4 drawer file cabinets up against a basement wall

How to declutter using 4-drawer filing cabinets

Now you’ve created your Museum of Clutter, it’s time to start using it to declutter.

You’ve lugged all the 4-drawer file cabinets in the Tri-County area back to your basement and arranged your treasures in them. That museum is quite something, isn’t it? You can find any piece of memorabilia within seconds. The whole of your past is so much more accessible.

They pay me to ask the hard questions

How often have you visited the Museum of Clutter lately?

At first, you found all sorts of reasons to go to the basement but now you barely notice it on the way to do the laundry.

Getting is fun

We get all sorts of internal chemical rewards when we’re on the hunt for something. Remember how exciting it was to chase down your thirteen file cabinets from all those thrift stores?

You never knew ahead of time whether they’d have any file cabinets, so whenever you pulled into an ARC parking lot, there was a surge of excitement. Would the thrift store gods be feeling benevolent today?

All that random reinforcement kept you shopping for file cabinets. It was fun!

Having is less fun

But now you’re done acquiring file cabinets. And you have all these filing cabinets in your basement. How excited are you about four-drawer filing cabinets these days?

The cabinets are filled with stuff you got in the same way – it was fun, you got a kick out of finding that thing. A vacation was even better when you added the perfect salt and pepper shaker set to your collection. But now you have 79 mini-harmonicas, and they may have turned into clutter.

That’s why we declutter

When we stop being excited by the things we bought, we start looking for new stuff. But the house is already full. Everyday living becomes difficult and annoying.

The Museum of Clutter is here to help

Now you’ve created your unique Clutter Museum, take advantage of the free, renewable annual pass. Schedule your visits in 20-minute sessions. Daily visits are ideal, but try to visit more days a week than not.

Time to get to work

Creating the Museum of Clutter helped you break down your treasures into broad categories. The next step is to create smaller categories.

You designated one of the 4-drawer filing cabinets for travel. That’s the broad category.

Find a smaller category

The top two drawers are labeled Italy. You’ve always loved visiting, and you have all sorts of Italy-related things that remind you of your trips.

Now all the Italian souvenirs in one place, it’s easier to make some decisions about what’s important and what’s not.

Set your timer for 20 minutes, pull the top drawer open, and take something out.

It’s a little box full of tiny collectible spoons.

Think about why these collectible spoons are important to you. Did you buy them or did someone else give them to you because you love Italy? Or perhaps you bought one spoon as memento on your first trip and then that became part of going to Italy. Every time we go to Italy, we buy one of those cute spoons.

Would you buy any of them again?

Does each spoon make you smile? Do any of them? Can you whittle down your collection or even be done with it altogether?

Next time, choose another smaller category

Spend 20 minutes at a time methodically going through your things and making some decisions about what’s still serving you and what has had its day.

Each aspect of your Italian travel is a smaller category, and each can be gone through. All the postcards from Italy. The labels from the wine bottles. The language books or the photographs.

When you get done going through the Italy category, you may want to keep it all or you may find you only need a few things to remind you of the good times.

Use even smaller categories if you need to

What if you have a few pocket folders of postcards from trips to Italy? It may be helpful to create some smaller categories. Sort the postcards by city, or by who chose them, or their size. And then go through each of those categories, working 20 minutes at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Your kids may have loved picking out postcards from every town, but the cards they chose don’t mean much to you. Can you pick a couple and let the rest go?

Curate your collection of postcards until it holds only those cards that bring a smile to your face. Then consider borrowing them from the Museum of Clutter and taking them upstairs to use as bookmarks, so you can enjoy seeing them more often.

They’ll get worn and torn and then you’ll either return them to the museum or let them go.

Need help decluttering your 4-drawer filing cabinets? That’s what I’m here for.

by Lucy Kelly

DON’T MISS OUT >>> Send It Away Saturday is my email list reserved strictly for people who want to get organized without getting overwhelmed.

by Lucy Kelly

DON’T MISS OUT >>> Send It Away Saturday is my email list reserved strictly for people who want to get organized without getting overwhelmed.


  1. I read both parts as you will already know since I commented on Part One. I like the way you are revisiting each file category and paring it down. I really like that you are asking the person to work on it for only 20 minutes at a time. When you get overwhelmed you make hasty decisions – just to make a decision. This is terrific stuff Lucy!

  2. This is an interesting approach. I’ve read both parts, and I can see that having things in file drawers is a lot easier than having them in totes that are stacked one upon another. Just open up and see what is inside. No backbreaking lifting, etc.

    That said, I think one has to have a big space for housing these large filing cabinets. Many of the houses in my area either don’t have basements or have ones that are so old and unfinished, it would be hard to use for this process without getting things dirty.

    The idea of getting old cabinets on the secondary market is terrific – I find more people wanting to get rid of them than wanting to acquire them, so I bet they are available for a great price!

    1. You can get a sturdy 4-drawer file cabinet for under $20 at the thrift stores around here, as opposed to the hundreds of dollars you’d pay for a new cabinet. It also feels good to be repurposing these cabinets. As people move more and more to digital storage, there’s going to be a lot of these cabinets out there and the prices will stay low.


%d bloggers like this: