crowded garage full of old wooden chairs, moving boxes and a moving dolly

How to Start Decluttering

Have you started your daily twenty minutes decluttering but been frustrated by how little difference it seems to make? You set the timer, head off to the attic and twenty minutes later you’ve managed to let go of one balding pipe cleaner. Before you get overwhelmed all over again, try these three strategies for getting your decluttering project started.

#1 Take Out the Trash

Professional organizers start here all the time because it’s a great way to see some immediate progress. Grab a trash bag, set your timer and start collecting the obvious trash. Gum wrappers, used food containers, discarded (empty) shopping bags and the like.

And the Recycling

If you hesitate to throw anything out because it could theoretically be washed out and put in the recycling, then you’ve just found your next decluttering project. Pick up all the used food containers you’d like to recycle and wash them out. Spend twenty minutes a day doing this until they’re all clean. Put them in the recycling.

Perhaps you’ll decide that newspapers older than a day can temporarily become recycling. Yes, you want to know every single thing in there, but the greater good is clearing a comfortable study area where you can read and stay current. You don’t have to catch up, you can just start right where you are.

If you’re shaking your head at me, set the timer every day for 20 minutes and spend it reading old newspapers. Stop when the timer goes off.

This may be a lot of fun or it may quickly become tedious.¬† If it’s fun, reading is your new 20 minutes a day. If it’s tedious, then spend those twenty minutes collecting old newspapers/clippings and putting them in the recycling or trash.

#2 Pick Large Items to Work On

Set the things that have been living on top of the piano and the billiards table to one side and uncover the big thing itself. Take a picture of it to send to anyone you’ve been saving the item for. Now’s the time for them to let you know if they’re not interested or commit to taking it away if they still want it.

If no one wants the big thing, decide whether you’re willing to donate it or if you think you can sell it. Send the photo to the consignment house, the Facebook or NextDoor buy and sell group, add it to a listing at Craigslist. Use your 20 minute decluttering sessions to see the sale through. It’s not decluttering to just make a mental note that something needs to go.

If no one buys it within a week or two, it’s time to donate it or get it hauled to the landfill. Obviously we don’t want to fill it up recklessly, but it’s there to be used. Future archaeologists will want to write endless papers about what and why we’ve put in our 2020 landfill. Don’t deprive them of their chance to learn more about us.

#3 Start Collecting

Find all of something. All the black t-shirts, all the weed whackers, all the videos. Don’t make any decisions about any of it until you have every last black t-shirt in one pile, the weed whackers lined up in a row in the garage or the videos all together in the same space. Every day’s 20 minutes is spent collecting.

Take a Small Step

The whole point of these strategies is to find a small enough step to take that it becomes possible for you to start decluttering. Clearing out the basement? Massively overwhelming. Collecting all the camping gear in one part of it? Less overwhelming. Putting all the sleeping bags together in one pile? Not really overwhelming. Especially if you tell yourself you’re not making any decisions about those sleeping bags yet, you’re just collecting them together to see what you have.


  1. You are such a good process-maker! I know your clients learn lots of skills from you, Lucy. And I love your sense of humour, always. Archaeologists and the 2020 plague, indeed! See you in better times, my friend.


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