How I Started Decluttering (+ tips and insights)

I often get asked how to start decluttering. I shared my tips for getting the mojo to start decluttering right here. 

In this post, I want to share with you some practical tips how to approach the process of decluttering.

 

HOW I STARTED DECLUTTERING

When I started decluttering I started with my bathrooms and my closet. These were easy enough because I could do it with the kids running around and I didn’t have a lot of stuff to store before finding it a new home – everything I got rid of either went in the garbage, recycling or bag for the thrift store. I had bags in front of me and sorted in place as I went. I even got Atlanta junk removal to come out and help me declutter!

kitchen table full of dishes and items to be decluttered

Next, I moved to the kitchen. I started at night when the kids were asleep and spent hours pulling stuff out of cupboards and doing a rough sort into piles on the counters. I had boxes and laundry baskets to sort stuff to keep, toss and give away. For the most part, I would put back the ‘keep’ stuff that night. The other boxes hung out in the kitchen for a few more days while we kept sorting and then eventually them out of the house.

living room full of kids toys and bins to be decluttered

We did a big toy purge with the kids and went through all the clothes in their room. That seemed to be all the contents of their rooms so that was done pretty quickly.


Our own bedroom took a whole day. I took everything out of the drawers, from under the bed and in the closets and put it all on the bed. This helped me make sure to get it done that day so we would have a place to sleep at night. I got a garbage bag, recycling bag, thrift box, and a box to put the stuff that didn’t belong in the bedroom (kid’s toys, shoes, pens, etc).

 


The basement was the motherload and I spent hours in there when Conor was home and minding the kids upstairs. It required the most time and space to sort and store everything. There were lots of times I wanted to throw it all in the spare room, lay a big ole sheet on top of it all and call it a day. But I kept going. It was worth it.

EVERYTHING OUT

I find that there are spaces you can declutter on the spot. Like a junk drawer or bathroom cupboard. For most all other spaces it is most helpful to take everything out and put it all in a big space, like the dining table or a bed or the middle of the room.

This helps you to see everything and start making piles that make sense to you. It also gives you some urgency to get the space cleared sooner so you can use it.

 

LOTS OF PILES

I often find myself making these piles when I declutter:

garbage (in a black bag),

recycling (in a recycle bag),

thrift/giveaway/sell (in a box)

and then I have a bunch of other little bins for stuff that needs to go in different rooms like the kids’ room, the kitchen, the office, etc.

If I’m working on a big space and it will take me more than a few hours then I get some tape and label all these piles so I can come back to them and know where I am.

 

THE WAVES OF DECLUTTERING

I made this term up, but I’m sure most people who have decluttered will understand it. I’ve found that decluttering happens in waves.

The first wave is easy.

You get rid of the garbage, broken stuff, the real outliers – the things you really have no reason to own (like baby stuff when you are done having babies, or 10 travel mugs when there are only two coffee drinkers in your house).

 

The second wave is moderate.

This is when you go back to these places and sort more meticulously. You can get rid of those things that you really don’t expect you will ever use or need. Like, maybe get rid of three curling irons and keep one. Or throw out some of the old underwear that is heckling you every time you get dressed in the morning.

pile of clutter in spare room

 

The third wave is extreme.

This is when you can be overheard having actual conversations with yourself while you stand alone in a pile of memorabilia and craft supplies in your basement. This is when you start really examining the things that have been most difficult to let go of.  I think there are a handful of reasons we struggle to let go of things, and this is a time when you ask yourself why and learn a lot about your relationship with stuff.

I think most people will stop at this first or second wave of decluttering. Things are a little cleaner and a bit more organized and you feel pretty good at this point. Yet, pushing yourself to go through everything yet again, a third wave, is where you need some grit.

In my experience, I would call the first wave cleaning, the second wave decluttering and this third wave a real purging. There is something emotional that happens this third time and this is when you hit a wall and need to get strict with yourself if you really want to start feeling that freedom that stuff has on you.

The repeat waves.

It took me a good year to feel happy with how ‘decluttered’ my home was. I had spent lots of time going through things and going through them again. I wish it would stay decluttered but it doesn’t. Stuff still comes in through birthdays and holidays and school events, etc. The repeat waves are necessary to keep going through your house and keeping things out that you don’t want to own.

THE ONGOING DECLUTTERING

Because there is this ongoing decluttering that will always be happening, I’ve found it helpful to have spots for some of the common things.

In my closet, I have a spot to put clothes I no longer want. Mostly it’s things that I keep but never enjoy wearing or things I’ve tried to make work and they just don’t.

In my daughter’s room, I have a bin to throw in all the clothes she and my youngest have outgrown. In the boys’ room I have a spot in the closet to put the clothes that my oldest has outgrown for my younger boy to wear in later years.

In the basement in my ‘office’, there is often a box or two of things that are for the thrift store and stuff that I say I will sell (and then never do and we just end up taking it to the thrift store).

For a long time we kept all the kids’ toys in bins upstairs and would purge them every so often.

Now the toys all live in the basement and Conor and I will go through them a couple times a year.

One tip I would recommend you to consider, is keeping items that can serve for more than one purpose. For example, my friend has recently decluttered and kept a rather funny looking beanie pillow. I asked why she hadn’t thrown it and she replied with, “That’s one of our iBeani tablet stands!” I was gobsmacked, I actually thought it was a pillow. At least they have two uses for it. This really made me realise some items can have multi purposes. Those that don’t, bye bye!

For the most part, I just keep decluttering when I am struck by motivation or when things become too cluttered for my liking.

 

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