If You’re Not Using It, Get Rid of It: Ten Ways to Declutter and Put Cash in Your Pocket

Life makes clutter by Darkstream on Flickr!People have a tendency to accumulate stuff. They load up their closets with it, their shelves with it, and much of their living space with it. Take a peek inside your closets or your pantry for proof of this phenomenon.

Our own experience is another great example. My wife has a much stronger tendency than I do to save things. She’ll put things away in boxes and stick them in the closet, even though the stuff probably won’t ever be used again. It’s simply her natural tendency.

My tendency is the opposite. I tend to want to minimize the stuff I own. When we’ve pillaged our collections of books and DVDs and CDs in the past, for example, it was mostly a process where I wanted to eliminate virtually all of the items while she wanted to keep most of them, and we carefully compromised between our opposing viewpoints. And that’s still what we do – labeling boxes in the closet with date of last use and agreeing that boxes with labels more than a year past can be eliminated.

Here’s the thing, though: all of that stuff stored in the closet is money just sitting there gathering dust, and it’s particularly painful when you have difficulty making ends meet or are struggling valiantly to pay off debts.

Here are ten tactics to use to clear out a lot of your unused stuff (freeing up space in your home) while also putting some cash in your pocket.

1. Go through all the stuff in your storage areas.
We have two lofts in our garage and a large storage area in our basement that tend to accumulate a lot of unwanted stuff. These are great places to hit, as the items that wind up in storage in those areas are usually items that are seasonal (which you’d mostly keep) or are never used (which you can almost universally get rid of). Go through your storage bins item by item as well – don’t just keep or chuck a bin because of what you think is in it.

Tip #1: Take it out, then put it back I find it very useful, when cleaning out a storage area, to simply pull everything out onto the floor in a large room so that I can see all of it, then start putting items back in a sensible pattern. This way, I’m forced to consider each item multiple times and it forces me to take a specific action to keep it, instead of just seeing it there and deciding to be lazy and simply leave it in place.

2. Go through all your clothes.
Get rid of anything that’s worn, anything that doesn’t fit well, and anything that just isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as you thought. Again, it’s useful to pull everything out, then only put back clothes that you actually will wear in the future, leaving out all of the pieces that don’t fit in some way or another. Not only will this likely eliminate quite a bit of your clothes, it’ll also give you a chance to rearrange them into a more sensible system and refresh your wardrobe a bit as you’ll be bringing forth some clothes that “drifted” to the back over time.

3. Empty out your kitchen cabinets and pantry.
This is one activity that I particularly enjoy doing, because I love being in the kitchen. It’s pretty simple, actually – just pull everything out of the cupboards and see what you have. The goal here isn’t to get rid of stuff, but instead discover all of the interesting stuff that’s slipped to the back unnoticed over the last few months. These items always form the backbone of several meals for us, which are essentially free ones since, without the cupboard clean-out, these items would have been forgotten until past their expiration date. If you’ve got it, you might as well use it.

4. Dig through your media collections (DVDs, CDs, books, etc.).
Media collections are almost always overstuffed with items that we thought we’d like, enjoyed once, and then forgot about since it wasn’t nearly as transcendent as we thought it would be. They fill our shelves, gather dust, and are forgotten about most of the time. In other words, they’re the perfect place to start trimming fat. Go through each item and ask yourself honestly, “Will I listen to/watch/read this item again in the next year or two? Or would I rather be doing something else?” Every item that you honestly recognize as something you won’t pick up again soon is an item to get rid of. Not only will this clear a lot of space (making your living space much less cluttered), but it’ll likely raise you a lot of money as well.

Tip #2: No replacements When you’re getting rid of a lot of your stuff, it can be tempting to replace some of it with shiny new stuff. Don’t. Instead, put more effort into choosing high-quality items that you’ll actually use again and again instead of just one-off items that you’ll barely use that just fill space. Think about each of your purchases, and make each one count.

5. Clean out your garage.
Garages are almost always accumulators of things that should be dealt with but aren’t, often resulting in a crowded and barely-functional mess. Give your garage a thorough cleaning and get rid of that stuff you don’t actually use. With regards to the stuff that you do use, organize it so you can easily find it. Bring in some well-labeled bins to keep track of things. Install a pegboard to keep many of your tools hung up for easy access. But, most importantly of all, get rid of the junk that just takes up space. A more functional, clean garage gives you more breathing room to work on projects that can end up improving your home and saving you money.

6. Walk through your whole house, evaluating what you actually use.
Many people have tons of items that just sit in their home, gathering dust without use or appreciation. Video game consoles. TVs that are never watched. Decorations on shelves that no one in the family really likes. Old chairs that no one sits in. Look around your home carefully and look for the things that no one uses or no one likes. Those are things that just take up space and should be sold.

7. Take clothes and some individual items to consignment.
When you start unloading all of this stuff, the best place to go for starters is to a consignment shop, where they will sell many of your common and well-cared-for items for you and split the proceeds. This is a great place to take clothes and some of your other individual items, depending on the shop (decorative ones are usually good candidates for consignment). This is an easy way for you to get some reasonable income from these items. If you’re feeling charitable (or if clothes don’t sell at consignment), take them to Goodwill – not only will you be helping others, but you can get a tax deduction from the receipt as well.

8. Sell non-media collections on eBay, listing valuable individual items separately and less valuable ones in bulk.
eBay is a great place to list obscure collectibles, such as trading cards, baseball cards, figurines, and so on, as well as individually valuable media items such as box sets. In these cases, the effort of listing and packaging on eBay is worth it; for individual DVDs, CDs, and other single media items that aren’t otherwise exceptional, it’s not worth the effort, as the time you put in won’t be financially rewarded.

9. Take media collections to used media stores (or online swapping sites).
After you’ve cleaned out your media collections, take the unwanted items to used media stores for cash. The return here is fairly low, but it’s very convenient and a quick way to eliminate big swaths of your media collection. You can also try swapping the items online for other items, such as PaperBackSwap (for book trading) or SwapADVD (for DVD swapping), but your goal shouldn’t be to accumulate more, but to essentially “rent” new items, enjoy them, then trade them away again.

Tip #3: Sentiment Many people tend to hang onto unwanted items for sentimental reasons, such as not offending family by getting rid of it. Don’t let sentiment make you keep an item you wouldn’t otherwise want. For starters, the gift itself is often not one that the giver put extensive thought into, so you don’t need to feel guilty about getting rid of something that they poured their thoughts into. On the other hand, a caring and loving relative would not want you to keep something that you didn’t find personally valuable for no good reason. Only keep items that are genuinely important to you, not items that you’re only keeping because of potential guilt.

10. Have a yard sale for remaining items. As for the remaining items you’ve decided to get rid of, but don’t know how to toss? Have a big yard sale for them. If you have children, get them involved – have them bake cookies and make lemonade to sell at the yard sale. Not only is this an opportunity to get rid of stuff, it can also provide you some cash and form the basis of a family weekend together. After the yard sale, if there’s still anything left from your unwanted stuff, give it away or trash it.

Good luck in getting rid of your unwanted and forgotten stuff – and turning it into cash!

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46 thoughts on “If You’re Not Using It, Get Rid of It: Ten Ways to Declutter and Put Cash in Your Pocket

  1. I had some really good luck and profit by selling books on Amazon.com during college. It’s been a few years, but I imagine it would be an option.
    I haven’t had the “clutter” problem because I have moved twice in the past three years and that pretty much mimicks the processes that you have described.
    I’ve often said that moving is the best way to get rid of your junk. If you’re not willing to pay to move it, then you don’t need it!

  2. KC says:

    I’m in the process of moving to another state and I’m amazed at how much stuff we have. We aren’t consumers or at least our credit card statements don’t reflect that. But we’re buying stuff none the less. I wish I had more time to sell on eBay. But a lot of less valuable things are going to Goodwill. At least we’ll get a nice tax deduction.

  3. Anne says:

    Trent, you’re a closet fashionista! :D Number 2 on the list is a favorite of personal style gurus and glossy fashion magazines as the /only/ way to really get your wardrobe together. I did this about a year ago based on a book my sister lent me about finding your style and the admonishment that if something doesn’t make you actively feel good/fabulous/beautiful then out it goes (with minor exceptions made for good-quality, basic work-wear if you’re just never going to love a suit but have to wear one).

    It’s a great system to put in place and it makes getting rid of mistakes easier. It also ties in well with “never shop out of boredom” because I’ve found that lots of wardrobe mistakes are made on those trips.

  4. cv says:

    I find it interesting that you’ve lived in your house for only a year or two, coming from a tiny apartment if I remember correctly, and you’re still going through the decluttering process regularly. I don’t mean that at all critically – I think most people would be the same in your situation. It shows both the power of stuff to expand to fill the space we have for it, and the power of young children to bring stuff into our lives – bags of hand-me-downs, toys, craft projects, baby furniture, etc.

    I wonder if it also has something to do with the amount of stuff required to maintain a house as opposed to an apartment. You don’t need a lawn mower when you have 600 square feet and no outside space.

  5. PickUpPlease.org is a non-profit organization that picks up your donations (clothes, toys, etc.) from your door step for free. It’s easy to schedule a pickup online and it qualifies for tax deductions.

  6. I certainly understand the impulse to declutter and get rid of unused stuff. But, regarding those items with sentimental value because they are family heirlooms or inheritances…If they are items with real monetary value that you nonetheless probably will not use, I urge you to offer them for sale to other family members.

    In my family heirlooms have a great deal of importance, even when they are rarely used. Unless someone in the family needed the money for something that is not absolutely critical (like medical care), it would cause real problems if one of these items were sold outside of the family. This has actually happened. On the other hand, when a family member wanted to sell a valuable family heirloom to retire a significant chunk of debt, she had it appraised and it was sold within the family for the fair market value. No one was offended or embarrassed. Most importantly, no one was incensed that the item was lost to future generations for a trivial reason.

    Just food for thought.

  7. liv says:

    I completely tried to save up a ton of junk in my decent sized garage for a yard sale, then i didn’t want to deal with the yard sale and took half of it to salvation army to donate.

    maybe when i move, i’ll finally get to that. in the meantime, i’ll passively sell things on craigslist.

  8. PJ Wyatt says:

    I attended an estate sale this weekend. Have you ever been to one of those? They empty out every drawer, closet and crevice, and sell whatever is in there. You see half boxes of laundry detergent, old broken nail clippers, sets of encyclopedias from the ’60′s, rusty nails… somebody will by it, whatever it is. I got to thinking, do I really want people picking through six almost-empty bottles of shampoo, and my barely worn polyester pantsuits, and my mismatched tube sock collection, and old picture hooks that have been pried out of the wall when I die? And do I really want to be dragged down by that stuff while I’m alive?

    Time to clean out my crap.

  9. Ryan McLean says:

    EBAY is the online yard sale. Sell things on ebay because you get a much larger market of people you can reach and you can make a lot more money.
    Me and my fiance are doing what you said and we have a fund a fund which all the money goes into in order to pay for our new furniture we will need in our house.
    Great post and great tips

  10. Joan says:

    Funny you posted about this subject today. We just had our yard sale this past weekend, essentially purging every cupboard, closet, nook and cranny in the house. If we haven’t worn it or used it for a year, we won’t. So sell it. Made just over $300!

  11. Jeff says:

    As an “only child” who is the “only heir” of nearly a century of stuff, I can say to all those who want to pass down your treasures to succeeding generations: Please don’t! NO ONE in my family wanted to get rid of ANYTHING– from newspapers to WWI uniforms to china, silver, etc. By the way, I have been trying to sell a silver coffee/tea service and silver punchbowl at an antique store for 5 years now. Nobody wants them anymore!
    Do your family- and yourself- a favor and get rid of your stuff before your family has to. Save them untold trouble AND emotional turmoil by having to part with dear Aunt Suzie’s treasures.

  12. Blair says:

    Best de-cluttering tips for someone who still has birthday cards from the early 80′s, and usually could use a little extra cash:
    1. Amazon.com and Half.com for books, DVD’s and CD’s
    2. Paperbackswap.com for books IF you’re an avid reader
    3. SecondSpin.com to outright buy CD’s and DVD’s
    4. Plato’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange to sell old clothes, especially the cool old stuff

  13. My greatest weakness was storing old magazines or web content that I printed out for storage. Pretty soon, I had piles of stuff on my desk or boxes of useless magazines. That was until I found Google Notes… find an article, copy it, tag it with a few names and it’s indexed for life.

  14. Steven says:

    Alot of really good ideas. I usually do a Fall (rid of Summer stuff) and Spring (getting rid of Winter stuff) cleaning. I also subscribe to the 1 new item in 2 old items out manifesto and it really works. Another good CD trading site is Lala.com…old music out, new music in….

  15. Lisa says:

    I had a lot easier time following this kind of advice with purging after dealing with perfectionism. There is a couple of books on this subject, one is called “Feeling Good” by David Burns. Basically I had a hard time throwing things out because I was afraid to “make a mistake”, even with very easy-to-follow rules in hand. There are specific exercises you can do in this book to conquer perfectionism; then tossing “pants that don’t fit” becomes a breeze.

  16. Tabs says:

    “People have a tendency to accumulate stuff. They load up their closets with it, their shelves with it, and much of their living space with it.”

    What! have you been to my house… Don’t you just hate it when every where you look you are constantly reminded of the pink elephant in the living room. Believe me I probably have a pink elephant in my living room.

    Thanks for the list I will have be implementing 1,2,3,6, and 10. Instead of consignment, I will be calling on Salvation Army, people in Texas and most of the South will need clothes and stuff to rebuild their lives after this hurricane season. That should be my motivation.

    Cheers,

    -Tabs

  17. Macinac says:

    This is a major problem for me! I never want to throw away anything. If it’s broken I assume I can use the parts to repair something, someday. It’s as if I’m living on a desert island and will never have a chance to get anything again, so I need to conserve every resource. When I was growing up poor this make more sense, but the habit seems impossible to break now.

  18. Amateur says:

    My folks are extreme pack rats and I’ve made amends as an adult to have as little stuff as possible but it still piles up. I read somewhere that if you don’t use something or remember you even own it for 3 years and its stashed in a closet, you won’t miss it. Get rid of it, and make some room for things you’d like to store neatly.

    If you haven’t worn a coat in three years, it can be donated, for sure. If you haven’t worn a pair of jeans for three years, it either doesn’t fit or you really don’t like it, it can be donated. If you have t-shirts that are so gross looking you won’t wear it outside, it’s time to toss it.

    There are a few essential things to have, a quality scanner and a good digital camera. The scanner is to scan all those old photos of people you lost touch with from decades ago and toss out the originals. Do you think those people keep your photos around cluttering up their family albums? I doubt it.

    Use the camera and take photos of those trinkets and crap that people give you on their vacations or on holidays. When you toss out those things, you’re not tossing it out completely, they’re saved digitally for reminder, and probably better organized than that kitchen drawer. You’ll find yourself with less stuff and a more comfortable home with less keychains, magnets, and clutter that no one really uses.

    This is a nice post, Trent, sometimes stuff is just too much stuff.

  19. Nienke says:

    I love decluttering, but when it comes to gifts from the boyfriend I start to hesitate… My boyfriend is quite materialistic and always keeps the gifts he gets from others, even if he doesn’t like the stuff itself. He doens’t understand it when I say I can throw away / sell something I got from a loved one. He once got me a poster that I didn’t really like but he himself loved it. I didn’t hang it, but he said he was fine with that. However, when I said he’d better have it, because he truly enjoyed it, he did not agree. He thinks a gift is a gift.
    What should I do with the gifts he got me that I value less? Or even better: how can I change his mind?

  20. I have so much clutter .. i think this is a great idea. I like the pantry part the best

  21. Shevy says:

    @Jeff
    Well I’m an “only” who thinks your silver punchbowl sounds interesting. Is it priced outrageously or something that it hasn’t sold?

    I’m not interested in the coffee/tea service because I have a beautiful one that was my grandmother’s. It has a place of honour in my display cabinet and makes my heart sing every time I look at it. I even love polishing it.

    But it doesn’t have to be fancy or pricy to matter. I also have my grandmother’s coffee grinder, the kind you crank and the coffee falls into a little wooden drawer. I use it every time I have coffee beans and it brings back memories of helping my grandma when I was a little girl.

  22. Maggie says:

    I have gone from being a bit of a hoarder to a decluttering fanatic. Unclutterer.com is a fav website. Fortunately I regard things as objects which I own but do not own me – I have no sentimentally about stuff and can easily get rid of things. As William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” So it’s use it, love it or lose it! Unfortunately I have run out of things to throw away and cluttering friends have so far resisted my offers of help. I’m getting twitchy!

  23. Olivia says:

    Oh Jeff, I could not agree with you more! My mother passed away a year and a half ago, and I’m still dealing with the last of her clutter. She had a shopping addiction, and I could have filled a room with items that still had tags on them. I decided to give it all away, and not even bother trying to sell the things. Some may think that was insane from a financial standpoint, but the piece of mind was priceless!

  24. Beatriz says:

    When we bought a house, we had a choice of a lakefront house (extra $10,000) or a house with a garage (same extra cost.)

    The best decision we ever made was to choose the view over the storage (the house itself has very little storage–small closets.) Every time we thought about buying something, we had to think “where are we going to put it?” and more than half the time we decided against it.

    Our lives have not suffered one bit for the lack of junk, but we have enjoyed our lake every single day!

  25. Sunshine says:

    Olivia (#16), I am so with you on that. My partner and I have been holding on to stuff (antiques, collectibles, books, etc.) for *years* because we’re *going* to sell it. We’ve gotten to the point of just donating stuff and letting somebody else find the treasure. For us, it’s more of a hindrance to sell stuff and, like you said, the peice of mind and the satisfaction of just getting rid of stuff is priceless!

  26. battra92 says:

    My first boss, God rest his soul, had an interesting way of cleaning the shop. He would designate one area as a “disaster area” and basically when cleaning he would pull things out and pile them up in that area. Then he would put things back disposing of what needed to go and then leaving a small mess in the disaster area which would then become the next clean zone.

    Media collections are the hardest for me to get rid of. I have a HUGE Hong Kong film collection, many only watched once (some not at all) and while in college I had time to be a student of foreign films I find now they are just collecting dust. Part of me wants to get rid of them but I just can’t. Books, magazines, toys, old computer parts etc. I can dispose of with ease.

    At least with my VHS collection (recorded off air) I’m converting it over to DVD-R and tossing those big bulky tapes. At least that saves some room. I’m also giving away a lot of the VHS tapes which for some reason, some people actually want!

  27. Great, I’m making my wife read this!
    I can’t even articulate the amount of stuff we have laying around that we don’t need (OK, I’m guilty too.).
    Incidentally, I had posted recently on using gift card exchange sites to sell your gift cards that are laying around doing nothing (or you can buy one at a 10% plus discount).

  28. Sally says:

    You have hit the feng shui nail right on the head! This is an AWESOME article. The accumulation of stuff/financial issues go hand in hand. I used to be so much more of an impulse buyer – and end up with JUNK! Now I am much more interested in quality vs. quantity. I still struggle with it from time to time and have turned into a serial “returner” However, it is definitely about habits (aside from the emotional aspects.) Don’t look @ the sales flyers, don’t go to the mall…..just say no to more stuff to clutter up your life.

  29. kyle5434 says:

    Just this past weekend I listed a pair of unused speakers (nice Paradigm Monitor 5s) which had been sitting in the basement, as well as a fairly new but little-used digital camera, on craigslist. It was the first time I’d ever used craigslist, but within 30 hours both items were out of the house and I had cash in my pocket, and I didn’t have to ship anything. So if you’re in a big enough city or town, craigslist may be a viable alternative to eBay in your decluttering efforts.

    And while I haven’t tried it, a friend I know uses freecycle to get rid of stuff she doesn’t want anymore. She says people will haul off almost anything for you and save your from hauling it to the dump!

  30. Misty says:

    Good tips- another thing worth stating is that you have to be in the mood for it. Depending on my mood- I can be a toss away queen- but then other times I want to hold on to everything!

  31. MJ says:

    I think this is a serious problem! We all have way too much stuff. Me as well i plan to take one room at a time and really get down to barebones! I go through my kitchen twice a year. one year it saved my life. There was a recall and I didnt buy that brand but there in the back of the cabinet was a can of it. I dontate to the rescue mission usually 3 to 4 boxes. plus I get rid of all the expired food stuff and toss it out! That buy 1 get 1 free doesnt help if you dont remeber what you have in there and dont use it and keep buying more stuff! Blessings!

  32. Cookie says:

    Trent: This post inspired me. Thanks! I took outgrown kids clothes to a local consignment where I received 20% more by accepting a store credit (I would have blown the cash) They also sell new and used Halloween costumes so we’ll be shopping for our kids costumes there and still have a credit left over. The store also sell new items like dancewear, gift items and educational items like curriculum based workbooks, puzzles etc so the credit will never go to waste.

  33. Kira =] says:

    And don’t forget the best months for having a yard sale are April, May, June AND September! =]

  34. Shan Oh says:

    Sentiment:

    Trent, I have an unusual sitution, and I’d love to hear your take on what my husband and I should do. My mother-in-law (MIL) is a classic hoarder. Her house is full (to the ceilings, paths wandering through the stuff to important things, like light switches and the restroom). She likes to buy things, especially on sale, and add them to the pile – year in and year out.

    My concern and consternation is this: She is a prodigious gift giver. Now that I’ve married her son, she gives us many, many unwanted and un-needed gifts for our home. Cheap mandolin slicers that break after two uses. A moldy pressure canner she got at a garage sale that she’s sure I can ‘clean out’ and use someday. Large wrought iron deck furniture for an 8 foot by 10 foot deck. Ten styrofoam carvable pumpkins for autumn decorating. It goes on and on. I dread Christmas because we get twenty presents or more…EACH!

    I do appreciate the idea of her giving us gifts – and some are actually very useful and welcomed. However, when she visits she demands to see each and every gift she has given us (she has an unfortunately good memory), and demands to know how we’ve used it. If I can’t produce the item, she becomes suspicious and angry, and accuses me of mistreating her and not appreciating her gifts. I regularly de-clutter, and if something breaks, I definately toss it. Many times I end up passing on the stuff she gives me to other people who could use it more…and I mistakenly told MIL that once. She had a very loud and angry fit over my ‘rudeness’. She accused the person I gave that gift to of stealing when she saw her next, and I was horribly embarrased.

    I’ve now taken to piling up her gifts in our crawl space, and I am careful to mention all of the gifts she’s given us that we use and like when she visits – but the pile of unused stuff that she has bullied us into keeping just keeps growing. My husband has spoken to her directly, but she pretty much ignored his request to stop giving us so many gifts.

    I do know she probably needs some sort of mental help (working on that) but I wonder if others have this problem of other people’s sentiment affecting their ability to live in a simple and uncluttered house? Are there any suggestions out there for graciously decluttering that I may have missed?

  35. Carol says:

    Hi all, regarding discarding gifts that are suppose to have sentimental value, I just received an *early* birthday gift (my birthday is in December) from my Motherinlaw b/c apparently she was so excited to give it to me, but it’s not something I want! How do you tell someone you do NOT want any more items for your collection? People tend to get you something for your collection, but no thank you. Sadly, the only thing I could really use for any gift-giving occasion is cold hard cash (for paying off debt), not more STUFF. But how do you tell people that? You would come across as a big *SNOB*.

  36. queueu says:

    @#26:

    Interested in selling those HK dvds? On the cheap obviously ;)

  37. Olivia says:

    Thank you Sunshine! We actually just took a lot of things out to the curb, and they were gone within minutes! And I’m talking furniture, craft supplies, home decorating items. If I was afraid people might be afraid to take some items, I taped signs to the things like, ” Free to a good home!” or ,”Please take me, I’m Free!”. We took many trips to the goodwill drop off too, and any item that was too big for us to move, we scheduled a pickup from the salvation army. Smaller items were sorted together and postd on the craigslist “free” section (I gave up on the people in my local freecycle after many, many no-shows). I had also thought about seeking out housefire vicitms,since it was all housewares, but didn’t find any ( which I was quite thankful for!)

    My point is that there are many, many ways to rid yourself of the clutter, and feel Really Good about it. I loved the idea of someone’s day being brightened by an item mom bought- since shopping was an addiction to her all those things just brought her pain. I also would suggest to anyone having a hard time parting with that clutter, check out http://www.flylady.net – Thank God I knew about that site before mom passed!!

  38. Mrs. P says:

    I disagree with emptying a space completely to organize. That is a huge amount of time devoted to a task that is probably unpalatable to most people. If it takes that long to do, people will put it off or just never do it. Plus once you empty a closet, you could lose interest in refilling it so now you have a huge mess to walk around until you get re-inspired to clean it up. I recommend the Flylady approach to decluttering: 15 minutes at a time. Systematically perform tasks aimed at decluttering. Don’t try to do it all at once. You didn’t accumulate the mess in an hour and it will take more than an hour to rescue the space.

    At my house we have attacked the kids rooms to declutter, but it is so dreadful a job that we do it only once a year or so. To keep messes down, most Sundays after church we sit in the room with the kids (1 parent per kid) and have them declutter a zone in their room, encourage them to throw away papers and broken and disparate stuff, and tidy up horizontal surfaces that tend to get messy. A little bit of work a week has really made a difference!

  39. CyanSquirrel says:

    I SO WANT TO DO THIS…but I cannot seem to find the time. My husband is content to walk around piles of stuff as if it weren’t even there. I have a mother and a mother-in-law that are like commenter #34′s (Shan Oh) in various ways, which doesn’t help. It;s hard to find time to do this when both parents work and we have an infant son who gets the bulk of our attention by choice. Sighs…it’s so frustrating. I am STRONGLY anti-clutter, just currently feeling so helpless as I look at the boxes and closet-fulls of crap we have (crap cuz we never touch it!!!) Some are heirlooms, others are boxes of unorganized photos. Some are broken electronics you can’t just toss but that we have had no time to drop off at the proper place. Life is a clutter magnet, and I’ve coped by simply ignoring it after my requests and pleas for help to organize and declutter have been rebuffed. Again, sighs….this hits so close to home. I don’t even want to sell it. I just want the stuff GONE!

  40. Mrs. P says:

    CyanSquirrel, I hope you revisit this thread. You sound like a good candidate for the Flylady–please google and visit her. If you subscribe to her emails, you will get an easy program to help rescue your home. I’m no perfect declutter-er, but using some of her strategies has at least empowered me to feel as if the mighty mess is attackable! Whenever I DO bag up some surplus clothes, place it in my car immediately, and drive it to the Salvation Army on my next car trip, I really experience a huge rush of satisfaction and pride. When I declutter so much as a book shelf, I feel great–and so will you. She may be a bit corny and folksy — too much for some people, her techniques are do-able and you’ll get results.

  41. michael bash says:

    The simplest stuff rule I learned years ago is, “If you don’t use it at least once a year, get rid of it; you don’t need it.” This allows Christmas decorations, and that’s that.

  42. I find that once I have a big clear out of the clutter that it sets me right for a long time. However, because I can slip into the cluttering mode quite quickly I need to schedule decluttering exercises quite regularly.

    A few years back a friend of mine was a sworn pack rat. Unfortunately his house caught fire. Luckily no one was hurt but he lost a lot of his stuff due to fire and smoke damage. As a result he decided just to get rid of everything that was left and start afresh.

    Today he lives in a minimalist’s heaven. Not a bit of clutter in sight. The transformation was amazing but the really interesting thing is that he is not half as stressed as he used to be. When questioned on his lower stress levels he replied that the clutter in his home was boxing him in and he felt smothered and stressed coming home to a cluttered house. In a bizarre way the fire was a blessing.

    I don’t think that he ever would have been able to muster the energy and determination to clear the clutter if it wasn’t for the fire.

  43. K-Cat says:

    My mom has this problem on a bigger level. Much bigger. She has 3, count them 3, storage rooms FULL of junk. I would say 90-95% of it is literally complete junk that is unneeded, that holds no memories of any kind. Each one of these rooms is larger than my entire apartment (about 1000 sq ft packed to the gills – my apt for 2 people and 2 cats to *live* in is 735 sq ft – EACH). And it gets worse: she’s going into more and more debt (she’s already in a ton of debt) each month purchasing more items that she simply puts directly into storage. She just needs the thrill of purchasing or something. And it gets worse still! She can’t afford the cost of these storage rooms each month, so she puts the balance on credit cards. For some reason, she doesn’t see her foolishness. She comes to me all the time complaining about money problems, complaining that she can’t afford to do anything she likes. I tell her she needs to get rid of storage and she simply won’t do it. I went to help her pick out things to get rid of on several occasions, but everything is precious. I personally folded 3 large moving boxes worth of *brand new* clothing. Tags still on. Many more boxes still of actually used clothing. The same thing with purses and shoes. The madness never ends. She can’t see something as no longer having value to her – “it will fit me again one day” or “it’s so cute, I’ll wear it someday” are what I hear about every item. I like a cute shoe as much as the next girl, but come on. How do you get someone like this to declutter? It’s basically ruining her life and she tells me she’s trying to declutter but it’s just not true. She’s not able to follow any of the guidelines you’ve just posted, for even 1 item.

    Also you mention you like to bring everything out onto the floor so you can see it, then put it back nicely. My mom likes to bring everything out too – only then she gets fed up with going through it and wants to put it back in 2 secs, so she ends up throwing everything in. And breaking things. Things so precious she can’t get rid of in some way, yet she can break them.

    This has served as a great example for me of what not to do. As a child I would grow out of some toys, Barbie for example. But I would never be allowed to pass them on to a friend’s sibling, or donate them, or even simply toss them. Packrattery was forced upon me. In the last year alone, my first year of living on my own post-college, I went through and picked out things to declutter 3 times. It felt great.

    Sorry for venting in your comment area. But I would really love to find a solution for my mom!

  44. Dennis Go says:

    Hording is a recognized mental illness. Your relative will NEVER voluntarily change. She has a need to accumulate stuff. It is a true addiction. Therapists who treat this are few and far between. Like any other problem of this type (ex stopping smoking or excercising more), no treatment can start until the patient acknowledges the problem AND wishes treatment. good luck

  45. Fawn says:

    I have an issue with our house getting cluttered! I can’t stand it, yet I hate to clean it up. We do the occasional “cleaning blitz”, where we clean up like crazy people for a set amount of time. It really works! But it gets messy again so quickly! I have a habbit of not noticing things, and walking over things, or movig them to make room for something else! I have a list and am going to take care of it this winter. I am on a “throw it all out” mode, and have been. We live in a 1000 sqft house and it doesn’t have much storage space. I keep thinking we need more storage, and then stop myself, and say “this clutter is costing us money, and we don’t need to buy a bigger house for our stuff!!” So I am on a mission, but it’s off to a slow start. :( I will get there!

  46. Wendy says:

    When I go shopping now, I always think of things in terms of ‘clutter value’. I think ‘If I want to get rid of this in 3 or 4 years time, how will I do it?’ If there even a possibility that its going to end up as yard sale junk then it DOES NOT enter my home. I really don’t enjoy doing a yard sale, so I would rather give it all to charity but thats not ideal from a financial perspective. So, I feel the solution is to just limit the amount of stuff I buy in the first place!

    It also helped a lot when I figured that I do not need to own an item to acknowledge its beauty or usefulness.

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