Before you dive head first into that clutter packed space let’s go over some purging rules to keep in mind.


One year rule

If you haven’t worn it/used it/looked at it in a year, get it out of your house.

Broken beyond repair

It’s broken, it’s busted, it’s a goner.  Get it gone.

Not even yours

This is the worst type of clutter – you don’t even own it!  Give it back to the person who does.


Life gets busy, and you shouldn’t put more pressure on yourself by feeling responsible for things.  They are just things, and don’t get you any closer to your goals.

‘Just in case’

Think about your items you keep for this reason.  Have any of those events come up when you actually needed them?  Maybe, but it doesn’t matter right now.


Magazines and newspapers are old; the information contained in them is likely outdated.  All of this information is easily found on the web.  This goes for books also.


There are items we are just done with, but haven’t gotten around to getting rid of them.  Now is that time.  Done.

Simply the best

Only put back into your closets and cupboards the best of what you own or things that you simply cannot part with.

Keeping these rules in mind will help you really make the most of your purge.  Are you ready to start getting organized by letting go?

Your plan of attack – 3 simple steps

Step 1 – Sort through the room and put purged items into appropriate boxes

Step 2 – Organize the items you are keeping

Step 3 – Dispose of Purged things

Before you start your purge, you need to set the stage so to speak.  Get boxes together, you will need lots of them.  Label four boxes with the following:

    • Garbage
    • Recycle
    • Sell/Donate
    • Deal With

Step 1: Sorting

To support your goal of a clutter-free space, you are only going to keep what supports you.  Everything else goes.  Use your handy ‘Deal With’ box.  You want to keep up your purge momentum going and later on you can spend more time contemplating those other items.

Traps & Pitfalls: Cleaning

Sometimes it’s easier to just clean instead of making those tough decisions because it’s familiar and simple to do.  Do not spend all of your time doing this.

Step 2: Organizing

Traps & Pitfalls: Perfection

Sometimes ‘good enough’ is just good enough.   Don’t steal time from the purging to make your place perfect, there will be time for that later.  Keep up your momentum.

A Right Place for Everything

Take time to think about how you use the space you’ve just cleared and place items back accordingly.

Keep like with like

There isn’t much more to say here.  Group similar items together; it’s simple and it just works.

Step 3: Finishing Up

Getting purged items out of the house

Since you worked so hard to get here, make sure you get rid of the clutter you worked so hard to dispose of.


You are clutter free!  What a great accomplishment!  Now you can relax.

Everything you need to Get Organized


48 Responses to Declutter Rules

  1. Shar says:

    I am in the process of decluttering. It has been ongoing since 2008 [kitchen renovation] but my most active and continuous noticeable progress has been since Jan 2011.
    I was nodding at those tips. Some I already use, some I will add to my routine. The emotional stuff trips me up. So I put that in the Emotional pile and return later when mindset changes and I’m in business mood.

    By the way, was there anything written in between those paragraphs? It reads like there should be. If so, it needs to be in a better colour as I cannot see it on the white screen.

    Thank you for tips. Very easy to read. I have bookmarked this page for reference.


  2. Ronald Sandquist says:

    What about early childhood toys and equipment? We are grandparents and provide daycare for our grandchildren. We have four under 2 1/2 years old. It is very likely that there are more kids to come. We continually add stuff for them but do not get rid of since we may need it for the “next one”. Many of these are large items. We use this stuf, but are frustrated and overwhelmed with the volume!! Help

  3. Karen Biko says:

    Hi there Ronald. It’s not easy keeping all the toy-stuff that is easily collected for those little ones. I understand not wanting to get rid of things that could be used again. But you might have to make some hard decisions.

    First take a look at the things that you are holding on to. Are any of them damaged or in less than good condition? Get rid of those first.

    Go through the toys that are left. If you can get some stacking bins, this will help quite a bit. Package up the smaller items that fit into those bins or boxes (make sure you label the boxes). Decide what is a reasonable amount to keep. Chances are when more babies come, you won’t be able to stop purchasing new things for them anyway. Plus if you find that you do get rid of too much, you can always get more through garage sales.

    The bigger items that you are holding on to are the hardest. Think about how much use the little ones really got out of them and make decisions whether to keep or not, perhaps you can find the same toy, but in a collapsible form.

    Try choosing a location that you will store these older toys, and what ever doesn’t fit has to go. I know it’s not easy to make these decisions, but just keep in mind that you can’t keep EVERYTHING….

  4. Diane says:

    Thank you. Every time I get to decluttering something major happens and that will put an end to decluttering. I have been looking for help like this for some time now and am happy to have found it. Thank you again. I am going to take your 31 day challenge and if it takes me 62 days, I am still a winner.

  5. GraceLena FrankHerman says:

    My sort piles have sort piles. I have dumped, donated, sold, and repurposed; yet still agonize over both the encyclopedia my parents bought me in 1st grade and the cherished post-World War I set from which my grandmother learned to read. I am 56 years old and have buried most of my relatives. The living scavengers (who never helped anyway when folk were alive) stopped speaking to me when they realized no money was left for them to plunder . . . just DEAD PEOPLES papers, books, and issues. After expending two and one half decades of my life as dutiful caregiver to Mom/Dad/Uncles/Aunts/Cousins with AIDS, I am left with my parent’s home and am mentally, physically, and fiscally inundated. Found your web site today (10 Oct 11). I WANT TO LIVE. There may actually be light at the end of this long cavernous tunnel called my existence. I THINK I AM GOING TO MAKE IT! THANK YOU, JESUS!!!

  6. Karen Biko says:

    Grace… It sounds like you’ve had your hands full most of your life. Remember as you go through and agonize over whether you should keep things like your encyclopedias and the books your grandmother learned to read with, it is not your responsibility to look after them. If they are truly gems to you, and something you enjoy looking through, then keep them a while longer. If you are holding on to them just because they are old and you feel like you should…then think of them another way. Is there a place that you could donate these items so that others can enjoy them? Where I live there are several museums and Heritage facilities that might be able to use them. Wouldn’t it be great to donate these things in your name, or your grandmother’s name? It sounds like you have done so much for your family, so don’t let the things that they left behind weigh you down….it’s your turn.

    I know it’s tough. Even after going through my 31 day declutter last year I look around my house and wonder “did I even declutter???!!” Time for me to do it again I think!

  7. Karen Biko says:

    Hey there Diane: So how is your declutter going? I totally understand how things just come up and interrupt the plans you have….happens to all of us. I’m so glad that you can take the schedule I’ve put together and start and stop as you need to. After all life goes on…although sometimes I wish time would stop for a bit so that I could just get a bit ahead….

  8. Why Bother says:

    Decluttering is horrible, it has drained me I don’t feel free and where are the new man (I’m a bloke)/career/money/friends/success – such rubbish, if you get rid of it all you will have a new life. More like you end up like a Calcutta begger with nothing. And the irony, we are all going to die, so we will leave clutter behind. I’m over the mantras of Americans who go get rid of it all and the new life will begin. Ummm, I did, like where is it??????????

  9. ernest says:

    Like some of my fellow users, I just found this sight Nov 22, 2011, & like some I have lost family, who were also clutterers, or as we used to be called pack rats, lol. With some stuff of my sisters, uncle, and father who are all gone, and some sguff of my brother & & mom who I take care of, plus my own stuff, it adds up. I do entend to declitter my hoise and the garage, to free myself.from the stress & to organize my life. I know from personal experiance, we can often hold onto items we practal use for, except that they bring us back yo a happier time, or to when our loved ones were alive, or to our childhood. Modern technology can save us a lot of trouble, we can use a scaner, digital camera, or even a smart phone to do both functions, to preserve a copy of that favorite toy, desk we have no room for, etc. One lesson I have learned that stopped my clutter growing, is eve n something free comes at a cost, as it take up space, & eventually can take up time.

  10. Amy says:

    Hi there, I am in the process of de-cluttering our house for the first time in the 3years my partner and i have been together. I am 1 week overdue of giving birth to our first child together and have a beautiful 12 year old step daughter belonging to my partner. Luckily we are due to move house in 2 months and this has helped spark the push to get organised. I also watched something on television the other day and couldn’t help but notice the lady’s house had everything in a place and labelled with a print out label. i already know this is going to help me a lot. What i would like to know is how can i encourage my 12 year old to organise and de-clutter to match the rest of the house? Any tips or advise would be greatly appreciated as the new baby will be born into our new organised lifestyle and a lot easier to train.

  11. Karen Biko says:

    I’m sorry you feel this way about decluttering your life. Really the steps to make changes in your life come from you, and if you are not ready to let the items that you have around you go, then you are not ready to declutter. Cleaning out the excess from your life will not change your career, money, friends, or success, that has to come from you and what you do with your life. Cleaning out and being free from clutter is more for you to let go of things that are holding you back, or filling your mind with on-going things you have to deal with.

    Remember it’s not the stuff in your life that makes your life, it’s what you do that makes your life. Good luck to you and perhaps 2012 will be a better start for you.


  12. Karen Biko says:

    Thank you for your comment. Many people have to deal with things left behind by family…I’m struggling with it myself. It’s a huge undertaking sometimes, and guilt can play a big part of it.

  13. Karen Biko says:

    Sometimes it’s difficult to teach children to be more organized. I think giving the child the tools to have a more organized space and letting them take the credit for it is very important. Sometimes it takes a bit of work, but a child who has created their own ‘organization’ from their own ideas (perhaps some subtle hints from you) are more likely to succeed.

    Showing them some ideas on how to get organized will be helpful, (magazine pictures, or storage solution pictures could help) and they won’t have to invent it or try to figure it out on their own. If they experience how easy being organized can make their life, it might encourage them some more. Please let me know how you do with these suggestions.

  14. Alisha says:

    Well tomorrow is Sept 1st and will begin my 31 day decluttering process to get home the way it should be. I’ve tried over the last 3 years after my mothers death to get my house in order but haven’t been successful. So I’m giving another try this time doing for myself and not for anyone else. Its my home and it is supposed to be my place of peace and right now it is far from it.

  15. Jen says:

    I’ve been working on clearing out stuff. Last time around, I decided to take pictures of the emotional stuff and I’ll make a small photobook of these items. You never see them in the boxes or piles but in a book, you can see the images and that will bring back the memories. At least that’s my theory.

  16. admin says:

    What a great idea Jen!

  17. geraldine says:

    i like everything except the books, its not the sames as old magazines that you can find in the internet and read in your computer

  18. Thanks 4 info ! I’m. An extreme purger myself & am always looking for new ideas. One fork one spoon one bowl type of thinking !!

  19. admin says:

    OK you are quite a bit further along with your purging than I am! What do you do if you have visitors?


  20. rachel says:

    I never have visitors who stay for meals and if I did id tell them to bring along their own dishes or supplies.

  21. I’m not even sure how to respond! That definitely is on the edge of decluttering your space though!

  22. rachel says:

    Its not meant to be mean or harsh – its my way to be disciplined. It took me a long time to get a plan to stay clutter-free. My friends understand. Most of them wish they could be as minimal as I. – they say it would take too much effort. Its takes dedication and desire and knowing you’ll have more time for other fun activities like working out- going places etc.

  23. Susan says:

    I am going through some life changes. My problem is feeling like I should sell my stuff rather than just donate it away. I am a college student and I have a studio filled with 4 shelves and two suitcases. This may not seem like a lot to the normal person but I am wanting to have an easier time moving from place to place as my University changes. Also what can you recommend for the times when it seems hard to let go and the emotions that stir up? As a collector I also don’t like that I sometimes have to sell things for a lower price.

  24. Hi Susan,

    Great question, we’ve talked about this before when it comes to “emotional” items. Is it the item itself or the memory? Some pieces we simply can’t part with, but others we can take pictures of which will help us remember the memory.

    As for donating versus selling, that becomes a time versus energy conversation. donating can be quite easy and helps us feel better about ourselves. Selling items can be a bit of a challenge at times as it requires more work and sometimes even a little disappointment as people don’t value something we are selling the same and try to get discounts on our treasures.

    If you have items with memories attached that you are letting go, try to contact your friends first to see if any of them are interested in it. If they are, maybe they’ll let you come visit and see your treasure later? Otherwise you have to determine how attached you are and whether you can let go. What’s the benefit for you if you do? More freedom and more control of your life? Or depression over lost memories, it can be a fine balance.

    Hope this helps you think things through,


  25. Susan says:

    Thanks for the response. I have given myself the a one year mark of getting rid of the stuff either selling/donating/gifting. If it is something really neat that my friends could use. I just sold an old video game system and then took the money I had to pay one bill and take a friend out to eat. I think that was a great way to utilize my time and energy. I will attempt to sell things over and over again until after Christmas. In January I will start the donating of anything I couldn’t sell. I have a plan of attack now and I appreciate your blog about this it helps a ton.

  26. AMG says:

    Here’s what I found that works for me in letting go of things which are sentimental to me, but have not been used for months, years, decades, etc. Get a camera or borrow one, hold the item you are having difficulty parting with because of the memories you’ve attached to it, then take a picture of yourself with your beloved item, put it in an album for yourself writing a small caption below of why you loved the item so much. Then either donate, sell, or gift the item to someone else to share the happiness or usefulness that the item once gave to you. By doing this, you preserve your memory of the item, you are giving the item a chance of a new life, helping others in the process, and sharing happiness and joy. :)

  27. Fantastic info AMG, I’ve often told people the same thing.


  28. Christina says:

    I used to be a professional dancer and have programes,photos and newspaper clippings of reviews etc. how do you honor a 10 year career of clutter that you are personally proud of but means zip to others who did not know you as that person.

  29. Karen Biko says:

    Hi Christina:

    You can honor that career very well and in a beautiful manner. I would suggest that if there are people around you who have no idea of that part of your life, then you could introduce it to them.

    Scrapbooking is a very popular past time these days, but it can also create a great amount of clutter too as you gather supplies and papers to be creative.

    Another alternative would be to pull together all the information on a website. I am a big believer in this. There are many easy websites that you can develop on your own, or with the help of a friend.

    Part of the reason I love this option is because then not only do you have a digital way to share with people around you, but you can share with the world. Programs, Reviews, Pictures, and clippings all can be scanned into the computer to create an amazing story of your career. With the added bonus of stories and memories from you. It is something that you can enjoy yourself, clear out the clutter that is pressing on you, and something you give to everyone.

  30. Kristen says:

    I am just beginning this journey in the home I share with my hubby and our fur babies. It seems that our house has jsut gone to the dogs and every single room has been affected. I feel overwhelmed and am frightened that it will never, ever be a normal house again with room to walk through without having to step around or over something. Please tellme there is hope!

  31. Karen Biko says:

    It’s just those little baby steps that gets you there. I know you can be living in a bit of overwhelm, and taking those first steps can be daunting. You could start with doing a quick walk through and getting rid of things first that are easy to let go of.

    Or, try this. Start with your bedroom. This could be considered your ‘retreat’ and the first place that your bring order to. Your bedroom should be a place of rest and it is difficult when you are facing clutter and disorder from the moment you open your eyes in the morning to the last thing you see at night.

    Good luck!!

  32. Dee says:

    What do you do with a curio filled with wedding memorbilia? It has been 15 years, but I cherish the memories and think that the bouquet, souveniers, cake knives, glasses, etc. are beautiful. But, I feel selfish that maybe the curio should be put to better use. Do I just pack everything up in a box or what???? I am merging my current home with my father’s home and am desperately trying to purge, but am dealing with memories too!!!

  33. Stacey says:

    I’M SCARED! I don’t know where to start. We are moving. What do I toss that I’m attached to with these “things”? Reading everything re this topic. Help!

    Stacey-a-sad-case (for now?)

  34. Karen Biko says:

    Hi there Stacey,

    I know EXACTLY how you feel. I have an upcoming move on the horizon (in 2 years), and I’ve started purging right now. It’s a daunting task even for me…so I’m finding myself letting go of things that I never would have.

    For me it’s more about finding a new home for the things I have. I really have the sense of disposing of things in a careful and responsible way. So I am recycling, donating items to charity, or Daycare’s (that’s perfect for all my art/craft materials). I have even given up some of my loved things to people who also like them.

    Like a rare poster I had from the movie ‘Man From Snowy River’, a great shot of the horse going down the mountain. Well, at a party my freind commented on how much he liked the poster. He has been my friend for over 30 years, so I walked over took the framed poster down and gave it to him. I know I couldn’t take it with me, but now I feel very happy that someone who appreciates it has it. And every time he looks at it, he will be reminded of me.

    I’ve been converting my CD’s and Records to mp3’s….and even gone so far to help my parents with that too….I’m recording all their records to mp3’s so they can hear them again…although I’ve heard more Benny Goodman than I have ever intended to. One of my goals is to digitize as much as I can, because I just can’t haul all this with me.

    As things leave the house there is a sense of accomplishment for me, and I think to myself ‘well I don’t have to move that to the next house’.

    So even as you go about your daily life, start a mental note to yourself ‘Am I taking this or not’….and if it’s not, then work on getting rid of it.

    Good luck

  35. Karen Biko says:

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond to you. I’m all for using things for alternate purposes than they were originally meant. If the Curio is something that can be used in a better or differen way, then I would go ahead and do that. As for the things inside, I’m not sure just boxing them up is the answer. What if you took pictures of the really special items and then let some of it go. The dried flowers will never be as beautiful as they were on the special day, and they tend to just hold on to the dust. They are just memories, although tactile ones. If you ‘box them’ then will you ever open that box to take a look, or would a picture do.

    Decide what is most important to keep.

  36. Gretzky says:

    Gearing up to begin purging again. Started a couple rooms last year, lost momentum. Going to focus on a couple different spaces this time, office & playroom. Aside from the garbage/donate/keep boxes, what sort of preparation can I do in advance of my “purge weekends” to get the project moving forward? The feeling of being overwhelmed, by the clutter, work, busy life, home, kids, etc… have kept me from doing this, how do I step outside that and achieve success?

  37. […] do I turn to — well for fun, I did a quick google search.  My first hit — 31 Days to Declutter Your House which sets out 8 decluttering rules as follows […]

  38. HB says:

    Mid-Dec 2014: Just sending a note that I found your site today! I will see how much progress I can make in 31 days!
    Thanks for your support.

  39. […] do I turn to — well for fun, I did a quick google search.  My first hit — 31 Days to Declutter Your House which sets out 8 decluttering rules as follows […]

  40. Karen Biko says:

    Now I see your first comment… are you doing on your deluttering. Please let me know if you have any questions, and I will try to get back to you in a much more timely manner.


  41. Karen Biko says:

    I am so sorry I did not reply to you when you initially sent in your question…. I turned my focus on my Artwork, and have neglected the 31 Days to Declutter. I apologize for this! Let me know if you had any success with your declutter, and that if you need any help I will truly try to get back to you in a much better time line.

    I can certainly understand the overwhelm of clutter, work, busy life, home, and kids… it myself!


  42. Mj says:

    Can this be done in less time or should one take their time? I’m getting so overwhelmed sometimes I feel like good willing the whole house.
    I’m a mom of a large family and a foster mom…I have to be ready for a child in need but I think I over compensate for the what ifs. So, I’m trying my best. Like others, I struggled with the emotional side but the overwhelmed feelings are winning so it’s time to do this. I’m imagining that we are moving into a tiny house and can’t fit it all so it must all go lol (humor to help me).thx!

  43. Crystal says:

    Sounds like a great plan, worth trying. I hate spending my free time decluttering, but sometimes I just don’t have choice. Thank you, I’ll make use of your tips.

  44. Karen Biko says:

    I know it’s hard to get going….as an artist there is lots of things I would rather do than sort, and purge….but also as an artist I know I need to. Oh, and not just once – I have to go through this system quite often (don’t ask me where all this stuff comes from!!)

  45. Karen Biko says:

    You probably could do this whole system faster. I chunked it out to a month because of all the other stuff in life that takes up my time. But beware….if you go too hard too quickly you can over do it and then it becomes exhausting, and you will be less motivated to finish it.


  46. Jo Lynn says:

    Hi Karen/Michelle,
    Thanks for the purging rules. I find that the one-year rule can still be quite lenient. I live in Europe. There were years when I did not use some of my warmest winter clothing. The winter was just that bad enough. It became a difficult dilemma for me when I was sorting through clothes. I have then started to one-month rule to sort through within the season. I worked well for me personally because I set a rule not to own too many clothes for each season. I like your purging rules so much that I’m linking back to this post from my blog post. Thank you!

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