11 Decluttering Jump Starts

When you're ready to launch into decluttering, but don't know where to start, see if one of these ideas will stimulate your energy and enthusiasm.


11 ways to gain decluttering momentum

1.  Take a picture.

To you, a room might seem "cozy" rather than cluttered, but a photo will help you see the space with fresh eyes.  Looking at a picture changes your perspective and allows you to be more detached.  It could be the perfect tool to clarify what needs to be cleared away.

Be sure to take an "after" photo as well, so you can see and celebrate what you've accomplished.

2.  Pretend.

What if you were moving?  Ask "Would I bother to wrap this item in bubble wrap, pack it, load it, haul it, carry it, unpack it, and find a place for it?"  If the answer is no, declutter it.

3.  Get real.

If you're paying for off-site storage, why?  Unless you're taking a job overseas for a specified period of time, or waiting for your new home to be built, and plan to return as soon as possible to use all of your stuff, why are you renting storage space?  My guess is that it's stuff you don't use, that won't fit in your home, that you inherited and don't want or need, or that belonged to your kids when they were small (and they don't want it or have room for it either).  

If you never need or want this stuff, or don't even remember what it is, why are you paying to store it?  Contact a local auctioneer, or if you live in the US or Canada you can use an online auction service.

4.  Do a gut check.

Ask yourself, "If I didn't already own this thing, would I spend money to buy it today?"  If not, let it go.

5.  Ditch the guilt.

Do unfinished projects clutter your space?  The quilt you barely started, the dresser you've been meaning to paint and restyle, the old bicycle you planned to refurbish, the drawers full of scrapbooking paper, stickers, and tools?  

Here's the question:  Do you want to work on this project right now?  Will you schedule time within the next month to work on it?  If not, abandon it and donate the stuff without guilt.  Now you're free to consider a new project that actually excites you.

6.  Look for hot spots.

Hot spots are places where clutter doesn't belong but tends to gather.  Counters and tables are some of the obvious possibilities.  

  • Notice piles of mail, magazines, purses, backpacks, keys, and dirty dishes.  
  • Maybe there are baskets of laundry, whether dirty or clean, in the hallway.  
  • Does your car harbor trash, fast food cartons, and empty water bottles?  
  • Do cases of toilet paper or soft drinks never make it past the entry hall?  
  • Does the living room floor host discarded toys, scattered shoes, and pillows that are supposed to decorate the couch but actually crowd it?  

Start your work in one of these areas.

7.  Watch for movement.

Items that are used move from one place to another.  Dishes or cookware are used, become dirty, get washed, are returned to the cupboard.  Towels or clothing are used, dirtied, laundered, folded or hung, returned to the closet.  Possessions that stay in one place for a long time may simply be clutter.  Does your home contain shelves, drawers, closets, maybe even entire rooms where nothing comes or goes?  All that staleness and stagnation needs to be cleared away.

8.  Choose a theme.

Declutter one category of items, such as clothes, books, toys, office supplies, kitchen equipment, jewelry and accessories, makeup and toiletries, hobby supplies.

9.  Overcome inertia.

Does that box of souvenirs really have sentimental value, or do you keep it out of laziness?  Gretchen Rubin, author of Outer Order, Inner Calm,* writes about an interesting paradox: having fewer mementos may actually help us enjoy more memories.  Rather than being overwhelmed by a stack of stuff we never actually look at, a carefully chosen keepsake stands alone and uncrowded, able to get the attention it deserves.  

So overcome your lethargy.  Choose to display one great photo of a special night with your best college pals, and recycle the boxes of college notebooks and memorabilia.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

10.  Make a home.

Any item that is useful and valuable needs its own home.  There should be no question about where the item belongs or where it can be found when it's not in use.  It should always be easy to put your hands on:

  • your passport
  • a flashlight
  • a pair of scissors
  • your checkbook
  • a fresh roll of toilet paper
  • an extension cord
  • the tweezers
  • a postage stamp
  • measuring spoons
  • last year's tax return
  • a working pen
  • a clean kitchen towel
  • ... or anything else you keep in your home!

11.  Prepare for the future.

Many years have passed, and your relatives have gathered to clear out your house after your death.  Emotions aside, how difficult is it to complete this job?  What items will they keep, sell, donate, recycle, or toss?  Declutter now so you don't leave a headache for your children or grandchildren.

If you like this article, you'll love my book, Downsize Now: The Joy of Decluttering for a Fresh Start.  

If you've ever dreamed of living in a beautiful little cottage, you need to downsize.

If you want to stay in your current home but make it more spacious, easy to care for, and expressive of your true values and preferences, you need to downsize.

If you want to make the eventual process of clearing your home less of a burden for your loved ones, you need to downsize.

Downsizing can be hard, or it can be easier.  Downsize Now will give you the tools and inspiration to get the job done so you can start enjoying all the benefits.  By releasing decades'-worth of accumulated items, you can emerge with more energy and freedom.  You're ready to look ahead, not back.

Updated May 2023


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