This Decluttering Tip Is So Clever, It’ll Actually Get Rid of Clutter

published Apr 6, 2024
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Credit: Emma Fiala

Decluttering is so important in home organization, but actually doing it is another story. It’s not so hard to discard some unnecessary things — looking at you, expired coupons, dried-up pens, and dead batteries — but there are plenty of other items that can be difficult to decide on.

Enter: the “last chance box.” Organizing expert Stephanie Dulgarian (@somewhatsimpleliving) shared this clever decluttering tip on her Instagram: “The next time you’re decluttering and you come across something you’re not sure you’re ready to part with yet, place a piece of painter tape on it, write down the date, then place it in a ‘last chance box.’” 

Once you’ve placed items in this box, you’ll want to check back in a few months — three to six, ideally — or even a year for seasonal items, to see if you still want them or decide they need to be donated, sold, recycled, or discarded. It’s similar to the “box and banish” method, but that requires you to not address your “maybe items” for only six weeks.

There’s a good chance you won’t want the items after the allotted time. There’s an even greater chance that you might forget about the box itself, which makes your decluttering decision that much easier. 

Does the “Last Chance Box” Work?

I wanted to know what other organizing pros thought of this last chance box and reached out to Molly Heartfield, founder and owner of Heart & Company, a home organizing and design company. 

Heartfield likes the idea because it allows you to have “fresh eyes” on an item at a later date when you’re ready to make a final decision. She also points out that this could be great for people who share their home with others because if you’re in the middle of getting organized but not sure what to do with their item, you can put it in the box and show it to them later and let them decide.

“However, you should really only have a small last chance box to avoid it turning into a catch-all box where you put everything that you are unsure of,” adds Heartfield.

I can attest to the size — and number — of boxes as being key. Currently, I have a trio of large rose-patterned boxes in my home office. I haven’t opened any of them in a long time. Three months? Three years? Who knows? They’re just taking up some pretty space on a bookcase. 

Following the last chance box philosophy, I really should toss all three — even if I’m sure there’s some paper or office supplies in one of them that I can use. That said, I love the idea of simply tossing the contents of those boxes without (much) care.

Heartfield expresses some doubt over the efficacy of the last chance box for those who are particularly indecisive. “[The last chance box] deters someone from actually making the conscious and thoughtful decision to utilize the space and things in your home efficiently,” she says. 

So I decided to finally open my trio of boxes. It turns out there were some things I did want to keep, like completed journals and family photos. But the rest were things I no longer needed, so they went into the recycling, garbage, or donation pile accordingly.

Heartfield says it’s a better idea to put more seasonal items like holiday decor in this box — you’ll either want them when the season returns or you won’t. I wish I could tell my past self to use a box when I donated winter clothes last year. I know I parted ways too early with a hoodie or two because I was simply tired of them when the warm weather had returned. 

Suffice it to say, that the last chance box worked for me. Will it work for you? It won’t hurt or take very long to try. Should you plan to stow the box in a closet, set an alert in your calendar several months from now to go take a peek. If you are happy to be reunited with anything in it, then hold on to it. But if you’re like me and were shocked to see exactly what was in that box (or boxes), then congratulations: You’ve just decluttered your space without much decision-making angst.

Looking to spring clean? Sign up for Apartment Therapy’s 10-day Spring Cleaning Cure, a free guided program that’ll bring you one step closer to a tidier home.