Decluttering Cure

Starting a Decluttering Project? Here’s How to Set Yourself Up for Success in 2 Easy Steps

published Sep 20, 2022
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Someone sitting in a living room sorting clothes. A dog watches from a chair in the background
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Apartment Therapy’s Decluttering Cure is a free two-week decluttering program that’ll help you achieve a tidier home. Joining us today is guest cure-ator Vaishali Sahni, an organizer, elementary school teacher, and mother of four. She creates content to help people learn how to declutter and organize their spaces efficiently. Living a minimalist lifestyle has changed her life and she encourages others to do the same.

Oftentimes what stops people from actually decluttering isn’t the physical act of sorting, removing, and organizing their things; it’s the mental anguish they feel going through it. 

“Decluttering can become overwhelming and you can easily give up because you might not see the results right away or ‘the point,’” says Vaishali Sahni of Tiny and Tidy Co. She’s our guest cure-ator for today — and we’re excited to have her help guide you through today’s task.

When you’re met with items you have great affection for, long forgotten, or even loathe — a whole mix of feelings can arise. Sitting in those feelings can create conflict and you can easily lose your momentum to declutter, so you need something to guide (and ground) you through the process. 

Day 2: Establish a guiding principle and some ground rules

Today’s assignment is twofold: you’ll need to establish a guiding principle and set some ground rules before you really begin to dig in.

Establish a guiding principle

First, a guiding principle will help steer you through the decluttering process. It will keep you motivated and help you understand why you’re doing this, shares Sahni. Your guiding principle can be a word, phrase, or mission statement. It should be short and easy to remember, says Sahni. 

Here are some guiding principles that Sahni recommends. Feel free to craft your own based on what feels right for you and your home. 

  • “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” (Jim Rohn)
  • “The easiest way to organize your stuff is to get rid of most of it.” (Joshua Fields Millburn)
  • “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.” (Laurie Buchanan)
  • “I am not organized because I have time. I have time because I am organized.” (Unknown)
  • “You don’t need more space, you need less stuff.” (Joshua Becker)
  • “A year from now you will wish you had started today.” (Karen Lamb)
  • “We need much less than we think we need.” (Maya Angelou)
  • “We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.” (Marie Kondo)

Once you’ve selected your guiding principle, decide whether or not you need it to be displayed. You could write it on a notecard to put in your wallet, have it as a background on your phone, or put it up on your wall. Sahni’s motto is the first one on this list and she has it up in her kitchen as a constant reminder. (And here’s mine if you want to borrow it!)

Set some ground rules

The second part of today’s task is to set some ground rules. These will help you whenever you’re stuck on certain items, allowing you to make decisions quickly. 

Here are five questions to ask yourself whenever you’re having trouble decluttering:

  1. Have I used this item in the past year? If it hasn’t been worn, used, or appreciated since last fall, it might be time to let it go. 
  2. Will I use it in the year ahead? Be honest and think about if you’ll use it instead of if you might use it. If you don’t have a real need/plan, then the answer is no. 
  3. Would I buy this again today? Try to be mindful of your current tastes, habits, and priorities. Other factors to consider: does it work, fit, or do I own a better version?
  4. Can I fix it? If it’s fixable, is it really worth it? You’ll have to weigh the cost and benefit of taking the time to get it repaired. You could also set a deadline on when you’ll fix these items. If it’s not done by then, get rid of it. 
  5. Would I keep this if I moved? Would you take the time to pack, move, and unpack it? When forced to think about what stays and goes in a big move we’re a little more decisive.

If you find yourself answering “no” to most of the questions, then it’s a sign that you should get rid of the item, whether you donate, sell, or toss it.

SAHNI’S PRO TIP: Have a system or schedule in place. You could set aside time to declutter every week, month, or bi-monthly, or implement a method that accompanies your guiding principle and rules. For instance, the one-in-one-out policy.

What guiding principle did you land on? Tell us what you’ve decided to have as your decluttering mantra in the comments.

More ways to participate in the Decluttering Cure:

The Cure Program is a tradition here at Apartment Therapy — it happens every January, April, and September. Click here to learn more about the year-round program and when to sign up.