Personal Finance 

How to Declutter Your House

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Clutter!I always find it extremely creepy when I read stories about hoarders. It even creepier because most of the news stories you read are often right after they’ve died in their self-made tombs (this one is illustrative of exactly what I mean).

The reality is that we are all living somewhere on the spectrum between completely untethered and certified hoarder. You could argue for days on where you “should” be, chances are most people aren’t where they want to be. I personally believe I have too much stuff. Much like how a gas will expand to fill up the container it’s in, the amount of stuff we own has grown to fit the size of our house.

So today I’m going to share my strategy, one I’ve been implementing over the last year, for decluttering our lives.

Room by Room, Easy Stuff First

The strategy is this – I’m going to first go room by room and pick off all the easy stuff first. Things that I know I don’t need and that I really need to get rid off. These are things that I’ve been putting off for too long and I know it. We all have things like this in the house and we all know it. It’s the old computer in the corner that hasn’t been turned on in years. It’s the books that we’ve read, will never read, and now have a fine layer of dust on the cover. It’s low hanging fruit that takes seconds to deal with it.

After the easy stuff, I go with the larger stuff. The stuff that may take some time but give me the most bang for my time. This includes the never ending stack of personal finance books (some that I put up for auction), most of the time I just donate them to my local library.

As I wrote before, I’ve been doing this over the last year in a way that opens up space but doesn’t commit me to a big time constraint. Every so often I go into a room, identify a few things, and categorize them according to what I intend to do (more on that below). It’s maybe ten minutes a day to clear out a few things. I group them by what I intend to do and then take care of that in batches.

What To Do With It?

There are three choices – sell it, donate it (or give it away), trash it. As I go through each of our rooms, I collect things for selling, donation/giveaway, or trash and then I do that in batches. The Goodwill pile grows until I’m tired of seeing it, then I take it to the drop off (a nice tax deduction!). The electronics recycling accumulates until I make my next trip to Best Buy.

With large items that still have a useful life, I generally post it on Craigslist for free or for a modest sum. I sold my old 30″ Sony TV for $40 on Craigslist and the buyer lugged it out of the house for me. I find that you can get rid of something very quickly for free on Craigslist but if you want to filter out some of the noise, putting it up for just a few dollars will only bring out the truly serious people who won’t stand you up and won’t waste your time.

Ultimately, I’ve found that decluttering is more about putting in the time and less about the system. If you’ve embarked on a quest to simplify your life and declutter a bit, what effective strategies have you used?

(Photo: andidigress)

{ 20 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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20 Responses to “How to Declutter Your House”

  1. Courtney says:

    “what effective strategies have you used?” I could have written this post in one word – move! We just moved 50 miles away last weekend, and the prospect of having to clean (sometimes) and pack something, haul it onto the moving truck, haul it back off the truck, unpack it and find a new home for it really puts things into perspective. We threw out about 18 bags of trash, took several items to a consignment shop, gave some stuff away to co-workers/friends, and donated several piles of stuff.

    • BrianC says:

      I second this. I tend to move every few years, and the hassle of doing so is incentive enough to keep my possessions at a manageable level.

  2. Strebkr says:

    My mom tends to hoard newspapers. I’m not sure why, but she likes to keep them. Well the bin she keeps them in is only so big. When we were kids we would use some of the old ones to start fires in the firepit outside. That turned into us burning her old news papers because as kids we thought it was fun. Today, I still continue to take the bottom 4 or 5 inches of her pile and throw it away everytime I am home. If I didn’t the pile would never stop growing.

    • Shirley says:

      I had a neighbor who did that, thinking that she would clip coupons or articles later, but later never seemed to come. Her children ended up hauling truckloads of magazines and newspapers to the local recycling place.

    • Jim says:

      Maybe that’s the recycling box. 🙂

  3. Shirley says:

    My strategy is to ask myself:
    1- Why is this still here? Is it sentimental, decorative, useful, mine?
    2- Do I use this? How often?
    3- Do I really need this? Would something else that I have fill that need?

    Those answers/thoughts make a decision pretty easy to make.

  4. cubiclegeoff says:

    My problem is that my wife doesn’t allow me to get rid of a lot of stuff that I want to. Otherwise, this would be a lot easier.

    My dad collects stuff. When he is away on a business trip, my mom gathers a pile and puts it out in the trash. He never knows the difference.

    • Shirley says:

      You have a smart mom! 🙂

    • mikestreb says:

      My dad sends my mom on weekend vacations with some of her friends and when she is gone he loads up a bunch of crap and recycles/donates/trashes it all.

  5. Courtney says:

    Also, my grandma keeps a LOT of stuff. I wouldn’t go so far as to call her a hoarder though. I think it’s just a generational thing. We have a rule amongst the kids/grandkids that if you’re visiting her and she gives you something (which she usually does), you HAVE to take it regardless of what you do with it later, because it’ll be one less thing we have to deal with when she passes away.

  6. tbork84 says:

    My mother tends to keep things for a very long time, which is a habit she picked up after moving a load of times as a kid and having to keep throwing her stuff away. But every so often we pick a day and go through the things to reduce the pile of clutter. It can be a fun day going through the old halloween costumes we wore as kids.

  7. Jason L says:

    Great tips… one strategy I’ve used (non-intentionally, but it works), is that I just happen to move every few years. Knowing that you’ll probably move in a few years does wonders when it comes to keeping the stuff you own to a minimum. Won’t work for everybody, but just something to consider.

  8. Emilio P says:

    Any good suggestion on how to get rid of old electronics? Old laser priners, CRT monitors, CRT TVs and other things that a town’s recyling would not take? My town would not even accept for recycle a coffee maker or even old teflon pots.

    • Jim says:

      You can bring a lot of those to Best Buy and they’ll recycle it for you.

    • mikestreb says:

      We have a technical college nearby that has a day twice a year where they accept old computers and printers and CRT monitors to recycle. It is a HUGE HIT. Cars lined up for HOURS. The IT manager at an old job did it one year thinking he would do it over his lunch break and he wound up waiting in line for like 6 hours. They have like 50 semi trailers they load up. Wonder where they take it…

  9. mikestreb says:

    Anyone looking for how to clutter your house should call my mom… she is a pro!

  10. zapeta says:

    I’ve been going room to room as well, finding items to sell, donate, or throw out. I’m making good progress in my office where a lot of stuff has piled up.

  11. skylog says:

    i do not generally have a problem de-cluttering, however, once i decide an item will be sold, i tend to take forever to actually take that last step.

    this is an on-going task for me, and as i type, i am hoping to get four or five things on ebay this weekend, as well as one or two on craigslist.

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