5 Popular Decluttering Tricks that Actually Work

published May 3, 2022
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Moving makes you really serious about decluttering. 

I’m in the middle of real-life moving prep decluttering and I can vouch for the fact that thinking about paying for space on a moving truck and then also having to deal with packing and the prospect of unpacking really lights a decluttering fire under even those who are sometimes hesitant to let things go. 

Even if you have no plans to pack up and move though, pretending to move is actually an effective decluttering strategy, too. The idea is that if you act like you’re going to have to pack everything you own and pay to have it transported in a moving truck, you’ll pare down real fast. 

As I’ve been working my way through categories of belongings — dishware, vases, books, clothes, cleaning tools and supplies, etc. — before packing, I’ve had to dig deep into my bag of decluttering tricks. 

Here are a few of the popular decluttering methods that have come in clutch: 

Only keep what fits in a certain space.

The so-called “one shelf rule” is a kind of reverse decluttering strategy that begins with the space you want to use to store a certain category of items rather than the items themselves. For example, decide that you will store all your mugs on one shelf, gather all your mugs together, and then only put back however many fit in that designated space. 

This strategy has really saved me from a good deal of hemming and hawing as I pack. For instance, I decided to thin out my fabric collection from several shelves to only two drawers of a small storage unit. With every category, I can give myself parameters like “only the vases that fit in this small box come with us to the new house.” It’s been a wonderful way to slim down to the favorites and cut out the excess. 

Eliminate duplicates.

You can’t escape this classic decluttering strategy when you’re packing because you come face-to-face with exactly how many travel mugs, potato peelers, or blankets you truly own. You’re out of excuses to keep them “just in case” when it means paying to have them moved. Finally, you’re able to drop the weight of duplicate items that, this whole time, have been weighing you down. 

Keep only the “best, favorite, necessary.”

When staring down a box that will only hold so many items and you’re worried about your kept belongings requiring an additional moving truck, you’re really incentivized to invoke the “best, favorite, necessary” decluttering mantra. Drilling down into how to eliminate duplicates or narrowing down to only what fits in a certain amount of space, the “best, favorite, necessary” strategy helps shine a light on what to keep and what to pass along for even the toughest decisions. 

Keep only what sparks joy.

This has always been a magical strategy for me, and “what sparks joy” — and what doesn’t — is particularly obvious when I have to handle it by packing it and knowing I’ll have to unpack it and find a home for it and continue caring for it. As I’m getting ready for our move, I’ve been appreciating the chance to encounter every object with that question in mind. (And, to answer the naysayers, yes, socks that fit well and are in good condition spark joy for me.) 

Remember I already got my use out of it.

I learned this perspective from a friend who’s a master at moving because she’s done it so many times. She happens to be in the middle of a move (again!) while I am, and she mentioned getting rid of items that “she got good use out of.” A lightbulb went off when I realized I don’t have to feel guilty about the money I spent on something that I no longer use or need. Hopefully I used it many times and my pay-per-use is reasonable, but paying for something to use for a period of time and then letting it go is a bit like renting something and then passing it along. Everyone wins; our space is less cluttered, and that object is enjoyed by someone else. 

Moving is often considered among the most stressful life events. At the same time, it’s the perfect time to reevaluate your possessions. The good news is, you don’t have to be moving to do that. The decluttering strategies that really make a difference when you have to declutter are at your disposal even if you don’t. 

In the end, moving or not, decluttering and donating have the potential to bring us closer to the purposeful life we want. It’s worthwhile to employ any strategy that takes us down that path.