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  • Writer's pictureErica Lucas

Use the Boundary Declutter Method for Messy Areas in Your Home

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

When we have too many items in one category, things tend to take over our space. Areas like toys, playrooms, clothes, and board games often have too many things. These spaces appear disorganized, messy, and untidy. Good news! The boundary method of decluttering may solve those repetitively messy areas in your home.

The boundary method of decluttering forces you to limit the number of items you keep in a specific category. Sometimes referred to as the “container” method of decluttering, the boundary method contains items together within the confines of a shelf, drawer, basket, or cube.

The boundary method of decluttering guides you to keep as many items as you want within a designated space, like a shelf, cube, basket, or drawer. This decluttering method works well for almost every category in your home but works exceptionally well for toys, board games, books, video games, and kitchen utensils.

decluttering a shelf


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Typically, the boundary method works best for designated shelves, baskets, or bins rather than an entire room.

The items that do not fit inside your boundary will be decluttered or kept elsewhere. If you strive to live with less, decluttering the items would lead to reaping the benefits of simple living.

Read on for:

  • How to use the boundary method

  • Why the boundary method of decluttering works

  • Other decluttering methods

  • Is the boundary method hard?

  • Why is it hard to declutter?

  • Why is decluttering so stressful?

  • Why is decluttering so exhausting?

How to Use the Boundary Method

This decluttering method can have positive impacts on curbing messy areas of your home. It combines living with less plus home organization. A tidy home is possible with less to manage and daily habits.

Here are the five steps to use the boundary method of decluttering:

  1. Decide the boundary for the category.

  2. Clear the entire space and wipe it down.

  3. Gather the items in that category.

  4. Decide what to keep first (this is called reverse decluttering (link).

  5. Put the keep items into the space.

You now have two choices to finish this project. Declutter the remaining items OR consider a larger space for this category.

Choice 1: consider decluttering the items you did not choose to keep. This choice will take full advantage of the purpose of this decluttering method. If you are trying to live with less, consider how to honestly and ruthlessly declutter those unchosen items.

Choice 2: If you are not ready to declutter those items, consider a different space n your home for this category. The area you chose does not fit the number of items in the category. This choice helps you organize what you decided to keep more than when you started this project. Finding a better place in your home to store this category may be the answer if you are not ready to declutter the items that didn’t fit within the boundary.

donate clothes that do not fit in your boundary


Why the boundary method works

This method of decluttering works because it forces you to consider organization and storage while you are decluttering. The boundary method works best for the quickly cluttered categories, like toys, board games, and books. These categories tend to re-populate with birthdays and holidays in our home because we have three kids.

This method of purging your items also works well AFTER you’ve decluttered a category. It forces you to restrict the number of things you keep by containing them within a designated space.

Other Decluttering Methods

The method you try and the decluttering process that works depends on the category and the room in your home. Sometimes trying a few approaches to find the best way to purge items from your life. In addition to the boundary method, you could consider trying the following:

  • The konmari method is an approach by Marie Kondo to organize by category rather than location. The konmari process encourages you to touch and evaluate every item you own.

  • The 4-box method is a sorting method to organize rooms by trash, give away, keep, and relocate.

  • Decluttering challenges, such as 30 items in 30 days, aim to think about your whole house.

  • The Minimalist Game, introduced by The Minimalists Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, suggests you start on day one of a month and declutter one item. Day 2, two items. Day 31, 31 items.

  • The 1 in and 1 out method of removing one item from your home for every one thing you bring in will not help you live with less but may help you figure out what you want to keep.

  • The 90/90 rule guides you to declutter anything you have not used in the last 90 days and will not use in the next 90 days.

  • The 20/20 decluttering rule helps with just-in-case items you have in your home. This rule suggests you declutter items that you can replace for $20 or less and in less than 20 minutes.

  • The closet hanger method takes months to complete, but it is effective. Turn your hangers to face the same direction. Once worn, turn that hanger to face the other way. The clothes on the hangers you did not turn around are items you did not wear during that time.

try the closet hanger method to declutter more


Is the boundary method hard?

If you are trying to live with less, the boundary method will guide you to face the truth about what you have versus what you want. To own less, you have to want less.

Name what matters most and spend your time, money, and thoughts on those things more than anything else.

If you have more items than space, then forcing yourself to declutter until the category fits will feel like a significant step toward living with less stuff.

Note: the boundary approach may not work well for sentimental items because emotional processing is a different aspect of decluttering. Messy areas in your home might include toys or board games, and your shelves are less likely to look messy from too many sentimental items.

It might feel hard. Very hard. Especially if you are new to letting go of your things.

Why is it hard to declutter?

Every time I declutter or try to simplify my life, I think of the two statements that are happening in those moments: wanting to live with less stuff AND feeling unable to declutter. The dichotomy of those two emotions can mess with our minds and affect our ability to let go of things.

it can be hard to declutter

Why is decluttering so stressful?

There’s a word that gets stuck in the middle of things when we simplify our homes. That word is AND.

It’s an uncomfortable word that bridges two parts of a change together when we simplify our homes and lives.

It’s stressful to let go of items AND still feel like we have too much.

My family has a “donate” basket in our laundry room because decluttering has become a regular part of our lives. Some people keep a “donate” basket near their front door.

Simple living refers to practices that simplify your life. Decluttering is part of simple living. Decluttering is also part of minimalism and intentional living.

You do not have to be a minimalist, own a farm, raise chickens, or live without a tv to simplify your life.

Modern-day simple living comes in many forms. Taking small steps one day at a time to simplify your life count.

Using the boundary method to declutter is one step towards simple living because it targets one small area. Allowing the limitations of a shelf, cube, or basket is a great way to ask important questions like:

  • Do I use this?

  • Do I need this?

  • Do I love this?

The term simple living gets tossed around with minimalism and decluttering. Simple living for you may look like fewer items in your home or commitments on your calendar. For some, it may be starting a journey of self-sufficiency and growing their food. For others, simple living may mean cleaning out the garage—focusing on making something simpler.

focus on what matters most

Why is decluttering so exhausting?

Decluttering is emotional and physical. You have to deal with emotions that arise: guilt, shame, fear, and more. This blog post series about decluttering roadblocks may help deal with emotions.

Decluttering is physical. Carrying boxes and bags of items to donation centers, trash bins, and your car to give to others requires movement and strength.

One of the more exhausting declutters I chose was books. I donated 200+ books and had to lug them - one box at a time - to a drop-off bin specifically accepting books. Our living room sat as a staging area for the books that were chosen for donation for a month until I could get them all out of our home.

Letting go of books is a struggle for many of us. This Decision Tree for Decluttering Books or this blog post featuring 27 ways to declutter books may help you make decluttering decisions, so your books fit inside the boundaries of your shelves.

Decision Tree to Declutter Books

My decluttering journey of implementing simple living into our home and life began with a need to declutter. I’ve chosen those words carefully and want to highlight the “need to declutter” as it didn’t start by removing items from our house.

Our house held too much clutter, and I was stressed. I didn’t know how to begin decluttering, let alone what minimalism and simple living would look like in our home today. Decluttering led to minimalism about items. Keeping fewer things led to more changes - like peeling an onion.

Each category I decluttered from our home made me face the truth about financial guilt from overshopping. Money felt mismanaged. We did not budget or plan for any spending, but we did pay every bill on time.

As I faced each decluttering roadblock, I created awareness. That awareness led to budgeting, debt reduction, and consideration for how we spend our time as a family of five.

cozy minimalist

Getting rid of thousands of items (one day at a time) led to a complete lifestyle change. I did not hire a professional organizer, and my decluttering efforts met many roadblocks. It took hard work and a long time to clear so much clutter.

Nowadays, I think about minimalism as one aspect of our lifestyle, and I think about everything through a lens of simplicity.

I could never have imagined a life of simple living at the start of this journey in 2019. My definition of simple living builds each time I decrease the number of items we own—one thing at a time, one day at a time.

By recognizing how the busyness of our life felt and slowly figuring out ways to adjust it to feel intentional rather than chaotic and stressful. By creating space in our home and our schedule, I find joy in how we spend our time.

Today, I write this blog and share videos on YouTube because I want others to benefit from the many advantages of simple living.


Sometimes we must accept the “AND” statements during a significant change in our lives. The boundary method is one tool in your decluttering toolbelt that can help you simplify your life.

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