The goal of decluttering is to intentionally choose what items will stay in your home. You’ll inevitably also do some re-arranging in the process. But think of it as a precursor to organizing. Declutter first, before you make decisions about new organizing and storage solutions.
1. Identify your goals
Having an idea of your goals for any space will help the decluttering process be more effective.
And you may think to yourself, “Why do I need a goal? I just want a decluttered room!”
But we want to come up with something a little more specific, without going into overthinking mode. (I’m preaching to myself here!)
Keep it simple.
Here are some questions to ask:
- How do I mainly use this space?
- What is hard to do in this space?
- How do I want this space to function?
- How do I want the space to look and feel?
Notice that I used the word “space” in these questions. That’s because you may be identifying a goal for a room, or an area of a room, a piece of furniture in a room, or even a specific shelf or drawer.
When you identify what purpose you want a space to serve, it will guide you as you declutter. Your decisions will be in line with the end result you want to achieve.
Examples of goals from my own experience:
- In a previous home, I had a desk in the master bedroom. There wasn’t a choice then, but there is now. I want the master bedroom to be all about rest and not have anything related to work stored there.
- In my first small apartment after college, it was a real chore to get dressed because my clothes were not organized and easy to access. Now I make sure my closet functions efficiently so putting together an outfit and getting dressed is fast and easy. I also love it to look streamlined and pretty inside.
- My small-ish dining room needs to work for mealtime, homework time, and entertaining. This means I won’t have a lot of storage furniture because I want people to move freely with chairs pulled out all around the table. So storing items in this room is very limited.
2. Pick a target
What to work on will play an important role in your success. You want a target to be reasonable and well-defined.
It’s about breaking bigger tasks down into smaller tasks that you can accomplish one at a time. Then you continue to complete the smaller tasks until the bigger one is finished.
For example, let’s look at the big picture and see how this works. If your goal is to declutter your whole home, you would:
- Pick a room you want to work on.
- Select an area or piece of furniture within the room.
- Work through the area or piece of furniture (a little at a time if needed) until it’s complete, even if it takes you multiple sessions.
- The next time you have to declutter, pick up where you left off, either to finish your current target or select a new one.
- Continue this way until you finish the room, then pick another room.
Or, if you have a specific clutter hotspot in mind:
- Break it into manageable chunks by setting a goal. For example, work on the hotspot for 15 minutes at a time. Or challenge yourself to deal with x number of items at a time.
- Keep going back to that hotspot until its finished.
Aim to have a target that you can complete in the time you have to work. It may be as simple as one drawer or 10 pieces of mail.
Having a simple plan will pay off!
You can use this basic strategy for everything, from a room to a bookcase to your car.
Here are a few examples:
- I’m working in the master bedroom, and the first target will be flat surfaces. So I’ll declutter both dresser tops and both nightstand tops before moving on. Even if I’m tempted to start on some drawers, I’ll wait until the tops are finished.
- I’m decluttering a linen closet, and the first target will be the top shelf, working my way down, shelf by shelf, to the closet floor.
- I want to declutter the car. The first target is the front area, driver’s side to start, then passenger’s side. This will be followed by the backseat, then the trunk.
3. Gather supplies
You don’t need a lot of supplies to declutter, but there are a few you’ll definitely want to have on hand.
Before you start, get these things together and ready to use. Once you are in the zone, you won’t want to stop and go hunt something down.
Here are the most common types of supplies:
- Always have a bag for trash.
- Sorting containers are important. This is where you’ll separate out the items you declutter.
Common, everyday items work well, like garbage bags, laundry baskets, shopping bags, cardboard boxes, shoe boxes, Ziploc bags,
You know your target, so gather appropriate containers. One day it may be cardboard boxes and another day it may be small plastic bags.
- It’s helpful to have labels for your sorting containers. They will make it easier to keep things straight, especially if you have someone helping you. Nothing fancy. Labels can be as simple as a post-it note or piece of paper with tape.
- Post-It Notes come in handy in all sorts of ways. It’s always good to have some on hand.
- You’ll want a marker that writes boldly enough to be seen easily. My go-to is a Sharpie.
Other items that may come in handy:
- Gloves, for dirty tasks or where you need protection
- Cleaner and cloth to give the area a quick wipedown while its empty
- Pen and paper to takes notes
4. Empty and sort
This is where you’ll actually dig in and begin decluttering. Hopefully you’re excited to get started!
Pull everything out of your target area before you begin to go through the items.
If you find you need to readjust the target you decided on, that’s fine.
Does this seem like an unnecessary step? Why not just remove the items you don’t want and leave everything else where it is?
Here’s why ’empty first’ is such as good practice:
- You’ll get a different perspective on just how much “stuff” was in that space, which can be very eye-opening.
- Having all the items spread out in front of you makes it easier to identify duplicates and separate items by category.
- By pulling every item out into the light, you’ll find things you didn’t know needed to be repaired or replaced.
- You’ll find items that were hidden behind or under or in something else. Some of these will be treasures you forgot or didn’t know you had!
- As long as you’re decluttering, you’ll want to clean the space, which is much easier when it’s empty.
- You’ll think twice about what to put back in that lovely, empty space. In fact, seeing it empty will help you envision it in new ways.
So you see, it’s well worth taking this approach instead of trying to declutter things right where they are.
While you have everything pulled out, give the space a quick inspection and cleaning to be sure it’s in good condition.
Sorting is the heart of decluttering, where you pick which items deserve to take up your limited space.
Now that you have a pile of items in front of you, it’s time to decide what you’re going to keep.
This is a good time to identify duplicates and sort items by category. For example, if you’re decluttering clothes, make a separate pile for each type of garment: sweaters, pants, jeans, etc.
Then, go though each item and determine what you want to do with it:
- Keep – Will stay in the current room
- Relocate – Will be kept, but put elsewhere in your house
- Pitch – Will go in the trash, garbage, or recycling
- Return – Will be returned to lender
- Donate/Give – Will go to a charitable organization, a person in need, or gifted to a friend
- Sell – Items you want to sell for a profit
This is where most of us tend to get stuck. It can feel overwhelming and risky to make so many decisions, even when they’re small ones. But every decision will give you a little more confidence because you successfully took action.
So how can you make it easier?
By asking yourself the right questions!
These will help tremendously to make the decision process easier.
- How often do I use this item?
- Do I have duplicates?
- Would I buy it again today?
- Does it fit well, feel comfortable, and look good on me?
- Do I like and enjoy it?
- Does it need to be repaired or replaced?
- Is the amount of profit I would get from selling it really worth my time and energy?
- What are the chances that I’ll need this item?
- If I do need this item in the future, how costly or difficult would it be to replace?
- Can someone be getting way more benefit from this item than I am?
Not all of these will apply to every item, but there should be several that do.
These simple questions will be enough to guide your decision in many cases. But what about those items that you just can’t seem to make up your mind about?
As you determine where the items will go, place them in the corresponding container.
5. Remove and relocate
The hardest part of decluttering is over and now you’re in the home stretch.
Don’t stop 95% of the way to the finish line!
There’s still a little more to do, but the more organized you are the faster it will go.
- Get decluttered items out of the room you’re working in.
- Create an out-of-the-way “declutter station” where you can process decluttered items and get them ready to go to their final destination.
- Separate into appropriate containers to go to each charity, person, etc.
- Don’t forget to keep a record for donations that are tax-deductible.
- Make arrangements for larger items to be picked up.
- Take them all to their destinations as soon as possible, and be sure nothing comes back into your living space.
Decluttering is actually a simple process, even if it’s not always easy to do. Don’t worry about being perfect, just get busy. When you follow the steps it will become habit and you’ll do it almost automatically. Your confidence will grow as your clutter shrinks!