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:
- It saves time – You do not have to go around finding things from multiple rooms. You just do the room you’re in.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Get some boxes, bags, or baskets for sorting items.
- 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.
- Put all the room’s stuff in a pile on the bed, kitchen table, floor, or other handy flat surface.
- 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!
- 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?
- Sort everything. You should sort into the following categories: Keep (in this room), keep (belongs in another room), trash, recycle, donate, sell.
- 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.
- Take the trash and recycling out of the room (or, ideally, out of the house entirely) as you fill bags.
- 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.
- Take “donate” boxes and bags to a donation facility at the end of the day.
- 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.
- 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.
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.