Wednesday, April 6, 2016

12 Keys to de-cluttering

My expertise in this area comes from studying reasons for clutter and how to get rid of it. I applied these keys for myself first. Over the last three decades I have designed and taught workshops on the topic. Currently, I serve as an objective de-cluttering coach for others. (When I'm not writing.) I follow up with my clients and rarely have anyone regret letting things go.

A clear house lessens daily stress, gives joy and contributes to a more productive life. So roll up your sleeves, prepare your tools and go at it. You’ll be glad you did.

 Twelve keys to clearing the clutter

1)      Reset your attitude.

a.      Figure out why you acquire and keep too much stuff.
b.      Some of us older folk acquired the habit from our parents who had lived through the Depression. Additionally, back in the day there were no discount or dollar stores, so replacement might be expensive. But now we have box stores and corner stores and thrifts stores all over the place.

2)      Have a plan.

a.      Decide how many of things you will keep. (Pens, nails, screws, rubber bands, wine bottle openers, mixing bowls and so on.) Ten 4 inch screws are probably enough for most people. A box full—overkill unless you are a carpenter.
b.      Know where the stuff will go. Your choices: recycle it, send it to thrift stores or place it in a consignment store, garbage it, sell it at a garage sale or (deep breath) keep it.

3)      Be prepared. Gather your equipment before you start.

a.      Clear bags for recycling and the thrift store,
b.      Garbage bags for – well garbage,
c.      Boxes for your garage sale items and for your keepers. Markers to label your boxes.
d.      Laundry basket or equivalent to hold items to move to a different room.
e.      Staging area (Garage or basement) for items to go. If possible have another family member or a friend ready to haul things away the same day.

4)      Have your questions ready.

a.      Why did I get this in the first place? Is that need current?
b.      Is the item useful? Or does it just collect dust.
c.      Am I keeping this just because a friend brought it back from Ticketty-Boo Town for me but I’ll never use it?
d.      Have I worn it in the last year? Used it in the past two years? Can’t remember when I wore/used it.  (You know what to do.)

5)      Get an objective de-clutter coach.

a.      Someone who doesn't live with you and wasn't raised by you.
b.      Someone who will remind you to stick to the plan.

6)      Pick one area at a time.

a.      If you think of the sorting the entire house, you’re likely to be overwhelmed.
b.      You can do one room, or even one side of a room, at a time.
c.      Or you can use fifteen minute time-bites. If all you can do is one area a day, that’s fine. Just keep at it.
d.      Start at one spot and deal with every item you come to.
e.      No skipping around and no putting an item “down here FOR NOW.” Make a decision.

7)      Find a picture of what the room looked like when it was cleared.

a.       Put it up on the wall and keep looking at it.
b.      Remove anything that is not in that picture.
c.      If you have no picture, use your imagination and see in your mind’s eye what you’d like the room to look like. Check back frequently and get rid of anything not in the picture. (Yes, I know I said the same thing twice.)

8)      Apply a selection process.  

a.      If you have two similar items or too many items in the “keep” pile, take them two at a time. Which one do you really want to keep?
b.      Put the other one in the appropriate disposal pile. Continue until you’ve dealt with all items.
c.      Repeat if necessary.

9)      Use rewards.

a.      When you have finished your section/time bit,-have a reward. Chocolates are good as is a cup of hot tea or coffee.
b.      Whatever makes you feel rewarded. (Note: Shots might not work in the long run.)

10)   Food must go too.

a.      In the kitchen, check expiry dates on everything and dispose of outdated items.
b.      Packaged foods like oatmeal or flours/mixes you rarely use, can be tossed. (Keep an eye out for bugs.) Just because you paid good money for it two years ago, does not mean you need to keep it.
c.      Be ruthless.

11)   Keepsakes. These can be tough. (You get to keep some.)

a.      If a picture of the item will summon the memory, then take pictures and let the item go.
b.      Ask – does this fit in my house? My parents’ Duncan Phyfe dining table, ten chairs, sideboard and china cabinet did not fit in my modern home. It had to go.
c.      The small Duncan Phyfe end table fits at the end of my sofa. I kept it.

12)   Items that (might) have dollar value.

a.      Give them in their own box, and later - research their value or have them appraised.
b.      First offer them to family members. If there are no takers, sell them.
c.      I’ve seen too many beautiful items come through the thrift store after Grandma died because no one wanted them. China, yarn and quilts are the most common ones. Do your heirs a favor and deal with things now.

It’s a hard job.

But sometimes, we need to it. Remember, if you keep these ideas in mind, and clear every (now almost spotless) room in your house a couple of times a year, each time will be easier.


Good luck and let us know how you make out.


  1. I love these ideas. My biggest downfall is PAPER. As in, books, old manuscripts, letters, writing bits, kid crafts. And then there are the boxes and boxes of photos. I expect that is ADVANCED decluttering!!

    1. Yes - the advanced courses include:
      Culling your photos
      Clearing your(clothes) closet
      Concentrating you craft supplies and
      Putzing with Paper

  2. #11 is tough. I'm glad I have my bookcase heirloom piece to keep all my stuff in. I'm not a pack rat, but a sentimental person who loves to reminisce, so it's hard for me to thrown items away.

    #10. Food. I can understand why people from the Great Depression era safe food; however, younger people who don't clean out their frig--crazy. I think I clean out the frig once a week after I buy groceries. I don't like clutter in there or in my cabinets.

    But I do admit this. I was saving every stinking container from school bought food that could be used for leftovers. I had a friend, lovingly laugh at me saying, "Dear girl. You will never need all of these. I used to do this too. Throw some out." Her admitting she used to do it helped.

  3. Yes, # 11 is tough, but it is interesting that the older I get, the easier it gets. Perhaps the concept "you can't take it with you" is beginning to sink in.
    Those containers - I know a woman who has boxes of margarine etc containers and also a dishwasher so stuffed full of them that they fall out when she opens the door. Needless to say, she does her dishes by hand. This is one of the places where a deciding on a fixed number and sticking to it works.

  4. Excellent post chock full of practical suggestions. Thanks for sharing, Mahrie :)