Where to Start Decluttering – 3 Step Foolproof System

If you’re not sure where to start decluttering I hope this article will help. Taking that first step is an important part of learning how to declutter and knowing the best path to take will help you to be more confident when you do.

Normally decluttering and easy are not found in the same sentence and for good reason. Decluttering is hard, no doubt about it. Yet even though decluttering is not something we want to do, we know it’s something we need to do not only for our homes but for our health, happiness, and well-being. And knowing where to start decluttering can be the very hardest part of it all.

where to start decluttering

Psychology Today says that clutter causes stress, anxiety, and frustration. With so much negativity surrounding clutter, why do so many of us find it difficult to remove it?

It’s not so much the removal of the clutter that paralyzes us as much as the difficulty of knowing where to start decluttering in the first place. The problem is in the amount of stuff that we have. I am not talking about the boxes in your attic or the bags in your closet. I am talking about the array of randomness sitting out right now on your kitchen counters.

 A couple (woman and man) holding moving boxes in a white room.

It is said that the average home contains over 300,000 items. That is a crazy amount of stuff and with all those things it’s no wonder that 1 in 4 Americans has a clutter problem.  

I was once one of those with a problem myself. For me, out of site meant clutter-free and I took this method and turned it into an art form. I had stuff shoved everywhere, and I thought as long as my counters were relatively cleaned off I was just fine.

It didn’t matter that I had bills in my bathroom along with a stack of magazines a foot high.

I thought it was okay to have so many clothes shoved in the dresser drawers that I was forced to have overflow piles sitting on top, threatening to topple over at any time.

And it wasn’t such a big deal that I had so many dishes in my sink that I resorted to putting the excess dirty dishes inside my oven. (Well, at least until my kids almost burnt my house down by turning on that oven without emptying it out first…but that is a story for another time.) The bottom line for me was as long as it was off the counters, the dressers, even the kitchen table then I was just fine…right?


I knew deep down that I had a problem. I had more stuff than I had room for. But the even bigger problem was where to begin. Where to find the time to begin. Where to put my focus so I could make progress without throwing up my hands in frustration just minutes in.

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Which room should I declutter first?

When you are deciding what room to work on first, I always like to suggest the bedroom. Why? Because odds are you will be doing the most work so why not pick a spot where you will reap the most rewards?

Not a fan of the bedroom? Then your next best choice is to choose a room that is the heart of your home. This is where your family gathers and hangouts and feels most comfortable. It could be the family room, the kitchen, a game room, or any other room that you tend to gravitate towards together. 

When you can narrow down all the rooms in your home to a shorter list of three it will help you to pick the best place to start for you.

Listen, there are no right or wrong answers here. And there is no easy way to do this. So, when you are going to be working hard you may as well begin in a room that you and your family will get to most benefit from. 

Once you have your room chosen, then what?

Before we dive into the next steps, let’s first talk about what clutter is.

Clutter is anything without a home.

So your job is to designate a home for all your things and get rid of everything else. Yes, it is that simple. Whether that home is in your house or someone else’s, find a home for everything, and the clutter will disappear.

Where to Start Decluttering – 3-Step Foolproof System

Let’s break it down.

Step #1.  Throw it away. Recycle it. Put it away.

I like to call these the Three Crucial Steps to take before decluttering anything. Whenever you clean out an area in your home, begin here, and you will magically turn an overwhelming project into a simple task.

How it works:  More often than not, the clutter we have to deal with is hidden under other things that need to be tossed or put away. Uncover the actual clutter you need to deal with, and you will see it’s not as bad as you originally thought.

How do the 3 Crucial Steps to Decluttering work? 

#1. First, toss any trash or recyclables you find in your targeted space. I like to take two trash bags with me when I do this step. One bag is for any trash I find, and the other is for recyclables. Go through the pile quickly and pull out anything you can toss or recycle. Don’t overthink this step.

Keep it easy, simple, and non-overwhelming. This is also a good habit to have and use before you clean your home. I call it the “Trash Walk,” and it is a great chore to give younger children. Just take a bag and walk your home gathering up any trash as you find it. Super simple and incredibly effective.

#2. Second, gather up anything that needs to be put away. Dishes, towels, clothes, papers, and toys. All the things that may have gotten misplaced and already have a specific home. A clothes or laundry basket like this one works great here. I just love these baskets because they hold a lot of different-sized items and are relatively easy to carry. Once full, you can simply walk home with your basket putting things away as you go.

#3. Third, find homes for anything you know without question you want to keep. For example, a can of paint you bought for the bedroom may not have a home, but it isn’t cluttered either. Give it a home, such as in the garage or the room itself, and put it there now. Be careful to only do this with things you are sure you are going to keep. You do not want to relocate your clutter to a new area. If it is obvious that you are going to keep it, give it a home and move on.

Green field with blue sky with the words: "Don't keep for tomorrow what you can declutter today."

Step #2.  Donate or Give away?

Is there a difference between donating an item and giving it away? Yes, there is, and a pretty big one.

Donate means giving your things to a charity or other organization. Someone that could use those items you no longer need. This is not someone you know personally, and it is an easy place to give your things when you have no emotional attachment to them. Overgrown clothing or books you have long since read.

Give away means allowing your things to have a second life with someone you know personally that could use them, such as a family member, neighbor, or friend. A quilt you made years ago might be perfect for your son that is heading off to college, or your child’s baby clothes may be a welcomed gift for your friend’s daughter that just had their first baby. By giving things second life with loved ones, it makes it easier to remove what we no longer need yet we may still love.

Stack of folded toddler's cloths with toy boats and blue toodler's sneakers.

Step #3.  Declutter as you go.

This is by far the easiest way to declutter, and with good reason. By paring down as you go through your day, you will remove the clutter without any of the stress or overwhelm.

How it works.

Everyone has their hot spots. Those places in our homes have a lot of stuff. Kitchen cabinets, bedroom closets, and dresser drawers are just a few of those areas that tend to have more things than there is room for. As you find items, you no longer need it is easy to get rid of them.

To really make this work you will want to have a few bags or even boxes scattered about your home. As you begin to remove the clutter, you will not need quite as many donation containers, but in the beginning, you will want quite a few. A box on the closet floor or a bag hanging on the closet doorknob will work quite well.

If, however, you have quite a bit of clutter, you may want to have both. The key is to make it super simple to remove the clutter for quick donating as you find it. Don’t save it for later. I like to call this decluttering in real-time. It is a game-changer and the way I was able to really clean out our own home without any regret or overwhelm.

How does gradual decluttering work?

Let’s see gradual decluttering in action. It’s Monday morning, and you are running late. You rush through your bathroom routine, and you are now in your closet getting dressed. You grab a pair of socks, and as you do, you see 5 pairs you haven’t worn in years. You quickly grab them and toss them into the bag hanging on the door handle.

a hand putting socks into a plastic bag in a closet

As you remove your blouse, you see another one you no longer love. Off it goes to the donation box you have sitting in the corner of your closet.

Next, you head to your kitchen to make breakfast for the kids. As you get a cup for your coffee, you see a mug way in the back with a large chip in it. Without thinking twice, you toss it into the trash. You start the eggs for your son, and as you reach into the drawer for a spatula, you find 7 others shoved inside. You take out four and put them into the box you have sitting by the table that is labeled “DONATIONS”.

And just like that, you have donated a dozen items without adding any time to your already busy and hectic day.

Can you unclutter an entire home this way? Absolutely, but it will take a bit more time. However, by incorporating it into your day, you will find it easier to do. And that might be a great trade-off, especially if you have been afraid of letting go of your things.

What do you do when you are stuck?

I have two solutions here.

First is the maybe box. This is an old tip, but it works so great that I love to use it with items that I am just not quite sure I want to get rid of. How it works is you have a box clearly labeled “MAYBE.” As you find things you might not want, but you are not 100% sure, toss them into this box.

An open Amazon box with women's apparrel inside, with the word "Maybe" written on the side in sharpie.

Once it is filled, shut it up and put a date on the outside for three months. Remember to make a note either on your calendar or your phone so you do not forget. When 3 months is up, if you have not opened that box to grab what is inside, you know you can remove it from your home without second-guessing it.

Remember, don’t open the maybe box, just take it to the donation center and be done with it.

Second is the $10 rule. This rule is a great way to permit yourself to let something go. I hear all the time that donating clutter is such a waste of money, but I completely disagree. The money was spent when you purchased the item, so there is no money to be wasted by giving it away. If, however, you are worried about possibly needing the item in the future and the thought of re-spending money to buy something you once owned is keeping you from decluttering, then use the $10 rule.

How it works. If you can replace an item for $10 or less, then it is okay for you and your household budget to give it away. The benefits of a clutter-free home are more valuable than the risk of replacing an item you removed. If you feel $10 is too small of a threshold, you can raise that number to $15 or even $20. Only you know your clutter personality, so work with what you know so you are more successful at cleaning out.

D/M Pro Tip: Only use this rule when unsure if you can remove an item. If you declutter your entire home with the $10 rule, you may find yourself removing more than you should. 

Don’t forget….Decluttering is never one-and-done.

This is the best advice I can give you when decluttering your home.

Decluttering is a process. A way of life. A new way of looking at your things. Just like you need to wash the floors regularly or do the laundry every week, you also need to declutter regularly. Again how you do, it will depend on your “clutter personality.”

  • Need a slight nudge? Then a note on your weekly to-do list or a reminder each month on your phone may be enough.
  • Need more of a push? Then a visual reminder might be more your speed.

For me, I need a push-a full-on two-handed in-your-face shove to keep my home free of stuff and clutter. For this reason, I love to keep donation boxes out in my home at all times. This visual reminder is there to keep my clutter in control so it never gets the better of me again.

How it works.

Place a few boxes in hot spots in your home. A closet, kitchen, craft room, or laundry room are a few spots where I like to have a box or bag. Keep the size small so it does not become clutter itself. A small bin in the corner or a bag on a doorknob will work surprisingly well.

a donation basket in a kitchen to toss clutter into

Continue through your day as usual, but know if you ever see anything you no longer need, use or love…you can toss it into the closest donation box you have sitting out and be done with it.

Whenever you head out to run errands, take a box or bag with you and replace it with a new empty one. This will always keep that clutter gone and out from underfoot.

No more overwhelm and stress and no more clutter taking over your home and life. Keep it on your daily to-do list and always in the back of your mind, and you will never EVER have to deal with a cluttered, messy home again.

Do you have any tips on where to start decluttering or how to help folks start decluttering without the overwhelm? If so, leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you!

More Decluttering Help:


  1. This is the most refreshing article I have read in a long time!
    Thank you so much for making decluttering an easy process and talking about doing it on a daily basis with available bags and boxes to put stuff in while we go through our daily routines.

  2. When I take things to a second-hand store for consignment, I bring in totes but bring extra garbage bags so I can fill with the items and dump them in the garbage bags to drop off at the closest donation center. The stuff does not re-enter my home. Either that or I bring to church and if there are some friends who have children younger than our 3 daughters, I will ask them if they need clothes, and just give them the bags and they can bless others with what they don’t use. Most consignment shops won’t take stained clothing, but our friends who are farmers will take these clothes for chore-clothes, coats and boots included.

  3. I have been decluttering my house the past 6 months. I have become stuck due to others in my house tends not to help declutter or when they decide to declutter they just through everything out and start collecting stuff again. I cannot get through they must declutter daily, weekly or monthly. Then they will see it becoming a positive habit and they will not be so stressed or become depressed..

    1. Oh, Sandra, I totally understand!
      It took quite a long time to get my family on board. I finally had to draw a line in the sand and tell them they could each have their own room to keep however they want but the rest of the house needed to be clutter-free.
      The good news is this actually worked.
      The BETTER news is, they eventually got on board with me!

      Hope this helps
      Tracy Lynn

      1. I’m so thankful to read this I’m a momma to 4 special needs kiddos and the clutter has become unbearable to the point that I’m now ill, and I’m so wanting to sort this out

  4. Tracy Lynn,
    Thank you so much for giving us decluttering item sales during Amazon Prime days…it saved me so much time and I got some really good stuff!!! This is a little off topic but I’ve been wanting to thank you and didn’t know how.

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