First, step back and consider your home like a neutral observer. "The idea is to take an inventory to determine what's in there that you love, and what's just taking up space," Balbes says. Questions to ask include: Which rooms make you feel most comfortable? Is there a room you never use? What's the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning? When you walk through the door? Are there items in your home that no longer reflect who you are? What have you outgrown? Don't make a to-do list yet; just note your strongest impressions, and keep an eye out for hidden inspiration. Says Balbes, "Often our deepest, truest style is represented by a single object in our homes—say, a piece of clothing or jewelry, or a picture."
Now it's time to cull. Balbes suggests the following guidelines for separating what to keep from what to sell, donate to charity, give to friends, recycle, or toss:
Let go of anything that...
Is collecting dust
"Garages, basements, and attics are full of items that should be released," Balbes says. "Get rid of all that weight and set yourself free."
Dredges up unpleasant emotions
Even if the item in question is valuable, if its provenance makes you feel crummy, it can't stay. "If you have a chair that's pretty but was an inheritance from a horrid old aunt who was always criticizing you," Balbes says, "let it go. It's an anchor to the past." Likewise, don't keep photos around if you don't adore the people in them.
Doesn't work anymore
If it's damaged beyond repair, outdated enough to be useless, or worn out to the point of shabbiness, give it the heave-ho.
Out with scratchy blankets, chairs that are awkward to sit on, too-tight pants—anything that irritates rather than delights.
Keep anything that...
When evaluating what belongs in your home, Balbes sets the bar high: You must actually love it. And while this kind of emotional connection may seem possible only with things like fine art and keepsakes, he believes that even mundane objects (think spatulas and bath towels) should make you happy when you use them: "Everything you surround yourself with either lifts you up or brings you down."
Next: Cleansing the energy of your home