One of my greatest struggles in daily life is keeping my physical spaces clean and tidy. As a kid, I basically always had a somewhat messy room. When I was in college, my then-boyfriend happened to get a glimpse of my room, with its piles of clothes everywhere and teetering stacks of books and my Tootsie Roll stash under the bed, and he was visibly disgusted (and a bit shocked). Over the years, I’ve tried out tons of different “systems” for keeping a clean house, but only a few things have really stuck (it’s only been recently that I’ve finally realized that this is something I’m going to need to actively work to not be terrible at for my whole life!).
Honestly, one of the only things that’s worked for me to fundamentally change my sloblike tendencies has been to declutter. Like, CRAZY declutter. I’m not talking about the kind of decluttering where you go through your stuff every year or two and part with a handful of shirts and a few books. I’m talking about the kind of decluttering where you border on being an aspiring minimalist (though I’ll never, ever get to the point where I could ever call myself a “true” minimalist).
So, because I’ve recognized these truths about myself, I tend to devour books about decluttering/organizing/managing housework like crazy, just to keep myself as on track as a person like myself can seem to be.
And, over the years, that starts to add up to a LOT of books on decluttering and home management, which has added up to me to start to feel like somewhat of an “expert declutterer” (I still don’t know if this is something I should be embarrassed to admit or proud of).
If housework is something you struggle with and clutter is so constant in your house that it’s started to feel like an old frenemy, go ahead and give one of these books a try! (And then, of course, actually follow through with the advice it gives. Because as much as I REALLY REALLY REALLY want to believe that simply READING about all this stuff will make me better, it’s only in the DOING of it that I’ve actually had any success.)
So I’ve broken up some of my favorite titles into a couple of different categories to get you started, just in case you also have ever felt a sense of overwhelm about your home:
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Where to Begin:
Start here if you find yourself overwhelmed and hardly know what to do first. Start here if you find that your motivation to do ANYTHING is seriously lagging just because the monstrosity of the task makes you want to just ignore it and go watch t.v. (or read a fun book, if you’re like me). Start here if you’re ready for a total paradigm shift when it comes to how and why to pare down your belongings and rethink your household management systems.
How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White
If you have battled your slob-like tendencies for years, only to find that any new “system” you come across fizzles out after awhile and you’re back at square one, YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. As the author says in her book, most books on organization are written by naturally organized people, and the strategies that work for them often won’t work for you if tidiness is something you’ve always struggled with. As someone who legitimately struggles with the day-to-day management of keeping a house tidy, this book was honestly life-changing for me. For starters, it was so refreshing to know that I wasn’t alone. Secondly, her systems are simple to understand, simple to remember, and–best of all–they actually make a lot of sense (and work!). I loved this book so much I wrote an entire post on what I learned from it, so if you’re interested in reading a few of the strategies mentioned in the book, click here.
This is the book I wished I’d read during the 50 Weeks to Organized project I took on back in 2013, in which I systematically went through every last item in our apartment and decided what to keep and what to part with forever. (If you’re interested, this “refresh” post breaks down where you can find the week-by-week challenges I took on.) This book is an extremely thorough, room-by-room guide that will help you to make the hard decisions and give you confidence when it comes to learning to part with your unneeded stuff. (Note: If you happen to have already gone through your whole household and decluttered, you can probably pass on this one.)
There’s a reason this book has gained a cult following AND inspired a popular Netflix show—Kondo’s methods may be quirky, but her approach can be very effective. Even though it’s been years since I read this, I still think about whether or not the things in my home “spark joy” or are useful whenever I’m unsure about keeping something, and I also resonated with what she said on how if you truly declutter, you really need to do it in a short(ish) time span and that if you do it right, you’ll only have to do it once. (Of course, you’ll keep getting rid of stuff as it comes in after your initial decluttering process, but that’s a whole lot easier than just doing a little piece here and a little piece there and hoping it will add up over time to a clean, clutter-free space.)
This is a book similar to The Joy of Less in some respects, in that it takes you room by room through your house, but what makes this second book by White different is that she takes you through her 4-step process of decluttering and shows you how it works in each room, rather than just addressing each room as its own separate entity with its own set of questions and guidelines (if that makes sense). Also, bonus—White is funny. And totally relatable. So even though at times the four steps being repeated over and over again could arguably have been condensed into a much shorter book, she’s an engaging enough writer that I didn’t mind the repetition in the slightest.
If you’ve followed Becker’s blog Becoming Minimalist for a long time, as I have, you’ll notice that his books will repeat a lot of the same information. However, what I did like about this latest release of his is all the stories he’s collected from people who have totally changed their lives by pursuing a more minimal lifestyle, and for me, I like my decluttering books to ideally have a hefty side of inspiration too, so I really appreciated that aspect of it. Otherwise, his approach in this is similar to the two decluttering books by Jay and White, except a bit more reflective about the WHY of it all (rather than just the how-to process).
Ah, the book that started it all for me. Before I’d really heard of the minimalist movement, before I’d hatched up the idea to totally overhaul our entire home over the course of just under a year, I discovered this book in Barnes and Noble…and it was the domino that set off all the rest of the dominoes. It was this book that gave me the week-by-week idea for my 50 Weeks to Organized project. It was this book that gave me the checklists to complete each week, at least in the beginning. True, this is one of those organizational books that’s written by someone who is naturally organized, but it is PACKED with a lot of great ideas.
Full disclosure: I haven’t yet read this latest release from Gretchen Rubin, but I am on the holds list for it at the library. However, I have read enough of Rubin’s work AND previewed the intro to this enough that I feel confident in recommending it as a unique pick in this round-up, just because Rubin takes a much broader approach to the idea of keeping an organized living space, as well as brings in a LOT more of the research behind why it’s important. I’m REALLY excited for this one! There hasn’t been a Rubin book I haven’t enjoyed yet.
For When You’re Ready to Take Your Home to the Next Level:
After you’ve effectively decluttered your whole space (for the time being, anyway) and established a sense of general order on a day-to-day basis, you might reach the point I did, where I wanted to not only have an ORDERLY home, but also a BEAUTIFUL one. A trick I discovered quite awhile back was that when a space is beautiful, it’s also easier to keep clean, so there’s a lot to be said about taking the time to spruce up your space once you’ve rid it of everything you don’t need. Here are three of my favorites.
Yes, I do have two books by Myquillyn Smith in this section, but I feel like they’re definitely different enough from each other to each merit a spot (although I will say, this first one by her is by far my favorite of the two). Once I had decluttered my space, housework and household management in general got SO MUCH EASIER…but I also realized that because I was so busy chasing clutter and picking up toys all the time before, I hadn’t actually put that much thought into beautifying my space. Since I’m no interior decorator, the thought of doing anything permanent(ish) to our home or spending money on more stuff (when I’d just gotten rid of a bunch) was overwhelming to me. Until I read this book. Basically, this book provided me with the permission I needed to just try stuff out and make mistakes if need be, and since she didn’t advocate for me to go out and spend a bunch of money or bring in a bunch of random objects, this read was exactly what I needed.
Where her first book gave me the push to get going, this second book by Smith gave me a solid framework for showing how you could still live a life of less stuff AND have a beautiful home. In this, she talks about the importance of “quieting your space” and focusing on the “big” elements of each of your rooms first (furniture layout, rugs and window treatments, functionality, etc.). She also gave some AWESOME rules of thumb for decorating interiors that I will literally use for the rest of my life. While this one didn’t grab my attention as much as her first one, it was definitely worth the read just for those rules and tips alone.
I won’t lie, Joanna Gaines totally intimidates me. However, I also happen to love her style (me and the rest of the world, it seems), so when I heard about this latest release of hers, I totally got on the library list for it right away. While I’m actually currently in the middle of this one (so can’t totally give my conclusive thoughts just yet), I have really liked how the book draws your attention to many important features of good design (complete with lots and lots of pictures to illustrate), as well as encourages you to mix and match which overall styles speak to you the most.
For When You Need Another Jolt of Inspiration:
Back in 2013, I got rid of probably over half of our possessions. It felt wonderful! Totally freeing! And then we bought a house (and thus felt like we had a lot more space)…and we had two kids…and we had lots of Christmases/birthdays/anniversaries/hand-me-downs in-between. And I felt like I was way beyond square one, but I was somehow back in overwhelm. I knew I didn’t need to totally take on another 50 Weeks to Organized project–I just needed a bit of a refresher, a bit of a jump start to get back into the good habits I’d started to let slide. So, if you’re in a similar place where you just need some good hits of motivation to help you get back on the horse (or keep going on it), these books are some good picks.
I followed Cait Flanders’s blog for a long time (she no longer posts, though she does do an occasional email newsletter), and I blew through this book of hers in less than 24 hours. This is definitely not a how-to book about how to embrace a lifestyle of less, but rather a memoir that takes you through her journey of why she chose to pursue that for herself. She talks about pursuing less in all its forms, but there’s a hefty chunk on having fewer possessions, so if you are drawn in by the minimalism movement at all, you’ll probably like this one.
I simply loved this book (and kept trying to chase the same feeling it gave me in Hatmaker’s other books, though unfortunately those disappointed me more often than not). Basically, Hatmaker took her family on a 7-month challenge to embrace 7 month-long experiments that all sought to cut down on some form of excess, whether it was shopping, possessions, or food. Hatmaker is a Christian writer who brings in a lot of scriptural elements to the points she’s trying to make, and she’s also quite funny, so this book provided a nice little dose of the WHY behind the pursuit of less.
If you’re looking for a short book that packs a powerful punch, this is it. In this, The Minimalists (as they call themselves and their blog) go over why they decided to totally change their lives and pursue a life with less stuff, as well as give you some actionable tips that you can apply into your life IMMEDIATELY.
The original minimalist, Thoreau has some life-changing ideas in this book that talks about his experiment of going off into the woods to live alone, away from society, and “strip life down to its essentials.” While not all aspects of this book will apply to decluttering or owning less or home management, this book provides a nice framework to put those things more into perspective.
This is another one I haven’t read yet (though it’s ready for me to pick up from the library as we speak!), so I’m going out on a limb to recommend it, but it does seem to have pretty good reviews, and I’m pretty excited to read it myself. Miller grew up in a home where her parents were extreme hoarders, and she talks about her journey of self-discovery and forgiveness and the challenge of creating her own home when she got older. Since watching the show Hoarders is always a surefire way to motivate me to clean, I figured that reading a book about it might very well have the same result. (Also, hot tip: the Kindle version of this one is only $5.99 right now!)
What are your favorite reads on getting your home in order? (Please share, because as you can see, I’m always on the lookout, ha ha!)
P. S. In case you haven’t heard, I’ve recently started sending out an email newsletter, which will be a way for me to share some insights and other chatty musings in a way that I can’t accomplish as easily via the blog. And, of course, that newsletter will often be including my thoughts on the books I’m reading lately, as well as some exclusive book lists that I don’t offer here! Anyway, if you haven’t had a chance yet, go ahead and sign up here.