It’s easy to tell yourself, “I’ll clean tomorrow, I have the whole weekend!”
Next thing you know, poof, it’s Monday.
Where did the weekend go?!
What about that big project to get to all that unwanted clutter?
Unfortunately, procrastination can get the best of us. It can make a project of this scale seem impossible if you don’t plan properly.
Fortunately for you, we’ve created this neat guide that will break down actionable steps you can take to right this second to declutter your home.
We lay out an easy and achievable timeframe you can follow, along with some great tips and tricks to make decluttering feel like a cake walk.
Our tips will help you get started on decluttering, help you learn how to stay focused, and lay out some alternative solutions for your items after all is said and done.
It’s quite alright to feel overwhelmed during this process. If you think you need a break, take one.
But, with this ultimate guide to decluttering, you’ll have loads of information on how to productively declutter your space and maintain your cleaning stride.
Before we get started, you need to focus on one thing: your mindset.
In the Mood To Declutter? Read This Before You Begin
Even thinking about decluttering seems overwhelming. On TV, the organizer/therapist makes it seem so easy to just toss away old stuff to make room for the new.
But this is real life, and sometimes it’s not that easy.
We’re not therapists or counselors, but we’ll try to help.
Keep your goals in mind: Maybe your decluttering journey was brought about by a desire to downsize. Maybe you want to travel more and you believe your belongings are weighing you down. Or you have a move coming up and you don’t want to take items that don’t serve you to your new home. Or maybe you just don’t want to feel embarrassed of all your clutter!
Whenever you feel overwhelmed, frustrated or like you’re not making progress, remember why you’re doing this in the first place. Once you’ve gotten in the rhythm of decluttering and have an established process in place, your goals will feel much more achievable.
Don’t declutter someone else’s stuff: if you have small children, it may be tempting just to commandeer the process for them.
Don’t do it–teaching your kids to declutter can help you in the future!
Teaching your kids to put things away when they’re done with them and recognizing what belongings don’t serve them anymore will help them develop habits to minimize clutter. There is also an important factor in decluttering for someone else: what you think might be useful for them might not be the case, and vice versa.
Allowing each person in your household to go through the motions (and feelings!) of identifying items to keep, toss and donate will make sure that they are only keeping the items that they love and work for them. (We’ll talk about this more in-depth later.)
Identify clutter hotspots: Maybe it’s the desk that’s covered with papers and office supplies. Or the drawer in your nightstand filled with junk. Finding places in your home that you want to tackle will give you a clear picture of where to start eliminating clutter.
Create a checklist: Create a checklist with the largest and smallest tasks separated. Beginning with the smallest task will free up some space in your home when you’re tackling the biggest. Plus, if you start with the most difficult project, you’re sure to end up tired and leaving it for the next day and the next day and so on.
Take a break! Focusing too much on one task at a time is a sure fire way to tire yourself out quickly. Take a step back and breath every once in a while. Get a cup of coffee, grab a snack and conquer that declutter again.
Get Into The Mindset For Decluttering
If you can discern why you need to declutter, it helps keep a solid goal in mind just in case you feel discouraged or defeated part way through the process.
Go in with a positive mindset that you WILL achieve your goals, you WILL get rid of unwanted/unneeded items and you WILL have a cleaner home and happier lifestyle as a result!
Once you’ve set your mind on decluttering, keeping your goals in mind and staying focused is important to achieving your goal (not just in decluttering–in life too!).
Handling the Guilt
Another obstacle that many people find it difficult to overcome is getting rid of sentimental items.
Of course items like heirlooms or antiques may be stored away properly, but items such as birthday cards, ticket stubs or any other sentimental items should be thanked for the emotions they elicit, and set aside.
The memories attached to that item aren’t being thrown away, just the item itself.
Often times, we may get caught up in holding on to something because of sentimental reasons, and we keep holding on to more and more items. The more memories you attach to each thing, the more difficult it is to let go.
Instead, reminisce in the experience surrounding the item and set aside to donate, sell or toss.
This 10-Minute Exercise Will Give You Decluttering Results Right Away!
Take your huge decluttering project, and segment it into bite-size mini projects.
For example, start a 10-minute decluttering exercise by grabbing a couple of trash bags and labeling one as “trash” and the other as “donate, sell, or recycle”.
Go through your home and allocate miscellaneous items into either bag. If you repeat this process for a solid two to three weeks, you’ll have a little bit of a head start!
Prepping for Decluttering
Another good tip for prepping? Make a run to the store and grab everything you need for decluttering. There’s nothing worse than going full speed ahead on a project, only having to stop and run to the store for something you need!
Don’t know what you’ll need for decluttering? Here’s a list to help you get started:
- Garbage bags
- Garbage can
- Storage bins and boxes
- Markers or labels
- Cleaning supplies, such as gloves, wipes, dusters, disinfectant
- Ladder/stepping stools
- Laundry detergent to wash dirty clothes/cleaning cloths
Now that you’re fully prepared, let’s get started!
Make It Happen
Decluttering is an intense job, and you’re afraid you will get stuck as soon as you begin.
Here’s how you can commit to your plan:
- Block time out on the calendar. Pick the day and let others know you will not be available.
- Take a before photo. This will come in handy later for a ‘before-and-after shot.’ It also serves as an additional motivational tool to clean that mess.
- Start early in the morning. Work for no more than two hours at a time and eliminate distractions, such as phones and television. Build in breaks.
- Work category by category to avoid getting overwhelmed.
- Start with something easy and actionable, such as your clothing or books.
- Gather all the items in one place.
How To Decide What ‘Sparks Joy’
Now that you’ve gathered your items into one big pile, how do you decide what to throw away? After all, none of this is “junk.” At one time, it meant something to you.
Marie Kondo’s famous test asks you to hold each item and decide if it still “sparks joy.”
But what if your feelings are fickle? What if everything “sparks joy”?
- Ask different questions. What do you want to keep? When you picture your decluttered space, what do you see? When you see your ideal wardrobe, what is your style? You are ready for the next test:
- Keep only what you truly love, not that which you feel an obligation toward. (More on this in a bit.)
- Repeat this process, one category at a time.
- Pause when you’re done with each category to mentally and physically reset.
- Once you’ve made your decisions, try to remove the unwanted items out of your space. This completes the process of decluttering.
Get Your Family Involved With Decluttering (And What To Say To Those Who Won’t Get On Board)
You committed to decluttering. It’s been on the calendar, you woke up early and got started.
You’re hard at work when other family members see what you’re up to. They may have questions or objections.
Maybe your decluttering spirit will rub off on other family members. Here’s how to get them involved.
- Divide the tasks based on strengths, says Jordan Marks, co-founder and owner of It’s Organized, with locations in New York City and New Jersey. A five-year-old can test the pens and toss the ones that have dried up, for example.
- If one family member is too sentimental or too much of a “repurposer” to be a decision maker, redirect them to keep them from taking things out of the recycling bin.
- It can be especially stressful for parents to see what their children discard, so keep in mind that some tasks should be done in private to avoid bruising feelings unnecessarily.
- Express to your family and housemates the common goals and benefits to all members of the household. Having this conversation will help you bond. Think of this process as creating space (whether physical of as an energy) for something new.
Learn How And Why Clutter Builds Up Around Your House
We all have our blind spots. Perhaps you have an area that’s unofficially dedicated to containing your clutter. One blogger and author refers to this as the “invisible corner”. If the clutter has been there long enough, you don’t even notice it anymore.
But your guests and family do.
Here are three ways to create new habits and prevent clutter buildup.
- Flat surface clutter rule: HappySimpleMom.com has a simple, but ingenious, rule: if it is a flat surface, like a floor, table or countertop, it should be cleared of anything that is not a permanent fixture. So, if random papers and objects that don’t belong in the kitchen tend to congregate on your kitchen counter, make a point to get those cleared off right away.
- Clutter attracts clutter: Also from HappySimpleMom.com is almost an “oh duh” moment. If you have an area with clutter, it tends to gather more clutter. You see a pile of items on your counter and think, “well, what’s one more thing?” However, all of these little things tend to add up, then you’re suddenly overwhelmed.
- Put a time limit on items: If you haven’t used or worn your item in a set amount of time, throw it away or donate. Many professional organizers recommend using 12 months as a timeline.
The Number One Pitfall To Avoid When Decluttering (And Two Mistakes First-Timers Make)
When you’re decluttering and following the steps we’ve set up for you, you’ll begin to see progress right away.
But if you want to make progress, you have to set yourself up for success.
Here are three things to avoid:
- Don’t start with mementos. If you start with the sentimental stuff, you’re going to stop decluttering right when you start. Most people get lost in reminiscing over items with memories attached. Leave these for last.
- Don’t call out other people for their “junk.” If this is a family decluttering, don’t argue about who’s messier than whom. That’s a good way to shut down a productive work day.
- Don’t push. You may be feeling generous and want to give your neighbors or friends kids’ some hand-me-downs, and that’s the right attitude to have, but you’re just passing along the clutter, not getting rid of it. If you have lightly used clothes or other items, feel free to donate to local charity or nonprofit.
Done right, decluttering helps people process their past, acknowledge the person they were and the experiences they had and lets them move on to a fresh start.
Dealing With Difficult Categories When Decluttering
So you want to cut down to the bare necessities — in your shoe closet, your dresser drawers, the garage. Why not declutter your home office?
Paperwork is pervasive. Here’s how to declutter your home office:
- Get rid of paperwork. Most paperwork can be discarded.
Keep only three categories:
- Papers that need attention (forms that must be returned, bills to pay).
- Papers that must be kept (such as contracts).
- Other items that you feel should be saved for another reason. However, most paperwork, such as appliance manuals, old credit-card statements and the like, is not necessary.
- Take a stand when it comes to miscellaneous items. When it comes to these small items (maybe it’s a ticket stub or a cheap sticker from your cute niece), keep items you love. Not just because.
Go Minimal (And Stay Clutter-Free)
If you’ve dedicated time to decluttering, you’re probably starting to feel good about yourself.
For example, the walkway is clear. It’s not just a path. Items stand out on your shelf; they’re not sharing the space with old lottery tickets and receipts.
Congratulations on making it this far!
Decluttering is time well spent, says Joshua Becker, who runs a site called BecomingMinimalist.com. But he emphasizes that decluttering only addresses a surface-level problem.
That’s the first step.
Here’s how to take this concept a step further to embrace minimalism.
- Challenge yourself to discover how little you actually need. (One recent study shows that people spend up to $450 per month on impulse buys.)
- Pick one item — just one! — from a collection (such as one of your late grandmother’s teacups) to represent and preserve that memory of a collection that meant so much to you or a loved one. The rest of the items in the collection do not inherently add more value, and they can detract from it, says author, blogger and podcaster Gretchen Rubin. She has spent several years helping people find happiness. In a New York Times happiness guide, she advises:
- Stop buying tchotchkes on vacation.
- Spend money on experiences, not things.
- Curtail excessive decorations: having too many decorations in one space tends to overwhelm the eye and make a room look more messy. Keep decor items down to a minimum, using only the items that really enhance the space and bring you joy.
Declutter Your Way To Profit: Host A Garage Sale
Pre-tip: It’s all right if you don’t have the time or energy to engage in the process of holding a garage or yard sale. Planning one can be quite the undertaking. If you’d rather donate your items instead, click here to see our section on donations.
If you’re still with us and you’re interested in decluttering your way through a sale, we’ll show you how to get organized for a garage sale in seven steps:
- Pick a date and begin setup in advance. Generally, about a month or two before a garage sale is a good time to get your things decluttered, in order and sorted. Check with your community to see if there are neighborhood-wide garage sale days, which will attract more customers.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Decluttering doesn’t require you to conquer your entire home in one day. Section out a space each day or week to accomplish things easier and faster.
- Plan a sale once, or twice, a year. A sound decluttering strategy is one in which you clear out any unwanted or unused goods consistently. As you realize something in your home is no longer needed and in salable condition, set it aside in a designated garage-sale bin or charity bin. A clean home is a happy home! Plus, you’ll feel much better helping your community.
- Don’t buy plastic tubs…yet. Sometimes it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves when we’re planning a garage sale, and you may find yourself cutting into your profits before your first sale. For organizing and displaying items for your garage sale, use any sturdy boxes or condense plastic containers you already have. As you clear clutter from the house, you may find extra containers you weren’t aware of, saving you a few extra dollars in the process.
- Color code the items you’re selling. While you’re in the midst of sorting your items, keep a packet of colorful stickers nearby. These are cheap, usually purchased at a dollar store, and can help keep you organized when you’re pricing your items later.
Each color can represent a specific price — and this also works as a cheap and efficient inventory system!
- Reuse your shopping bags. If you have leftover shopping bags from grocery trips past, hand ‘em out to your customers for ease and convenience. This doubles as a way to clear out unneeded bags as well!
- Advertise! In the digital era, Facebook and other social media platforms are your friend! Reach out to your friends, family and local Facebook communities to display your pictures, signs and more!
In fact, here are just a couple local Facebook Groups that are perfect for that:
Don’t forget to include outdoor advertisements! Cheap and brightly colored posterboard can be bought at any nearby market or dollar store. Ensure your sign has a font large enough to be seen at a car’s distance.
Place important details including:
- Begin and end times and dates of the sale.
- Location of the sale.
- Large arrows indicating direction on the poster and along the road.
Without this extra step, all your garage-sale plans and efforts will have been for nothing, but at least you have a cleaner house now!
Once your sale concludes, or you’ve finished your decluttering process, donate any leftover items to a local charitable organization or center of your choice.
Declutter And Donate Your Unwanted Goods
We’ve already covered how decluttering can be intense, exhausting and beneficial to you on a psychological level. It can even be profitable!
Keep those feelings coming!
Now we’ll teach you how to help the greater good by giving your ex-clutter a chance to improve someone else’s life.
Donating is part of the cycle of life and ownership of a durable object. You own it for a time, use it, enjoy it and then offer it out into the world to keep serving its mission.
BEFORE YOU DONATE
Remember that before you donate, you should ensure your items are not dirty, broken or “questionable” in quality or nature.
Check with the manufacturer of your donated good to make sure the item wasn’t recalled. If that’s the case, please contact the manufacturer and return the item.
If you’re looking to get rid of unused or old electronics, make sure the place you want to donate to accepts electronics. If not, electronic stores like Best Buy accept recycled electronics.
You can also use Call2Recycle to help you find drop-off locations for items like batteries or old cellphones in your area as well!
PLACES TO DROP OFF
Here’s a list of nationally recognized places that generally accept donations.
Remember, always follow their criteria and donation guidelines before donating items:
If you’re looking to make more of an impact on your community, use the Great Nonprofits locator tool to find local nonprofits and charities that accept donations in your area as well!
DONATE TO YOUR LOCAL SCHOOL
From elementary to college, all schools love donations! New and/or unopened office supplies are best, and individual school teachers accept donations as well. Miscellaneous arts and crafts supplies, pencils, pens and notebooks are all great examples.
The younger kids in elementary specifically appreciate any donations in the form of gently used or new winter clothing, school clothing, backpacks, shoes and more.
HELP OUT LOCAL RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
A charitable spirit is a human trait and nondiscriminatory. Reach out to your local mosques, synagogues, churches, temples and any other religious establishments. They’re a hub of any community and are in tune with what the community needs.
Another hub is a community center! They have athletic activities and amenities like indoor and outdoor courts, free educational and art courses and many other goodwill services for the community. They’re often a great center for outreach, so look for yours and ask about what you can donate to help!
It goes without saying, but we’ll mention it anyway: PLEASE DO NOT DONATE USED OR ABOUT-TO-BE EXPIRED FOOD ITEMS.
If you’re looking to declutter your pantry and give back, that’s wonderful, but do so not at the cost of someone’s health. Ensure you check your expiration dates and speak with your local food pantry about accepted items and health guidelines.
Keep Clutter From Returning To Destroy Your Life With One Simple Trick
“Destroy” may be an overstatement, but as you’ve seen, clutter can take control. Don’t let that happen.
Expert organizers advise you to have a donation box in your house at all times. That way, if you’re just going about your life and realize you don’t need an item, you can put it in the donation box.
When the box is full, you can take it to your local charity. Plus, it’s nice to know that even though you don’t need that item, it has a place to go until you can take your donations to their next destination.
Now that you’ve:
- Processed your past.
- Cleaned your closets.
- Filed or threw away your paperwork.
- Hosted a garage sale.
- Delivered your items to charity.
What do you do next?
You’re finally finished!
Quick, take an after shot of your completed project. Stick the before and after shots somewhere to serve as a reminder of how clean your space can feel. They can even serve as references for your next big cleaning project!
How do you go about decluttering your space? We’d love to hear from you. Feel free to let us know which tips and tricks worked out for you!