15 Decluttering Tips

Clutter costs money! How?

1) Clutter is confusing. You don’t know what you have— so you don’t know what to buy and what not to buy.
2) Clutter makes you inefficient. Waste costs money.
3) Clutter causes stress. Stress makes you do stupid stuff, like buy more crap (clutter) you don’t need.

There are more, but that’s enough. Zen Habits has some tips for removing clutter from your life. Here are a few that we liked:

  • Donate stuff you’re decluttering, so you don’t feel bad about wasting it.

  • Start at the corner by the door and move your way around the room, doing the superficial stuff first – surfaces, empty the bin etc. Repeat, but do more the 2nd time around – ie. open the cupboards.

  • Use the “one in, two out” rule. The rule: whenever you bring in an item, you have to throw away two other items. First you cheat, by throwing out two pieces of paper, but soon you will have to move to big stuff.

  • The One-Year Box. Take all your items that you unsure about getting rid of (e.g. “I might need this someday…”), put them in a box, seal it and date it for 1 year in the future. When the date comes, and you still didn’t need to open it to get anything, donate the box WITHOUT OPENING IT. You probably won’t even remember what there was in the box.

15 Great Decluttering Tips [Zen Habits]


Edit Your Comment

  1. ColdNorth says:

    Ugh. If I had shelves, that’s what my office would look like.

  2. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    We opened a “one year” box one time just out of curiosity, and found that we had actually rebought and replaced about three quarters of the contents at some time during the preceding year. The tip is a little shocking, so it comes across as a fresh, brash idea, but it does not actually work.

  3. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    This is the way to declutter. We do not do this enough at my house, but it is the only thing that works.

    – Set aside an ample amount of time to work uninterrupted.
    – Familiarize yourself with the “FAT” method, which stands for “File”, “Act,” or “Toss.” File means find a place to put it away, and actually put it there right now. Act means to process the thing in the way you originally meant to when you last put your hand on it (i.e. pay the bill now, don’t put it away until you have a “better chance”.) Toss means “get rid of,” and if your choice is a Salvation Army box, put it outside the door so you are not tempted to “file” the whole box later.
    – Don’t spend more than a few minutes on any one thing. (“One thing” is defined as one piece of paper, one dirty dish, one child’s toy, and so forth… not one bookcase, one tabletop, one sewing area, or one photography studio.)

    This does work. I promise.

  4. dame1234 says:

    Doesn’t clutter take up some of the volume in a room? If the space is used, then wouldn’t I have less volume to cool/heat? Maybe by buying junk and filling a room up with clutter I could actually lower my utility bills. Clutter will save me money!

  5. xtol7 says:

    @dame1234: If you can figure out a way to selectively not heat or cool your junk piles, you’d really be on to something. By figuring out how to violate fundamental principles of thermodynamics you could probably rig up a perpetual motion machine and at the very least, get on Leno.

  6. sixninezero says:

    Wouldn’t it be better Dame1234 to get rid of the clutter and move into a smaller place?

  7. forever_knight says:

    @dame1234: i don’t know about that, but if you are one of “those people” that rent space to hold junk at another location (offsite storage, hurray!), you could declutter and save a ton of money right there.

  8. dame1234 says:

    @xtol7: Solids retain temperature better than air. Go back to school. [en.wikipedia.org]

  9. King of the Wild Frontier says:

    Clutter costs money; decluttering costs time. You can’t win.

  10. ElizabethD says:

    To my surprise, purchasing and organizing containers for our food, linen, and miscellaneous closets and cabinets has actually worked quite well. Everybody in the family knows to put stuff away in its designated container. This has pretty much eliminated the old “Fibber McGee” drawer in the kitchen where everything ended up crammed in and unusable. I use nice rectangular baskets on some of our open shelves, too, for things like piano sheet music, bird seed and supplies, sewing notions. Looks attractive and definitely helps my personal clutter problem. I bought many of them marked down at Homegoods and even (during sales) at Crate and Barrel.

  11. no.no.notorious says:

    good thing i have o.c.d. and throw away/shred almost everything, then wish i still had it a couple months later. what a pickle i’m in!

  12. alice_bunnie says:


    Well, the deal with the “one year box” is that if you actually have to go back and use the things in the one year box then you don’t get rid of them. Not that you’re supposed to just lock them away in the one year box and keep them in there and never look at them again for a year.

  13. Hambriq says:

    That picture is what my pharmacy looks like. Literally.

    Any advice from you guys on how to de-clutter while you’re on the job?

  14. ohnoes says:

    @ dame1234 – depends on the the solid we’re talking about. Your own list lists aluminum as having a lower “thermal flywheel effect” than air.

  15. @King of the Wild Frontier: Ah, but once you’ve decluttered you should SAVE time not having to sort through tons of crap to do simple tasks!

    @ElizabethD: I’ve been doing good with containers, too, although I’ve been doing a few at a time going through the house (because otherwise I buy an entire system all at once and then go, “Oh, wait, that doesn’t work.”). But the BEST thing for my decluttering has been a label-maker so I can put nice readable labels on EVERYTHING. It’s awesome.

  16. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:


    Even though I myself can be a bit of a slob, I have to say that if I walked into a pharmacy that looked like the picture, it would not inspire me with confidence. My workspace is cluttered, and it makes me lose things and get things mixed up somethings. That is NOT something I want happening at a pharmacy that’s filling my prescriptions.

    This is in no way an indictment of your competence at your job. I just hope the clutter is confined to your back office and not to any area that the customers can see.

  17. xtol7 says:


    Always ready to learn, would love to see you in packed earth and with low low utility bills. :)

  18. legotech says:

    rather than stuff things away in a box where you can’t see them…put a piece of tape with the date on ’em, then the next time you use it change the date…if you are clearing out a cabinet and the stuff is dated over a year, toss/donate. This gives you a chance to realize you own the stuff and see if/how much you use it.


  19. Hambriq says:

    @Consumerist Moderator – ACAMBRAS:

    It really is that bad. Even where the customers can see. It’s a tough problem to deal with. We’re in the top 10 of the busiest pharmacies in our city, and the structure itself is outdated. It had to be retrofitted to become a pharmacy, and as a result, we have too little space to fill too many prescriptions.

    Because there’s no formal “best practices” for organization from the corporate level, each specific pharmacy is really just left to figure out what works best for themselves. That works on a day-to-day level, we get our prescriptions filled (because to corporate, that is what is important), and we go home. But in the longterm, you get the kind of mess and clutter that you see in that picture.

    All three points in the main article ring true. The clutter costs us time, and in many cases, patient safety. I do as much as I can while on the job to clear away the clutter, but without a formal organization system, the process is exceedingly difficult. Hence, why I’m turning to you guys for advice.

  20. TedOnion says:

    When some people are depressed they go shopping. When I am depressed I throw all my old junk away. It seems to make me feel better to clear up my home. Perhaps others do the same?

  21. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:


    Yeah, that Walgreen’s Rx mixup story the other day is a reminder that mistakes can happen. Scary. :-(

  22. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @alice_bunnie: Oh. :D

  23. Mary says:

    @speedwell: “We opened a “one year” box one time just out of curiosity, and found that we had actually rebought and replaced about three quarters of the contents at some time during the preceding year. The tip is a little shocking, so it comes across as a fresh, brash idea, but it does not actually work.”

    Exactly. The proper way to take care of a “1 year box” is that you put everything you’re on the fence about in a box. Then as the year progresses, you REMOVE the things you need or use. At the end of the year, you throw out or donate what is LEFT.

    There are similar methods for cookbooks, and other objects, where you use post it notes. You slap a post it note or flag on a book or recipe when you use it, and then if at the end of six months (I don’t think you should wait a year) then you see what you haven’t used and get rid of it.

    I can’t recomend Peter Walsh’s book It’s All Too Much enough times. I’ve completely changed my entire house (well, literally, I also moved) and it’s because of that book and the advice in it. He gets into real specifics, excuses, etc. Now some of his advice you kind of have to ignore (really, get rid of books? Only if I’m never going to read it again. I have a wall-of-books and I’m fine with that) but some of it is right on the mark (do you really need thirty pairs of dress shoes?)

  24. Mary says:

    @King of the Wild Frontier: “decluttering costs time.”

    Except clutter is a constant money-suck. Decluttering is a one-time investment. You spend an hour here and there, then you need a few minutes to maintain. Instead of hours looking for things, hours shopping, and honestly, the money you’re losing is probably worth more than the time you’d spend.

    But the book I mentioned in an earlier comment also has a lot of great tips for how to declutter in small increments and not use a lot of time. That’s what I’ve done, I’ve spent a half hour here, an hour there, a Saturday once in a while. It took time, but it was so worth it when we moved to our new place and I have a floor, and flat surfaces, and can invite people over without a three-day deep clean.

  25. ZekeDMS says:

    Bah. You’ll have to pry my clutter from my cold, dead hands. I can’t stand being in a place that’s way too orderly and shows no signs of entropy. Just ain’t natural.

    One shouldn’t live inside a katamari, but a little clutter is nice. Keeping everything too clean is stressful.

  26. @meiran: “do you really need thirty pairs of dress shoes?”

    No, no, no, silly, I really need SEVENTY-FIVE pairs of dress shoes. ;)

  27. Mary says:

    @Zogburn: “One shouldn’t live inside a katamari, but a little clutter is nice. Keeping everything too clean is stressful.”

    I actually completely agree with you. But I had hit the point where the houses on Clean House reminded me of my own, so it was time to do something ; ) But I also think people shouldn’t get rid of EVERYTHING.

    @Eyebrows McGee: I don’t think even my sister has 75 pairs of dress shoes *laugh* I’m not a very good girl, I have two pairs. One for dress slacks, and one for skirts. All the de-cluttering advice usually tries to get women to clean out their shoes first and I just look at my closet and go “But, I only have five pairs total…”

  28. KJones says:

    I take a “scan it and can it” approach. With the exception of legal documents (papers which should always be kept), scan the thing into your computer and get rid of it. If you need it later, you’ll still have a copy, and if you need it as text, an OCR program will convert it (most scanners now come with an OCR package).

    Take your pictures and pay someone to convert them to digital images. Scan in your paperbacks two pages at a time (it doesn’t take long) and read them on your screen. Type your post it notes into a file or organizer. Scan the business cards you get. You’d be amazed how much weight you can shuck.

    A scanner make take up some space, but compared to the size and weight of paper you have (not to mention future paper), it’s lighter. Plus, now your paper and data as CDs are light enough that you can have backups.

    And scan in those legal documents too, just in case they get lost or damaged.