As I was thinking about writing a post with these decluttering tips, Turkey Burger (my five year old daughter), really ramped up her hoarding habits. She lost her fourth tooth last night. She went to bed in tears because she wasn’t ready to part with the tooth. Basically, the kid wants to keep her fourth tooth tucked away somewhere FOREVER AND EVER AMEN. We ended up having to write a letter to the Tooth Fairy, requesting just straight cash instead of an exchange – just this once.
I’d be surprised that she came from my loins, except that her daddy is still keeping his college calculus notebooks (in case they come in handy someday). So that sort of explains it?
Why Some of Us NEED a Clutter-Free Home
We’re all wired a bit differently. For some people, making decisions and mustering the drive to start a new project comes quickly and easily. These folks don’t often struggle to declutter their homes, and messes don’t usually pile up. More deliberate decision-makers often get paralyzed by indecision. They find it difficult to set aside decluttering time, because it seems so overwhelming to make that many decisions in one day. There are also the people who simply aren’t bothered by messes. Somehow, the chaos before them doesn’t trigger any neurotic behaviors. Those people aren’t searching “decluttering tips” on Google.
In my household, I’m the declutterer. I’m visually sensitive to mess! I can’t stand to look around a living room and see toys out and books scattered about like we’re living out in the dang wildlife. I can feel my irritation growing, and I can’t relax and play with my kids when chaos abounds. For that reason, it’s especially important that I declutter regularly. Fewer items can be well organized, and that inevitably reduces mess. Anyway, you didn’t come here for insight into my personal life. So here are your 7 decluttering tips.
Decluttering Tip #1: Come to terms with your motivation before beginning.
Some people want to downsize and declutter because they’re on a financial journey. They’re being told to “sell so much the kids think they’re next.” That’s great! This advice is not for those folks; they need a different approach.
Because I’m motivated to reduce by a desire to keep an organized and peaceful home, I usually don’t fret too much about making good money for the items that move out. I will often either donate or sell below an item’s value to move it quickly. Some might think this is careless, but an unused item is wasteful whether it lives inside my house or outside it. Sometimes folks don’t get rid of stuff because it makes them feel guilty about not getting their money’s worth. Fantasizing that you might use it someday when you’ve not used it for over a year does nothing but postpone the decision. Doing so creates even more stress, as your eyes pass over the item multiple times each week or month.
If you’re only beginning this process because you need a side hustle, and the mess in your house doesn’t bother you, your approach will be very different. This post is for people who are spazzing out about mess, not finances. Although we’ve all been there, sister. Way to hustle.
“An unused item is wasteful whether it lives inside my house or outside it.”
Decluttering Tip #2: If selling, price it to SELL and view the item from a stranger’s perspective. Remember, you’re not in this to get rich.
A perfect example is last week, when it became time to get rid of the crib that belonged to my two oldest children. It wasn’t in good enough condition to re-gift to a friend because I would have been embarrassed by the bite marks. I would rather not put a friend in that position.
I love that crib and feel very sentimental about it. However, I knew that it would never sell if I took into consideration its original value, or if I let my feelings towards it affect the price. A rule of thumb is to price something at 25-30% of the original purchase price in hopes of moving something quickly. Unfortunately, that usually still isn’t low enough to get rid of the item within 24 hours. When I want something gone, it needs to go NOW. If I procrastinate, it usually doesn’t happen at all.
The original combined cost of this crib and mattress was $180, so 30% of that would have suggested I sell the item for $54. It might have eventually sold for $50. I could have kept it in my garage and continually reposted it until I found a buyer. But I know myself. The likelier scenario is that it would simply remain in my garage, deteriorating over time, waiting for a perfect buyer.
Instead, I priced the pair of them at $30 and took great pictures of the bite marks, mattress, and the assembled crib looking its best at a distance. It took me less than 5 minutes to document the crib and post pictures on Facebook Marketplace. The crib and mattress sold in under an hour from my porch, with the $30 in my mailbox. It felt great to just make the decision and be done with it.
Decluttering Tip #3: Decide in advance how much money your items need to be worth in order to justify selling them individually.
If I’m trying to move things quickly out of my house, I try not to bother with listing it on Poshmark or Facebook Marketplace unless I can realistically get at least $10 for it. That number will vary a lot for each person, according to family finances, time available, and how comfortable she is with the selling platforms and interacting with strangers. In my case, I can make $10 with about 5 minutes of work and never leaving my house. I only do it during the summers when I’m home all the time. It’s a paltry amount, but it’s still worth it to me, since selling online is something I’ve done a lot and I’m comfortable with the process. If you’re new to decluttering or have TONS that need to go, you might consider raising that number higher so you can move larger quantities more quickly.
Decluttering Tip #4: For smaller items in a collection, determine the ideal amount of space available. Declutter until the entire collection fits in that space.
Let’s imagine that you have a dresser in your master bedroom with six drawers. You can only reasonably sacrifice one drawer for tee shirts, because the other five drawers will have different purposes: socks, underwear, shorts, pajamas, and bras. Someone who tends to pile up clutter will allow those tee shirts to overflow into her closet, or use up some of another drawer’s space, rendering the whole situation a sloppy mess. This is not the right approach.
Define the space available, which in this case is ONE drawer. Edit the tee shirt collection down until the tees all fit comfortably in the drawer, and if possible, with extra space available. Completely full drawers are difficult to close and look messy if they won’t shut completely. In a few months, if you must buy a new tee shirt, be prepared to remove one in exchange.
The same rule applies to books. My family LOVES books, but I only have a set number of bookshelves, and to keep adding bookshelves will make our house feel smaller with too much furniture. Therefore, when those shelves are approaching full, the right answer is not more bookshelves. The right solution is donating to a local classroom or adding to a Free Little Library in the neighborhood. Any new books that come in will require me to remove books and donate.
“Define the ideal space available BEFORE you begin decluttering.”
Decluttering Tip #5: Declutter in order of difficulty, starting with the items to which you’re least attached, working up the courage to tackle sentimental items at the end.
Decluttering takes practice, because quick decision making is foreign to some of us. Begin with the category which will require the least mental energy for you. For some fashionistas, clothing might be really challenging to pare back and should be tackled toward the end. Conversely, someone else who loves fashion might be excited to reevaluate her wardrobe. Perhaps being in a pile of clothing is her happy place. Either way, save the hardest stuff for last, and know that everyone is different.
Decluttering Tip #6: Choose an accountability strategy that matches the time available and your personality.
Time Yourself – This strategy one works well for folks who flit about the house and get distracted. If you’ve got young kids, set a timer for 45 minutes and pick one of the quickest jobs on your decluttering to-do list. Set a goal to finish before the little one wakes from a nap. Promise yourself you won’t break for the whole time. Put on good music or a favorite podcast before you begin. Have your favorite beverage close by. Put on your tennis shoes and get it done!
Make a Purposeful Disaster – If you’re kid-free for the weekend and you’re afraid of losing motivation, make a huge disaster that’s gonna drive you crazy. For example, if the bathroom is a space that needs decluttering and it’s probably a two hour job, make a big mess on your bed. Drag every last item out of the cabinets and drawers, and start sorting and throwing out bottles and packaging and old medicines. By putting everything on your bed, you won’t have a choice but to stay the course. Some of us need a little pressure to get the job finished!
Decluttering Tip #7: Quit fantasizing about all the time you’ll have in the future, and seize any time available now.
My sweet mom has been talking about cleaning out and organizing her collection of hard copy photos for literally 20 years. These photos are from the dark ages when disposable cameras were a thing. I’m sure she always planned to tackle it when we graduated and left the house. When we left the house at 18, she busied herself with volunteering, traveling, work and building friendships.
Moms fantasize about how much time they’ll have later in life, but we create time for the things that are really important to us now. Here’s the good news. She finally organized, pared down, scanned, and converted printed photos to Shutterfly albums this past week. What was the straw that broke the camel’s back after 20 years of all talk and no action? A global pandemic, folks. Let that be a lesson to ya. Use these decluttering tips to light a fire under your butt and get moving!