It’s time to sell your home, or your parents home. Only problem? It contains 30, 40 or more years worth of stuff. Your real estate agent says, “I can’t list this house until you declutter!”
The good news is that if you live in an area that’s in high demand, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, you’ll probably sell your home for a lot more than you or your parents paid for it.
Of course, recent interest rate hikes mean a smaller pool of buyers. If this means delaying the sale of your home, this could actually be a good thing. If the house is filled with 30, 40 or more years of stuff, you’re going to need time to get the job done. You can start planning for the “big downsize” and perhaps by the time you’re ready, interest rates will have flattened or lowered.
There’s a formula about time and money that’s significant here.
If you just have time, you have options.
If you have both money and some time, you have more options.
More time means you can chip away at the process of decluttering your home. It could take weeks, months or even years depending upon how much stuff you have and your habit (or lack thereof) of decluttering over time. With a plan, however, it can be done.
If it all feels too overwhelming, you can always hire an organizing coach to help you come up with a plan you can execute alone or with help. You can also hire a solo professional organizer to work with you over time. Just don’t expect one organizer to get your home decluttered in a week if you haven’t done anything in years!
Money and a little time
If you have less time to spare but expect a good return on the investment you made in your home, there is a relatively quick way you can get rid of years of clutter. This is a good option if you are pressed to get your home on the market soon. Keep in mind, this is the more costly option. Think of it as the price you pay for keeping years and years worth of stuff you didn’t need, never used, never purged or kept “just in case.”
This solution involves hiring a professional organizing company that offers a team-based or crew-based approach to getting your home decluttered. When you go this route you are multiplying the hands-on help and expertise you could get from one professional organizer.
Think of this as the pre-remodel phase of getting your home readied for sale. I call it the “pre-model.” How long does it take? It depends on how large and how cluttered your home is AND how quickly you can make decisions and how much energy you have.
What organizers can and can’t do
What organizers can’t do is tell you what to keep. This is not their job. That is your decision. You still have to make hundreds if not thousands of decisions. That being said, most good organizers make this process easier by pre-sorting and supporting or even humoring you to help you make decisions along the way.
If you’re in mid-life, you may have enough energy to make decisions, with the help of a great team, for several hours. Seniors and those with cognitive conditions can take longer or only have enough energy to make decisions for a shorter time. A qualified professional organizing company will take this into account when planning your project.
When you hire a company that can thoroughly and efficiently get your home downsized, this doesn’t mean you can go off to Tahiti while they work. It means that the organizers will take care of most if not all of the physical and logistical demands of getting your home downsized and decluttered.
This could include everything from arranging for haulers, scheduling charity pick ups. selling your unwanted items, purchasing supplies, ordering dumpsters, arranging for document shredding and re-organizing all your retained items until the movers come. It also means sorting and containing everything you don’t want or need from donated items to trash.
What will help you?
Keep only what you enjoy, what you use or would seriously miss if it disappeared. Your new home may be half the size or your current home. Remember you are doing this for a reason. No object is more important than you are.
If you have household items or unsorted paper on your floor in boxes or bags, chances are you have a clutter problem. That’s because bags and boxes are not furniture, not permanently anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, bags and boxes have their place in organizing. I use them all the time to carry out donated items, to contain trash or recycling or to pick up my groceries. It’s fine to keep a small supply but they are “temporary” containers, not permanent fixtures.
As a professional organizer, coach and move manager, boxed and bagged “clutter” is a common problem for many of my clients.
I’m not talking about items you have stored in a closet, garage or attic. These too may need to be “gone through” – usually when you’re planning to move or sell your home.
It’s sometimes an issue of time management, motivation or other more pressing priorities. Conditions such as ADD, anxiety or depression can also make it difficult to focus on the task at hand.
Whatever the reason, bags and boxes usually signify a “holding” place for your stuff, instead of a “home.”
Here are 10 easy steps to manage the bags and boxes of stuff in your home:
If you have both unsorted paper and physical items, start with the physical items. You will see results quicker and feel motivated to continue.
Sort the items on a clear surface, such as a card table, counter or ironing board if that’s the only surface available.
As soon as the box is empty, break it down and place it by your recycling bin to see space right away. It’s important that you see see results right away to stay motivated.
Now it’s time to make decisions. Look at each item by category and decide if you are using it now or whether it’s something you love. If you wouldn’t buy it in a store, don’t love it, haven’t used it, or it brings up negative emotions, let it go. If it feels good to keep it for yourself, then keep it.
Most clean and usable items can be donated to conventional charities such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or a local thrift shop. Be sure to check days and times they accept donations. Since COVID, many charities have limited their donation drop off times or require appointments.
Don’t spend a lot of time on where you donate your items.This is a form of procrastination. Some haulers now will take items for donation. Two of my favorites in the San Francisco Bay Area are NixxitJunk.com and Remoov.
If you have high value items consider consignment, or online platforms to sell them. Do whatever is easiest or makes the best use of your time.
If you plan to use your empty boxes for donations, be sure you can carry them. You are better off using a double paper-bag or reusable shopping bag for donated items.
Now the fun part: Look at what you kept and decide where it should live in your home. Like you live in your home everything in your home should have a home. An item’s home gets determined first by asking, What room would I look for this? Consider also, where will it be contained? For example, a certain piece of furniture, a specific closet, drawer or a type of bin? Don’t worry if these areas are already cluttered themselves. Get them closer to home!
Do this for each item you’ve decided to keep before moving on to the next bag or box.
Did you get through at least one bag or box? Did you toss or recycle them to make more room for you? Good job!
Aim to do one bag or box as often as you can and before you know it, your floors will be clear of clutter and you’ll feel great!
Too much stuff to do it yourself? Having difficulty focusing or feeling overwhelmed? Consider hiring a professional organizer to help you.
Find one in your area at the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals or NAPO.net and search by your zip code.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Want to get a head start on an organized New Year? Check out these expert tips from several of my professional organizer colleagues around the country. There’s even one from me on how to decide where to start when embarking on a whole-home organizing project. This article is being published, by permission, from the creators of Porch.com.
Get a head start on an organized New Year!
Does the beginning of every new year bring the intention of cleaning out your closets? You might be feeling a little overwhelmed by the thought of dealing with the influx of material goods that comes with the holidays.
The pandemic taught us a great deal: being together and having experiences are more important than any material possession we could possess. Yet, despite this, many people took advantage of the “void” that social distancing had created by shopping online for more items.
Now is the perfect time to take stock of your possessions and purge what you don’t need. However, you shouldn’t allow your possessions to prevent you from having the home and life you desire.
Are you interested in starting the new year with a little less clutter? Check out these useful tips from expert home organizers.
Get the benefits of starting a new year organized and clutter-free
Starting the New Year with a clutter-free, clear, and organized space increases the possibilities of a happier and healthier year.
Your physical space has a significant impact on your mental and emotional well-being. When your home is clutter-free, you feel more relaxed, happy and life is easier. An organized home promotes healthier living, including eating and sleeping better. In addition, you’ll have more time to spend with friends and family and to enjoy hobbies or those projects you’ve been meaning to get to!
Here are some tips from ASPO Certified Home Organizers.
Starting the new year clutter-free can be genuinely life-changing. If your new years’ resolution includes adopting a positive outlook or slowing down your pace of life, decluttering is the place to start. By clearing out your physical surroundings, you clear out your mental space and make room to breathe in new ideas or simply enjoy where you are at. You are gifting yourself a resting place which is what a home should be.
Annie Allen, Professional Organizer in Soquel, CA
Having a clutter-free and organized home will help improve your life because you know where everything is. Your productivity increases by giving you the needed room and space to do more, and it can definitely save you money. Knowing what you have, cuts down on duplicates or overbuying.
Andre Richardson, Professional Organizer in Hampton, VA.
Clutter can cause stress, anxiety, and sometimes depression. Starting the new year clutter-free will help you stay motivated and help you achieve the long and short-term goals you set for the New Year and have peace of mind.
Rekita Brown, Professional Organizer in Jacksonville, FL
Starting the New Year clutter-free will allow you to focus on more important things.
– ASPO Certified Home Organizers
Why it’s important to start the new year clutter-free and organized
Starting the year clutter-free allows you to live your best life throughout the year. During the last year, you may have purchased too much stuff, paper may have become overwhelming, and you may have lost track of our planner. Many feelings come into play with too much clutter, and you may have experienced sadness, hopelessness, or being weighed down. Decluttering is the best path to empower you and help you accomplish your daily tasks and yearlong goals. To move forward, it’s best to release what is not loved, used, or needed. If you are bogged down with paper, learn what you need to keep and shred the rest. Upgrade your planner and make the choice to enter all dates and details as soon as you know these. Most importantly, know that you can make this change right now, and the impact will be remarkable.
-Ellen Delap, Certified Professional Organizer, and owner of Professional-Organizer.com
5 Tips for a clutter-free Christmas (next year).
Give experiences, not stuff. If you give experiences (like a spa visit, a lunch out, a trip to a public garden) to your loved ones, you’ll eventually start receiving them in return. That cuts down on clutter in your home and theirs. It can be challenging to part with gifts, even if you don’t love the item, so adjusting your gift-giving practices is a great first step.
Donate the holiday decorations that don’t put a smile on your face. As you’re decorating your home and tree for Christmas, set aside those items you’re not using or loving. It’s the perfect time to donate them and reduce clutter. When you take down your decorations, it’ll be easier to store them, and you’ll know your collection includes only those things that make you happy.
Reuse last year’s leftover Christmas cards.If you habit of hanging onto the holiday cards you didn’t use because you bought more cards than you sent out, I encourage you to reuse those rather than buying new ones. It would be the rare person who remembered they’d seen that card before. By doing this, you’re not only cutting down on clutter; you’re staving off future clutter.
Discard the Christmas cards you’re sent.When you take down your Christmas decorations, I give you permission to go ahead and let go of the cards you were sent. I can almost guarantee you that the people who sent you the cards won’t be offended. However, if you hang on to all the cards you receive every year, you can create a real clutter problem. (Believe me, I’ve seen it.)
Pare down your gift list.If there are people on your gift list who have been there forever, perhaps you could reach out to them and suggest not exchanging gifts. Or making a charitable donation rather than giving stuff. The fewer items you bring into the house at holiday time, the less clutter you’ll have.
-Janine Adams, CPO® owner of Peace of Mind Organizing
Resolutions for a clutter-free 2022
How does one begin? Here are some steps to help jump-start the process.
Step #1: Start Small
One of the biggest mistakes is taking on the entire task at once. After an initial burst of energy, many people poop out and never finish the project. Instead, do it in steps. Organize one room at a time, one section at a time. Spread it out over manageable steps, but keep to a set schedule –mark the time off in your calendar.
Step #2: Keep it Simple
The best organizing systems are simple to maintain. Don’t try to design a filing system that takes more than a few minutes a day to uphold. When organizing your closet, don’t get caught up in organizing by color, size, and season, or you’ll spend a lot of time trying to keep a system that takes too much effort and will not last.
Step #3: Be Disciplined about Maintaining Your System
Set aside at least ten minutes each day to ensure your home or office remains clutter-free. It’s much easier to do ten minutes a day than try to set aside an entire hour at the end of each week. Once you get into the habit (after two weeks or so), it will come naturally and effortlessly.
Step #4: Keep the Ultimate Goal in Mind
Getting and staying organized requires some commitment, but the payoff is enormous. Your stress level will be reduced, you’ll feel better and more comfortable in your home, you’ll feel eager to have guests over more frequently, and you may even save money. I’ve had many clients repeatedly buy the same item over and over simply because they had given up on trying to find it amidst the clutter!
-Betsy Fein, President at Clutterbusters
Five easy hacks that’ll keep your home clutter-free in the new year
Get rid of items that are broken or no longer used.This is important at the beginning of the year, especially if new computers or other electronics were holiday gifts. Immediately recycle or donate old laptops and electronics that don’t work or are outdated.
Make decisions. If you don’t, the piles will collect around you. When my clients don’t know what to do with the papers in their home offices, they stash them on shelves, drawers or let the piles multiply. Instead, ask yourself, “do I need this” and “can I get another copy.” These questions will help you make decisions regarding what to keep. Those documents can then be filed in an appropriate location to be quickly retrieved.
Don’t forget about the digital clutter. You’ll also want to keep your computer clutter-free so you can quickly find documents. If you’re looking at a sea of documents, folders, and shortcuts on your desktop, systematically declutter and organize the documents and delete shortcuts that aren’t needed. Schedule time quarterly to maintain it.
Process the mail. Depending on the amount of mail you receive, this may be a daily or weekly task. In either case, designate one spot near your front door to collect the mail. Weed out the catalogs and junk mail before dropping the mail in its assigned basket or tray. This way, only items that require your attention will collect.
Unpack those cartons. With the popularity of online shopping comes the daily delivery of boxes. Get into the habit of unpacking the contents of each box, putting them away in their designated home, and discarding the cartons. Making this part of your daily routine will minimize the clutter.
-Stephanie Shalofsky, Certified Virtual Professional Organizer from The Organizing Zone
Stop buying these for a clutter-free New Year!
You don’t need to buy things to get organized! Getting organized is about making room for items you love, not buying more things to store things that you aren’t even enjoying.
For the love of God, don’t buy any more plastic bins! Most households already have too many plastic containers in various sizes and colors, see-through and not, with lids and without. The world does not need one more plastic bin. Putting things in bins does not make you an organized person. They are seductively cheap and easy to carry home, but too many bins just make your home look like a warehouse store.
Don’t buy new things when you are already throwing away similar items. For instance, we buy plastic for dog and cat poop bags. Instead, watch how many plastic bags are already passing through your hands, including grocery store bags, cereal box liners, produce packaging, bread bags, toy packaging, and so many others.
But what will you store things in if you don’t buy plastic bins? If your goal is to live in a clutter-free home, avoid buying more things than your home can hold AND stop buying more things than you can use in a month. That includes buying just enough food, clothes, toys, office supplies, holiday decorations, and other consumable goods. Put your food in your cabinets, your clothes in your dressers and closets, your toys on a shelf. When you’ve got more than you can manage, reduce your load until everything fits. The SORT and Succeed system can help you get and stay organized with five simple steps to save time, space, and money.
-Darla DeMorrow is a Certified Professional Organizer® and owner of HeartWork Organizing
Tips to get your kids to declutter their toys for the Holidays
Are your kids’ new and existing toys taking over your home? When the stress from toy clutter takes away from the fun, it’s time to teach your children how to pare down their collection and tidy mindfully.
With your help, here are five steps to help your children get their toys in order:
1. Do an inventory check. Ask them to bring out ALL of their toys. Seeing how much they have will help them recognize they already have more than enough. Next, sort toys by type (soft toys, plastic toys, games, puzzles, etc.) before making any decisions.
2. Edit each group of toys by ranking which ones they love to play with most. Compare similar toys to reduce. Remove broken or less played with toys. Be sure to ask questions that allow your children to express what they love about the ones they’re keeping and why they are letting go of others.
3. Teaching them to be grateful for their previously enjoyed toys, then involve your children in responsibly donating, giving away, or discarding/recycling properly will give them a sense of closure.
4. With the remaining toys they’re keeping, decide the best locations to store them properly for easy access and put them back. Practice being respectful of the amount of space they have. If there’s not enough room, they may need to rearrange or edit some more.
5. Repeating this process every few months will educate you and your children on which toys they genuinely enjoy. Regular editing and mindful purchases will prevent future clutter from accumulating.
-Ann Dooley, Professional Organizer and founder of Simple Joy with Ann
How to have a clutter-free gift giving experience
I listen to the holiday gift-buying commercials. Television and radio ads encourage us to buy things that people will LOVE, and then the ads change, reminding consumers that since they didn’t get the gift they really wanted, they can exchange it for something they’ll love! No one, it seems, wins at this game of gift-giving/receiving.
In my world, as a Professional Organizer, I walk into many crowded spaces filled with things my client no longer uses or needs or desires. Many of them tell me that some of the clutter comes from those gifts they’ve never needed, but guilt kept the gift trapped in their home!
There’s a solution to this marketing/consumerist problem, and now’s the time to think about gifting that doesn’t cause clutter!
So with a grateful heart, I offer a few tips for gifts for the holidays: gifts that don’t create clutter:
Take people you love to dinner or cook for them. Cook something you know the person likes to eat or take them out to one of their favorite restaurants or dessert spots. Some of the best memories are shared with loved ones at the table.
Help a friend de-clutter their closet. Start by emptying the space you want to organize and create three piles: toss, donate, and keep.
Or – for a friend with a lot of clutter, consider a Professional Organizer gift certificate. Visit Napo.net to find someone in your area.
“Experience Gifts” create lasting memories and are often more enjoyable and fulfilling than any material object. Whether it’s a tour of the city, a hot air balloon ride, or a trip to the spa, your loved one will be happy to be spending time with you enjoying the experience.
Charitable Gifts are perfect gifts for someone who has everything or immensely supports a charitable cause. Consider making a donation in the person’s name; be sure it is a cause that is important to the person, not just to you. Find ways to donate to environmental, children’s, health research, and many other organizations online. Research the fund on Charity Navigator, so you know you’re making a wise choice.
-Regina F. Lark, Ph.D. from A Clear Path
When should I start decluttering?
We have more clutter than we know what to do with. Too many things distract us, create stress, and rob us of our time and self-purpose. It’s never a bad time to start decluttering, so start now! You’ll feel more confident to entertain family and friends in a clutter-free home. You’ll also become happier and more productive in all you do by creating lasting change and balance in your life.
At Sacred Space Organizing, we always recommend starting with clothes. This is because most of us have more clothes than we could possibly wear. It’s easy to let things go when you focus on what you want to keep rather than getting rid of. It’s a paradigm shift that can be extended to all other areas of your life.
Once you start discarding items you no longer use, you’ll be content with who you are and what you have. Surround yourself with things and people you love, and you’ll find your worldly desires decrease. Not only that, but by discarding items that no longer serve us, we can pass them on to those who truly need them, especially at this time of year.
Getting organized can be an overwhelming process. Don’t feel bad if you need extra support along the way. We would love to help you with the process and have worked with clients from all over the nation through our Virtual Organizing sessions. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a local organizer if you need a hands-on approach. You can do this!
-Erin Neumann Professional Organizer and owner of Sacred Space Organizing
Your end-of-year declutter checklist
As a Professional Organizer for 4 years, I have helped people in many different situations. Most of them use one word consistently: “overwhelmed” If you can relate, I hope you’ll read on to see my decluttering tips:
Declutter Your Schedule- Why is my home so organized? It’s simple because I enjoy organizing, which means I do it often. I have a habit of looking at my spaces to see how I can improve them. If you make a habit of organizing and decluttering, you will be amazed at the results. We have two options: Organize now, or organize later… and later is ALWAYS more challenging. Declutter your schedule so you can find time to get your spaces in order (and keep them in order).
Declutter Distractions- If you want more time to declutter and organize, you’ll want to minimize distractions. One reward of organizing is saving time. Clients often say, “I’ve been looking for that,” or “I just bought another one of those” because they couldn’t find it or didn’t even know they already owned it. Time spent looking for lost items is not only frustrating but fruitless. Organizing is an investment of time now to save even more time later.
Declutter in Bits- One of the reasons my clients feel overwhelmed is because the project is “too much.” They want to organize their whole garage, but instead of focusing on ONE shelf or ONE drawer… they focus on the daunting task of the entire space. Give yourself the chance to feel some satisfaction by completing one little area at a time. If you’re familiar with Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball, it’s the same concept. Knock out the smallest project first, and celebrate your accomplishment. From there, you can continue to knock out more small projects, and over time it will add up to MAJOR results.
-Charissa, Professional Organizer owner of Grace To Organize
Ideas for storing your Christmas decor after the Holidays toavoid clutter
Did you overlook some decorations when you were decorating your tree this year? Were there falling apart homemade decorations from last decade that stayed in the storage container? If you own decorations you don’t love anymore and haven’t used in the last two years; it’s time to think about letting them go. Instead, make space for the decorations you love to display by decluttering those you don’t enjoy using anymore.
My hot tip for storing tinsel and string decorations is keeping them in a snap-lock bag, so they don’t get tangled. Next, consider keeping your baubles in shoe boxes so you can stack them with a large storage container without breaking anything. Finally, keep all your Christmas decorations in sealed containers that can live at the top of a wardrobe or in the garage, so it’s easy to find them next year.
-Amy Revell Professional Organiser and Declutter Coach from The Art of Decluttering
Tips to get kids involved in end-of-year decluttering
We can start with what the answer isn’t:
Throwing things away without their knowledge.
Kids pay more attention if they easily understand and are entertained – as do we adults! Explain to them the point of this. Lighten the mood, so they remain engaged. Tips for doing that:
Get everyone on board. Hold a family meeting to discuss why you are decluttering rather than singling out the kids. Is it to move more freely, keep things healthy, find things faster, share your abundance? Have everyone say what they think is a benefit of this and what they’ll do (ex: let go of broken items, clothes not liked it or don’t fit, stuff not often used) and when (ex: by 4 pm today…then we’ll go together to donate them!).
Appeal to their heart. Point out how infrequently they wear or play with something and how they have so many other things they do love and use. Talk about how those things that they’d be giving away could warm, entertain, or help another child.
Make it fun. Put on the music they like. (Not the TV –you’ll lose them!) Allow them to “toss” non-breakables to a “bye-bye!” pile across the room. Take a funny photo of them in a shirt that they have far outgrown. Midway through, serve snacks they like. Keep it light and bright, and pressure-free.
Relate. While they work on their things, work on your own, show them the things you are parting with and explain why.
Be realistic. They will not do it at the same speed or with the same decision-making ability that you would do it. If you see them getting distracted or bored, help them out with a little encouragement and a reminder of the goals you all set.
Show gratitude. Thank them for their help. Ensure they know their efforts are appreciated and what they are doing matters.
-Nancy Meck, Professional Organizer from Meck Organizing
What room should I start with?
“Help! My home is so cluttered. I want to get organized, but it’s so overwhelming. Where should I start?”
As a veteran professional organizer, move manager, and organizing coach, I’ve heard this from hundreds of people.
At LET’S MAKE ROOM, we specialize in “big pain” projects. Yet, what’s really painful differs depending upon your specific circumstance.
When a client tells me they don’t know where to start, I ask: “Which area of your home is causing you the most stress now?”
It could be your overstuffed guest room, which until now has been used as the “catchall storage area,” but, yikes, family is expected for the Holidays!
Maybe it’s your cluttered kitchen, every surface covered with sippy cups, half-eaten bulk foods, and a host of rarely used kitchen tools. Making a meal is challenging enough. Cleaning those counters is nearly impossible.
Are you running a business from home? You’re great at what you do, but how can you do it if your home office looks like it was hit by a tornado? If you can’t be productive and stay on top of your most important tasks and projects, this could be your priority.
Maybe you are selling your home, but your packed garage, the last bastion of delayed decisions, needs to be cleared out of all those empty boxes, old clothes, empty paint cans, hundreds of tools, random bits of hardware, and who knows what else?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your home’s clutter, my simple tip is this:
Start with the room or storage area, which, if organized, would make your day-to-day life easier and give you the most peace of mind.
Getting organized should never be your goal if you don’t have a reason to do it. Instead, think about what you would be able to do if ________ room were tidy and organized just the way you imagine. How would that make you feel?
Listen to yourself, and you’ll know where to start.
-Lis McKinley, Certified Professional Organizer® and owner of Let’s Make Room
Top 3 tips to keep an organized home year-round?
These are my 3 favorite decluttering tips because they are so simple and easy to do all year round.
1) Keep on top of those items that can clutter up the home with this simple idea. Keep a bag in a cupboard or the car boot for charity donations. Drop them in the bag when you spot things around your home that you no longer use or love. Drop it off at your local charity shop and start again when it’s full.
2) Make it super easy to identify the clothes you no longer wear. Turn hangers around in your wardrobe so that they face the wrong way. As you wear an item of clothing and return it to the closet, face the hanger the correct way round. It’ll soon become obvious which items you love to wear and those you never wear. Sell or donate those items you haven’t worn at the end of the season.
3) Use the one in, one out rule. When you make a new purchase or bring an item into your home, use this as a prompt to review and remove something that you no longer need or love. This works really well in the wardrobe as an old coat can make way for your new season’s purchase, worn jeans create space for a new pair. This is a great way to create space for new items and unwanted things cluttering up your home.
-Laura Williams, Founder & Professional Organiser at OrganisedWell
Options for disposing of items
When it comes to disposing of items no longer wanted or needed, I suggest donating first and foremost. A quick and community-minded way is to post items on a local Nextdoor, Buy Nothing, or FreeCycle page. Post photos and a short description, and neighbors can pick up the item at a designated time and location. It skips the middle man resale shop and instantly gets in the hands of someone who will use it. If those aren’t available locally, bagging and boxing up your unwanted wares and dropping them off at any local charity, resale shop, or thrift store is next best. It still ensures those items will be used and loved again and not end up in a landfill. For any specialty item, try a quick online search or ask locals on social media for resources for a donation. For example, if there’s a tabletop loom in your basement, find out if there’s a weaving school, art school, or university nearby that would be happy for the donation.
Finally, pull out anything recyclable after sifting through whatever is left in the discard pile. Filling the trash can will hopefully be the last resort. Not only does this mean newspapers and cans, but likely other items, too. Electronics, ink cartridges, light bulbs, and batteries may be recycled at the local hardware store. Glasses and prescriptions may be accepted at the pharmacy. Scrap and precious metal can be sold by weight. Depending on what you have and your time frame for clearing out, these can all be great options.
-Amy Trager, CPO® from Amytrager.com
How do you declutter when you want to keep everything?
When we work with clients to do a thorough purge, they can more clearly realize the excess. When coaching through the process, we ask questions like, “when was the last time you used this?” to help them grapple with these sometimes difficult decisions. It also helps to pull things out of drawers and cabinets. So much can hide in spaces we don’t see. It’s important to be very sensitive to the needs of people who are holding on to things. There is a great deal of sentimental attachment, so a non-judgmental, empathic coach will help push through some of those hard places. We encourage our clients to take pictures of larger objects and write stories about what they mean so that future generations can appreciate them. Younger people don’t have the same sentimental attachments, but a written family story can carry on for generations, and it doesn’t take up storage space when it can be digital.
When space is limited, hanging on to things can become a real problem. Making use of every inch of storage space is critical. Using dividers, drawer organizers, adjustable shelving, proper containers, and labels can bring plenty of chaos to order.
-Monica Friel from Chaos to Order
How to start decluttering in 3 Steps
Step 1 – Strategize Your Space
Planning is the first step in organizing. Capture your thoughts, ideas, and solutions for each room in your home. Next, assess the causes of the disorder to achieve lasting change.
Some questions to ask:
What do you call this space?
What activities do you do in this space?
Do you have all the items you need to support those activities?
What does the finished space look like to you?
What is your vision of “organized?”
Step 2 – Prioritize Your Belongings
Empty the room you are decluttering and group like items together in bins or boxes.
Relocate or let go of anything that doesn’t pertain to the room’s activities, function, and purpose.
Reduce and let go of what doesn’t serve a purpose in your life anymore.
Tip – if an item makes you feel mad, bad, or sad, you don’t need it in your life.
Return the things you are keeping to the space and place the frequently used items for easy access.
Step 3 – Practice Living Clutter-free
To keep your home decluttered, practice these easy habits:
Don’t wait to decide where something belongs; choose immediately and put it there.
If you take it out, put it back.
Don’t put it down; put it away.
Open and sort your mail daily.
Buy containers only when you know what will go in them.
Set a limit on how many of something you will keep
Set a limit on the amount of space you allocate to a collection.
Organizing is not a one-time “clean sweep” event. Create and follow a maintenance plan for all the areas of your home. You can do all the grouping, reducing, and organizing you want, but you can easily backslide if you don’t learn the skills and build new habits.
-Anne Blumer, CPO, CVPO from SolutionsForYou, Inc.
How to reduce clutter in your bedroom
It is easy for bedrooms to become the collection spot for all sorts of items—piles form. When you declutter the bedroom, start with your clothing. Hang up clothing in a closet or on a rack. Place other clothing in a dresser or on shelves. Have a place to put dirty laundry. Keep the clothing you like wearing, the ones you get compliments on when you wear it, and that suits your lifestyle. Donate the rest. Next clear out the floor of your closet. Keep only the items that should be in the bedroom. The other items need to find new homes. This will create space for shoes, luggage, or accessories. If you need to store sheets in the bedroom, try using the shelf in your closet. Fold the 2 sheets and pillowcase and slide them inside the other pillowcase. You have a nice contained set of sheets that are easy to store. Recycle sheets with stains and holes. Donate sheets you don’t use that are the wrong size and mismatched. Cosmetics can also pile up on bedroom surfaces.
Use a container to store the cosmetics and make them look attractive. Check expiry dates, remove expired items and products you no longer use. Try to relocate some of the cosmetics to the bathroom. Jewelry is another area to consider. There are nice trays that can fit in drawers, boxes to sit on a dresser, and wall-mounted cabinets to store the jewelry you use frequently. Go through your jewelry and make sure you still love it; it is not broken and clean. Donate or sell jewelry that you no longer wear, fads that have come and gone, and jewelry that doesn’t fit. The nightstands in a bedroom tend to collect clutter. Frequently clear off the surface and declutter the drawers. Decide what is important to have handy. Do you need a book, tissues, medication, charging station, or water bottle? In most cases, the bedroom is used for relaxing and sleeping. Find new places for all the items that don’t belong and create a tranquil space.
-Julie Stobbe from Mind Over Clutter
It is entirely possible to live in a home that is free of clutter. You’ll be well on your way if you follow these helpful tips.
Our home is nothing more than a mirror image of ourselves.
A brilliant window that peeks into the most intimate corners of our soul, protecting the most beautiful memories from our past, and creating space for every nook and cranny of our lives to be filled with laughter and love
Regardless of where you’re starting from, there’s nothing that can’t be accomplished to create a clutter-free home and life for yourself. With each piece of physical clutter you clear away this year, you’ll make room for more love, laughter, and energy to come into your life.
To celebrate the end of 2021, (phew) I looked back over my blog posts from this year to dig up individual pearls of wisdom I could share again to inspire you for 2022. Do any of these resonate with you?
Treat organizing your home as a practice, not a one-time event
Home organizing, whether it be your guest room, junk drawer or home office, is as much a mind-set as it is a habit. Practice organizing and over time you will develop an organizing habit. That means, keeping an eye on high clutter areas like your clothes closet, office or garage. Continuously ask yourself “do I want/need/love this item?”
Aim for progress not perfection
Don’t expect your home, office or storage area to look like an ad for “the most organized Mom in the world!” You do not have to spend hours refilling matching containers with cute “blackboard” labels if that’s not who you are. (I know it’s not who I am.) Better to do a small action then let yourself be paralyzed by the enormity of a perfectly organized space.
The less you have the less you have to organize and the easier it is to maintain
In a consumer culture, shopping can be a competitive sport or even a form of therapy. It’s difficult to keep a lid on the stuff coming into your home. One of the best things you can do is prevent those things from cluttering your space in the first place. Cancel those subscriptions, stop the junk mail, don’t buy in bulk if you live alone, don’t keep something just because it’s useful.Only keep it if you use it!
Consider your time, privacy and convenience
It’s great to pass along things to friends, family, neighbors, even strangers. I love the “Buy Nothing” sites as an example where you can give away everyday items you no longer want to people in your neighborhood. It’s also a great way to keep things out of the landfill. But as my client’s often hear me say, “Don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff.” If you have a roomful of items you no longer want, consider the easiest option for letting go of most items all at once. If you’re stuck, it’s always great to ask, “Is it worth my time?”
Sort it into categories that resemble the aisles of a department store
Clothes with clothes, shoes with shoes, office supplies with office supplies, games with games, tools with tools, etc. Think about categories you would find in a department or hardware store. Don’t make any decisions about keeping or tossing until you’ve staged all the categories. By the way, you may need a folding table or two. Seeing your items sorted, and by category, helps you make quick decisions about what to keep. Do you really need all 26 screwdrivers?
Just because something is usable doesn’t mean you have to keep it
There are no clutter police. Almost everything is usable but if you don’t use it, don’t keep it. Ask yourself did I use this in the last year and do I intend to use it in the next year? (e.g., Holiday decor falls into this category). If your answer is no, let it go.
Your home does not have to look like a cover from a lifestyle magazine or a social media post if that’s not who you are. It bears repeating!
If you are not sure whether or not to keep something, ask yourself, “If I saw it in a store, would I buy it?”
We keep things out of habit, delayed decision making, guilt and a host of other reasons. If you are trying to declutter or simplify your life, this is a great way to know if it stills has value for you.
Honor the memory, person or experience with something meaningful
When you walk through a museum or someone’s home and admire painting or an object of art, do you take it home and keep it? Hopefully not – unless you want to end up in jail. Sometimes you can simply enjoy the memory of a person, place or experience without having every item that reminds you of them. Pick one or two things that truly honors the person or best represents your experience.
Only the owner of the item gets to decide about whether it stays or goes
I have a rule when I work with couples. Only the “owner of the decision” has the say about keep vs. go. The non-owner does not get a say unless explicitly asked. I’ve avoided many arguments with this rule. The only exception should be if one member of the couple delegates the decision making to their spouse. In this case, the delegating spouse has to set the parameters very carefully. No coming back later and saying, “I wanted that!”
When you’ve got to get it done quickly, efficiently and expertly, hire a professional organizer
About six months ago, we were getting ready to remodel our basement. I had to move my collection of record albums to another storage area and as I did so, I thought, “why am I still keeping these?”
I didn’t bother to wait for the answer. Instead, I put them away for safekeeping and walked away.
About two months later, with the remodel complete, I moved the albums back into the storage cabinet and thought, “why am I still keeping these?” This time, it occurred to me that if I took pictures of all the album covers I could check to see if they were available for streaming online, something I would have suggested to my clients.
It took about 30 minutes to snap a picture of all 115 albums, a mix of mostly rock, folk, R&B and some classical. Then I walked away.
A month ago, I went to put away our outdoor chair cushions for the winter. As I did, I saw the record albums in the cabinet meant for the cushions. We really need the whole space for the cushions, I thought, so I took the records, divided them between four, double-bagged grocery bags, and left them in the basement on the floor.
“When I get rid of these, it will be easy to carry them away.” Then I walked away.
About a week ago, I went downstairs and spotted the four bags.
So I started asking myself the kinds of questions I ask my clients:
Do I love these? – I love the music and yes, some of the albums themselves.
Would you miss them if they disappeared? – Not necessarily, as long as I could get the music again.
Would you buy the albums again if you saw them? – Definitely not.
So what do you want to do?
I immediately went to my phone and created a post to sell the albums on a popular website. Then I created a shareable link that included the photos of all the album covers I had taken two months ago. Within minutes interested buyers responded with offers.
Being able to share the photos right away really helped since buyers could scan the collection before making an offer.
Proud of myself for finally moving forward I told my husband, “Guess what? I posted my albums for sale.” He replied, “are you keeping any?”
Suddenly a swell of emotion came over me. How did I not think of this?
As an organizer, I always ask my clients who have collections they want to sell, which, if any, do they want to keep? Somehow in my eagerness to get the job done, I forgot to ask myself the same question.
Since no one had actually bought the collection yet, I thought, “I’ll set aside the ones worth it to me to frame and hang,” but as I did so I realized I didn’t want to hang any of them. One by one I quickly went through the four bags of albums. That’s when the memories started flooding back.
Dancing with my friends to Blondie’s Parallel Lines in college. Singing to Joni Mitchell’s Blue in my bedroom as a teenager. Recalling the first time I felt the power of Janis Joplin’s gravelly voice on Pearl. Pining for an old sweetheart while listening to Billie Holiday. Remembering the very first record I ever played on my parent’s portable record player, Getz/Gilberto. I knew the words to The Girl from Ipanema when I was six.
I put all the albums back in the bags and took the best offer.
The buyer arrived that day – a 30 something guy who worked as an environmental scientist but had a love of albums and a small hobby-business selling them. I sat with him while he went through each of them to check their condition. As he did, I heard myself talking like the typical late middle-aged music fan I am, reminiscing about seeing Sly and the Family Stone at Madison Square Garden and how I really wasn’t a huge fan of The Beatle’s Abbey Road but the cover was so iconic.
These albums were the soundtrack of my life. And that’s when it hit me. “I’m not just selling my albums. I’m giving up part of myself.”
It wasn’t just the albums I was saying goodbye to. It was me, Liz – the way I spelled it then – the white, middle class, introspective, New York City kid who felt the sounds of Marvin Gaye and Aretha in her bloodstream. The one who played Fleetwood Mac and Rickie Lee Jones, over and over again in her dorm room or rocked to the sounds of the The Pretenders, The Kinks and Cream in her first apartment.
She was me, the student who stopped one day on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, a freshman at Boston University, and paid the astronomical sum of $10 to a street vendor to buy the album It’s A Beautiful Day with it’s iconic cover of the young mountain girl, her hat and dress pushed by the wind.
“Prophetic,” I thought. The band was from San Francisco, the place I would find myself moving to almost ten years later.
Back in my basement, I watched as each vinyl record passed through the buyers hands as he inspected them. After we agreed on a price, he asked me, quite generously, if there was anything I wanted to keep? Should I have said, “Yes! I want it all back. The years and the time?” I didn’t.
Instead, I picked up the last record he’d looked at, It’s A Beautiful Day. He hadn’t heard of it until I started hum-singing the band’s most famous track, “White Bird” the song about a bird trapped in a golden cage, on a winter’s day, in the rain. Then, of course, I had to tell him the story of how I bought it.
Are you downsizing to move and have household items and furniture you don’t need?
Did you know you can sell your items in an online auction sale, all in one day (in most cases), and earn back money to help offset the cost of your move? The whole process takes about two weeks from start to pick up day, and before you know it, you’ll be ready to move or get your house on the market.
I recently organized one of these sales, for a client in Oakland, CA, through a company called Max Sold.
How Do Online Auction Sales Work?
The key to it being successful and worth your time is taking the time to organize and group like items together in what are called “Lots.”
Lots are an array of related items that can attract several buyers, thus driving their price up through online bidding.
Even less popular items will sell, thus saving you the hassle and cost of taking them to a local charity or saving you money in hauling fees. Think of it as creating a one-stop-shop of your home’s unwanted contents.
It’s not just your furniture you can offer for sale. You can sell just about anything – appliances, baby items, books, unused cosmetics, craft supplies, home decor, office supplies, unused toiletries, tools, even used cleaning products and supplies!
How to Prepare for an Online Estate Sale
Getting ready to sell your items in an online auction or estate sale takes a little bit of planning at the front end to make sure your pick-up day is smooth sailing. This is how it works:
Decide What You’re Selling
Set aside items you are keeping in a separate room, such as your bedroom or another spare room or storage area if you have one.
Declutter all trash inside and outside your home. You can also arrange for a free bulk pick-up if your city offers one.
Recycle or remove anything damaged, broken, stained, ripped, overly worn, or opened, such as toiletries, and dispose of hazardous waste.
Donate usable items that don’t typically sell or cannot be included, like regular clothing (designer or luxury items are fine), and donate unexpired, unopened food such as dry and canned goods to a local food bank. In general, regulated items such as car seats or adult-only items such as weapons cannot be sold through conventional online sales.
Group Items Into Lots
Group what is left – like with like – in “Lots.” Single items of furniture or a large appliance can be sold as one Lot.
Organize items to be camera-ready — in other words, all visible when photographed.
Place smaller items on furniture and other surfaces and plan to sell those things first.
Separate unique or valuable items and group these with less valuable but similar items to encourage bidding
Photograph each lot several times using the selling platform and include a brief item description, condition description, and assign a pick-up time. Small items usually go first, larger items on top of furniture next, and larger furniture items and appliances last.
Review and edit your catalog before it goes live. Give your buyers at least seven days to review your sale.
Prepare for Pick Up
During the current Covid-19 pandemic, make sure your home is well ventilated and that you are wearing a mask. It will make it easier to sort and organize items and keep you and buyers safe when they go to pick up their items in your home.
Aim for a weekend pick-up day for buyer convenience. This means giving yourself at least ten days from posting date to pick-up date.
Get help for pick-up day since you will need to keep track of buyers and their items. Consider hiring a professional organizer with this type of estate sale experience to manage all or part of the process for you.
Plan for and make arrangements for items not picked up by the end of your pick-up day. You can also offer them as free items to other buyers. With luck and the right planning, you won’t have too many “leftovers.”
Get paid. When your pick-up event is over, submit a pick-up report to report any issues. Fourteen business days later, you will get your payment by check or direct deposit, depending upon what you choose. Keep in mind that the platform you use will take a percentage of your sales in exchange for using their platform. Typically this is a 70/30 split, with you getting 70% of the proceeds and the platform getting 30%.
About Max Sold
Max Sold will help you sell items in the following categories through an online auction sale:
Art and posters
Baby Items (except regulated items such as baby seats)
Bed and Bath
Books (except those considered promoting intolerance, racism or pornography)
Stuck at home. You’ve had your morning coffee, read the gloomy newspaper or scanned your social media apps. You have something pressing to do but avoid it and mindlessly start shuffling papers on your desk.
You wander around aimlessly, straightening pictures, moving a pile of books from one surface to another, throwing out an obvious piece of trash. You know you’re barely making a dent but somehow it seems important in the moment.
You look around your home and feel the familiar pang of shame that comes from knowing your house is more than a “bit of a mess.” Books and knick-knacks piled two-deep on shelves. Your cabinets and drawers packed full with a lifetime of items that meant something to you once but now you can’t even remember where half of them came from.
Almost every surface covered with the residue of the week.
Don’t Go It Alone!
You look around at the 20 or 30 years of accumulated stuff. You wonder if you have the resources to hire a professional organizer who would somehow magically transform your home into a picture straight out of Real Simple Magazine. You know this is impossible now. Money is tight and you’ve just paid your property taxes or your son’s tuition or an unexpected medical bill from a procedure you had last year before something called Covid-19 stole your “normal” life.
Momentarily the thought disappears as your alarm reminds you it’s time for your weekly Zoom call.
During the meeting you happen to mention your desire to get decluttered and curiously ask if anyone else is feeling the same. All at once, hands shoot up in the air. You let out a sigh of relief and recognition. You are not alone in this struggle and that’s when it hits you. “Why not start a clutter support group?”
The idea came to C.J. during a recent Zoom meeting she was conducting with her clients – mostly other self-employed people. C.J. casually mentioned she’d like to be more organized and asked if anyone else was experiencing the same thing.
“Half the hands in the room shot up” C.J. told me recently by phone. She then posed the question to the group, “Maybe we should form a pod? That’s how it started. It was totally spontaneous.”
Within a few days C.J. had come up with a group structure — action oriented, not just a support group – a name, The Decluttering Divas and a schedule. They meet virtually once a week on Monday mornings and keep their computer’s microphones and cameras turned on so everyone else in the group can “get the visceral sounds of decluttering.” C.J. gets the group going but it is strictly peer-support that keeps everyone on task.
Tame Your Inner Critic
Perhaps the biggest value of the group has been the way it helps silence everyone’s inner critic, including C.J’s.
“She tells me this is too big a job and I’ll never be able to complete it. But I keep telling her that as long as I break it down into manageable chunks, and have support, I really can.”
The group shares another bond – that of facing the many challenges of life as baby-boomers. Several of the group’s members juggle their lives and their businesses, often with competing responsibilities for aging parents, adult children and the self-imposed pressure of changing attitudes towards the things they own. For some, decluttering runs into direct conflict with their parent’s depression-era views of save everything
In C.J.’s case, that meant, among other things, coming across a collection of old hair accessories and incredulously wondering why she had kept them. “The last time I had hair long enough to wear hair ornaments was probably in the mid-90s!”
Join A Worldwide Movement
It turns out Decluttering Divas is not alone. A search of other decluttering groups on the popular Meetup.com website found 71 groups consisting of nearly 18,000 members in 62 cities across 16 countries around the world.
While it’s unlikely the Covid-19 pandemic, with more and more people being sequestered at home, lead to the phenomena of worldwide clutter groups, as well as popular topics such as minimalism, online selling, tiny houses, and home editing, it’s probably one of it’s few silver linings. Even C.J.s group has one participant from the United Kingdom.
The reasons people join a decluttering group are as varied as their stuff. In “Decluttering Divas,” one member was dealing with the clutter left behind by her parents who lived with her for many years but who have since moved on to retirement communities or passed away.
Another is an artist who wanted more time for her art and hobbies and was getting too distracted by her clutter.
For C.J. herself it came down to being able to be more productive at work as a busy entrepreneur who travels extensively as well as to be able to relax at home.
Even her husband, without prompting, caught the decluttering bug.
“One day I came out of my meeting and found a bunch of cups and glasses on the counter. He decided it was time to clear out a kitchen cabinet.” Together they got rid of most of them, offering them for free to neighbors through the popular site, Nextdoor.com
Applying what you already know to get organized
While not a professional organizer herself, C.J. had worked with a few in the past, and had read several books about organizing and several of her clients are professional organizers.Along the way, she’s learned techniques and strategies for decluttering but it’s been her coaching and group facilitation experience that turned her casual question into a satisfying reality.
When the group first met, C.J. posed three “focusing questions” to ensure each member had a real action-oriented purpose for being there.
The focusing questions asked members to set and share a specific and attainable goal, explain why they had chosen that goal and set a deadline for completing the goal. Members who could not set a realistic deadline were asked to scale back their goals until they could.
To keep it “manageable,” there are a total of 8 people in the group though other peer-lead groups around the country, according to MeetUp.com show as many as 600 members.
During meetings, members of the group share their goals and even post before and after pics. Offline the group shares or exchanges resources such as where and how to get rid of things, especially useful during the current health restrictions when many charities are not accepting or limiting their donation services.
I have three rules I ask my clients to agree to when I start an organizing or downsizing project with them.
Rule #1: I only work with the owner of the decision when it comes to deciding what is kept vs. not kept (sold, donated, tossed).
Rule #2: The owner of the decision cannot be overruled unless they explicitly delegate their decision to someone else.
Rule #3: If you were given items from family or friends, whether you wanted them or not, you and only you are the owner of the decision.
Most of us know when a gift is given. Usually it’s done with the receiver in mind.
Sometimes things are given (or kept) because the giver and receiver don’t know what else to do; They don’t want it but they can’t just toss it.
When the giver does this it’s called re-gifting.
When the receiver keeps it, but doesn’t really want it, it’s called…stuck.
“I can’t just give away my grandma’s china to anyone! I would feel terrible. Maybe my daughter or granddaughter will take it off my hands.”
Problem solved. I don’t have to feel guilty…you can!
Love Grandma but not her stuff
But what good is a gift given – or kept – out of guilt? How does that honor grandma’s memory?
Things are just things until we impose an external value onto them.
Even an item that’s worth something does not make it valuable to the owner unless they feel connected to it in some way – emotionally, aesthetically, practically.
“I loved Grandma and remember her using this china. I would like to have it because it reminds me of her.”
But what if you loved Grandma but her china is simply not your style? It doesn’t fit the way you live because every piece has to be hand-washed or you don’t have room for it in your tiny home?
Keep in mind there is likely someone somewhere who will enjoy it for what it is, even without the sentimental attachment.
Three decision-making questions
As the owner of the decision, you get to decide. Here’s an easy way to make a guilt-free decision.
Grab the box of china, take another good look at it and ask yourself these three questions:
Question #1. “Would I buy this for myself if I saw it in a store or thrift shop?” If no, you probably don’t want it but still feel attached in some way. Go to question #2.
Question #2. “Are there any individual pieces I can use that I like?”
The soup tureen repurposed as a vase. A single teacup and saucer to enjoy a morning cup of tea?
Keeping one or two pieces from the set will make it easier to give away the rest. Alternately, you could take a picture of it and preserve the memory that way.
Don’t worry about breaking up the set unless it is super valuable and chances are it isn’t. If you want to check the value, you can look up the pattern on Replacements Ltd.
Question #3. Is there some place or someone nearby who would take it? If you are working with a professional organizer, they will be super helpful here.
Consider thrift shops, antique stores, school auctions, a church rummage sale or swap meet. There are also traditional charities like Goodwill, Salvation Army or Out of the Closet. You could also post it online – check out Craigslist, eBay, Freecycle.
Still not sure, do a Google search, “donate china set near me” (Keep in mind some places may still be closed due to the current Covid health emergency, so call first. )
While this generally takes longer you get the satisfaction of giving it directly to someone who wants it. Just don’t look for the “perfect” solution. Perfection is a convenient ploy for procrastinators.
Once you’ve decided, let it go as soon as you can. You’ll feel so much freer for having done so and trust me, Grandma won’t mind.
Lis Golden McKinley, M.A.
Certified Professional Organizer
Owner, LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC
It’s time. You’ve set aside the day, taken off work, brought in the garbage bags and the packing boxes. No more excuses. It’s you versus the clutter. This time you intend to win because you’ve decided to put your house up for sale.
“Your house is just a place for your stuff. If you didn’t have so much G-D stuff, you wouldn’t need a house!?”
But what happens when your stuff is too connected to memories? Carlin joked no one wants that stuff either but guess what they do!
When I say stuff, I don’t only mean furniture and household items. I mean the sentimental stuff you’ve buried in your closet or shoved into the back of an attic or basement. Stuff like your son’s grade school artwork, even though he’s in college now. Grandpa’s set of World War II history books. The two crocheted baby blankets grandma made for your kids.
“Keep them for the grandkids!” You protest and back into the closet it goes. Except you have way too much in your closet already. So instead you pay hundreds of dollars a month to store stuff you can’t bear to part with at the local public storage.
That’s when it hits you. It’s not only your house you have to downsize, but your storage unit too.
Exasperated, you slump down in your arm chair and wonder, “how am I going to do this?” and pour yourself another glass of wine.
As Baby Boomers get older – and by the way, I’m one of them — they start thinking about their health and the desire to simplify their lives.
75% of people who want to downsize their lives say they can’t. The reason? They have too much stuff, according to research conducted by Kansas University.
The number one reason baby boomers can’t declutter is they are often sentimentally attached to what they own. There are just too many painful decisions that have to be made about what to keep or go. “No thanks,” they utter, “I’d rather have a root canal.”
The good news is you don’t have to throw the baby-doll out with the bathwater. Instead, you can actually feel good about letting go. Less regret, guilt or incurring the wrath of your family.
It is important to remember that not everything you are sentimental about has to go. Instead, the key is taking the time to curate your collection of sentimental items and giving away what you don’t want to the right people (or places).
Curating is about deciding what is going to be part of your permanent collection and what isn’t and where it can go. It also includes saying goodbye, with gratitude, to the things that have served out their purpose and forgiving yourself for doing the best you can to dispose of them responsibly.
Part of this process always involves making decisions about the items we most commonly get attached to: Books, clothing, photographs, sentimental cards and letters, memories – both ours and our kids.
When it’s time to curate these items, I find it useful to think about them in three ways:
Say goodbye with gratitude
Keep for my new life
Give to others
Say goodbye with gratitude
This collection contains items that are damaged beyond repair or are not worth your time or money to repair.
You can appreciate what they were in their original form and know that their time has come to an end. Anything that still makes you sad to let go of, you can take a picture of. That way you will still have the memory of the item.
Keep for my new life
This collection contains your favorites. Items you love so much you would use or display again. The ones that you would remember and miss if they disappeared. Better yet, they are the ones that fit into your new, simplified lifestyle. These are the best of the best!
Give to others (or giving items new life elsewhere)
This collection contains both high quality and useable quality items you don’t want. They could be of a high enough quality you could sell or consign them, or special enough that you would prefer to give them to a particular person or organization. In other words your decision to let them go is contingent on them getting to the right recipient or organization. This collection also includes useable quality items that could be donated to charities such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or Out of the Closet
If they are not sellable but the recipient is important to you, do an online search by type in your area. For example “Senior center thrift shop near me.” There’s a wonderful place in San Francisco called SCRAP that accepts donations of all types of craft and teaching materials (though they are closed temporarily due to Covid-19). Here are a few other examples of unique places to donate your higher quality items. (Due to Covid-19 some of these will be temporarily closed. Check before going.)
Senior center thrift shop
Church, school or charity auction
Thrift shop for a charity you support such as cancer research
Local animal shelter
Children’s thrift shop for low income moms
There are also online websites such as Nextdoor.com where you can post your unwanted items. Be careful not to post your personal information. Instead ask people to direct message you if they want your item.
Use “Say goodbye with gratitude,” “Keep for my new life” and “Give to others” with other types of sentimental items you have. Here are few tips for downsizing other sentimental household items:
Books (If you are downsizing and you have an excess and need space)
First decide on the greatest number of bookshelves you will keep so you will know how much you need to downsize.
Keep books you still refer to or hold special memories or can’t find online.
Donate duplicate books, books you’ve never read, are not likely to read or don’t hold interest for you. Also donate books from a previous chapter of your life. Someone is bound to appreciate them. Take them to your local library or college. Most Goodwill stores will also accept books for donation but not text books.
Recycle any that have mold. Mold travels and will contaminate other books.
Sentimental Cards and Letters (If you have more than will fit into a banker box or small suitcase)
These are often the hardest to let go. Keep the ones that express a personal sentiment to you, not a generic greeting. You can also photograph these and let the physical card go.
Toys and Childhood Memorabilia (Yours or your adult children)
This is the stuff you’ve tossed in a “keep” box but never looked at except when you’ve moved. It could be anything from rocks you collected, to tickets stubs, to small medals you received as a kid to souvenirs from family trips.
They best represent the “memories” of your childhood. It’s likely none of it is valuable, unless it’s in its original packaging and in pristine condition. If you’re not sure, you can always check sites like Etsy or Ebay.
First sort those into two piles – usable quality and higher quality. As you come across anything that that you don’t want but are afraid of forgetting, take a picture of it! That way you will always have the memory.
If the items are small, you can display them in a large fishbowl, brandy snifter or inside a shadow box. I’ve seen these for just about out every imaginable collectible: medals, matchboxes, toy cars, record albums, sports memorabilia even old postcards.
Check out some “memorabilia storage” ideas on Pinterest or Etsy If you’re not up to this, ask someone in your family who has a talent for crafts or art to do it for you. What a perfect birthday or Christmas present!
If you wouldn’t pay to have the items repurposed into something new, chances are you don’t love it enough to keep it. You can always take a picture of it if you’re scared of losing the memory. If it’s a small quantity of items you are keeping, give them a home in a small treasure box. I always think of a the little cigar box the character Scout kept under her bed from the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Giving away sentimental items to the right place or person is what makes it possible for you to let them go
Don’t use your kids as a reason to keep stuff that you don’t have room for in your new home. If possible, ask them to come and get it by a certain date. If they live far away or don’t care, let them know your plan to donate whatever is usable. Keep your favorites, the ones you consider “heirlooms” and limit them to no more than will fit into a small bin or box. Your kids won’t miss the rest and neither will you.
A final note about trash, landfill and forgiveness
It’s likely you will have to throw out more than you intended. Recycle as much as you can but accept the limitations of what is and is not recyclable in your community.
When you bought it 30 or 40 years ago, you weren’t thinking about whether it was recyclable. You needed it and it served its purpose. Again, dispose of it with gratitude. If it has to go to landfill, forgive yourself. Know that you have learned to be a more responsible citizen and consumer. Now you can enjoy and maintain your simple and spacious new life with the things you love the most.
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Nanette is a home organizer who works with me as an associate of LET’S MAKE ROOM. We haven’t worked or seen each other in more than two months. She and her husband, two adult children and their dog are sheltering-in-place during the Covid-19 health emergency.
Yesterday she shared a personal story with me of using this time to attend to her own home organizing projects. She is looking ahead to a time after her kids have moved on, when she may be ready to sell her home. Having worked with me for years, Nanette knows how the task of downsizing for a move can be daunting so she recently decided to take on a couple of her own projects.
Nanette’s story illustrates just how personally satisfying it can be to embark on a home organizing project, any time, but especially now, when families have the benefit of being home together more than usual. Here is her story:
The “shelter-in-place” order was the perfect opportunity to organize our cluttered storage closet. My 24-year-old daughter and 20-year old-son have been here with us and my husband is working from home.
The closet held toys, keepsakes, books, table linens, photos and homeless items.
With everyone home I could get their input on what they wanted to keep and what could I could donate.
I began by emptying the closet and sorting items by owner – me, my husband, daughter and son. I asked each to sort their items into two piles; “keep” or “donate.” Each accomplished the task in their own unique way.
Our daughter sorted through her items alone and needed no help in her decision making. She donated all her collectible dolls, which she never liked, even though I had saved them for her. She kept the toys and keepsakes she felt connected to and that were usable or could be displayed.
At first, our 20-year old son said, “Mom you decide because I don’t know what I should keep.”
I got him started by sorting his bins and asked him first to decide on the big items. I am glad I did as I didn’t expect him to keep the miniature baseball bats. I then took the smaller items and sorted ‘like with like’ and asked him to keep what he wanted.
He grabbed toys he said he remembered playing with and he combed through looking for all the extra parts.
When done, my son told me sorting items into smaller categories helped him make decisions.
After dinner that evening, while we all still were at the table, our son picked up a box of his medals and sorted them. He selected the medals he wanted to keep and shared the rationale for keeping each medal.
After completing the task our daughter said she had kept all her medals and she later sorted hers as well.
The stack of beautiful table linens that I have never used, got donated. While beautiful and given to me by family members, they are not something I ever used. The matching napkins I kept as I do use linen napkins.
The silver items, all blackened from sitting in storage, unused, got sorted. My husband’s silver baby cup got cleaned and moved into the cabinet. The tarnished candelabra went into the Halloween bin. The utensils got polished and moved into the kitchen. Everything we kept now had a home.Everything else we donated. (Actually stored until the donation sites can open).
My husband did not want to make decisions right away so I put the items he had not made decisions about on his desk. He will make a decision at some point but I decided not to store the items until he committed.
My husband painted the closet and installed movable-shelves, replacing our fixed wood shelves.
I reused the smaller bins and stored the frequently-used items on the upper shelves.
I rolled my table runners and put them into a basket on the floor which opened up shelving.
I ordered a wrapping station to mount on a side wall.
I have more space to use for new items that come into our home and I love being able to find what I need.