Decluttering methods - 9 tried and tested techniques that really work

From the 50/50 rule to Swedish death cleaning, we take a look at the clutter busters that really work

Dressing table and built in storage in a bedroom with rattan chair.
(Image credit: Future PLC/Tim Young)

Clear surfaces, organised drawers, everything in its rightful place… it’s the absolute dream. But in reality, excess clutter makes this dream scenario near impossible. Step forward our list of decluttering methods – one of these are sure to inspire you to tackle unwanted items in the home once and for all. 

At the core of every decluttering method is finding a way to make tackling a decluttering checklist as easy as possible. Catharina Björkman, Scandi interiors expert at Contura says, ‘If you’re struggling to decide what items should stay or go, think about whether they bring you joy or conjure up a happy memory. If the answer is no, then it needs to go.’ 

 What are the best decluttering methods? 

First, it’s important to accept that sorting through years’ worth of excess clutter is a big job, hence why you’ve put it off for so long. Awa Njie, Senior psychological wellbeing practitioner at mental health charity consortium Living Well UK suggests that in order to tackle decluttering, we need to change our way of thinking about it. This should help you unlock the benefits of decluttering by making it easier to tackle.

‘Instead of associating it with cleaning, admin, or other household chores, make it a part of your self-care routine. Aligning decluttering with going for a walk, listening to music, making plans to see friends, meditating, and other self-care will not only make it more frequent, but it will remove the chore-like stigma surrounding it and make it easier to approach,’ she tells us.

To help you on your path to a clutter-free home, we spoke to a selection of experts to narrow down the absolute best 10 decluttering methods out there. Now all you need to do is choose the one that will work for you and your home.

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(Image credit: Future PLC/Simon Whitmore)

1. The one-touch rule

Camilla Lesser, Development Manager at Essential Living suggests keeping on top of clutter by putting things away immediately.

‘Many of us will place something on the side rather than storing it properly, but this can lead to mess building up which can make tidying seem like a big chore,’ she tells us. But the one-touch method puts an end to that.

‘The whole idea revolves around putting things back where they belong the moment you finish using them and making this a daily habit. This technique means rather than touching the items a second time to put them back where they belong, you do it straight away,’ Camilla explains.

2. The 20/20 rule

Created by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus from The Minimalists, the 20/20 rule makes you think about how valuable excess items really are.

Hayley Forster, Decluttering Expert at Simple Joy explains more about the method, ‘For those who struggle with ‘just in case’ items, the 20/20 rule is a lifesaver. If you can replace an item for less than £20 in less than 20 minutes from your location, you can let go of it. This rule helps combat the fear of needing something after it’s gone.’

Living room with built in shelving and decorative furnishings, large pink L-shaped sofa

(Image credit: Future PLC)

3. The 12:12:12 method

This is one of the most popular decluttering methods, originally coined by Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist. Lucy Mansey, professional organiser and founder of Organised by Lucy tells us why she suggests this method to her clients, especially those with families. 

‘This decluttering method is about locating 12 items within the home to donate, 12 that are broken or beyond repair to throw away and 12 items to be homed in their rightful place. I often find the 12:12:12 rule works well, and the whole family can get involved.’ 

4. The one in/one out rule

This is a good one for starting really small, you simply remove one item from your home for every one item you bring into it. For example, buy a new duvet set? Then get rid of the old sheet that isn’t even the right size for the mattress that you’ve kept for ‘emergencies’.

Lucy Mansey explains this method works well for some of her clients, ‘It discourages excessive buying and also doesn’t demand you get rid of lots of items in one go.’

Console table storing books and decorative items with lamp and vase displayed on top

(Image credit: Future PLC/Katie Jane Watson)

5. The 50/50 rule

Lucy also finds the 50/50 rule works well for limiting the amassing of more clutter, ‘This method encourages people to only keep cupboards, storage solutions and spaces 50% full, so that overcrowding doesn't become a problem. It is easier to apply if you are someone who regularly declutters anyway and enjoys a very streamline space,’ she tells us.

6. The four-box approach

Sometimes having the visual of four different boxes to fill can be helpful. Cleaning expert and Product Development Scientist at Astonish, Olivia Young explains how the four-box decluttering method works. ‘This involves simply using four labelled boxes to help you organise your belongings. A ‘keep’ box for items you simply can’t part with, a ‘donate/sell’ box to give to charity or a friend, a ‘bin’ box for those that need to go! And an ‘undecided’ box, you can come back to these later.’

Green painted living room with shelving cabinet unit with artwork displayed

(Image credit: Future PLC)

8. The move out method

Moving home is one of the most stressful events in anybody’s life, and a lot of the hassle comes from packing everything up. If you were to look around your home right now, how much of the excess stuff would you really want to cart to a new home? The move out method forces you to think about how important the clutter really is and if you’d bother taking it with you in a move. If the answer is no, why are you still holding on to it all? 

Camilla Lesser, development manager at Essential Living explains that coming to terms with all the things you’d leave behind in a move can be daunting, so starting small can help. ‘Start by clearing out a drawer at a time. Once you get into the habit of ‘moving out’ regularly, it will stop feeling like such a huge chore and make your space less cluttered,’ she tells us.

8. Swedish art of Death Cleaning

Minimalism is at the core of Scandi style, so it only makes sense that decluttering is a way of life in Scandinavian countries. In particular, dö städning, the Swedish concept of ‘death cleaning’, is popular. Catharina Björkman from Contura explains, ‘Death cleaning advocates thinking about your things not only in terms of how they make you feel, but also how they might make your loved ones feel once you’ve passed.’

This means being honest with yourself about how much ‘stuff’ you really need to hold on to. ‘The idea is based on the need to change our approach to accumulating more and more stuff every year and at every stage in life,’ Catharina tells us, ‘Think of decluttering as a steady – sometimes even slow – process, rather than a quick blitz of your home followed immediately by the inevitable acquisition of more items.’

Dressing table in bedroom with sage and pink painted walls

(Image credit: Future PLC/Katie Jane Watson)

9. The Clutter Countdown

If you’re someone who enjoys setting yourself a target and a precise timeline, this decluttering method could be the one for you. Feng Shui expert Janine Lowe explains how it works, ‘This is a challenge for yourself and it really is fun, discarding one item on the first day and then two items on the second day, three items on third day etc. Do the challenge for 30 days.’

If you're not sure which method will work best for you, you can give them all a try which is what our team of editors regularly do. One method won't work for everyone so keep trying to see which fits in best with how you work.