Dwell Well: 10 tips for de-cluttering your home

Feb 01, 2018 at 08:00 am by Lee Rennick

A new year means making plans for the future, and for some that means taking a look at all of the stuff they own and deciding to downsize. Today, downsizing is not just for those who are retired or retiring.

Average home sizes peaked a few years ago at about 2,200 square feet, but in the last couple of years, the trend is actually for smaller homes.

Smaller homes are a choice for many wishing to put their money into activities instead of more stuff.

There are a number of books about how to pare down what we own. I have read many of them, but I have also spent the last two years downsizing my own stuff, and helping others do the same thing. Here are a few tips I have read about, learned from experience, or heard from clients and business associates.

1. Pull It All Out Of Storage, Closets, Drawers, Etc.

Marie Kondo, who wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, talks about pulling everything, and she means everything, out of your drawers, closets, storage facilities, and attics so you can look at every item. Her argument is that when we clean room by room, we do not have a realistic concept of everything we own. Research backs this up. 

Kondo suggests sorting by categories, from clothing, which has less sentimental value to those items that have emotional ties. When you pull out every single shirt that you own regardless of the season into a big pile in the middle of your living room, you get a true sense of volume.

It really works! My husband and I halved our book collection using her methods and never missed a beat.

2. Touch Each Item

It is easy to look at a stack of books or CDs or plates and decide to keep them, but do you really want them? Do you really need them? Really? Touch every single item you are sorting through and ask, “Does this item bring me joy?” and “Do I need it for a specific reason?” If it doesn’t bring you joy, and you don’t need it for something like taxes or cleaning up the house, get rid of it.

3. If the Drawer is Full, Something’s Gotta Go

When you open a drawer and, like a jack-in-the-box, a sock pops out because it is over-stuffed, that is time to let things go. Anything you haven’t worn in the last year needs to go, as do items that no longer fit, or never fit. If it, whatever the item is, doesn’t make you feel good, or have a purpose, say ciao

4. If You Buy Something, Something Has to Go

One way to keep the seems from bursting out of your “whatever drawer” is to make sure that you get rid of one “thing” if you buy another. When you buy something new, donate a similar item that you no longer use – like a coat or a sweater. Especially this time of year. 

5. Out of ‘Site’, Means You Will Never Use It Again

Why did I use the word ‘site’? Because off-site storage usage has exploded. In the 1960s public storage was unheard of, yet it blew-up in the 1990s and has been growing ever since. 

Research says that once something goes into storage, it rarely comes out. So, if you are downsizing, it might be a good idea to downsize that storage unit you’ve been renting. Put the money into travel or maybe home improvements. Have a big yard say and say hasta la vista, baby to the entire unit of stuff.

6. Start Three Piles

Items you no longer love or need should be placed into three piles: donate, sell, and trash. If an item is broken, damaged, or stained badly, throw it away. Do not give anything to a charity that really needs to be thrown out. 

An exception is charities that sell clothing and other items to be remade into items like rag rugs by fair trade collectives overseas. The selling charity gets income to continue their mission, and the collectives also gain. Most of all, give to charities that have missions you believe in. 

7. Do Not Reconsider

Once you have put an item into a box to get rid of, do not reconsider. Trust me, you won’t miss it.

8. When the Box is Full, Tape It Shut

Just to make sure you don’t take something back, seal the box, and get rid of it as soon as possible; especially those of you who have a tendency toward holding on to things because they “might be useful later.” Research says that more and more of us are over-collecting stuff. There are always others who can put those items you don’t want to good use.

9. Have a Place for Everything

Once you have gone through every item in the house and whittled them down to what you love and/or need, find a place for each thing. As you choose where you are going to put things, think about how you use them. For example, when you walk in the door, do you have a place where you put your keys? Think about the space you have. You should, says Kondo, only own as much as you have space for. If you are moving into a smaller place, then you will need less. Often LOTS less. 

10. Keep Everything in Its Place

One way to keep a lid on your things is to keep everything in its place and return it to its place after each use. It also makes keeping the house tidy much easier.

Downsizing is time-consuming. It cannot be done overnight – although I have helped couples downsize a large home (say 3,000 square feet) to an independent living apartment (say 950 square feet) in a week. I suggest setting aside six months. Once you get going, you will keep purging because it feels so good.

Make a plan of what you want to take place in each room of your new space, then pull the items you need for that space. Fill in with items you love. 

In the end, you will end up with a clutterless home that has more positive energy. And you will find you have more time to do what you love to do versus what you have to do to keep up with all of your stuff.