this”.

    Plus: “Love it, use it or lose it.”

  40. posted by Amanda on

    This one comes from my Dad and applies to more than just clutter or housekeeping, “Do what you are supposed to do!” When I heard it as a kid it was a reminder for missed chores. Now I remind myself with the same words for various things.

  41. posted by Ruth M on

    Simplifying isn’t meant to leave your life empty — it’s meant to leave space in your life for what you really want to do. – Leo Babauta

  42. posted by Stephanie on

    One of the main factors that causes me (and lots of other people) to hold on to clutter is because I fear that someday, in the future, I’ll need or want to use the item, and I’ll kick myself for getting rid of it. A saying I like to repeat to myself in my head (which is a paraphrase of something I believe I read in the comments of Unclutterer one time) is “Present Me is tired of holding onto Future Me’s crap. Future Me will just have to deal with it.”

  43. posted by Miracle Maxine on

    @Reba, @Joan – I totally second (third?) “would you pay someone to move it”. One transatlantic move cured my of most of my packrat tendencies, and three moves later I’m very proud of my progress.

    Another motivator for me: “This item would be much happier being useful to someone else rather than being ignored at my house”. This is especially helpful with parting with kids’ outgrown clothes and gifts I have no use for.

  44. posted by Carol on

    Something I heard on tv was “Cherish the thought not the gift”, or something like that. Very useful when trying to part with things that were gifted to me that I don’t want/need. Also taking a picture of the item has to be the single most usful idea I’ve ever come across. Photos take up less space than the item itself.

  45. posted by glynn on

    Hanging on my wall is a saying that I found on the internet one day: “By hoarding things, it shows we have no faith that we will get more.”

  46. posted by Rachel on

    “Not every memory needs to have a memento.”

    That quote completely changed the way I hoarded sentimental napkins, acorns, matchbooks etc. etc.

  47. posted by Moxie on

    I love these! I wish I had grown up hearing some of these messages… maybe I would be a more naturally-tidy person!

    While I love the feeling of being tidy and organized, getting to that stage is definitely not one of my strengths.

  48. posted by Ajana on

    Love, love, love Stephanie’s one too: “Present Me is tired of holding onto Future Me’s crap. Future Me will just have to deal with it.”

  49. posted by wendyrjr on

    One from The Simple Dollar website, which hit home with me – don’t trade your dreams for stuff. It stops me wasting lots of small amounts of money on ‘stuff’ and means that we can plan fun family activities without worrying. We can also dream big for the long term future.

  50. posted by Susan on

    I try to ask something along the lines of “Is this relevant to my actual lifestyle, or am I holding onto it for some previous or future lifestyle, neither of which I’m actually living?”
    It’s so easy to keep things for a life I either no longer live (ie snowboard gear from when I lived in the rockies) or that I feel I should live (running clothes, because maybe the next time I start running I’ll finally enjoy it) or that I hope to live in some vague future that I’m not doing anything to bring about (rubber boots for when I move to the farm/cottage that I don’t own).

    It’s a good question, because it reminds me to let go of the past while reminding me that I’m in charge of creating my future, and if what I want in my future is to move to the country, then I need to take action today to move towards that goal!

  51. posted by Melissa on

    I’ve read most the comments now. It all comes down one thing:

    A memento is not equivalent to a memory.

    However, as a human the memento has value as a trigger for memory recall and thus is inherently difficult to let go of that link.

  52. posted by twosandalz on

    ‘If I didn’t know I wanted it, I don’t need it.’

    When I see some really cool item which I’d never wished for until the moment I saw it, chances are good that it will become clutter. I go home and sleep on it. 99% of the time, I decide that I don’t really need the item. This saves me a lot of $$ too.

  53. posted by tabatha on

    “if you don’t need it, its not a deal”

  54. posted by Erika on

    “If you don’t need it, it’s not a bargain”

    I repeat this over and over to my parents who are both hoarders. It only works when I’m there to say it, but it works wonders when I do. It also helps me from following their hoarder footsteps 🙂

    Ohhh I just noticed, Tabitha pipped me to this one! Oh well, great minds think alike. It’s a very useful saying.

  55. posted by rachel on

    A long the lines of Kate’s post, I am a mother of kids 7 and 9, I love to take pictures and write about birthdays, holidays, ect…but I never take pictures or write about the “stuff” anyone gets. I just show and write about the experiences. So not to have memento of stuff.
    Also, I think I am pretty clutter free, but do find myself buy kids clothes for the “next”, which almost never works out. I will take the advise to live now, not in the future.

  56. posted by Cliff on

    Companion to, “The stuff you own, owns you”:

    “We do not ride the train. The train rides us.” –Thoreau

    Also, “Someone else wants to own it more than I do. And they’re probably willing to pay me for the privilege.”

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  59. posted by Miles on

    I pay Blockbuster/Netflix to keep any movies I want to see or see every once and a while

    And the library, books and magazines, I want to read (again)

    TCM and the Fox Movie Channel show movies with no ads

    My Sony Reader 505 is an expensive bookcase, sure, but I carry my library with me full of articles and out-of-copyright books, plus Sony’s bookstore gives away books

    (My theory is any book/movie I have not seen or read is new to me)

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  61. posted by M. Kempner on

    The “One in One Out” Rule should be taught to children.

    After every shopping trip my mother would make my sisters and I go through our closets and find an article of clothing to donate for every item we purchased that day. We wern’t allowed to take the clothing out of the bags till this was completed. The same held true for toys and books. It taught us early on that when you are lucky enough to get something new you should give something to someone less fortunate, a good lesson.

  62. posted by Room in the Inn :: Above Yourself on

    […] Eventually I realized that we’re not ready for a house yet, and we don’t really need one. What we need for all of our stuff is a home. For some of our stuff that home is not our home. With too much stuff around, things tend to get in the way and make the whole house seem smaller. We plan on storing some of our things and getting rid of lots more. We’re learning that “guilt is not a reason to keep something“. […]

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