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How to Get Organized and Declutter Your Life

Updated on April 5, 2012

Many of us get to a point where we feel overwhelmed by all our stuff and vow to declutter and get organized. Ideally, we would have systems in place and keep our lives in order on an ongoing basis, but this is not a perfect world. So we tackle the clean-out periodically when it hits a critical mass.

So how best to go about this project? It really just needs a methodical approach.

Have A Plan

Identify your goals in trying to declutter your home. Are you just trying to reclaim some closet and drawer space? Or are you planning a major life redesign involving more radical simplification and reduction in your possessions? If you don't know the end point, you won't know if you reached it.

Once you know your goal, decide your strategy. Will you take it a room at a time? Perhaps you can tackle like spaces: closets, bureaus, utility storage, etc. If there's multiple people in your household, divvy up responsibilities. Set rules for who makes the final decision about kids' stuff if their rooms are part of the project. Obviously, a teenager should have more say on the issue than a toddler, but you should set guidelines to help the process go more smoothly.

Figure out what you will do with everything you clear out. You don't want all that stuff you've just boxed up to keep cluttering up your space. Your basic options are

  • Toss or recycle it
  • Sell it
  • Donate it

Take It In Pieces

Trying to do everything in one go is far too overwhelming - except maybe if you live in one room! Break down the declutter project into reasonable size pieces.

One approach is to take 15 or 30 minutes and do as much as you can in that time. Assign everybody a space. Set a timer and go. Alternatively, tackle one room - or even just one closet - at a time.

Regardless of how you break down the project, you will need several containers to sort items into as you go:

  • To Trash/recycle
  • To Sell
  • To Donate
  • Depending on how you're working through the space, you might also want a To Keep container. Fill it and, once everything is cleared out, go back and put everything you're keeping in its place.

Once you're done, take care of everything you've decided to get rid of and deal with it immediately. Don't let it hang around tempting you - or your family members - to reclaim items.

How To Get Rid Of All That Stuff

Putting things out for recycling or trash is pretty self-explanatory, but selling and donation take a bit more thought. Note: these suggestions are from the perspective of someone on the United States. While the availability of specific resources and methods listed might vary from country to country, the concepts should still apply in many places.

Selling

If you want to get some cash out of your discards, there's a number of options, each with its own pros and cons.

  • Yard Sale
    Pros: Sell a lot of goods within a relatively short amount of time. Most cost-effective way to sell low price items.

    Cons: Weather-sensitive. Some housing developments have strict rules about yard sales. Must have space to store everything until you have enough for a sale.
  • Flea Market
    Pros: Like a yard sale, can sell a lot of goods within a short period of time. Often draw good foot traffic.

    Cons: Must transport goods to site. Space fee in most cases. Might need to provide own table(s). Often weather-sensitive. Must have enough storage space pre-sale.
  • eBay
    Pros: Good for higher priced or truly collectible goods. Can do sales from home on an ongoing basis.

    Cons: Listing and final value fees. PayPal fees. Can be time-consuming to take pictures and write descriptions to maximize sales. Must deal with shipping.
  • Half.com (Amazon.com has a similar selling option)
    Pros: Easy listing system for books, CDs, movies, and video games with no need to take photos. Particularly good for recent text books and video games. Don't have to deal with getting payment from buyer as the site handles all of that.

    Cons: Almost useless for things like mass market paperbacks as it's flooded with listings in certain categories. Have to deal with shipping.
  • Craigslist
    Pros: Cheap. Good for bulky items. Can result in very fast sales.

    Cons: Have to let stranger into your home. No-shows. Trying to coordinate schedules for pickup.

Regardless of how you try to sell your stuff, you are almost guaranteed to have some things left that nobody will buy. That's where you definitely need a backup plan to make sure it all eventually leaves your home. If there's anything in borderline condition, you might just decide to trash it after all. But for everything else the logical option is usually donation.

Donation

Charity thrift stores, your local library (for books, CDs, DVDs), Goodwill, Purple Heart, and the Salvation Army are all options for donating household goods. You probably know of other local operations that will accept donations. Most of the larger organizations have good web sites that can help you find a local donation center. Some will even do a scheduled pick-up.

If you're having a yard sale, arrange for a pickup the first available day after to deal with everything that didn't sell.

Whichever organization you choose, package up everything neatly after decluttering and get it out of your house as soon as possible. Please also evaluate everything you donate with a critical eye. Far too many people seem to use donation centers as dumps, perhaps out of a reluctance to add to the waste stream. If something is truly broken - probably why you're getting rid of it in the first place - throw it out. Don't burden a non-profit with having to take care of disposal costs for things they can't reasonably try to sell.

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  • catsimmons profile image

    Catherine Simmons 5 years ago from Mission BC Canada

    Love this hub! Especially the timer idea..I really think I might try this...:-)

  • barbergirl28 profile image

    Stacy Harris 5 years ago from Hemet, Ca

    I think my biggest issue is getting started. Recently we just got my son a new bed... He had to move out of his crib eventually :( Unfortunately, that meant we had to tackle a portion of his very messy room. You see, he has been ridiculously spoiled with these huge, space-taking toys and lots of them. He also has recieved many hand me downs in the process. Now, it is up to me to go through all these toys and try to sort what is keepable and what is not. This is my downfall... I have a hard time being ruthless with my kid's toys fearful that I will get rid of something that they are really going to miss! But I think this just gave me the motivation to at least set the timer and go at it for a little bit. Now if only I could fence off the area so they stop pulling everything out and I can get through it all!!

  • SilkThimble profile image
    Author

    SilkThimble 5 years ago from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    That's quite an accomplishment already, Laura! Good luck with your continuing efforts :-)

  • Laura Schneider profile image

    Laura Schneider 5 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

    Thanks, SilkThimble! (Voted up, bookmarked, Useful, and looking for the "you saved me" button :-) )I just downsized from a 2,700 sq. ft. house to a 1300 sq. foot one--and I've inherited tons of "stuff" from 5 relatives. And I have been making slow progress because I have no plan. So, you can bet I'll be employing your "3 (or 4) bin" system a lot over the next few months as I try to find a path back to my own life through the boxes. Millionaire--I can totally relate. SusieQ, nice to see you here, too, love your articles also.

  • SilkThimble profile image
    Author

    SilkThimble 5 years ago from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Thanks, Millionaire! It's an ongoing effort to keep the clutter under control, no doubt.

  • Millionaire Tips profile image

    Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

    These are excellent ideas. I am trying to reduce the clutter and bring the amount of belongings I have down.

  • SilkThimble profile image
    Author

    SilkThimble 5 years ago from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Thanks! And you're welcome.

  • profile image

    SusieQ42 5 years ago

    Excellent ideas. We're on the same page! I write many organizational hubs. Thanks for the useful info.