When we try to remove clutter, our first instinct is to start looking for clutter to pick up and take away. Wrong! Decluttering like that never works very well. The secret is to approach the problem in a way we would regard as back-to-front.
How to Declutter Your House
- Choose a collection point.
- Work one room at a time.
- Identify the essentials.
- Identify what's loved.
- Remove the clutter.
- Live With the Result
Let's face it, everything in your house was bought for a reason—and having bought it, we feel an obligation to keep it. In order to DEclutter, we need to look at things from a different angle—then we'll be able to see our home more dispassionately and get a real understanding of what is clutter and what isn't.
We're going to work one room at a time. If you can do the whole house (room by room) over, say, a weekend, that's great—but you could do one room per week if that's easier for you.
1. Choose a Collection Point
You'll need a place where you can put everything that gets removed. That can be problematic if you're already short of space, but it is very important.
This decluttering method works because you concentrate on just emptying your rooms. You don't think about what will happen to the clutter items - because that will trigger attachment feelings and make it more likely you'll find a (tenuous) reason for hanging on to them! So it's important to have a place where you can leave the clutter items without worrying about eventual destination.
If you are really stuck for space, I'll suggest some alternatives at the end of this article.
2. Work One Room at a Time
You've chosen your room, now let's get started.
Method 1—Clear the Room
This is the most effective way to get rid of clutter. Move everything out of the room, perhaps into the yard or into the next room. And I do mean every single thing, even things you're sure you want to keep.
If you don't have the manpower to do all that heavy lifting, choose Method 2.
Method 2—Pen and Paper
If you can't physically move stuff, or don't have anywhere to move it to, then you'll use the paper and pen method. Get a large notebook and divide your page into two columns - "Essential" and "Loved".
3. Identify the Essentials
Now ask yourself, "what are the basic essentials in this room?" By this I mean, if it's the lounge room, you absolutely need some chairs. You probably also need a television and sound system, and something for them to sit on.
Go and get those items and bring them back into the room.
Or, if you're using Method 2, write them down in your "Essentials" column.
4. Identify What's Loved
When all your Essentials are in place, you're ready for the next step.
Ask yourself, "what are the things that aren't essential, but I can't bear to live without?"
Go and bring those back into the room, (or write them down in the "Loved" column). This is where you can add Grandma's china cabinet!
5. Remove the Clutter
Yes really! If it's not essential to using the room, or it doesn't bring you joy or trigger happy memories, it is serving no useful purpose in that room. It doesn't belong there!
It is possible you like some of that clutter enough to keep it anyway. It's also possible that some of the leftover items are needed in other rooms. But don't make that decision yet. You'll get a second chance to review later, so be ruthless!
Now rearrange the furniture in your room, with the clutter gone. When you are happy with it, move on to the next room and repeat the process. And so on, until the whole house is done.
If some rooms still feel a bit crowded, have another look at your "loved" items. You know you want to keep these things, but maybe they don't have to stay in the room they're in: see if you can move them around to make better use of the space.
6. Live With the Result
You can see that you could complete the whole decluttering process in a few days - so why do I say 30 days? Because the next step is to live in the house for three or four weeks in its new layout. That will give you time to get used to not having the clutter around, and you're less likely to yield to the temptation to put things back.
During the trial period, you may realize you left some essential things off your list - in that case, you are allowed to go and retrieve them from the clutter pile. But you are not allowed to go and retrieve things just because you miss seeing them around!
Reviewing the Clutter Pile
It's a good idea to delay looking at the clutter pile as long as possible. The longer you leave it, the less attached you'll feel to the items. Leave it long enough and you'll be wondering why on earth you wanted them in the first place!
When you come to review your clutter pile, consider each item in turn. If you are tempted to keep something, ask yourself (a) is it useful? and (b) do I love it?
Once you've been able to say why you want to keep something, take a moment to consider whether that reason makes sense! We often have all kinds of silly reasons for keeping things. One of the most common is, "It's too good to throw away" or "It's too expensive to throw away".
It could be valuable if it is passed on to someone else, though: so think about selling the item on eBay or giving it to charity, where it can be of some value to others.
There are four ways to dispose of clutter: sell, give to family/friends, give to charity, or throw out.
Depending on where you live, you could have a number of options for selling. You could hold a garage sale or yard sale; go to a car boot sale; hire a stall at a market for a day; or sell on eBay (there are agents who will sell on eBay for you, if you don't have time). If you have high-value items you could ask an auction house to sell them for you, but bear in mind their commissions are very high.
If you're going to have a garage sale or yard sale, you may want to include everything in the pile in the sale (sometimes the things that sell will surprise you!). Then you'll only need to dispose of what's left.
Otherwise, divide your pile up according to the different categories, and take action to dispose of all the categories as soon after making your decision as you can.
No Room for the Collection Point?
If you're short of space, you may not have room for a collection point that will serve the whole house.
If that's the case, consider doing the complete process for a room you don't live in as much - perhaps your garage or your basement.The clutter in those rooms is less likely to be stuff you're attached to, and you won't need so much of a time lapse before you're able to get rid of it.
Allocate a full day for the job, and make sure it's not raining!
- Do the declutter using Method 1 (putting the items out in the yard).
- Put your Loved and Essential items back in the room, but don't arrange them - stack them up in the corner.
- Go and have some lunch.
- Go through your clutter pile and decide what to do with each item. Throw away useless items, and hop in the car and deliver the good stuff to a charity shop.
You now have one room in the house which you can use as your collection point for the rest.
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on June 19, 2018:
Thank you for this article.. I love the idea of working over a month, a room at a time, and rendering everything in the house down to the essentials. The idea of making a start is quite overwhelming though.
Sonia Sylart from UK on September 01, 2017:
I hadn't thought of it that way but yes I'm sure you're absolutely right and your article and reply to my comment is inspiring me to make an early start with decluttering in anticipation of my house sale - I'm thinking along the lines of starting small with completely emptying a cupboard and only putting back the essentials followed by things I can bear to part with. Thank you Marissa
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on August 31, 2017:
I think for a hoarder, any method is brutal! However, the most common problem for hoarders is that they walk into a room, start looking at items one by one and quickly get overwhelmed - so they find an excuse to put it off. By clearing the room FIRST, without thinking about whether to keep or discard, you force the person to begin the process.
Sonia Sylart from UK on August 31, 2017:
Although this method sounds really brutal for anyone with even a slight leaning towards hoarding, I do believe it would actually work and make a measurable/significant difference in the home.
Definitely bookmarking this one as I hope to move house in the not too distant future. Thanks for sharing.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on July 03, 2017:
That was really interesting to read. I have been doing some decluttering lately, but still need to do more!
Drake Runner from Virginia on June 11, 2017:
You said, "Don't allow yourself to keep an item unless you can clearly state WHY you want to keep it."
Hahahahaha, I have four kids that know every single broken toy they have, they also know the very second it's gone. If you need a reason to keep it ask them. It amazes me the things that come out of their mouths.
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on November 25, 2016:
Thanks, you've reminded me to go and add something to the Hub! Ideally, you should always do the full process, i.e. move everything out of the room, preferably into the garden. That way you can't afford to get distracted - you've got to get the stuff back indoors before it gets dark or the weather changes!
Some objects will always trigger happy memories - but if you haven't seen an item for several years and you've been living your life happily without it, it doesn't belong in your room. It belongs in a box in the attic
Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on November 25, 2016:
I think you have to have lots of will power to totally follow through with this excellent plan. I always get distracted by unearthing hidden treasures. Good idea though. Thank you!
Kate Swanson (author) from Sydney on November 25, 2016:
Moving interstate or overseas is a great way to force a declutter! Like I said, one of the biggest reasons NOT to ditch something is "It cost me so much to buy, I can't just throw it away". When you're faced with paying more money for that object (by having to pay to have it carted), that changes your view and makes it easier to dispose of.
kbdressman from Harlem, New York on November 24, 2016:
What a brilliant plan! It's always amazed me how fast clutter accumulates. We recently moved from Utah to New York, so our declutter plan was, "Am I willing to pay to move this?" "Is it cheaper to buy a new one in NY than to bring this with us?"
We got rid of a lot of stuff, things I had been carting around and hadn't used or looked at for over a decade! We definitely could have benefited from this plan 2 years ago! I'll keep it in mind if we ever start getting cluttered again!