Can’t Kondo? Declutter your way for your own sanity

Finding peace by the waters
Decluttering can help you find a sense of peace, experts say.
(PeopleImages / Getty Images)

For anyone who’s struggled to keep up with Marie Kondo’s “life-changing magic” of tidying up, author Gretchen Rubin has some words of comfort:

Relax. There’s no single best way to get your house in order.

Different methods work well for different people, she argues in her new book, “Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness,” the latest entry into the increasingly popular category of self-help non-fiction focusing on helping us dig out of our junk in order to create a less stressful life, where inner peace and mindfulness come easier because you’re not spending time searching for your keys under piles of overdue bills and unread magazines.

The new book from author Gretchen Rubin, "Outer Order, Inner Calm."
(From left: Harmony Books, Joseph Gidjunis)

She takes aim at the KonMari method of decluttering — which involves evaluating the contents of your home by category (all clothing or books, for example) and asking yourself, item by item, whether it “sparks joy.” Anything that doesn’t make the cut, from shoes to spatulas, heads out the door.

Rubin disagrees. Everything doesn’t have to “spark joy.” And you don’t have to tackle everything in a category at once.

That can feel insurmountable and create more stress, she said.

“Do the things that sound like they suit you and start from there,” advises Rubin, who has written extensively on happiness, habits and human nature. That may be clearing out one drawer a week or, if you are inspired, tackling a whole room on a Saturday. “Once people get started they get very energized by seeing that outer order and it gets easier.”


It’s also helpful to keep your eye on the prize: A good decluttering will bring more focus and an oddly disproportionate boost in energy and good cheer. (Rubin said a friend once told her, “I finally cleaned out my fridge and now I know I can switch careers.”)

So grab some trash bags and donation boxes and get started on making your home a center of calm, not chaos. Who knows, maybe you’ll even have room for a meditation space or a workout area once you’re finished. Imagine that.

Here are five of Rubin’s top tips for decluttering your house and maintaining order.

1. Consider the three big questions of clutter

When trying to decide whether to keep or toss something, ask yourself:

Do I need it?

Do I love it?

Do I use it?


If an item passes the test, find a specific home for it. If you have multiples of something you love or use regularly, such as those 10 pairs of khaki pants, rank them in order from most to least favorite and weed out the bottom pairs.

2. Institute the one-minute rule

Anything you can do in less than a minute, do without delay. Hang up a coat, put a dish in the dishwasher, read and toss a piece of mail, or file that important document.

3. Schedule a weekly power hour

Make a list of tasks you’d like to accomplish and spend one hour, once a week tackling the chores on that list.

4. Don’t let yourself “fall into empty”

If you see that you only have a couple of rolls of toilet paper or a quarter of a jug of laundry detergent, immediately buy more. If you have just one stamp left, buy stamps. Don’t wait until you’re completely out and have one day left to mail your credit card payment. Avoid future stress by buying personal care products, AA batteries and other frequently used goods as soon as you get low.

5. End each work day and evening with a 10-minute closer


Before you head out of the office, glance over your calendar for the next day, throw away trash, put loose change in a cup and stash office supplies where they belong.

Likewise, before the end of the evening, Rubin suggests putting away shoes, hanging up clothes, wiping kitchen counters, putting dishes in the dishwasher and tossing any junk mail.

“It’s a nice way to shut down,” she says, “and makes coming back to it that much easier.”