6 Helpful Decluttering Tips, According to People Who Have Moved 10+ Times

published Feb 16, 2019
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When you move a lot, you tend to reflect on all of your stuff a little more often than the average person. If you’ve been living in the same space for years—or decades—your trinkets give you a sense of stability and ownership. But when you’re paying movers by the hour, all that extra stuff starts losing its sentimental charm and instead can look like expensive dead weight.

I know this firsthand—I’ve moved 12 times in the past 10 years. And I’d like to think I’ve strengthened my decluttering muscle over all these moves. Before my last 200-mile move, I decided to finally go through the dozen or so boxes I’d been toting around for a decade but had never actually opened. I was shocked that I’d been holding on to knick-knacks I hadn’t thought of in years. Why was I toting all of this stuff with me? It was so refreshing to free myself of the clutter and start over new.

But rethinking your relationship to otherwise sentimental items isn’t the only lesson to be gleaned from frequent movers like myself. I talked to seven of my fellow moving veterans to uncover their top decluttering tips. Even if you aren’t about to make a big move, their advice may help you rethink your relationship to your stuff in a positive way. Here’s what they said:

1. Be ruthless

Gina Caro, a 33-year-old sustainable living blogger who has moved more than 25 times says there isn’t much room for nuance when decluttering. “You need to hold up each item individually and ask yourself two questions: Does it make you happy and do you use it regularly?” she says.

But what, exactly, counts as “regularly?” According to frequent mover Lucy Harris, CEO of Hello Baby Bump, anything you haven’t used in six months to a year can be thrown away or donated if it’s still good quality.

2. But don’t go overboard!

Once you start purging, you may find it’s easier to say goodbye to items you once held dear—but make sure you’re not too good at it: “Memorabilia and personal items may be bulkier, and you may not know what to do with them immediately, but once you throw them away, there’s no turning back,” says Miranda N. Benson, the marketing coordinator for Dolly, who has moved nine times in only six years.

Benson’s quick tip for keeping a good head on your shoulders? Ditch what can be replaced (like office supplies, clothing, and media) and hold onto what can’t.

3. Get organized

Decluttering for moving can get overwhelming—but Ana Zuravliova, a senior buyer and trend forecaster for Blinds Direct, has found a trick to keep her on top of it. She creates a list for every room in her house, details what it contains and what needs to be done (i.e. pack up books or clear out wardrobe). She then pins the list on the door of each room and crosses off the tasks as she completes them. Breaking down a somewhat amorphous task into concrete steps helps her track her progress and stay focused.

“This illuminates exactly what needs doing and where there may be unnecessary belongings,” she says.

4. Don’t wait until the last minute

As a professional organizer who has moved countless times with her active-duty military member husband, Susan Santoro knows a thing or two about packing up to move.

“If you wait to declutter until just before you move, you’ll be too overwhelmed with the move that you won’t do a thorough or thoughtful job of decluttering,” she says

Instead, do a quick sweep every month. “I work in 10-minute decluttering tasks so that it is something I can maintain all year long,” says Santoro.

5. It’s not about joy

All the KonMari talk can be a little confusing when push comes to shove, says Elsa Elbert, the owner of professional organizing service Composed Living and a seasoned mover who has relocated 17 times. Instead of thinking in terms of “joy,” she says to think about your own values, be that joy, convenience, aesthetics, etc. For here, it’s a question of financial weight:

“I ask ‘Do I love this item so much that I want to pay to move it again from this place to the next?'” she says. “After moving a heavy box filled with old college textbooks a few times, I realized I just don’t need them anymore—and I definitely didn’t want to deal with packing, unpacking, storing, and then repacking them yet again.”

6. Don’t just throw things out

It may take a bit of planning, but not everything has to end up on the curb when you’ve decided to say goodbye to it. Nancy Parra, a content manager at AskNicely, says she’s made her decluttering profitable by selling used furniture on sites like OfferUp, Craigslist, and Nextdoor.

“I sell stuff that won’t fit in my new place and buy stuff that will,” she says. “Special props if you get the buyer to haul it off.”

Having trouble saying goodbye to your book collection? Try out this writer’s bibliophile-approved book purging method.