How to Declutter Before a Move


I found minimalism in times of change in my life. When I was moving into my own place after spending six months living with my parents post-divorce, I looked around and realized I hadn’t touched any of my stuff that had been sitting around in boxes in the basement. So I went through them all and decided that I actually didn’t feel like moving all that stuff to a new apartment. It was my fresh start, so I overhauled my relationship with stuff.

That’s how this blog started. I maintained a fairly average number of belongings, but some people in my life thought I was extreme. I pared down to four place settings of dishes, even silverware. I got rid of my iron and ironing board because I didn’t use them and didn’t mind if my clothes didn’t look perfect. I didn’t have a dresser because I didn’t need one – all my clothes fit into my small closet and a small plastic set of drawers.

At one point, I sold my microwave. I never bought a TV for myself. Rather than buy a coffee table, I spraypainted a footlocker trunk and used that. I had a small table with a drawer instead of a desk. The apartment came with a built-in table and bench breakfast nook. And I was honestly thrilled.

Then I moved in with husband number two. And all of his stuff. Despite years of trying to get the house to a point that wasn’t driving me batty, the stuff continued. And, worse than stuff, the shoving. When you have so much stuff that you can’t even use the things you own without that stuff falling on top of you because you disturbed its precarious situation in relation to other stuff, you have found my personal threshold for the amount of stuff I can deal with.

After therapy, medication for my anxiety, and finally recognizing seven years of mental and financial abuse, I got out of there and settled into yet another fresh beginning for myself. And, as usual, I have been using writing to channel a lot of my recovery process and encourage others to move on from situations that no longer serve them (at best) or are downright harming their mental or physical health (at worst).

When I first moved out and into the apartment, I hadn’t had the time to prioritize or declutter things. I was stuffing boxes and moving fast. It wasn’t ideal. So I decluttered as I unpacked, but I held onto things like wedding photos and cards, things my husband had given me in better times, and practical wedding gifts that were still in their packaging.

On Moving On (And Moving)

When I moved for the second time in 2018, choosing to move in with a partner, I minimized and downsized even more. One wall of my living room was lined with things I wasn’t taking with me to my new home. I gave it away and donated whatever my friends didn’t take. I even sold or gave away most of my furniture.

And all this has taught me that moving is one of my personal decluttering easy buttons. When you’re moving, you have to decide to pack, move, unpack, and put away every single thing you own. Even when I’m not about to move, one of my decluttering questions for myself is, “Would I pack this and move it across the country if I had to relocate?” If no, then I usually donate.

So here’s my quick guide to decluttering before a move:

  1. Set A Limit: If you know you have more stuff than you actually want to pack up and move, give yourself a set limit of how many boxes or containers you can fill from each area in your home. Do you want your clothes to fit into two boxes? One large suitcase? An entire U-Haul? Whatever your limit is, set it, pack, and when you get to the limit of that box/suitcase/truck, you’re done packing and it’s time to start a donate pile.
  2. Get A Buddy: Having a designated packing buddy can help move the process along. Often times, another person’s perspective can be really helpful in deciding what to keep. At a minimum, the packing will go faster because you have more help!
  3. Don’t Declutter Everything: Save the sentimental keepsakes for after your move, if you can. Sentimental items will just derail your progress and you’ll end up flipping through old greeting cards from your grandma and reminiscing over clippings from your college paper. If you do not absolutely have to downsize to the bare minimum, my advice is to pack these right away into a box to be sorted through once you’re in your new place.
  4. Have a Free Stuff Party: If you have enough notice, invite your friends and neighbors over to shop your donate pile. The price of admission can be that they’ll take a bag or box to Goodwill on their way home, so you don’t have to do it!
  5. Pack in Categories: Packing is best done in chunks. Pack your linen closet. Pack your bathroom stuff. Pack your clothing. As you do this, you may naturally notice that you have a lot of freaking towels and decide to donate some of them. See number one – set a limit. As you work through your categories, set limits for each area!

If you have any other advice or questions about downsizing before a move, leave a comment! I do my best to respond to all comments on the blog within 48 hours.

2 thoughts on “How to Declutter Before a Move

  1. I actually save purging of towels or old blankets until after moving. They come in handy to protect furniture and dishes. 😉

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