How To Purge Your House: Room by Room

A set of two doorless kitchen cabinets full of various sizes and types of dishes.
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

For a lot of people, minimalism jumps upon them swiftly when they look around and suddenly wake up to the fact that they’re surrounded by unneeded stuff. For others, they take a slower approach.

One big benefit of doing all your decluttering in one go is that you put in all your effort in one huge push of time, energy, and sweat, and you do it while focusing on the fact that your goal is to have LESS STUFF. You go from being a person of stuff to a person of less stuff. It’s instantly rewarding to your brain to see the fruits of your labor right in front of you, enjoying less clutter on your shelves, floors, and surfaces.

It’s pretty nice, honestly. Clutter can cause a lot of stress.

But it’s not always realistic to do a massive purge at once. For a slower process that still gives you those sexy brain chemicals as you finish bit by bit, check out my review of Decluttering at the Speed of Life, an excellent book that’s definitely more my speed as I can’t do a lot of physical work at once anymore with fibromyalgia.

There are a few methods of purging your home – this post will focus on how to purge and declutter room by room.

An important note: This post was originally published in June 2015. I’m giving it a 2021 update, and my life has changed considerably since the original blog. I am now diagnosed with fibromyalgia and can no longer marathon clean my house for an entire weekend due to pain and fatigue, and I realize that suggesting others do a massive purge was unintentionally assuming that everyone had the physical ability to do so. Please go at your own pace!

Purge Your Home By Room

Purging your home by room is just what it says – you go one room at a time and complete the decluttering process on the entire room.

I like this method for a few reasons:

  1. It saves time – You do not have to go around finding things from multiple rooms. You just do the room you’re in.
  2. It is intuitive – You can work throughout your house in an order that makes sense to you, either top to bottom, clockwise by room, do bathrooms then bedrooms, etc.
  3. It is conducive to breaks – You need breaks when you work, and completing an entire room gives you an opportunity to take a break at a meaningful point.
  4. It is easy to chunk – Decluttering by room gives you a way to complete sections of the house and know where to pick up where you left off.

Begin by making a list of every room in your house, and number them in the order you will complete the decluttering or purging process. Got your list? Ok – let’s do this thing!

The tips in this post are my own special blend of Marie Kondo’s techniques, Dana K. White’s advice, and my own limits when it comes to stuff and how I organize it (I despise over-full storage spaces).

Be clear about your goals

Before you begin, take some time to get clear about your goals for decluttering and embracing a more minimalist lifestyle. What do you hope to gain?

Here are some ideas:

  • Having a home without clutter will help me feel more at peace.
  • Minimalism will help me prioritize physical and emotional “stuff” in my life.
  • Purging the house on a grand scale will help me move on from an emotional trauma (hello, divorce purges).
  • Not being tied down by so many possessions will allow me to feel free.
  • When I purge my belongings I will be able to pursue a dream.
  • When my home is free of unneeded items, I will be out of excuses and will work on a goal I have been avoiding by hiding behind the mess in my house.
  • Finally accomplishing this task will give me a sense of pride in my home.

Once you have your goals and affirmations clear, you can begin. It may help to write some of these things down so that you always have a reminder of the “why” of this project.

12 Steps to Purge a room

  1. Get some boxes, bags, or baskets for sorting items.
  2. Remove everything from all cabinets, drawers, etc. If you’re in the bedroom, empty your closets, dressers, nightstands, and shelves. Nothing is to be in a storage space.
  3. Put all the room’s stuff in a pile on the bed, kitchen table, floor, or other handy flat surface.
  4. Clean cabinets, drawers, etc. This step is optional but you may as well take advantage of the fact that they’re empty and give them a quick wipe down!
  5. Inspect each item. Have you used it in the last month? Three months? Six, nine, or twelve months? Do you PLAN to use it in the next month/six months/year? Is it past an expiration date? Do you love it? Do you use it? Does it belong in this room?
  6. Sort everything. You should sort into the following categories: Keep (in this room), keep (belongs in another room), trash, recycle, donate, sell.
  7. Things you’re keeping that belong in this room can be put away as you sort. Keep an eye on their designated space — if it’s getting over-full to the point of having to shove or put things in an overflow storage area, consider going back through with a more critical eye.
  8. Take the trash and recycling out of the room (or, ideally, out of the house entirely) as you fill bags.
  9. Take “sell” boxes to a designated storage space in your house. Write the date you decluttered the items on the boxes. If you haven’t held the yard sale within 3 months, this stuff goes to a donation center. You can also list the items on eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace if it’s worth it to ship them.
  10. Take “donate” boxes and bags to a donation facility at the end of the day.
  11. If you have truly “undecided” items, put them in a box and mark the date on it. If you do not go looking for the items within 3 months, donate them without opening the box.
  12. For things that belong in another room, take them to the room where they belong (you don’t have to put them away yet, because you’ll be decluttering this room later).

Repeat these 12 steps for every room you declutter.

If you have the time, energy, and physical ability, I recommend you set aside an entire weekend and devote it entirely to decluttering your house. This type of rapid fire approach leaves little time to second guess yourself.

For those of us who can’t spend all weekend cleaning, because of kids, or health, or work, or any number of reasons, go at whatever pace makes sense to you, and feel free to skip the “dump everything out on the bed” approach and go one storage space at a time.

Decluttering traps

So many things can derail you when you finally get the ball rolling on your decluttering plan. Watch out for these bad boys of the purging process:

  • Sentimental items. I know, it’s hard, but unless you truly cherish and regularly use or gaze upon an item, it is okay to let it go. This is relevant to the inheritance of relatives or even your high school calculus notes.
  • Gifted items. I always feel like I owe it to a gift giver to keep their gift. It was thoughtful of them to get me something, right? That is true, and it was thoughtful, but try considering that the gift’s true purpose, which was a moment of joy when it passed from gifter to giftee, has already been fulfilled. It is ok to let go of a gift you no longer use or need.
  • Paperwork micromanaging. This one has been my downfall since the dawn of decluttering. You find yourself moving at a good clip and then suddenly – PAPERWORK. I will give you a pass, just this once, to throw all paperwork in a box to be sorted and/or digitized later. Your main goal is to declutter your whole house.
  • Organization containers. These containers exist for one reason: to make hoarding look pretty. There is a time and a place for organizational containers, but you don’t need to make a run to the office supply store in order to achieve your decluttering goals. Focus on moving through the room before you worry about cute ways to store cotton balls and Q-tips.

What I’m Up to Now

This blog used to be all about minimalism, but my focus has changed and I’m now covering topics like creativity, burnout, and building a life you love. Sign up for my mailing list to get updates about freebies, courses, and more to help you balance work, life, play, and rest.

42 thoughts on “How To Purge Your House: Room by Room

  1. I have a solution for the “cute ways to store (i.e. cotton balls)” and “sentimental items that I think are pretty” issues. Instead of buying (more) organizational/storage items, I match a ‘need’ (what to put cotton balls in) to an ‘unused sentimental item’ and voila! Whenever I reach for a cotton ball, I remember the person/event connected with the container. The ultimate recycling solution. (sorry, Rubbermaid).

    1. My mother did this with jewelry she loved. She used an old “art” clay project I made. I think it was suppose to be an ashtray. Looks like crap but it was sentimental for her and held her valuables like favorite rings and rope necklaces.

  2. This article is just what I needed right now. I’m moving soon and it’s time for me to start decluttering. Tips and advises here are great and seem to work quite good for me. Thanks for sharingQ

  3. I’m just getting started after two major life traumas and 10 yrs gone by – it’s the sentimental stuff that’s hard to part with.

  4. Ok, I’m ready to do this…my bf of many years suddenly left our son and I…unexpectedly would be the understatement of the century…we came home and he was just…gone…along with everything we had collected together as a family…perfect time to keep the ball rolling, right? Purging has always helped me to deal with emotional trauma, and I’m hoping this time will be no different. Thank you so much for your advice…you may have inadvertently saved my life.

    1. Omg, I am so sorry about your circumstances but so glad you have found a way to move forward and start fresh. Please check back in and let us know how you’re doing.

  5. Ok, I’m moving our family of six into a smaller house! It’s scaring me how many toys and clothes and homeschool stuff we have! I like this approach. May the force be with me.

  6. I soooo needed this. After loosing both of my parents in a year and a half. moving everything that the squatters didnt steal from their home into my home and working 3 jobs for the last 3 or 4 years. Its time to purge. I start a new job that will eliminate the need for all of those jobs AND ill have summers off to work as I want in my nephews concession stand. Im overwhelmed by all the STUFF I have and how dirty my home is and no idea where to start. I generally always start in the kitchen cleaning…doing dishes and what not and then get overwhelmed on what to do next. Now at least I have a plan.

  7. Amazing article. Perfect inspiration.
    The benefits of letting go are insightful and freeing. I am about to overhaul my home and my life for the better. Thank you. Ineeded this!

  8. I’m an adult child of a hoarder. After distancing myself from that, I discovered of a new creed I try to remember (for myself), if my apartment caught fire and burnt to a crisp, would I be able to name what I just lost in that closet, that room, etc. Wherever the answer is “no”, I can part with.

  9. You step by step instructions is exactly what I needed right now. Our family went through some major life changes and we have been moving so fast through everything I haven’t even had time to unpack some of the boxes that came my way through inherited stuff 3 years ago! The boxes are currently serving a purpose as part of a cat fort, but I have no idea what is in them. I know I need to do a massive decluttering not only for my sanity but also to accept my new life and let go. I think this is going to be extremely challenging but I am up for it. The cat is going to be so annoyed when she loses her fort….. I’ll let you know how it all looks a month from now. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom!

  10. This is just what I needed! Love love love! I desperately needed to purge a house full of clutter from a previous unhappy marriage of too many years to make room for happier future memories!

    Your strategy seems rock solid, wish me luck!

  11. I love this! I know it doesn’t help the ‘decluttering’ part but a lot of our Christmas parties consist of the Chinese Christmas or white Elephant, whatever you want to call it. I use items I no longer use and use this as a way to get rid of those items, especially ones that I don’t necessarily want to trash haha

  12. It is very smart to declutter one room at a time. The freedom (sometimes only in my head) that minimalism gives me is exhilirating.

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