Golden Rules of Decluttering Your Life? I Don’t Agree.

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I saw a little graphic in my Facebook feed today called 12 Golden Rules of Decluttering Your Life. (I tried to track down the origin of the post without success. There are several variations out there.) Since I have been an organizing consultant (aka The Declutter Lady), I was interested in what these rules might be.

Turns out I don’t agree with some of them!

Let’s take a look…

1. “Get rid of duplicates.” At first, that sounds like a great idea. Having several of the same thing creates clutter, right?

Not necessarily! For instance, having a pair of scissors in each place you might use scissors (kitchen, laundry room, bathroom and even the living room) makes more sense. If you only have one pair of scissors, you’ll never know where they are when you need them. The real issue is to keep the scissors (or whatever) in the same place in that room, putting them away in that place when you are finished using them.

Are there times when duplicate items are clutter? Of course! But then the reason you had to buy a new one is because you couldn’t find the one you were looking for…

2. “Get rid of things you haven’t used in a year.” Maybe. But once again, you have to use your judgement.

I have several special occasion outfits, but my husband and I lead fairly quiet lives and don’t have opportunity to get dressed up very often. These outfits are quite classic and offer a choice depending on season. If I got rid of them, I would have to go out and buy something each time we did get a chance to dress up… and I hate shopping for clothes!

On the other hand, if you have single use appliances that you used once and stashed above the fridge, you can probably let things like that Tater Twister go!

3. “Digitize nostalgic items.” It depends. Kids’ school projects can take up a lot of space, so creating a scrapbook or even a storybook of the project could be a way to memorialize the event without needing to rent a storage unit. My golden rules for nostalgic items are:

  • Use them if possible. I was very protective of my great grandmother’s china and used it maybe once a year (if that). Then one time while unpacking the dishes after one of our moves, I found a broken plate. It finally dawned on me that I would rather break a dish because we were using it to enjoy a meal as a family. From that point on, we used the china to have “high tea” with the kids after school on Wednesdays (Harry Potter was just on the scene) or even outside for picnics. And you know what? We haven’t yet broken another piece!
  • Display them. Too often we leave things boxed up in the garage. We say it’s because we want to remember our loved one, but that seems like an inadequate way to do so. Wedding dresses might be remade into christening gowns to be handed down through the generations. Collections can be tastefully displayed in all areas of the house, not just jammed into a single cabinet. Why not have Hummels in the bathroom or kitchen?

4. “Don’t keep items out of guilt.” This is one rule I heartily agree with. I’ve worked with too many clients who have been “assigned” to hang on to everyone else’s stuff. One woman was given items that her mother felt guilty about not keeping and then pressed that guilt on her daughter when the daughter wanted to pass the items on.

If you don’t get good feelings when seeing or thinking about the things in your home, you need to consider giving them someone who will appreciate them. Remember, even when you donate to a thrift center, the person who ultimately purchases that item is that person who will appreciate it!

The warning here is that you have to be sensitive to the others in your home. You may hate the vase with the deer on it that your mother-in-law made in ceramics class for her son (your husband), but if he loves it, it stays!

5. “Put things back where they belong…” This is another that gets a thumbs up from The Declutter Lady. The problem is, of course, that you don’t have a place where these things belong.

If you are in the early stages of clearing clutter, my recommendation is to always put things as close to where you ultimately want them to go as possible. Your linen cupboard may be too jammed full of things that you stashed in there “for now” (like when you found out the church elder was on his way for his quarterly visit) to be able to actually keep the extra sheet sets there, but if you start migrating things where you want them to be, things will start falling into place.

6. “…And find a home for them.” Which is what we were just talking about. However, don’t just find any old place for things. It needs to make sense to the person who needs to locate that item again.

I remember getting a frantic phone call from a client who couldn’t lay his hands on a piece of paper he needed to take with him to his medical appointment. He told me about the two places he had already checked. Since I had set up the filing system at his request, I knew where the document was and told him where to find it. Crisis averted. He called later because he couldn’t remember where he should put it back. I told him, “Put it in the first place you looked!” That made sense to him. It didn’t matter where I thought it “should” go.

Put things away where you (or whoever might need them) will first think to check.

7. “Sell, give away, donate, upcycle, or throw away.” All variations of getting things out of the house. While I do agree that you need to eliminate things from your home as much as possible, I do have some tips:

  • Garage sales are generally not a good idea. In most cases, you are not going to get as much money as you would like and they require a huge amount of time and energy, as well as space while you are waiting for sale day.
  • Reframe how you think about “getting rid of” things. I like Flylady‘s definition: blessing others. This can be especially helpful when you are decluttering with your children. Let them know that there are boys and girls out there who would love to have the toys, games and stuffed animals that they’ve either outgrown or no longer love. Children can be quite generous, as long as they don’t feel forced into sacrifice.
  • While we all want to be environmentally conscious, the fact remains that sooner or later, it all ends up in the dump. One client had a whole truckload of items she wanted to donate to the thrift store. The problem? Most of the items were in pretty bad shape and some even mildewed. She insisted they were still perfectly good and that “someone” would want them. However, donation centers have to pay to have trash hauled off. Instead of helping, this person’s donations were going to cost the charity time and money.
  • Check your community resources to see if you have organizations like Freecycle where you can advertise your items and have them go to someone who really wants them. But again, the goal is to move the things out as quickly as possible and this could stall your efforts!

8. “Don’t keep items you wouldn’t buy now.” I suppose this means things that are out of fashion. And again it depends on whether you love the item, use the item, enjoy the item. Sweeping rules like this can cause internal rebellion!

9. “Opt for covered furniture.” While I do agree that having closets and cupboards with doors instead of open shelving (which is what I think this rule means) can be helpful to hide clutter and make your space look more organized, I’ve worked with too many clients who can’t even open the doors, let alone find what they need.

Even with open shelves, you can have baskets and boxes that organize the contents of your shelves and eliminate the clutter. (I’m using these baskets from Avon to organize my quilt fabrics on my shelves). That said, you can’t organize clutter, so you will want to determine what things your need/want/are going to use.

10. “Don’t forget storage under your bed.” There’s a lot of debate about this, particularly among those who practice Feng Shui (I don’t). This post talks about the do’s and dont’s for Feng Shui. Otherwise, I have the same recommendation as for closets and cupboards: If you are going to use the space under your bed for storage, make sure you are using containers and that you are only keeping those things that make sense to you and your family.

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11. “Think tall.” My biggest issue with this “rule” is personal: I’m barely five feet tall. I have enough trouble reaching things! That said, as The Declutter Lady, I recommend that you store things that you use less frequently in the more difficult to access places. For example, you won’t do much filing if your file cabinet is in the basement and your office is on the second floor!

The more difficult it is to put things away, the less likely you will do so. Use your spaces strategically. And there are lots of clever solutions to organizing different kinds of things. Just do a Google search for something like “clever ideas for fabric storage.” (This is one of my favorites!)

12. “Evaluate your spending.” I do agree with this rule. Not only from a clutter standpoint, but in general. There’s a scripture verse that states, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) What story do your “treasures” tell about you?

Whether your purchases are physical items or online courses, it’s important to consider whether you are getting value from them. Are you buying things at home parties to help out your friends? Helping friends is a good idea, but if it’s undermining your decluttering efforts — or your budget — that’s not wise. When you purchase new items  — like clothes or makeup 🙂 — are you replacing something that could be tossed or donated?

When it comes to decluttering, there really are no hard and fast rules. Clutter — like beauty — is in the eye of the beholder. The most important consideration is whether or not clutter and disorganization are negatively impacting your life and the lives of those with whom you live.

What do you think about these rules? Please share your comments!

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