10 Tips to Beat Clutter…in Less Than 5 Minutes.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 10 tips to beat clutter — in less than 5 minutes.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood: for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. I agree, in the context of a happy life, a crowded coat closet or a messy desk shouldn’t much matter. Nevertheless, I’ve found that getting control of clutter gives me a disproportionate boost in happiness, and other people seem to feel the same way.

Having a clutter-filled home makes me feel overwhelmed. Everywhere I look, I see little chores that should be done. No one task is particularly difficult, but together, they add up to a big headache and a big jumble. Pretty soon, it’s easier just to add to the piles than to try to attack the problem. That’s another Secret of Adulthood: tidy areas tend to stay tidy, and messy areas tend to get messier.

Here are ten easy, quick tips that, if followed regularly, will help keep your clutter under control. And none of them takes more than five minutes – if that. I mostly follow these, and I’m a lot happier when I do.

1. Make your bed.

2. Get rid of the newspaper each night, even if you haven’t read it yet. Or am I the only one still reading a paper newspaper?

3. Follow the “one-minute rule” – push yourself to do any chore that takes less than one minute. Throw away the junk mail, put the peanut-butter jar back in the cabinet, close the cabinet door, put your dirty socks in the hamper, hang up your wet towel.

4. Identify a place or person to whom you can give things you no longer need – it’s much easier to get rid of unneeded stuff if you can envision someone else getting good use from them. Also, figure out a place to store those things until you hand them over. We have a special shelf for books that we’re taking to the Housing Works thrift store.

5. Be very cautious about letting yourself “store” something. Storing something means you don’t intend to use it much. Other than holiday decorations and seasonal clothes, you should strive to “store” as little as possible.

6. Beware of freebies. Never accept anything 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.

7. Get rid of things if they break. When I went through our apartment, I was astonished by how many things I’d kept even though they didn’t work.

8. Don’t keep any piece of paper unless you know that you actually need it. I have a friend who, for years, carefully filed away the stubs when she paid her gas bill. “Why?” I asked, mystified. “I have no idea,” she said. Along the same lines, don’t keep anything that would quickly become dated — like travel information. Remember the internet! If you can easily find information online, you don’t need to keep a hard copy.

9. Hang up your coat. I have a lot of trouble with this one, so now I use a hook instead of a hanger.

10. Before you go to bed, take five minutes to do an “evening tidy-up.” Don’t tackle anything ambitious, but just stack up the magazines, put your shoes away, shove the chairs into place, etc. Just a few minutes of tidying can make your house look a lot better, and it’s a calming thing to do before going to sleep. Plus it makes the morning nicer.

What are some other quick, easy tricks you’ve found to make your life more clutter-free? Again, I realize that this issue seems fairly trivial, but it does seem to be a source of low-grade irritation for a lot of people.

* I met so many great people at the PSFK salon yesterday, including Maria Popova of the great site Brain Pickings — “curating eclectic interestingness from culture’s collective brain.” She created this terrific piece about happiness from TED soundbites and kinetic typography. Fabulous.

* Sign up for the Moment of Happiness, and each weekday morning, you’ll get a happiness quotation in your email inbox. Sign up here or email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com. I just started this — and am thrilled that thousands of people have signed up already.

  • Great tips yet again, Gretchen! I was one of those “stub keepers” – used to have piles of papers everywhere. Cleaning would be incredibly tedious because I’d need to sift through all of the papers, figure out which I “needed,” which “might come in handy someday” and which few I could throw out. Thinking about it now, saving papers was the biggest time-waster.

    I offer another couple of options for those who still want to retain paperwork for whatever reason:

    1. Buy a filing cabinet. Then get a copy of “Getting Things Done” and use the filing system therein. Put everything in that cabinet immediately.
    2. Use a scanner and Evernote to get rid of that physical paper.

    I would also suggest one key mantra to help beat clutter: Be Ruthless. Things are replaceable. Your time isn’t.

    • This debate = perfect example of Parkinson’s Law of Triviality 😀

    • Danielle Huddy

      Great Suggestion about Evernote… The longer I have it and use it, the better my life becomes… a great idea for Evernote, if you aren’t around the scanner, snap a picture of whatever it is and store it in Evernote and toss the paper 🙂

  • Gretchen,
    Remembering your 1 minute rule has helped me out a lot. Many more things get put away right away or carried up or down stairs the first time I think about it. Not only is my house tidier, but it’s one less thing to think about the next day. Thanks!

  • Monica Strobel

    My new favorite is number 3 — the one minute rule. I’m going to institute it and know that will save a ton of work down the road. Plus it ‘s great to model for my kids! I adopted number 10 a few years ago and it made a world of difference the next morning. Ok, maybe not 100% of the time, but those other % of the times I wish I had — I’d be happier! Thanks for the reminders!

  • RNT

    Nice! But how can we pass these ideas to someone without starting another fight over the clutter that drive some of us nuts?

    • Fenner Kb

      The light bulb has to want to change….

      but you might check out Unclutterer or Miss Minimalist for tips on how to encourage the clutter bugs to want to change, or how to work around them….

    • gretchenrubin

      Different standards for clutter — ah, this is a HUGE source of conflict
      when people live or work together.

      This should be its own separate list. What are people’s ideas???

      • The term I use is that people have different tolerances for chaos. Some people find comfort in being surrounded by stuff; others literally don’t see things that bother the “neatniks” (they may not easily perceive individual objects in a mass); others don’t instantly categorize certain items as being “clutter” and in the “wrong” place; others are more concerned with the convenience of just dropping items randomly and may have problems remembering where things are supposed to belong – the list goes on and on. One thing that is NEVER helpful when you are bothered by someone else’s stuff is to assume that they are “lazy” or a “slob” or that there is something wrong with them because they don’t meet your standards for how things should be. Fascinating to watch shows like Hoarders – in one episode a woman was keeping a rotted pumkin because she thought the mold on it was a pretty color.

      • Cgbruch

        Years ago I implemented the rule in our house that the old magazine went in the garbage when the new one came in the mail.  And I was the enforcer.  Made a huge dent in our clutter.  

    • Mjgerhart5

      I have been working on getting my family (DH and 3 small kids) involved in decluttering and picking up in general for about 9 months. At first I tried forcing and then I backed off completely and just kept doing what I was doing without nagging them. Over time, they have started following my lead and it is so refreshing to come in from doing chores and finding my DH helping the kids pick up toys!!

      • gretchenrubin

        This is so heartening.

  • Kim

    One thing that makes me happy each and every day is a newspaper on the front porch. Online news is instant, but I love reading the paper and would be devastated if it ever went out of print.

  • Gracie

    Great tips, but I would like to add an exception to #6. Some people in my life are, if not official hoarders, people who hate to throw things out. I’ll do them the favor of thanking them profusely for what they give me, and then stopping by the local Goodwill store to make a donation. I have never been asked what happened to the item; the person gets rid of something guilt-free; and I don’t have more junk cluttering my home.

  • i am reading your book…truly enjoying,..:-)
    u r so right about the clutter thins i do this every evening before going to sleep and morning its the first thing which i do,..keep me calm and happy,..:-)

  • Nicole

    I love this list and have been trying to follow it since I first read your book in March this year. Never would have thought making the bed would be so profound and have such a positive ripple effect on other parts of my bedroom, house, attitude…

    But I have found that the one minute rule is tricky and can be a time sucker for me. There is a multitude of “one minute” tidy ups in a house with little kids and it can easily take over an hour of my morning taking care of the little things.

    I do feel so much happier when I feel and see a sense of order, but at times my resentment builds when I’m doing a bunch of one minute things that my husband and children could/should be doing!

    • gretchenrubin

      The power of “make your bed” continues to amaze me. So many people find this
      a very important resolution. Who would have thought?

      As another commenter mentioned, one big problem with clutter is OTHER
      PEOPLE’S clutter. I know exactly how you feel. I once spent an entire
      Saturday doing the one-minute rule — non-stop, it seemed — and our
      apartment was just as messy when night fell.

      One thing I’ve always wondered: is a desire for surface order, or a
      tolerance for clutter, largely genetically determined, or is it something
      that you pick up from your own family growing up (either following or
      resisting their level of clutter)? I suspect the former plays a big role.

      • Tired

        My husband has ADD with a compulsive hoarding element (the two disorders often coexist), and I know his behavior is genetic/neurobiological/chemical, but it is a signficant source of strain and conflict in our home. I simply cannot maintain any sense of order, no matter how much I exhaust myself trying. So, I’m trying instead to focus on one of your other rules of adulthood: you can’t change another person. I do have an office (outside the home), which I keep tidy, so that helps.

        • gretchenrubin

          I just read a fascinating book, STUFF: Compulsive hoarding and the meaning
          of things by Durning and Ryan. It lists some resources for family members,
          so perhaps it’s worth reading if you haven’t already.

          Hang in there — this is a real challenge.

          • Tired

            Thanks, Gretchen. I’ll definitely get that book. I need all the help I can get!

          • TKA Tech

            Hello- I wanted to wish you luck in helping your husband with these issues. I would love to hear how you’re doing, because, I hate to say it, *I* am just like your husband. I’m trying to reform, and articles like this one give me hope, but it’s a constant struggle.

            Take care!

          • Ophelia Chang, MD

            Gretchen, The authors of the book to which you refer are really Steketee and Frost. There’s another book, Stuff:The secret lives of everyday things, written by the authors you quoted. I don’t think it’s the one to which you meant to refer.
            Randy Frost is a professor at Smith College and gives a great lecture about hoarding. He was one of the first people to describe and study this fascinating disease. The root of the disease is an inability to distinguish the true importance of each item; it ALL seems essential!

          • gretchenrubin

            Yes, absolutely correct. Thanks for catching that! It’s a great book (and to
            be clear: the Steketee and Frost is the one I meant to reference).

        • I so totally empathize – same disorders in my husband, same frustrations as you. It’s very draining.

        • ggcats

          I get so frustrated with my husbands ‘stuff’. I keep telling myself it is not important enough to stress out about and fight. It does make me want to go in the opposite direction- clear all my stuff out!!

      • jenny_o

        Regarding tolerance for clutter being inborn or acquired — after seeing how our two children differ so greatly in their tidiness habits even though they grew up in the same circumstances, I have to believe that this has a huge genetic component. They also differ in their ability to declutter. The neat one keeps many unnecessary things; the messy one can get rid of things with no problem. Fascinating!

  • Katemadedesigns

    Along the lines of make your bed, wash your dishes after every meal – even if it’s just a bowl and spoon. I hate doing the dishes and would let them pile up – especially when I was busy. I find that when they are clean I am happier. And you’re right about the bed. Amazing how simple things can be so big.

  • Great tips! They’re so simple to do and yet have such a huge impact on how we feel in our space.

  • Thanks for the list – I do #10 with a twist – first thing in the a.m. and again sometime after supper. It makes a difference and the few items that I get ‘accomplished’ in the a.m. gives me a great feeling.

  • Here’s one more thing you can do in under 5 minutes: Adopt ‘OCI-OGO’.

    Here’s how:

    1. Decide to adopt OCI-OGO in your life. This means One Comes In – One Goes Out: every time something NEW comes into your home, car, handbag, briefcase, closet or life – something OLD goes out.

    2. If you like, place a note saying OCI-OGO inside your closet, on your credit card, or wherever you need reminders.

    Making the decision only takes a moment, but you get clutter-busting benefits for life!

    PS This is from my post:

    • Eileen

      Yes, yes, the OCI-OGO Resolution! Not only good for clutter, though…excellent for $$management. Makes you think twice about buying clothes you won’t really love or use. Also makes you think twice about buying a new black shirt without getting rid of the old black shirt you tell yourself you’re “replacing” when you want the new one…kind of like Gretchen finding the things that don’t work anymore.

  • I was pleasantly surprised by how I already follow most of the rules. Does this mean that I’m a happier person than if I wouldn’t be like this?

    Well, maybe… But in my case, I only need my Housemate/Boyfriend to follow the rules too. Then, indeed, I would be very happier. Every day. And that for the cost of only 5 minutes of time a day. See, I’m not very demanding! 😉


  • Megan

    A recent trick I learned is to do one load of laundry in the mornings (assuming you have enough for a load). So now instead of a mountain of laundry waiting to be washed or folded if I get one done it is much more manageable. I like the one minute rule too but it can add up.

    • Lynnel

      I like this idea and just did it this morning after reading your post- do you have an idea for when to do handwashing? I let my handwashing pile up and up until I just go out and buy new tights or whatever I need- definitely adding to the clutter and too muchness!

      • jenny_o

        Lynnel, this is my mother’s solution which works very well for her. She washes the small items like stockings, undies, etc. every night before bed and hangs them to dry in the bathroom overnight. Regular laundry gets washed, dried and ironed almost daily. Things never pile up, she doesn’t need a huge number of anything, and her clothes are always clean and ready to wear. Now, I wish I had inherited her tidiness, but I think this is one thing that falls into the category of creating a habit – it takes time, but it can be done and provides its own rewards!

        • Lynnel

          Thanks! I did my handwashing yesterday, and will try the daily thing for that too! (Not sure about being totally done all laundry every day- sounds very intense!)

  • THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am buried in clutter, and I can’t think, can’t move, can’t complete any project because there is no room/have to dig out the pieces/can’t find it etc.

    From now on, I will do the 5 minute tidying, and I will be sure that all the dishes are washed. Then I will go from there, but it is a start.

    • maria,
      I used to wait and do the dishes when the sink was overflowing (a habit my teen son who did the dishes for years started). It finally dawned on me how stressful looking at that pile of dishes is! Now I try to unload the DW as soon as it is done and load the dirty as they are used. Makes me feel so much better! Even small babysteps will help!

  • Lynnel

    I love this list! Just what I need! Yesterday I actually made myself a star chart (inspired by your book) to help me get 8 simple things done every day, and one chart to give myself stars for the weekly things I do (also 8). I always loved stars and stickers as a kid and am hoping this will help me feel more of a sense of accomplishment in the unendingness of my chores with 2 small kids and 2 teens! I know it worked yesterday, anyways! No one thanked me for making dinner (which I hate to do but know it is good, healthy, etc) so I gave myself a sticker that says “Awesome” and felt much better! And I got a sticker for “playing piano 5 minutes” which is something I never make time for even though I enjoy it, because I always think other things are more important. So thank you! My quality of life was better yesterday, and I am sure as I keep working for those stickers, it will continue to be more satisfying!

    • Lynnel

      Wanted to say I reread this and it seems totally off topic, but I came downstairs after making my bed for the first sticker of the day, and read this blog! Making my bed is sooo easy- just flick the duvet up in the air and the bed is “made” but without the sticker I haven’t done it regularly!
      And as someone else just suggested, I put in a load of laundry, so my day is off to a great start!

  • Breathejustbreathe

    My main goal with the five minute tidying (which I started doing after reading your book and it has made a big difference–thanks!) is to get things off the floor. There is something wonderful about seeing a smooth surface from wall to couch. Having things picked up on the bottom level gives me a calm feeling. Plus, if I didn’t do it nightly, it would quickly become scary: We have a four year old artist in the house who in the creative process regularly leaves behind a truly amazing amount of paper scraps in her wake.

  • Meerkatgeek

    If there is something you need to retain proof of payment for and it’s something you’ve done online, you can do a screenshot of it and save the image on your computer. That way you don’t have to accrue more paper but you still have proof, even if their website is down or your internet is out.

    I also tend to sort a lot of my computer files as YYMMDD File Name, so they sort chronologically without me having to do anything.

    • Mary

      I’m not sure a screenshot would be considered sufficient by many organisations (certainly wouldn’t by tax authorities in the UK) – safer and easier to use a PDF printer such as CutePDF to print it to a file instead.

  • vintageviolet30

    I’ve always followed #10, but after reading your book, I’ve started employing the 1 Minute rule. Totally works to keep clutter in check!

  • You are absolutely right gretchen about the physical clutter being a nagging constant reminder of all the things I haven’t gotten done. If you are dealing with other issues, it can become a blow to your self-esteem and really drag you down! Doing this little steps can help on a day-to day basis, I like the “Do it if it takes less than a minute”. Same as Don’t put it down, put it away!

  • One thing I’ve been doing for a while now is sorting through the mail and creating a shred pile, then shredding it. I put the bills in one spot and the envelopes into the recycling basket. It eliminates paper piling up that takes way too much time to sort through weekly or monthly.

    I’m going to incorporate the five minutes in the evening now, too. Thanks for the tips.

  • Good suggestions. Like most of us, I am pretty tolerant of my own clutter (I’m getting to it, see) and intolerant of the clutter produced by my husband and children. To address this, I have a kitchen drawer where I put my husband’s extraneous stuff (it took him awhile to catch on to this system– along the lines of “I have a drawer?!” months later). For my daughters, I have a downstairs bin and an upstairs bin and when the stuff gets annoying, I scoop it into the bin for them to put away later. At least it’s out of sight that way.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! Without realizing it, I realize that I too have settled on a “stuff
      that belongs to you but who knows where it goes?” place for each member of
      my family. Very helpful!

    • Chiara Yates

      I love the suggestions of having a drawer for husbands! Great idea… I am going to “create” one this morning. I tried the bins with my children but the problem remains that they don’t empty it for me to refill!

      • Olga Holdsworth

        I like the idea of having a drawer for husbands, but I don’t think he’d fit in one 😉

    • My father did this, growing up – my sister, my mother and I each had a step on the stairs going up to the bedrooms, where he’d place stuff we’d left around the house. When we went upstairs, we’d grab the stuff and at least move it to our rooms. In our case, we were relatively quick about it because otherwise he would get impatient and ‘put it away,’ after which no one would ever find it again except by accident. But you could also announce on, say, Sunday evening that anything still in the kids’ bins on Monday am will be donated to a thrift store.

  • The Contrarian

    Gretchen –

    I’m married to a neat-nick and born-again minimalist who could easily be your long lost twin sister. Her compulsion to cleanliness and constant clutter elimination has been enlightening for me. I am a convert, and know first hand the benefits of lean-living.

    You and your readership aught to get a kick out of reading about the “Law of Stuff” …


    Enjoy, and thank you!

  • Ann

    “Put Things Away”…like “Make your Bed” it is such a simple and obvious clutter buster. My DH is notorious for not putting things back – a five minute run through the main living area putting things back makes all the difference in what we call “Visual Chaos” – and it makes us much calmer.

  • Great list! Similar to #10, one thing I find useful is to straighten up while I’m brushing my teeth. Perhaps this isn’t the example to set for kids whose toothpaste might miss their mouth while attempting this, but I’m a fan. Somehow I get plenty of things picked up quickly, and it sure guarantees I spend at least the required two minutes brushing my teeth (while hardly noticing that the time has passed). I figure that’s a win-win!

    Happy holidays to all.


    • amy

      I do this too! LOL!!!!

  • Ellabeas

    I’ve recently been debating if I should buy a new home, thinking I don’t have enough room for my stuff. Then I recondiered; perhaps I just have too much stuff? Inspired by your book and the minimalist movement that emphasizes getting down to 100 things, I figured I could get rid of 100 things and not even notice. But even then I knew that wasn’t enough. So this month my goal is to give 100 things, trash/recycle/upcycle 100 things, and sell 100 things. The results are amazing.
    Who knew the girl at the front desk would be so thrilled to get my copy of Vogue when I was done reading it? Add to that the joy of giving home goods to people who desperately need them, warm coats to a local shelter, and over $500 from online auction sales – it is the ultimate happiness buzz and I haven’t spent a dime. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, if you focus on how much benefit other people will get from the things
      that you aren’t using, it makes it much easier to disengage from them.

      • Ann

        Hi Gretchen, This is a great list! How do you recommend turning down the “lamp from your mother-in-law”? Mine is currently de-accessioning a lot of her things … onto us! We don’t want/need/have room for them, but saying “no” would probably hurt her feelings.

        • gretchenrubin

          Can you just say, “We really don’t have a place for that” or “Really, we
          wouldn’t be able to use that”? That way, it’s not a question of taste, but
          just fit.

          • Maizydaisy

            Ya thats rude

          • Roma

            Rude?  Mom-in-law just needs to deal.

          • Gillian

            Gretchen–Just finished reading your book, loved it and connected on so many levels with your work! 

            I have discussed this issue with my mother several times.   I told her I appreciated all she has given me over the years, but could not take everything she offered.  I told her that I can tell that she is emotionally attached to the items she offers me (usually something that was my grandparents)  and wants to pass them to me, so SHE doesn’t have to let them go.  I know, pretty straight forward.  I told her I am trying to minimize the items in my house and that it needed to be ok for me to say, “no, thank you” without her becoming offended. .  I reminded her about an image I try to keep in mind of a young person with very little of their own, who goes to the thrift store and finds this perfect item.  I reminded her that that used to be us, when we didn’t have much, and to remember that feeling.

          • gretchenrubin

            I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed the book.

            I know just the kind of situation you mean. I had the same experience with my daughters’ old board books. They’d outgrown them, but I couldn’t just give them away; I felt too emotionally connected to them. Fortunately, in my case, my sister actually DID want them for her own son, so I was able to pack them off to L.A. without much internal struggle.


        • Wes

          Ann, my m-i-l gave literally several hundred things to us when she moved out of the house my (only-child) husband grew up in. I was so overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do with all of it, and there were VERY FEW things I both wanted and had room to keep. My husband was not really emotionally attached to any of it. That was  seven years ago and I finally put most of it on a Habitat ReStore truck just a year or two ago, after the boxes had been sitting in our garage all that time. I finally realized that when she’d asked about a certain piece, which she did do, and I said “Oh, I’ve got that tucked away — just don’t have room to keep it out!” that was fine with her. She really just wanted to get rid of her stuff. Unfortunately I spent years feeling resentful that she had unloaded so much stuff on ME when I could have just given it right away to a good cause! 

    • Visions Organizing

      Bravo, Ellabeas! Your own personal minimalist movement sounds amazing! How did it turn out? Is the challenge complete? 😀 (…that’s a trick question, I know… Everything is always evolving)

    • DramaChick

      What auction site do you use to get rid of things? Would love some tips on that.

  • Somehow, since i’ve started following the one-minute rule at #3 i’ve seen that there are more and more things that i can do within a minute! as if the motivational boost also increases my speed 😉

  • Oh dear…my comment disappeared…at least I think it did. Anyway, what I wanted to say was that a small number of simple actions like the ones in this list definitely raise the peace/happiness level, so thanks for that! And I’m happy with the other suggestions in the comments, too, like not waiting for the dishes to pile up. Always looking for things like that: easy, and so fruitful.

  • Roxy

    11. try to get the dishes done at night.

    • Amy H.

      This one — drawn in my case from FlyLady’s “Shine your sink!” — has proven extremely effective for me, in fact even at the level of “Make your bed.” For me, coming out of the bedroom in the morning to a clear-surface kitchen and clean, empty sink is an immense mood-booster first thing in the morning, and it helps get things off on the right foot immediately.

  • Eileen

    Close the bedroom closet doors before going to sleep.

  • frustratedwa

    I pretty much follow this list and keep my stuff under control. I used to be messy, but got better with age.
    My GF is driving me crazy with all the problems mentioned above. Anytime I confront her about her piles of crud, it starts a fight, then nothing gets done anyway. I’m nearing my breaking point and can’t do anything about it without a fight.
    How do you encourage someone to follow these simple rules? I’m stressed when I get home and see the “I’ll get to that when I have time, piles”.
    She is guilty of everything on the list! WHY keep a Starbucks receipt?!?! The latte is peed out later and gone, don’t keep the receipt! WHY?!


    • Jamie

      I get the frustration.

      Regarding fighting. My best best best advice is to spend an hour watching this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Y2lAPglTlg

      Try to keep the fights to one particular thing, and just about the pile in the living room today, not last weeks pile.

      • hathor

        just watched the clip…its great, thanks for posting

    • gretchenrubin

      This is really tough. It’s not easy when two people have very very different
      ideas of what levels of clutter are acceptable. Hang in there!

    • Tamara

      From my other favorite blog:
      Tell her everything that she is instead of everything that she isn’t. If you feel unappreciated, tell her how much you appreciate that she always appreciates you. If you feel like she’s too demanding, tell her how much you love how undemanding she is. If you feel like you’ve been belittled, tell her how much you love that she always builds you up and doesn’t belittle you.

      • Tamara

        So, in other words, start appreciating the things she does do right. Compliment her on the little things she does that will eventually lead to the big changes you hope to see.
        In reality, though, you can’t change her…you can only change your attitude towards her (and the issues that bother you).

  • These are great tips to help people realize that the seemingly overwhelming problem of keeping clutter at bay can be done in bite-sized chunks. Another helpful guideline is to put things away right away – don’t just put things down “just for now”. This prevents things from piling up. However, for people who are dealing with serious clutter, the problem usually has to do with not having dedicated places for items, and coming up with good “homes” for things can be a trickier task, especially if you’re not spatially oriented or if your place is already over-full. In these cases, I recommend starting with one specific area that you will clear out, and then vow to keep that area a “clutter-free zone” (e.g. nothing gets piled “for now” on the dining room table). P.S. For the record, I am a professional organizer and I almost never make my bed. For me, it’s a waste of time and I only see the bed when I am getting into or out of it.

  • These are great tips and they make me feel a lot better as I am constantly doing these things… I was worried about possible OCD, but it turns out they are good habits 🙂

  • Tina97103613

    Interesting article, Funny comment. Keep it up! MBL Jerseys

  • Love these tips! Especially “beware of freebies”….

    I do what I call the “clean slate”: At the end of the day, I make sure the kitchen sink is empty. Run the dishwasher. Wipe down the counters. Sweep the floor, if necessary. Take the empty laundry basket and walk around to each of the rooms in your home. As I pick up each room, put items in the basket that need to be put away in another room. I find I feel SO much better if I wake up this morning and all of these things are done.

    Thanks again, Gretchen, for the great post! – Stacey

  • My husband is a sufferer of ADD and pack-ratting, and his answer to everything is that we need a bigger house. This strikes me as ludicrous, especially since our son has moved out giving us even more space to work with – it’s simply full of so much crap so all our space feels like no space at all, just cramp and clutter and filth. And when I start in on how unsightly all the piles are and how I want it all gone, I get a lecture from him on “I’ve been saying for years that we need a bigger house!” like that’s some sort of answer. My reply is always to point out that a bigger house would mean just more piles of crap in more rooms – more for ME to clean (or ignore because it’s become way too overwhelming) because he doesn’t clean. We almost ended in divorce court this past year (not directly because of this, but I think it played a significant part in overall discontent). Now that we’re trying to work things out and part of that was agreeing to renovate our current house (and stop looking for some mythical bigger one that would never fill up), I actually witnessed him throwing things away – things that I’ve heard him say countless times he just *must* hang onto. I would look at him in almost total disbelief and he’d just shrug, but it was a *huge* moment followed by more similarly huge moments. We have a now very sparsely furnished upstairs, which I’m loving, and the entire downstairs is for him and whatever he wants to fill it with (it won’t take him long – LOL!). Even so, he’s still ready to buy a 15′ x 20′ Amish-built shed for the backyard. You know, for more stuff.

    I can see the stress and strain of this causing a lot of trouble for many couples just like it has for us, even more so in some cases than financial differences (one spends the other saves). We’re keeping our local therapists in business 🙂

    thank you for the very thought-provoking post!!

  • Becky

    Good tips- I agree and believe that keeping the house neat (not necessarily clean) helps a person’s attitude. Looking at a neat house when you get up in the morning is a great feeling, rather than the depleting feeling of looking at something messy.

    A few tips I give to friends:
    -Stand over the garbage/recycle bin when you go through your mail daily. Don’t allow yourself to sit down or set it down. Get rid of it right then and there- all envelopes, junk mail, etc. and have a spot next to your computer or office for the items you have to deal with.
    -Make your “systems” easy- if you feel the need to file, put that cabinet right in your living room with easy access (feel free to put a pretty tablecloth over it or something ;). If you make it time-consuming or complicated for yourself, then your filing will pile up and never get done.
    -Forget shredding. I find so many people that are so paranoid about their identities being stolen, that they have a stack of papers from the entire last year that they need to shred. What a waste of valuable time! If you really feel like you have to shred things, then have your shredder right next to your garbage can and do it on the spot.

  • Thanks for the tips. The one about getting rid of the old newspaper reminded me of a story I heard (I think it was Eckhart Tolle) of how a person picked up a newspaper and after a few seconds threw it away in disgust exclaiming ‘This is yesterday’s”.

    I think its interesting how that ‘big news story’ that seems so important often loses all relevance just a day later.

  • Recovering Clutterbug

    Love this. In addition to Fly Lady already mentioned, would highly reccommend Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out. The two of those together just made a lot of light bulbs go on for me. In a nutshell 1) Take baby steps (like those Gretchen collected), and 2) Make sure there’s a place for everything. In a kindergarten classroom, everything gets put away because everyone knows where you’re supposed to put the paint, the scissors, the paste, etc.

    • gretchenrubin

      I LOVE that book. So good. And you’re right, they make a great pair.

  • jenny_o

    You clearly found a point of shared interest with this post, Gretchen! So many comments!

  • IsobelUK

    My top tip for beating clutter comes from FlyLady and it was a total lightbulb moment for me: Put things away when you’ve finished with them. Sounds so obvious, but most of my clutter was stuff I’d just “put down” when it was really just as easy to put it away.

  • Carrie

    I always de-clutter — or dust the furniture — when I’m on a long phone call (with Mom, a friend, my sister, etc.). It’s amazing how much you can get done if you do this.

    • Leticia Abajo

      me too!! It feels great!

  • This post came at a good time for me- I am seriously de- cluttering!

    I can’t stand all the stuff….I want to travel the US in an RV one day soon…

    That means getting rid of all non-essentials.

    I figure I had better start now!

  • One of the big ones for me has been emptying shopping bags and my own bag when I get home. I have a tendency to just dump them at the door, and sometimes they stay there for a couple of days. They look messy and I’ve even forgotten that I had milk in a shopping bag (ewww). Less gross but at least as annoying: not being able to find things because I didn’t put them away.
    So cleaning up the bags is a biggie for me. I had to train myself to do it, but now I’m happy every time I do!

  • To add to this, the sooner you do these little tidying up tasks the better. You’re going to have to do them at some point, but the longer you put it off, the longer it stays on your mind, and the more effort it takes to get it done as it gets worse with time. I’m a bit of a procrastinator, but I’ve come to realize that procrastinating simply is more difficult than getting things done as soon as you’re aware of them.

  • the doing too much blog

    Terrific tips. We have found that taking a minute to put things away, right away, goes a long way towards clearing the clutter and creating a more serene environment. As you suggest, doing tiny tasks — like putting dirty socks in the hamper, hanging up your wet towel and hanging up your coat — yields huge dividends. Your home will be more organized and, as an added bonus, you’ll find things much faster!

    Clutter-busting makes you happier, but it also saves time. See http://www.doingtoomuchblog.com/2010/11/put-it-away-right-away.html

    Thanks for the useful tips, as always!

  • If my office or my apartment is messy, it’s a sure sign something is wrong in my life. I agree with this wholeheartedly, and find that getting rid of even the worst clutter rarely takes me more than 15 minutes.

  • But on point 2, who reads newspapers these days?

    • Carly

      I do 🙂

  • Meg

    Taking 5 minutes to sort the mail every single day makes a huge difference in our clutter. Bills go on my desk to be paid, husband’s mail goes on his desk chair for him to deal with, magazines & interesting catalogues go to my bedside table to be flipped through at night, invitations go on my calender, junk mail goes straight to trash or recycling.

    • Cindy

      Along these same lines- a deceptively simple thing is to take 30 seconds to rip out all of the little extras that are tucked into magazines before you read them.

  • My favorite of all the tips you mentioned: make the bed. A made bed can transform a room and make it look bigger, grander, nicer, and not so cluttered. I actually smile when I come home and see that my husband has made the bed. It’s not the way I would do it, but it’s made. Now, if only I could get him to make the bed every day…that would really make me happy. 😉

  • This post received a lot of likes and comments on my two Facebook pages. Seems many struggle with clutter.

  • Pedanto

    After dinner every night, we have the kids clear and reset the table for the next day – plates, glasses, cutlery, napkins, the works.

  • JJ

    Great tips….now if I could only get the other people in my house to follow these also!

    • gretchenrubin

      Ah, that is a challenge!

  • Jill

    I love these tips. Why don’t you have a Facebook page posted here?

  • Camrezabek

    Corollary to the “one minute rule”, the “couple more steps” rule: if it only takes a couple more steps to put something in it’s ptoper place vs. leaving it is an interim place, go for the couple more steps!

  • Great tips! I really like the one minute rule.

  • Simple and useful,  I like it.

  • Great advice! For me, I find it even more important to beat clutter in your head though 🙂

  • I wish I could share this on my Facebook page…couldn’t figure out how…but loved the article.

  • LainyB

    Finally (!) this weekend I took the “stuff” (out-grown children’s clothes/shoes/garden toys, a couple of old garden chairs, etc.) that had accumulated for the last 2 months in our front room and took it to a car boot sale. Not only did I make money but I have drastically reduced the amount of clutter around the place – I feel great! And can now justify the new boots that I am about to purchase… ;o)

  • Breesus

    I just went to print this, and then realized that is part of my problem!

    • So did I, Breesus. Thanks for stopping me.

      • Tracy

        My husband always prints out a bunch of stuff and leaves it on our printer. Once a week, I pick it up and put it in the recycling bin.

        • Leticia Abajo

          not only that adds to clutter, but it is also detrimental to the environment…

  • Great tips Gretchen. I’d add register for the mailing prefence service  (if you’re in the UK – it stops companies you haven’t dealt with sending you marketing mail) and ask any companies you HAVE dealt with that send you marketing mail to remove you from their mailing list. It reduces the paper coming into your house, gives you less to do (sorting the post) and reduces the temptation to buy new stuff (because you don’t even see the catalogues).

  • Daniela Vladimirova

    I started putting into practice your tips spontaneously and more or less overnight, a couple of years ago. It was a time of reform of my lifestyle and habits (I also quit smoking) and it has contributed to my happiness: I’m totally convinced!

    Right now I’m moving homes and I really wish I had started doing this before: there are moments when I think that I’ve used my home as a garbage can for half of my life.

  • QCharm

    Rule #1 for my son with Autism: Limit the amount of clean-up of his toys while he away at school. Otherwise he associates his good behavior (going to school) with punishment (“losing” his toys).  
    I live with a son who has Autism and any time you relocate or put away or “store” something, we have to use behavioral strategies to keep him from getting irate. He used to scream at me for hours when ever I removed his bed sheets and placed them in the laundry machine. So after literally years of using behavioral and desensitization techniques, he can finally tolerate “cleaning up.”  

  • Cindy W.

    Love all of the ideas!  I have one that may help someone– I never sit down while the microwave is on.  Usually, if I’m using the microwave it is just to heat something easy in just 1-5 minutes and I will take that time to fold towels, wipe down the counters or clean a shelf in the fridge.  I make it a little game to get my task done before the “bell” and then I can check one more thing off of my list and enjoy my cup of tea in smug contentment.

  • Paper documents and other things need to be arranged accordingly so that you can easily find what you are looking for. Aside from that, wastage is also reduce because you will know if you already have copies of certain documents and you no longer need to make copies again. By reducing the clutter that we have at home or at the office, we are also doing our part in avoiding wastage especially with paper and other office supplies. Thanks!

  • Tracy

    This is a great list. It sounds like what I tell my husband and son every day. Unfortunately, when I say it, they say I’m nagging.

  • Tracy

    Another thing that I do to help clutter is to always fold the laundry immediately when it comes out of the dryer. That way, it not only eliminates the back-up of large piles of clean laundry waiting to be folded, it reduces the number of clothes requiring ironing. If I am doing all the laundry at once, (a rare occasion) I fold while the next load goes into the dryer and new one goes into the washer. I also put all of the clothes away immediately. I used to try to make a point by leaving the clothes out for my husband to put his away and my son to put his away and then when they didn’t, I would get frustrated. They didn’t care one way or the other. Now, since I obviously know where their clothes go as well as they do, I just take the extra 1-2 minutes and put them away myself.

  • Tip @apartmentdiet

    Hi Gretchen! Totally agree with this – we teach the 5 minute rule in our course … I read about it a few years ago in David Allen’s book “Getting things done” & have used it ever since to great success. 🙂 One of the best and easiest changes to make! I’m now teaching the kids … especially to make their beds … it’s amazing what a difference that makes on its own.

  • Pato Ribeiro

    This is all awesome advice Gretchen. I particularly follow the 5 min. tidying up before going to bed… It makes the next morning so much nicer 🙂 But I definitely need to work on keeping paper ….

  • So happy i found this article. I really need this because My sister and I share our room and it gets messy everytime! Good thing I found this blog. Nice article!