How to declutter

box of stuff for how to declutter

Learning how to declutter is just as much a psychological thing as it is a physical thing. Case in point… I had an organizing client who had been diagnosed with O.C.D. and because of this it was very difficult for her to change her habits.

We were working on organizing her living room and she had huge stacks of magazines piled up everywhere. When I suggested recycling the magazines she was paralyzed with fear. So, while talking with her about the magazines I learned that she loved recipes and that she was saving the magazines because she knew there were recipes in them that she wanted to try.

I explained that because of the mere size of the piles, there was no way she would be able to find a specific recipe. At least not in any reasonable amount of time. This didn’t help. So, I tried to convince her to at least recycle half of them. Nope. She couldn’t do it.

Finally, I reassured her that if she wanted a specific recipe that it would be much easier for her to google it. That she could find virtually any recipe she wanted online, whenever she wanted to. Her eyes lit up and she was able to let most of the magazines go.

Older generations also have a hard time purging items. I contribute this to the time they grew up. Those generations had tough times and you didn’t waste anything. Remember when you had to eat everything on your plate because of the starving children? It’s what they were taught. They didn’t have money to go out and buy something they didn’t need. So if something still worked, why would you throw it away? Because of this, it’s equally difficult to get their minds around purging things.

My point here is that you really have to be in the right mindset to be able to declutter your life. BTW this post is about decluttering, not organizing. I will be teaching you how to clear stuff out. I have many posts on organizing your spaces so be sure to read up on those. But for now let’s clear out the clutter so you can get that clean and organized home.

Let’s assume that you are ready, really ready to learn how to de-clutter. And we will start it off with the “why.”

Why you should declutter…

Besides the obvious reason for decluttering your space, to clean and organize, there are many other reasons why decluttering is good for you and your home.

  • Clutter can cause depression. Clutter causes chaos, and too many things in your home can make you feel overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed can shut you down and cause you to feel depressed and give up before you even start. It’s a revolving door.
  • It can save you time. Think about how much time you spend every day just trying to find something? Can’t find your keys? Your late for work. Can’t find your child’s homework? Now they’re late for school. Decluttering pairs down the amount of items you have so it’s easier to find what you need.
  • Decluttering saves you money. How many times did you purchase a new kitchen utensil because you couldn’t find the one you thought you had. Then you find it a week later? This happens to the best of us. But if you had an organized home you would know instantly if you had something, and know exactly where it is.
  • Having a decluttered home makes more room for what you need. No, you don’t need a larger home, you need to pair down what you have so you can fit comfortably in the home you’ve got.
  • Decluttering makes cleaning easier. You can’t clean effectively and quickly if you are constantly having to move things out of your way. Imagine being able to wipe down your bathroom counter in a matter of seconds.
  • Clutter just looks dirty. Your home may be clean, but having so many things laying around your home will give the impression that you are messy. On the contrary, having an decluttered home gives the impression you are clean… even when your not. 😉
bulletin board of how to declutter because you can't organize clutter

When should you declutter?

Now that we know why you should declutter let’s talk about when. Ideally, you should declutter all the time. What? Why? It is always less stressful if you can divide your tasks into smaller chunks. Work decluttering into your daily cleaning schedule. If you pick just one area to declutter while you are cleaning it, it will be done in no time at all!

On the other hand, if you have a large decluttering job ahead of you such as with a garage or basement, then you will want to set aside some time to be able to make some headway with that job. Some spaces can take a few minutes, a few hours, or a whole weekend. Just work for however long you can in the time you have.

Read my post “Got 5 minutes, then you can organize” which lists some tasks you can easily get done with just a little time.

Where and what do you declutter?

This “where and what” to declutter section is broken down by room. Hopefully, this way when you are cleaning a room you can look below and pick one or more of the areas to declutter at the same time. Remember, take it slow. If your prone to getting overwhelmed don’t try and do it all at once.

  • Bedrooms. There are only a few areas to declutter in the bedroom so this may be a good room to start with. If you only have a little bit of time then work on 1 dresser or under the bed. With more time you could tackle the closet. If the closet is too much for you to handle at one time then break that task down and just declutter your shoes, or clothes, or just focus on getting things out of the closet that don’t belong and move them to the correct location.
  • Bathrooms. This room doesn’t have many areas to declutter either, but the ones they do have are tough. Vanity drawers and under the sink are usually filled with many small items that can be a bit messy too. Start with just one drawer at a time. If you have more time and energy then move on to another. Otherwise, just plan on one drawer per day. You may also have a linen closet in your bathroom. Same rules apply here. Just work on one shelf if that’s all the time you have.
  • Living room. Decluttering the living room ideally is something you should work on everyday. Just a few minutes at a time will keep your living room tidy and organized. My favorite way of dealing with this room is to grab my laundry basket, box, or any large container and walk around and fill it up with everything that doesn’t belong. If you have more time try organizing the entertainment center or shelving unit. Clear off table tops and purge storage containers.
  • Office. The home office can be one of those rooms that needs a few days to get clutter under control. Start small…maybe your desktop. Just like the bathroom, choose 1 drawer at a time to purge. Go through any boxes, bins, or piles on the floor. It always feels neater when everything is off the floor. Next clear off your shelving unit one shelf at a time. If you have any other storage pieces they will be next. Finally, when you have more time you can dig in to the paperwork in your files. For some great tips on filing paperwork check out my post “Setting up a filing system for your home.”
  • Kid’s Bedrooms and Playrooms. Kids rooms are the worst to declutter. They have so much stuff! But, it is doable. Start with anything on the floor. Again, this makes the whole room feel less cluttered. Then go for the toy box. This is that big, black, hole where everything gets thrown when they don’t want to put something back where it belongs. It’s also the place where most items are broken, have missing pieces, or they are forgotten about. Be diligent about purging these items. Next task can be dresser drawers and closets. Go thru clothing, shoes, and any other misc. items that may be in them. Then, finish off with any other baskets and bins that are holding items as well.
  • Closets. Closets can be a big job depending on how organized you are in general. I love a neat and organized closet so it would take me literally two minutes to declutter mine. But, you wouldn’t be reading this post if you were like me would you? My advice to you is to start slow. Start with purging some obvious items. Take a few items to the correct location. When you want to dive right in then empty the whole closet and follow the “how” below. Decide what items you want to house in this closet and take the rest out. You may want to purchase a closet organizer, hang a pole or two, or add shelves. You decide what you need the space for and the best solution to hold everything.
  • Basements and Attics. Oh boy. These are the biggies! You definitely will need time to tackle these spaces. Probably a weekend or more depending on how much clutter you have. The best way to start in these rooms is to just start somewhere. Grab a box and just start. Using the formula below, just go thru the room one box or bin at a time until you run out of steam. Take a break and get back at it the next day.
  • Kitchen. In the kitchen decluttering should start with surfaces you see. Clear off the counter. Clean off the island. Get rid of misc. items on the kitchen table. And don’t forget the floor. Then you can get into the cabinets.
  • Dining Room. The dining room is usually an easy room to declutter. Most of the clutter is usually where you keep your extra dishes, utensils, and napkins and tablecloths. However, if you use this room for other purposes, like an office, then this will be another story. Start by removing any items that do not belong in the dining room. Clear off the table. Then dive into the storage pieces you have in there. Again, follow the technique below to make this job as easy as possible.
  • Garage and Work Rooms. These rooms are very similar to the attic and basement rooms. You will need to just start somewhere. Preferably stuff on the floor first. This is simply so you can move around to work. Leave items in cabinets and bins for last. This way the area will look decluttered and give you a sense of accomplishment. You can always work on them cabinet by cabinet when you feel you have some energy left.
how to declutter pic of boxes with stuff

Now the big one…How do you declutter?

I kept this category separate from the where and what section because in de-cluttering, a lot of different spaces will use the same general principles. If there is something that is room, or item, specific I will list it separately.

For more information on ways to hide your clutter read my post “How to make a small room feel bigger”

I always start teaching decluttering with this very important quote…”You cannot organize clutter!” There is no point what so ever in trying to organize items you shouldn’t keep. You are just prolonging the inevitable. You will have to deal with it eventually. And that time is now.

Before you take on your decluttering project I want you to have a few boxes on hand. You are going to separate your items into these boxes as you clean. Label some boxes with the categories below.

  • “Items to keep.”
  • “Donations.”
  • “Trash.”

As you fill up these boxes just add another one and label appropriately. Once you are finished separating the items you may want to go thru the donate box and separate those items if they are going to different places such as “thrift store”, “consign”, or “yard sale.”

Once you fill up your donate, yard sale, or trash boxes take them out of the space right away. Just removing these items from the room will free up space and give you a feeling of accomplishment. If you are donating items put them in your car. Put trash out with the trash.

The first step is to get rid of items that don’t belong

The whole essence of de-cluttering is to remove items from your space that doesn’t belong there. Less is more.

Here are some reasons to purge your items.

  • It doesn’t fit. This is specific to clothing and shoes and includes everyone in the family. When going thru closets and drawers if you touch the item, whether you are decluttering or not, if it doesn’t fit…it goes. Don’t just put it back in the drawer for another day. There is nothing more satisfying then being able to grab something out of your closet and know that its going to look great on you.
  • It’s broken or has missing pieces. This is especially true for kid’s toys and games. Why keep something that doesn’t work? If you think you may have the pieces somewhere, then put it aside for the time being. But if you finish your decluttering and it doesn’t show up… it goes.
  • It’s outdated or out of style. I know a few people who still have their clothes from the 80’s. This would be okay if it still fits and you don’t care how out of place you looked in them. But, honestly, who is going to wear those clothes ever again. Now, I know what your going to say, “But Lori, the 80’s style is coming back.” That may be true but there will be very noticeable differences in the actual 80’s clothes and the new 80’s styled clothes. Let them go! Same holds true for home interior items. Keep the basics, but let outdated, trendy items go.
  • You don’t like it or use it. If you are keeping something simply because you purchased it, or because someone bought it for you, then you are just housing clutter. If you don’t like something then don’t keep it. Consider donating or re-gifting it. I’m sure whoever gave it to you would rather someone use it then have it sitting in a box somewhere. Make room for things you love and you’ll love your home even more.

The second step is to decide what to do with the items that don’t belong.

Now that you know what you want to get rid of, just because you don’t want it anymore doesn’t automatically mean to throw it away. There are a few things you can do with those items.

  • Donate them. If you have items that are still in good condition consider donating those items. Start with someone you know who may want something. But if you don’t know anyone then there are a few places you can donate.
  1. Find a local charitable thrift store. This is a great place to bring your items because not only are you clearing your clutter but your helping raise money for a local charity.
  2. Consign your better items. If you have some really nice items consider selling them on consignment. Nothing like putting some extra cash in your pocket for all your hard work.
  3. Have a yard sale. Having a yard sale can make you a little spending money, but it’s a lot of work. If your up to it, why not try it before donating or trashing your items. There are also local, online, yard sales on Facebook where you can list your items with pictures, descriptions and price. Just arrange for pick up, or drop off, with the buyer and you’ve given your items a new home.
  • Put it out at the road. Whenever I clean out something and have items that I don’t think will sell, I put them at the end of the driveway with a free sign. Almost always the items are gone by the end of the day. If not, it just goes out with the trash on trash day.
  • Trash it! If you have items that are broken, worn out, or have missing pieces, you need to throw them away. Trust me…if it belongs in the trash then nobody else is going to want it either. Please don’t donate these kinds of items to thrift stores. They have to pay to get rid of trash just like you do.
  • Try recycling or up-cycling some items. If you have some furniture that isn’t your style try your hand at up-cycling. A new paint job or some new fabric may be all it needs to make you love it again. Same goes for clothing…if you can sew maybe you can update an old jacket or blouse and give it a whole new look.

Now that you have your spaces decluttered you will have so much more room you will actually be able to relax and breathe. Once you organize what’s left you will know right where to find something, saving you time and frustration. It will be so much easier to clean without all that extra “stuff” around. You will save money because now you know what you have and won’t make unnecessary purchases. And finally, you won’t have to buy a bigger home!

Here are some great books on decluttering on Amazon.

The following were mentioned in this post…

Got 5 minutes?  You can organize
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