And here is the answer my tired brain came up with. It only takes 3 things: purpose, law and energy.
First of all you need to define a specific purpose for the space you're tackling. That could be your home as a whole, one specific room, or even just one drawer in your kitchen cabinet. Without a specific purpose random stuff will sooner or later just fill up that space.
After you know what is the purpose for the space, you have to come up with a law - rules or guidelines that will give you the direction you need in order to get the space to fulfill its purpose.
The third thing is energy, it's the strength or force you have to put in in order to put the laws into practise. But heck, you knew already how much work it takes to keep a home!
Now I know this is all very theoretical. I call it Order Theory :-) . I will get to the practical in just a minute, let me first prove to you, that indeed you need all the 3 to establish and maintain order. As we said, chaos is a natural occurrence, no mother will argue with that. But suppose you look at your messy living room, with all good ideas as how it should look like and what a pleasure it would be to use it to relax and you even know what things you should remove, which ones to move to a specific spot and whatnot (like you know the purpose and you even have some law) but if you do not actually put your energy into it and start moving and removing those items you know you should no order will be established. You'll have a good idea, but no orderly living room.
Now lets turn this around. You have lots of energy, you are motivated, you know you want a neat relaxing livable space (you have energy and purpose). So you start to clean and move stuff around and are busy all morning. But after a couple hours you look around and what you see is a pile bigger than the mess before of stuff you don't know what to do with, because you have not established rules on how to accomplish the purpose. You don't have a rule by which to judge what stuff needs to go or where stuff needs to go.
And just for the fun, the last case. You are motivated and you set yourself some rules. Let's say 'äeverything has to have a home'. You go to work, you walk around and put everything on shelves. You are operating according to your law, but beware, no specific purpose defined the law. You end up with a very stuffed shelving unit, but not with a true orderly living room.
Let's make it practical! Use those 3 -purpose, law, energy- to analyze and improve your problem areas. One of my constant battle fields at home is the kitchen. But I have a specific purpose thought out for my kitchen. It's for preparing meals and cup'o'joe's for my family and guests. It's the heart of the home. For some time now I even have a law for my kitchen. It includes simple rules like washing dishes every night, putting things away after shopping, cleaning up while cooking, having a home for each item, only items used in the kitchen are stored there, and I'm not buying any new kitchen items unless it's to replace a broken but necessary one or i keep on thinking about how helpful it would be to have a certain gadget for a certain purpose at least 3 times within 3 months while working on that specific task. This is to restrict random kitchen stuff that looks so tempting in the shop but is basically not necessary. These rules really helped me to get my kitchen under control, even though often i fall behind and i don't wake up to an empty sink. That's because I'm lazy sometimes when it comes to putting in the energy it takes to maintain order. So all i need here is discipline in overcoming the lazy butt. But once i get to clean up my kitchen it's quite easy, because i have a specific purpose with a set of rules that work for me.
Not so in other areas in my home. Let's take the guest room for example. It sort of has a purpose (to host guests) but that purpose it not specific enough, plus there is a giant storage closet in there which has no defined purpose at all. At this very moment, you cannot open the doors to the closet because piles of boxes and leftovers from random decluttering projects are in front of it. The room is a dump ground. In order to claim it back as livable space, I'll have to sit down and think about the purpose for that closet and than come up with rules that will tell me what should or shouldn't go into that closet. Only then will it make sense to put in my energy to organize that room. And heck, we have guest coming soon!
After thinking up this theory all night long, I really come to appreciate Nony from
cause she has giving me and many others great inspiration and some very useful set of rules (her decluttering questions or her dishwasher routine are great examples of purpose driven laws) to claim our homes for livable spaces and overcome the overwhelmingly great chaos.