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11 Decluttering Strategies That Will Save You Time And Effort

a basket full of household items, a woman looking at clothes in a closet, an iPhone

One big truth I’ve learned from decades of homemaking is the importance of decluttering in addition to cleaning. No matter how spotless the surfaces in a given room are, it still tends to look like a mess if it’s cluttered up with junk or stuff that belongs elsewhere!

I’ve written extensively on decluttering over the years, and in the process have discovered a variety of techniques and strategies that can help make it easier. In this post, I’m sharing 11 of my favorite decluttering strategies, all of which can help simplify decisions about what to keep, donate, sell, or relocate.

The best decluttering strategy is the one that works for you, so give these techniques a try and get one step closer to a clean and clutter-free home!

11 Strategies That Make Decluttering Easier

A decluttering

1. The Decluttering Outbox

A decluttering outbox is sort of like a “purgatory” for clutter. As you clean up an area or room of your home, you may end up with items you’re not sure if you want to keep or get rid of, and these will go into your clutter outbox. You will eventually decide the fate of each outbox item, but part of the beauty of the outbox is that you don’t have to decide right away.

Your outbox gives you a place to keep the stuff you’re not sure about, so they don’t end up being shuffled around from place to place. You may even come to realize you don’t really miss the things you put in your outbox, making them easier to get rid of!

15 minute timer set on an iPhone

2. The 80/20 Rule

One popular business adage states that 80% of results come from just 20% of the action. When it comes to household chores, the 80/20 rule can help maximize the results of the effort we put in around the house and get more done in less time.

By identifying which tasks have the biggest impact and addressing those first, you can keep your home clean without wearing yourself out. Putting things back where they belong is one such task!

A refrigerator with decluttered blue baskets filled with food and drinks.

3. 30-Day Challenges

Need a motivational boost to get you started? Take on a 30-day organizing challenge — if you do one quick project every day, you’ll be astonished at what you can accomplish in a single month!

Tackling one job at a time feels a lot less overwhelming than the thought of decluttering the entire house, so you’re more likely to stick with it. Be sure to decide on a worthwhile way to reward yourself for completing the challenge!

A woman declutters by placing a crockpot in a box marked

4. One In, One Out

One easy-to-remember tactic for cutting down on clutter is to follow the “one in, one out” strategy. That means for each new thing that comes into your house, you get rid of one you already have.

It’s a simple and effective way to hit the brakes on accumulating clutter, which will allow you to put more of your attention on pre-existing clutter.

A woman decluttering the kitchen by hanging cleaning towels on a hook.

5. Only The Best

When holding an item, ask yourself: “Is this the best, my favorite, or necessary?” This decluttering query from Emily Ley can help you streamline larger collections of items to just the cream of the crop, whether that’s your best set of mixing bowls or your favorite dish towels.

A woman is decluttering by considering whether an item she is holding sparks joy in her.

6. What Sparks Joy?

“Does this spark joy?” This question is the heart and soul of organizing guru Marie Kondo’s approach to getting rid of clutter. Try asking yourself whether the items cluttering up your home spark joy — a lot of people find this process helpful with things they’ve been reluctant to let go of.

A woman decluttering clothes in a closet by deciding whether or not she would trouble to get that item back if her ex had it.

7. The “Ex Test”

If you’re struggling to decide whether to keep something or get rid of it, try asking yourself, “Would I make an effort to get this back from my ex?” This simple thought experiment can help you gauge just how much you’d miss a particular item.

If the item in question was in the possession of someone you had a bad breakup with (whether real or imaginary), would you be willing to put in the effort to get the item back? If not, it’s probably something you can comfortably live without!

A woman in the garage using 12:12:12 which is 12 to put away, 12 to donate, and 12 to throw out.

8. The 12:12:12 Challenge

The 12:12:12 challenge from Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist involves choosing 12 items to throw away, 12 items to donate, and 12 items to return to their proper place. This challenge can help you pare down clothing, clean closets and cabinets, and even organize the garage. All you need are three big boxes and some determination.

Using a rack and small shelf for the OHIO decluttering method which is

9. The OHIO Method

Rather than a reference to the Buckeye State, this OHIO is an acronym meaning “only handle it once.” In the context of decluttering, that means dealing with things the first time you handle them.

For example, when you’re done using an item in the kitchen, you would put it in the dishwasher or clean it and put it away afterward. When you come home and take off your jacket, you would hang it up right away. This strategy can help prevent clutter from accumulating in the first place.

A blonde woman decluttering with the 90/90 method, deciding if she has used the yellow cloth she is holding in the past 90 days.

10. The 90/90 Rule

The 90/90 rule can help you decide whether an item is truly useful enough to keep around. As you declutter, ask yourself two questions about anything you’re undecided about: Have you used the item in the past 90 days, and if not, will you use it in the next 90 days? Answering these questions honestly can help clarify what’s worth keeping around.

Decluttering with the snowball method: throwing away one broken items means throwing away all broken items.

11. The Snowball Method

This method is very simple: any reason that convinces you to keep or get rid of something should apply in the same way to other items. For example, if you decide to get rid of a vase because it’s cracked, you should also get rid of anything else that has cracks in it.

That may seem overly simplistic, but simplicity is the point of this method. Hemming and hawing are often the biggest hurdles we have to clear when decluttering, and the snowball method can help eliminate unnecessary or lengthy deliberations.

More Useful Decluttering Tips

  • Don’t forget that when it comes to gifts, it’s the thought that counts! You’re not obligated to keep every gift you receive forever.
  • If letting go of something right away feels too hard, put it in a box, tape the box closed, and label it with a date six months from now. When that date arrives, ask yourself if you really missed that item (or if you even remember what it was!) If the answer is no, get rid of!
  • Photos can be notoriously difficult to pare down. One option is to send all your old photos to a digitization service. Once everything is digitized, deciding which copies to keep will get a lot easier, because you can always reprint them in the future!
  • If you find it hard to let go of books, go through your collection and ask yourself if you really think you’ll read each book again. Save the ones that are rare, collectible, or that you continue to read over and over, and donate or sell the others to free up some breathing room on your bookshelves.

Do you have a go-to technique or strategy for decluttering?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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  • Great tips. I’m always in need of inspiration! Decluttering is one of my biggest ongoing challenges. I can organize things for storage like nobody’s business, which is part of the problem, because I end up with too much stuff, but it’s all very organized! Paring it down is more of a struggle for me, but I keep trying!

  • Don’t put this off to “next day” or “some day”. I took care of everyone else. It was “easier” than taking time to declutter. Get rid of “may need someday” idea. (product of depression-era parents, DIYers, kindergarten teacher, divorce). Then the stroke hit! You never know. Tomorrow is NOT a good option.

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