5 Rules to Avoid Cluttering up Your Place

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” — Albert Einstein Click To Tweet

Not everything is black and white, and Einstein’s quote is only partially accurate. Studies have shown that a messy desk is a sign of a creative and innovative mind. But other studies have shown that living in a constantly cluttered environment triggers stress, anxiety, and tiredness.

As with a lot of things, it’s all about balance. It’s ok to have a messy desk, a creative office, a space where you can break the rules. But your overall environment has to have at least some rules around staying clean and organised. You can’t get things done and be mindful when you live in a mess. Eventually, it will drain your energy and slow you down.

If you feel like you need help with organising your personal space, these 5 rules will help you get started. If you feel like you’re already on top of your cleaning game, maybe you’ll find some inspiration to improve it even more.

Let’s get started.


1. The flat surface rule

This rule is very simple and incredibly efficient. Any flat surface in your home should be cleared of anything that is not a permanent fixture.

Flat surfaces are the number one “beauty factor” when it comes to house cleaning. They’re the thing that stands out the most. When you clean, you usually end up with clean flat surfaces without noticing it, because it’s instinctive.

When you’re aware of the rule, you can make your cleaning process more efficient. Flat surfaces are not only your tables, kitchen countertops, and bedside tables. There is one major flat surface that’s very easy to clutter up: your floor.

Grab a box and put everything you can find on your flat surfaces in it (including the things on your floor). Then go through the things. Put back the things that are permanent fixtures, and find a spot for the things that are not.

Of course, the new spot shouldn’t be a flat surface. Ideally, it should be easy to remember. Which takes us to the second rule.

2. Locate anything within 5 mins

Depending on the size of your place, there is an acceptable time window within which you should be able to find any item you need. If you live in a rather small apartment, 3 minutes is definitely the maximum. If you live in a big house, 5 minutes should be enough.

How crazy is it to get our lives so cluttered up? We own so much stuff, sometimes such a big place, that we can’t even locate half of the things we own. When you think about it, it’s a little scary.

There are 2 possible scenarios when you can’t locate something at your place.

A. You need something but don’t know where it is

Then you need to get more organised. Consider classifying things in boxes, or coming up with your own sorting system. It’s hard to believe, but it’s totally doable to able to know where everything in your house is.

You won’t know exactly where each little thing is. But by working with boxes, folders and sorting systems, you will have an idea of where to look right away.

Make a list of the things that you own as you organise them. When you’re done cleaning, you can play a little game. Randomly pick an item on the list, and try to locate it in less than 5 mins. Do this with your kids and/or the person you live with. It’s a great game to remember where things will be from now on. Do the same exercise 1 or 2 weeks later. See if you still remember where things are, and if your place got any messier. Adjust your system accordingly.

B. You forgot you even had this thing

It’s very likely that you have things at your house you forgot you owned. Some of these things might be childhood memories, or items that are precious to you. By all means keep those. But make sure you have a dedicated spot for them. Next time you’re reminded of this thing, you’ll know right away where to find it.

For the things you forgot you owned because you actually don’t need them, the best is to get rid of them. Depending on the condition of the item and your generosity, give them away, throw them away, or put them up on eBay.

3. Do not buy books

Books are fantastic. They have the power to teach, educate, change lives, inspire and go much further than what you thought possible. Whether fiction or non-fiction, they transport you to a realm of limitless possibilities. Books can show you the way to a new life, to a new you, and to a new way of seeing things.

Of course you should own books. But you don’t have to own physical books. I like reading and I think libraries at home look amazing. But it’s just way too many books to have when you don’t live in a big place. Nowadays, everything is digitalised, light and compact. E-readers make it possible to have thousands of books in one small tablet.

Big beautiful books

Big beautiful books with photos and artistic layouts won’t look nice on an e-reader. Owning a few big beautiful books in a small library is fine, again depending on the size of your place.

Give and exchange

If you don’t want to make the switch to digital and prefer to read on paper, you can always buy your books and give them away once you’re done reading them. You can also exchange one book for another one. This is a nice way of sharing stories and interacting with friends, or even people in your neighbourhood.

Making books a priority

Just like you have priorities in your life, you can prioritise books in your space. If you love books and decide that you can’t have your space without a big bold library in it, then keep your big library, and sacrifice other things. Decluttering your space also requires prioritisation.

4. Simplify your wardrobe

Minimising the number of outfits you have is one of the easiest ways to simplify the space you live in AND your life. More space, less decisions, more efficiency.

My wardrobe is made of 16 items. Of course I have a few extra shirts, t-shirts and pants lying here and there (actually they’re not lying around they’re folded away in drawers). But 99% of my wardrobe rotates around 16 items.

Clothes are one of the things that take up the most in any home. You also probably wear some of your clothes only a few times before getting bored of them, staining them, or throwing them away because they faded out. So why bother anyway?

Choose a few basics you like, and stick to those. You can also go for a capsule wardrobe, which is a bit more creative while still minimalist. Think of what you need clothes for before thinking of what you want to look like. Here are 5 classic use cases for clothes:

  • Going to work
  • Enjoying the weekend
  • Exercising
  • Relaxing at home
  • Going to social events

Put function before design. If you want to learn more about simplifying your wardrobe, I wrote an extensive article about it here.

5. Get one, throw one

A colleague once told me he tried to have this rule at his place, but his wife never agreed to it. Of all the rules mentioned in this article, this is definitely not the one you want to try to impose on the people you live with. In fact, none of the rules we talked about should be forced on anyone. Except for your own wardrobe, you should discuss all the other rules before implementing them in the household.

The get-one-throw-one rule works like this: every time a new object enters the household for an indefinite amount of time, another one should leave the household. Additionally, the object leaving should be around the same volume/size as the one entering.

The last part of this rule is very important. If you buy an extra chair for your table and get rid of a keychain, you’re going to run out of space pretty quickly. An extra chair can replace a pile of cardboard boxes in the garage, or an old fan you’ve had lying around for too long…

You don’t have to get rid of something nice when you buy something nice. Think dimensions and space taken up. The volume of things you own in proportion to the square footage of your home is a number that should stay the same as much as possible. Ideally, you should even be able to lower it overtime.

You can even calculate what the number IS at the moment, and get an idea of what it SHOULD be, based on how much clutter you have. It all depends on your lifestyle and the amount of free space you enjoy having.

No matter what you do, always keep in mind that things in a household add up very, very quickly.


There you have it. I hope these 5 rules will help you declutter your household and enjoy the space you live in more. You don’t have to go and apply all the rules at the same time. Start out with what makes the most sense to you, and slowly build from that. Rushing into things too fast won’t create consistent change, and you’ll be more likely to go back to old organisational patterns.

So take it easy, and remember this:

In life like in your home, it’s always the small pieces that make the big picture. Click To Tweet

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