Room-by-room: How to declutter without categories

Minimalist kitchen tools for cleaning (sink, bristles, coconut oil soap)

One of the most characteristic things about decluttering methods such as Marie Kondo’s concept is cleaning up in categories. And it makes sense. To take out all the things you have makes them visible. However, there are some reasons for not following this advice, and how you can actually declutter without categories.

Reasons not to declutter in categories

It doesn’t always work well

Decluttering by category makes sense if you have a not too big space that can easily be divided into categories. And if you don’t even have that much stuff in the first place. In my opinion, it is the perfect technique for advanced minimalists that want to find out where there redundancies are and reduce their belongings even more. But for beginners, decluttering room-by-room might make more sense.

For example, if you have a big house, you maybe have cleaning utensils in more than one bathroom. And you probably don’t want to go get the one cleaner from one there, just to wipe the kitchen floor. I personally would do it exactly like that, because I hate stuff and I hate redundancies. But I get that that’s not for everybody.

Categories are arbitrary and individual, not fixed and universal

That can be like in this example: bathroom/cleaning and kitchen/cleaning. And you can always of course merge categories if it makes sense to you. But if it is meaningful already, how this is organized in your home now, you do not have to commit to some cleaning codex just to start decluttering.

Another reason to not do it this way is that the cleaning up in categories method is very messy. The bigger your home is, the messier. So it might actually prolong your cleaning process unnecessarily. I only recommend cleaning up in categories for small apartments (1 story, 1-3 rooms). For everyone else, cleaning up in rooms and subcategories might be more useful.

These are three jackets from my kid’s capsule wardrobe. We frequently use all of them. The first one is warm, the second one water-resistant and the third one is a summer jacket,which lasted us 2 seasons already because of its saggy fit. Could you make this even more simplistic?

How you still need categories though

If you declutter your belongings room by room, you will find that it is still useful to partially do so in categories, but, as explained above, nested under each room. However, remember what order really means.

If things are in order,

  • everything has their place.
  • things are easily accessible.
  • there is a certain logical structure.
  • there are little to no redundancies in function and use.
  • they have a clean structure that brings calm and ease to a room.

So, if you want to get there, you need to find a structure that makes you calm and happy, and puts all of your things in fixed easy-to-reach places. That’s about it. 

However, if you declutter room-by-room and not by category, you will notice (and I am sure, we all have made this experience at some point) that some things just don’t belong. Therefore, here comes reason number three, why categories don’t make sense: There are always things that don’t match the category you are just looking at. Simply, because you do not have order yet.

Use boxes to separate things thematically

And the solution to that is basically using boxes, or, if you have space, areas to put and pile those things in until you are done with your clean-up. I recommend piles instead of boxes, because boxes look way to nice and it has to pain you a little bit, you know?

Now, each time you stumble upon something that does not belong in that room, you put it on the matching category or subcategory pile. If there isn’t one yet, make a new one. Give them names, write the names on letter paper and put them on the pile if it helps.

When you are done with that room, you should move on to the next one and start decluttering it. – Preferably the room relating best to the biggest “This did not belong here” pile.

Minimalist kitchen tools for cleaning (sink, bristles, coconut oil soap)
I would only need that one bristle to clean my dishes. And only the coconut oil soap. It is both zero waste ans minimal. However, I do not live alone. So there the other ones belong to my husband and kid… (She loves to play with the dishes and kitchen utensils.)

The perks of decluttering without categories

I have personally found this method very useful and I prefer it over Marie Kondo’s cleaning up in categories. As I explained, you will still need some sort of categories, but those depend on the room you’re just in. Mostly, this will make sense, but of course you should be mindful and try to see if there are inefficiencies. When you find that something really doesn’t match the purpose of a room, just think of the definition of order and find it a good new place.

Finally, I want to leave you with a book review by Emma from Words and Peace Blog. The coincidence that there is already a book called Minimalism Room by Room leads me to believe that this is in fact an interesting approach and I encourage you all to try it.

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  • Reply
    February 3, 2022 at 4:09 pm

    wow, thanks! I’m honored you are referring to my review. Definitely a great book for this concept

    • Reply
      Undine Almani
      February 4, 2022 at 4:10 am

      Thanks for commenting, now I’m honored! I think it’s just best practice to reference anything that has been there before, and it has 🙂

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