The twenty-seven most important rules for keeping your house in order.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: The twenty-seven most important rules for keeping your house in order.

To keep your house from falling into cluttered chaos:

  1. Never buy “souvenirs.”
  2. Somewhere, keep an entirely empty shelf or drawer.
  3. Strive to keep surfaces bare. Put away kitchen appliances you don’t use every day; don’t cram stuff onto every ledge.
  4. Get rid of newspapers and magazines as soon as possible. Never keep a newspaper overnight, and never keep a magazine for more than two months—unless you find a positive joy in keeping an orderly collection.
  5. Have an exact place for everything.
  6. Know where to give things away: books, clothes, kitchenware, toys. It’s much easier to get rid of things if you can imagine who will benefit. Figure this out before you start a major clutter-clearing effort.
  7. Fight the piles that accumulate in the hallway, in corners, on bedside tables, on the dining room table.
  8. Use dimmer switches.
  9. Don’t buy things on impulse, particularly from bargain stores.
  10. Storing a thing means you don’t need to use it. So before you squirrel something away, ask yourself, “Do I really need to keep this?”
  11. Never accept anything for free, unless you’re thrilled with it. A mug, a tote bag, a hand-me-down toy, the lamp from your mother-in-law–if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
  12. According to “broken windows theory,” signs of decay like broken windows or graffiti create an atmosphere that contributes to larger crime. Burnt-out light bulbs and empty toilet-paper holders are the broken windows of the home; don’t tolerate them.
  13. Have enough hangers in every closet.
  14. Make your bed every morning.
  15. Keep your keys in the same place each day.
  16. Every night before bed, do a tidy-up to put away everything that’s out of place.
  17. If you have stacks of unopened CDs, unread books, unwatched videos of PBS series, or unopened spice jars, don’t let yourself buy any more until you’ve made a dent in what you already have.
  18. Don’t let yourself run out of necessities like envelopes, tape, toothpaste, stamps, Band-aids, batteries, and the like. If you hate to shop, buy large quantities and stockpile them.
  19. Don’t hoard huge quantities of things that you could never use up: binder clips, rubber bands, clay pots, florist vases, plastic grocery bags. Give the rest away.
  20. Hang up your coat (this is probably the rule I personally violate most often).
  21. Buy a box-cutter. They really are handy.
  22. If you have lots of things that you’re reluctant to throw away because you’re not sure what they are (mystery cables, random remote-control devices, important looking screws that appeared mysteriously on the floor, obscure vacuum-cleaner attachment) put them all in one box. You’ll never use the stuff, but you’ll know it’s there.
  23. For extra credit, put a date on the box, and if you haven’t opened it in a year, throw it away.
  24. Never allow a drawer or a closet to get so full that it’s hard to open and shut.
  25. Get rid of things that don’t work. If you’re like me, you’ll be amazed at how many things you have around the house that are perfectly useless.
  26. Set aside a place where you put things to give away, and as soon as you realize you want to get rid of something, put it there. That way, you prevent clutter from accumulating.
  27. If you can’t find something, clean up.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Barbara

    This is all such wonderful stuff. I have only just found your web-site but I am visiting daily. Thank you so much. I do not have a blog and hope this message is fine as it is. So much positive advice and really excellent help. Thank you again.

  • Mark

    I agree. Great tips, and great site. As a small side note, the web designer in me would really like to see these tips marked up as an unordered list.

  • Gretchen are you channeling me again!?! LOL… ~Monica 🙂

  • I’m so pleased you’re finding the rules useful.
    Mark — I don’t even know what it would mean for the tips to be marked up as an unordered list. Sounds desirable, whatever it is! I throw yourself at your mercy for a quick web-design lesson. thanks, Gretchen

  • me

    Heres one tip for you.
    Whenever i feel im not happy, i just think to myself “this is happiness, get used to it”

  • Keeping your keys in one place is a great one. I know so many people who spend tons of time searching for them — every single day.

  • Gosh Gretchen, where was this list when I needed it last weekend! I just posted my thoughts about hoarding mementos and other “stuff” yesterday, and here is your post – how serendipitous. I just need to repeat “storing a thing means you don’t need to use it” about 25 times every day. Thanks.

  • mk

    Regarding the tip “never buy souveniers”. I just saw a bit on a morning news show where the subject was happiness. Seems that experiences (like vacations) rather than things make us happier. Souveniers remind us of that experience.

  • Anita

    You can always buy “useful” souvenirs like T-shirts… just nothing to add to the shelf CLUTTER!

  • Meg

    Why not change NEVER buy souvenirs to only buy what you will use when you get home. Journaling books with the city name on it, gardening gloves, bookmarks, even coffee to grind and drink while reading the book. I love knowing that I am using something that came from a place my neighbors don’t have one.

  • passby555

    Look in the Mirror…every morning
    Love yourselves more…
    Take great care of yourselves…
    then you’ll be happy…
    Do 10 little things today that help to get what you want to be..

  • Dimmer switches? I don’t understand that tip. The others are good ideas and I’m working on applying them.
    Joe

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  • rusty morgan

    When you bring something into your house throw something of equal size out.
    Keep as much space as stuff; If there’s more stuff than space throw some stuff out.

  • Nick Kiey

    Who needs souvenirs when you have a digital camera or camcorder. And a scanner lets you convert loads of paper clutter into digital format. Convert your CDs (even LPs and tapes) to mp3 format. Just remember to keep a backup and you can store your whole life in your iMac.

  • JFK

    These “tips” are ridiculous. Reading over it is like peering into the diary of someone with OCD.
    Also, why is “– use dimmer switches.” in the middle of that list?

  • JFK

    I take back my comparison of this list to the diary of someone with OCD as it casts that disorder in an unfavorable light.
    These tips are more like the guidelines used when setting up rooms for furniture catalogues. It would make your house look and feel sterile. Maybe that’s your thing if you are a surgeon, but most people’s houses do look like the pictures in a magazine (just as they don’t look like the people in magazines either).

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  • I really liked this list and try to keep those tips in mind in my own home. One very cool souvenir tip (I think) is if you are going to buy a souvenir make it a pretty watercolor or print of a painting of the place you are visiting. I like the 5×7 inch size prints and those fit into any 8×10 frame at Michaels. You’ll get beautiful artwork and a cool story behind the painting!
    Also, my interpretation of the dimmer switch thing, is that lighting can make everything look better (even people…) so why not use them to help your house 🙂

  • wondering

    As far as getting rid of things that are uselss, and don’t work…..does that include signifigant others?

    • Melissa Lahoud

      Bahahaha!

  • naga

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  • Here are two things I do to keep from swimming in clutter:
    -If something new comes in then something old MUST Go.
    -If I have something I don’t need anymore I have a box I put it in in my entry closet. When guests come to visit before they leave I pull out the box and ask if they or anyone they know who may need anything in the box. Many times someone needs something or knows of someone needing my discards. I feel great helping someone out while not filling the landfill. Note: I never share “the box” with folks with a clutter problem…sorry mom!

    • aigerim a

      Oh I like the second idea so much! I’m planning on giving away some of my clothes, so we are making a wardrobe pary with my friends to see if there is some stuff they’d like to take! 🙂

    • With books, I make a box with the ones I discard, and bring it with me when I meet my friends for dinner in a restaurant. They all leave so happy with their “new” books!!!

  • eaglerose88

    Good list! I laughed a little when I saw the box-cutter on the list. When I worked for a health-food store, I always had a box cutter and pen in my pocket, and when I came home, I would automatically reach in my pocket for the cutter for some reason or other, so I went and bought several- they really do come in handy!

  • Cheryl C

    I also love my box cutter!

  • AFCAPT

    I have found the best souviner is a piece of jewelry. People ask where you got that and it brings up conversations and good memories. If you wear it home on the plane, it takes no room in your carry-on.

    • ElaineReads

      At one time I bought charms for my bracelet. I wish I had kept up that habit. Now, I then to buy earrings. Unfortunately, they are becoming a clutter problem.

    • oldblackdog

      Yes, it portable, you can choose things that fit any budget, yet it doesn’t require some huge space at home. The worst that can happen is that you decide you no longer get good vibes from it and then you can gift it to someone else to enjoy.

  • The biggest problem I have is throwing out things that I can’t stomach going to a landfill, but are really obsolete for giving away: old paint cans (the dump won’t even accept them as they’re toxic), electronics, old appliances, things of that nature.

    Do you have any suggestions???

    • Take it to the tip or recycling centre. They know what to do with all of it!

    • SirGalahad

      Put them out on the curb with a “Free” sign. It’s amazing how much time and effort and clutter you can spare yourself.

    • Melissa Lahoud

      Our dump recycles electronics, and accepts hazardous waste (including paint, batteries, chemical products, fluorescent light bulbs). Google your local area.

  • Mary G.- I like your suggestion of a giveaway box by the front door.

  • Silvana

    Perfect advise! I do most of them, but the difficult thing is for me is that I like make a new things from old stuff, so I have to keep many things, that I don’t use anymore… It makes for me harder to keep organized all the times.

  • Catherine Sager

    It’s such a relief to know that, although I have the best of intentions, the piles of semi-sorted color-coordinated file folders do hold an important role in my home office, the more detailed purging will emphasize the true meaning of necessity. For example, while first setting up my office, a rough sort helped – all things Car related in the yellow folder. Upon further inspection (at a later time) Lien releases – keep; outdated registrations – shred. One folder down…on to the all things Finance related green folder. I was amazed and chagrined to find a car loan agreement for a car sold more than six years ago. I can feel the file cabinet sigh with relief. Don’t get organized is the best advice ever.

  • Manuela Hagmann

    Great list, I do love Gretchens approach and all her books!
    As a tip: I was able to get rid of 2 daunting boxes of unsorted paper clutter by storing every important information on thesmarterplace.com. With that app you scan al kinds of papers and add them directly to your corresponding items. Huge relief!

  • andrea d

    Hi. What is the purpose of #8 (Use dimmer switches)?

  • Deborah Gordon, M.D.

    OK great, but DON’T use dimmer switches: they have to obstruct the flow of electricity which is a constant, then backs up and radiates from other outlets as “dirty electricity.” Everything else on your list I would aspire to, but dimmers in the house have to go.

    • Barbara Wood

      I agree. I don’t like dimmer switches. I guess the idea is to dim the light so you can see the mess? Nah, don’t agree with that one.

  • Jane Hill

    One of my golden rules is: don’t go empty-handed. In other words, when you are going from one room to another, always take something with you that should be in the other room.

  • Becky

    My family always bought magnets and occasionally Christmas tree ornaments on trips as souvenirs. They don’t take up much space. I collected magnets when I backpacked through Europe after college. Now, 14 years later and in a completely different place in life, I recollect wonderful memories each time I go to fill up a sippy cup for a child I couldn’t have even imagined having at the time! Also, now that both of my parents are deceased, I have many of the magnets we collected growing up. So, I am also able to remember some wonderful family memories. And the annual reminiscing I do every year putting up the tree is a very special time for me with my husband and children. Not ALL souvenirs are bad! But I completely see what Gretchen is referring to!

  • Janet Duignan

    In 1996, Bantam Press published ‘Simple Abundance’ by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Now, 20 years later, I am taking up the challenge of reading each day’s ‘gentle lesson’ and attempting to act on her advice. I liked your website so much that I mentioned it in my blog ‘Simple Abundance in France’. Please have a look at it on http://gringaba.wix.com/literature-blog and let me have your comments. Also, if you like it, please tell your friends as I want to reach a wider audience. Thank you.

  • mellen

    My very favorite is, if you can’t find something, tidy up. So useful! Oddly, I’ll be tidying the bedroom, and the thing I’m looking for is in the living room, but I’ll find it anyway. Truly magical.