Easy Decluttering — Practical Tips From a Former Pack Rat

Traveling with Alice

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You look around yourself and see all sorts of stuff piled up or randomly thrown in what once was a clear space. You get mad at yourself for not being able to clean up your mess once and for all.

What’s wrong with me?” You wonder. Probably nothing. You aren’t alone, either. It’s common to have a little bit of mess around the house when you work 40+ hours a week, have children, and all you want to do when the weekend comes is to relax and have fun!

Don’t be too hard on yourself; I’ve been there, I feel you. Blaming yourself for not doing enough won’t help clean the house.

I’ve been a pack rat for years; I had a job and wanted to buy whatever I desired only for the pleasure of having that particular item. Over the years, I realized I had more clothes and objects that I could actually wear or enjoy.

Tired and anxious by the situation, the mess around me, and the constant feeling of drowning when entering my bedroom, I decided to clean up for good and take back control of my space.

How did I do that?

Throw everything out!

I decided to take a room at the time, starting with my bedroom. The first thing I did was throwing everything out! I moved stuff from the wardrobe on the bed or table — the items on the floor were relocated in the hallway.

Everything was distinctly visible and easy to reach. By doing this operation, I had more control over what I was doing since I could clearly understand the number of items I was dealing with.

You don’t have to take everything out from all the closets and throw it out of the window. You can start by picking objects from a single draw and clean up a small space at a time.

Your house will be less messy, and you will feel more in control.

The boxes

Once everything was out, I started going through all the clothes and other stuff. I picked three large boxes and put a label on each of them: “TO THROW”, “TO DONATE”, “TO KEEP”.

To keep track of all the things I was putting in each box, I folded a piece of paper in three and created a list for each category.

Organizing the decluttering with lists and action plans will help you handle the whole room at once. Write down all the room areas you need to clean up like wardrobe, dresser, ottoman bed, closet.

Put a tip near the area name once it’s done.

Boxes keep stuff organized, but you can use bags if you feel that the boxes are taking away too much space or having many things to throw.

Cleaning all weekend long

It took me a weekend to take everything out, decide, divide, clean up, and move the boxes away. To be honest, I took my time.

Once you throw something away, it’s done. There is no turning back, and I wanted to be sure about my choices.

You can do some quick decluttering tasks every day and reduce the time to 5 minutes during weekdays instead of dedicating a whole weekend as I did.

Stop spending, start saving!

A trick I come up with to save money instead of spending it on useless stuff is a “Decluttering savings jar.

Every time you want to buy something unnecessary, take note of the costs and put the same amount of money in a container. By doing so, you won’t only save money but also avoid having your house full of stuff again.

Take note of each amount you put in the jar, and at the bottom, write a couple of ways you are going to spend the saved money. Are you going to the dentist? Or will you take your family on a so long-postponed vacation?

50+ items you can get rid of today

Don’t know where to start freeing yourself and your home from useless junk? No worries, there is something you can throw away right now with no remorse in each room!

Kitchen

  1. Condiment packets: Who doesn’t bring home a couple of those from fast food? Check the expiration date since they usually don’t last long. If not expired, use them as soon as possible instead of your usual condiment or bring them to work with your packed lunch.
  2. Expired food: This is the right moment to go through all the food stored in your pantry and check each expiration date. Expired food is unhealthy and might get you sick.
  3. Plastic silverware: Plastic silverware is outdated. If you plan to take tableware at work, consider buying some new fancy biodegradable cutlery and throwing the old plastic ones away! The environment will thank you.
  4. Takeout menus: Go through the menus and throw the old ones. Place the others in an organized folder to keep in the kitchen or consider taking pictures of them to keep on the phone and get rid of the paper ones.
  5. Takeout napkins: Every time I order take out, the waiter puts some napkins in my bag. Place them in a napkin holder. You can always bring them to work with your lunch or share them with coworkers.
  6. Duplicate kitchen supplies: Did you end up having more kitchen supplies than you use? Give away that extra salad spinner, food scale, or cheese grater! Someone might make good use of them.
  7. Excess cups and dishware: Having some extra supplies for parties or extended family meals is always a good idea, but are you sure you need all that stuff? How many people do you usually host on special occasions? Keep something for your future guests and throw or give away the rest. You can always buy biodegradable silverware before the event.
  8. Mismatched or broken food storage containers: Match every box with its lid, check if any jar is broken or warped, and get rid of them. Food containers are great to store food in the refrigerator or bring it at work, but they can quickly turn the pantry into a mess. Clear it up and try to collect them one inside the other to save space.
  9. Cups and utensils for children: Your kids are grown up and don’t use children’s utensils anymore; what now? Many parents out there can’t afford to buy cups and cutlery for their babies, toss those who are too ruined, and donate the others to families in need.
  10. Old birthday candles and party supplies: Birthday candles can easily break, and every time you buy a package, there are always too many pieces in it. See if there are a few candles still in one piece and ask your friends if they need some. Like for the children’s utensils, see if party supplies are still good and consider donating those still good and toss those which are in an insufficient quantity.
  11. Stuff you never use: Everybody has something he’s annoyed to use or that rarely comes in handy. My parents bought a waffle machine a few years back; I wonder where it is right now! Do you have any machinery you don’t use or broken that you don’t have time to fix? Toss it!
  12. Unitaskers: They seem super-cool when you see them; after a few days, they are super-useless. Unitaskers can take a lot of space in your pantry and end up being used once a year. Do you really need all of them?
  13. Plastic bags: Do you keep bringing back plastic bags every time you go to the grocery? In Italy, we have only recyclable bags or big strong ones we can reuse. Move some of the bags in your car, so they will be ready for use next time you go to the supermarket or replace them with a couple of large ones made of fabric.

Bedroom

  1. Mismatched socks and torn clothes: How long have you been looking for that sock? If you can’t find the matching one in a month or two, you can toss the remaining one away. Torn clothes can be turned into dust rags or given to shops in exchange for a voucher for the next shopping.
  2. Clothing that no longer fits: I’m familiar with this! You hope to get back into shape, or they are too large for you right now. Give them away to friends, bring them to homeless shelters, or try to flip them for profit.
  3. Accessories you no longer wear: They were trendy when you bought them, now you can’t match them with anything in your wardrobe. Get rid of them ASAP!
  4. Extra buttons: Keeping a few spare buttons to fix a jacket or a shirt is a great idea, but it might happen to have more buttons than needed. Collect them and use them to realize funny creations with your children.
  5. Shoes you haven’t used in years: ​Shoes fall apart after a while, if you don’t like them anymore or they hurt when in use, get rid of them right away! Someone else might appreciate a new pair of shoes, even if used.
  6. Extra and worn out bedding: Animal shelters are always looking for linen and blankets to keep their creature comfortable and warm. If they still are in good condition, give them to the homeless.
  7. Pillows: As for the bedding, you can give away the extra or ruined pillows you never use.
  8. Broken or mangled hangers: what’s the point of keeping hangers you can’t use? Dump them without thinking twice!
  9. Bedside table junk: Medications empty boxes, dirty napkins, a pile of to-read books, a charger, the burned-out lightbulb you changed a month ago. What are all these things doing still on your bedside table? Clean it up and keep only what is necessary: the lamp, a book, a notepad, a charger. Put everything else in the trash bin or in the drawer to keep the surface in order.
  10. Old keepsakes: It’s great to keep souvenirs or little gifts from family and friends, but do you really need to keep them all? Birthday cards, broken gifts, souvenirs from your first trip with your high school sweetheart you haven’t seen for decades. If they are too old or useless, toss them!

Bathroom

  1. Old makeup: Cosmetics have an expiration date based on how long they’ve been opened. Check if they have changed color or consistency. If you have any doubts about the product, dump it! It can cause severe health issues.
  2. Last season’s sunblock: Throw it. Sunblock isn’t meant to last more than a season.
  3. Hotel toiletries: Do you like to bring home small soaps and shampoo samples but actually never use them? Consider donating them to a homeless shelter instead of simply throwing them in the bin.
  4. Worn-out towels: As for the bed linen, extra towels can be donated to homeless people or animal shelters.
  5. Extra grooming supplies: Toothbrushes, razors, tweezers, eyelash curlers, hairdryers, and beard trimmers. Two of each is more than enough.
  6. Creams and lotions: Like makeup, once opened, they can be used for a limited period. If you don’t like them anymore or they’ve been open for months, toss them away and make some space.

Living room

  1. VHS, DVDs, and cassette tapes: Who uses them anymore? If you keep old videos because they contain content precious to you, consider converting it into digital format. A hard drive can store thousands of movies and can be easily connected to modern television.
  2. VCRs and DVD players: If you have tossed away VHS and DVDs, you won’t need these too. Once, we used to record tv programs we couldn’t watch live, but now, modern television can record a few hours show without using an external storage device.
  3. Various technology: Remotes, cords, and other tech pieces you no longer use but somehow ended up at the bottom of a drawer. Dump them!
  4. Old board games: I have at least three card deks still new in the drawer of my living room table. How many do you have? You can donate duplicated card decks and toss those with missing cards or other board games ruined or with missing pieces.
  5. Old magazines and newspapers: Two-day-old newspapers are useless and can be recycled to store delicate items. If you don’t need them anymore, put them in the bin. Old magazines can be used the same way or to start the fire if you use the fireplace during cold days. If there is an article you are interested in, clip it and place it in a safe folder.

Home Office

  1. Pens with no ink and extra pencils: Why should you keep a pen that doesn’t work? Toss it! Excess pens and pencils also keep spaces on your desk. Take an old cup and fill it with the one you like and donate the others.
  2. Old cell phones: You can donate old mobile phones still working to people who can’t afford it, sell the others to people looking for a spare part or simply dump them.
  3. Old paperwork and notes: According to the law, you can throw away paperwork after a certain amount of years. Go through your oldest stuff and see if there is something odd you can get rid of. Check also all the notes you left around your desk lately and see if you can throw them or put together on a single new and clean piece of paper.
  4. Office technology: Are you still keeping the desktop monitor that doesn’t work anymore? An old phone charger or other pieces of technology you once used for work? Just more stuff you can get rid of.
  5. Old books: Unless you plan to reread old books, you can give them away or sell them at vintage markets. Printed books are charming and have a good smell, but ebooks can save you a lot of space in the office!
  6. Receipts: Receipts of deductible expenses or stuff still under the warranty period should be kept in a safe place. Any other claim check can be trash.
  7. Last year’s calendar: Are you keeping it because you want to make sure you circle all the birthdays and important events in the new one? Give yourself a month; by the 31st of January, make sure to get rid of the old calendar.
  8. Old crafting supplies: Creative people know, crafting supplies is never enough! But sometimes they downgrade over time, or you don’t like that hobby anymore. See if there is a school interested in taking in your materials and tools.

Garage

  1. Cardboard boxes: “I’m going to keep this box because it might come in handy one day.” Well, today is the day! Use your empty boxes to divide the stuff you want to toss or give away.
  2. Children’s toys and clothes: Children grow fast; you can easily end up with several boxes full of clothes still in good conditions that don’t fit anymore. If you’re not planning on having other babies, you can donate both toys and clothes in good shape. If your kids are still playing with some of the toys, create a play area where they can have fun and effortlessly store the playthings when they have done.
  3. Suitcases: All you need is one large suitcase for long journeys and a carry-on for weekend trips. Check if their zipper still works, keep the ones in better shape, and see if you can place the smaller suitcase into the larger one.
  4. Holidays decorations: Some people are great fun of holidays and buy new ornaments every year to make sure their house has only the best one. Do you like Christmas lights and inflatable Santa Claus to place in the garden? Check if all your lights still work, get rid of those that don’t, and consider donating the extra ones.
  5. Broken stuff: Sporting Equipment you no longer use or broken, furniture, or appliances. If you can’t repair them right away, there is no reason to keep them in the garage. Sometimes, repairing old stuff is more expensive than buying it new. Rent a truck or call a moving company that will take care of the oversized items and takes them to the junkyard.
  6. Excess tools: Are you familiar with all those devices you use once a year, and that can be rented for cheap? Some of those in your garage might not even be working after months of stillness.
  7. Unused building supplies and leftover paint cans: Have you done some renovation works in the house in the past few years and kept what you didn’t use or leftover? If you have done with the works, you can check your local directory under ‘recycling yards’ or ‘used building materials’ in your area and learn how you can properly discard them.
  8. Chemicals and pesticides: They are dangerous for health and highly inflammable. To get rid of them, find a hazardous waste center close to you to dispose of them.

Miscellaneous

  1. Old prescriptions and other medications: Check expiration dates and make sure to toss them into dedicated disposal locations.
  2. Product manuals: Manuals are useful, but you can digitalize them and throw away those related to devices you no longer possess.
  3. Expired cleaning supplies: Is the area under your laundry sink full of detergents? Check if they are still good to use, clear the bottles with only a few products left before opening a new one and consider utilizing the empty containers creatively or throwing them in the recycling bin.
  4. Old keys: Do you still have the keys of your old house? Check every key before getting rid of them and place those still useful in a secure place.
  5. Dead batteries: Dead batteries are useless, and all they do is keeping up space around the house. Put them all together in a bag and toss them into the special bins.
  6. Eyeglasses with the wrong prescription: Growing our sight changes, and we need new glasses, but do you know that you can donate the old ones?
  7. Broken sunglasses: They were so fancy! Then you broke them and promised to fix them. It never happened, so get rid of them.
  8. Expired coupons: Pretty useless, uh? Clear up the folder and make space for new discounts!

Takeaway

Decluttering brings many benefits, like stress relief, anxiety reduction, and giving yourself a cleaner and healthier home, along with more space to enjoy.

Give a new life to your old stuff by donating it to the homeless or animal shelters. Lots of people can’t afford things you have plenty of! Donate, relocate, or flip for profit.

Beyond thinking about what you can do, remember to take action!

All you have to do is get started and keep going! Don’t feel hopeless; ask for help from a relative or a friend; they will lift you up while being ruthless with every non-essential object.

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