Set Yourself Up for a Successful Decluttering Session in Just 2 Steps

published Sep 19, 2023
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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 Jamie Hord who started Horderly, a professional organizing business, in 2015 with her husband, Fillip Hord. They combined their passions to bring the joy of an organized home to people nationwide.

For many people, including myself, decluttering is a big task to take on. But I’ve learned that the key to unlocking a successful decluttering session is to have the right tools and guidance and to do things at a pace you can actually handle. For help with that, look no further than our Decluttering Cure program, which maps out a 14-day attainable plan that makes decluttering all the more manageable. 

If you joined us yesterday, you’re already set up with three outboxes to catch all your clutter. Today, we’re going to equip you with two more important tools to have in mind as you declutter so that the process runs smoothly.

Day 2: Set up a guiding principle and ground rules.

The assignment is twofold: You’ll need to establish a guiding principle and set some ground rules before you can declutter anything. Having these two things in mind will help you in times of difficult decision-making — now and in the future.

“Decluttering can be challenging because there is a lot of psychological decision-making and emotion involved,” shares Jamie Hord of Horderly, a professional organizing business she co-founded with her husband. “Whether you want to or not, people have an attachment to their stuff — some more than others. Not only is this an exhausting process, but it can also take up a lot of time that people sometimes have a hard time mustering up, causing them to never get started or procrastinate.”

As today’s guest cure-ator, Hord is going to help you decide on a guiding principle. 

Establish a guiding principle.

A guiding principle is something that’ll steer you during the decluttering process. It is often a word, phrase, or statement. Here are Hord’s ideas, which you can use yourself.

  • Keep the best of the best. When you’re ready to declutter and get organized, now is the time to let go of anything mediocre in your life, any baggage, and anything that gives you bad feelings.
  • Practice one in, one out. When you bring something new in, exchange it with something old. This will not only help you maintain your space but also start a new lifestyle of mindful shopping. If you’re not ready to let go of any of the current hats you have, you can’t bring in a new one.
  • Always be editing. Rather than a big declutter once things are out of hand, consider editing throughout the year so it’s more manageable. 
  • Think past the guilt of donating or selling. Remember that selling takes a lot of time and energy. And you’re paying for every square inch of your home, so you’re very well saving money by creating more space. Instead of giving stuff away to someone who might not necessarily want or need it, consider donating.
  • Embrace the space. Sometimes we have clients donate so much that they end up asking, “Well what should I put here now?” but instead of filling it with something else, enjoy the extra space and know that not every space needs to be filled right away. It’s an enlightening experience!

Set some ground rules.

The second part of today’s task is to set some ground rules that’ll come in handy when you are stuck on a particular item. You’ll want to ask yourself the following five things when 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? Be mindful of your current tastes, habits, and priorities. Other factors to consider: Does it work or fit, or do I own a better version?
  4. If it’s broken, is it worth fixing? 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.

HORD’S PRO TIP: In addition to establishing a guiding principle and some ground rules, Hord recommends preparing yourself for the fact that some things will take more time than expected — and that’s completely OK. Be ready for that to happen and plan accordingly, whether that means the project becomes a two-parter or should be broken down into smaller assignments.

What’s your guiding principle? Share it with us in the comments below.

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.