What I learned from de-cluttering: The sequel.

th-2Just before moving to Anchorage I wrote an MSN Money piece called “What I learned from de-cluttering.” But that was before I’d finished packing.

What I’ve learned since then? That I didn’t de-clutter enough.

It was shocking to see how many boxes I wound up putting in the moving van. As a result, I have half a dozen suggestions for your own future moves.

Here’s hoping these tips help you avoid merely paying lip service to de-cluttering.

1. Stage a “wear everything challenge” in the weeks or months before a planned move. As I folded clothes into a suitcase I wondered whether I’d ever wear them in Anchorage. A couple of shirts had never been worn at all – I bought them at an outlet mall while shopping for something to wear to my daughter’s wedding. Abby got married in 2008.

2. Ask yourself if you love each item so much that you’d be willing to give a stranger cash from your wallet. Because that’s what you’re doing if you hire a mover, or even a moving van.

3. Ask yourself if you’d be willing to pay to store this item. Because it could happen, if the closets in your new digs aren’t big enough.

4. Institute a “one in/one out” rule. Every time you bring a new item home, you need to get rid of something else. This keeps possessions from piling higher and higher. (A friend’s mom has a one in/two out rule.)

5. Consider a scanner and a camera. Scan documents like your kid’s drawings and schoolwork. Take pictures of items that you put in the “discard/donate” pile so you can look at them later. You can’t keep everything. Not that I didn’t try — I’d hung on to 12 years’ worth of Abby’s report cards and some Christmas ornaments she made out of egg-carton segments.

6. Give yourself permission to shred. I still had bank paperwork from the early 1980s, for heaven’s sake. Fun fact: I used to pay $45 a week for child care. Those were the days.

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  1. Ro in San Diego

    I can relate. I donated 2 huge bags of clothes to a local Women’s Clothing Closet. I worked there this evening and got to visit my old clothes while I hung them up to ready them for their new owners.

    I still have several boxes of old paperwork to shred that are taking up way to much room.

    As usual, your perfectly timed articles are always helpful, Donna.

  2. ImJuniperNow

    Where are all the other comments? Is everyone else in denial?

    I take your Item No. 1 a little further – I load up plastic supermarket bags with clothes and other things I want to donate but that still pull at my heart strings. I throw them all in the backseat of my car and drive around with them for a week. If by then I haven’t pulled something out of a bag, it goes.

    • Donna Freedman

      @ImJuniperNow: Good idea. I’ll keep that one in mind if I ever get a car. 😉
      It was hard to let go of some of my stuff — literally hard to let go, as I had to force my hand open to drop the papers into the shredder or recycle bin, or to put an item in the “donate” bag. But as you know, you get used to its being gone.

      • ImJuniperNow


        Console yourself like I do – that thing that sat in a drawer or on a hanger may now be loved by another.

        Kinda like Rudolph’s Island of Misfit Toys. Someone has gotta love a train with square wheels!

  3. I’ve been purging my file drawers. It’s amazes me how much “junk” I’ve filed in the “out of sight out of mind” mind set. Thanks for the camera/scanner idea!

    • December 31st every year, I empty everything out of my file drawer into a box. January 1st, I sit in front of the fireplace and go through the box … is it’s not absolutely essential, into the fire it goes. If I think I might want/need it “some day”, I scan it & then burn it. Usually by the end of the process I have one file folder of essentials – mortgage statements, house insurance, car insurance, etc. That folder gets the year’s date written on it, and it goes into the fireproof safe in the garage. I’ve done this every New Year’s for thirty years, and still don’t have enough “essential” papers to fill a whole file storage box yet.

  4. Good article, Donna! I needed that reminder that it’s time for me to purge the summer clothes that I never wore at all this year. I try to do it twice a year. Once in the spring for the winter clothes and once in the fall for the summer clothes. If I haven’t worn them then they need to go to a thrift store where someone can make a little money for selling them and someone will get something that they need. After all, that’s where I get my clothes most of the time.

  5. lostAnnfound

    I have no plans to move at the present, but the house really needs to be decluttered! Time to purge kids’ toys (they are 17 & 19 now) among other things. All this “stuff” makes me feel almost claustrophobic as times goes on.

  6. Welcome to Alaska. The first article you wrote to MSN many years ago changed my life. I’ve been meaning to thank you for years. Thank you. This month I’ve been decluttering too, just yesterday I removed two boxes from my kitchen.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Luba: Thanks! Although it’s “welcome back” in my case — I lived here for 17 years previously.
      Where in Alaska do you live? And thanks for your kind words.

  7. It that time of year at our house……………dejunk time. Everyone here does not love it the way that I do. If I had my way, we would be living with very little. I don’t get my way.

  8. jestjack

    Good article Donna….You motivate me to start making the decisions you wrote of. Do I really need those bank statements from ’79? Or clothes that we will never wear again because of fashion or sizes. Really… will I ever be able to wear Levis’s with a 30 inch waist? Probably not…. Thanks again for the motivation!

  9. Hey, I got here from Funny About Money. Man, what a timely post you’ve got here. My wife is on a decluttering kick this very weekend! you should see her ripping through the house. I didn’t realize how much clutter we had until she started pulling out boxes of junk and knick knacks. It’s pretty bad actually!

  10. valleycat1

    We’re in the midst of packing to move across country too. The more days I pack, the more stuff I throw out or put in the donate pile. This is the longest I’ve lived in one house (17 years)and the accumulation is frightening. We still have too much stuff, which I can only partly blame on my spouse who refuses to part with broken or other items we haven’t used in 17 years that have sentimental connections for him. Maybe someday he’ll see that the sentiment isn’t about the stuff….

  11. I wonder why we all tend towards accumulating “stuff”? I did a huge declutter starting about a year ago. Every weeknight I would pick an area and just purge, putting all of the bits and pieces into one area. Every weekend I would load it up and drive it to the donation site.

    It sure looked nice when I was done. Still is pretty nice, except for the clothing. Too many clothes.

  12. Love the 1 in, 1 out rule. It is amazing that when you start to purge it becomes a very “free”ing experience and quite cathartic. At least for me, it just kinda snowballs and makes you want to get rid of the stuff that weighs you down.

    BTW, how is Anchorage treating you? Long winter on the horizon yet?

    • Donna Freedman

      @Kyle: Only a little bit of snow so far and the first batch didn’t stick. The second flurry is here to stay, at least over the weekend (15 degrees predicted). Could be a lot worse. Just ask anyone in Fairbanks.

  13. Donna,

    I love this article. My husband & I are looking at moving from Florida to Arizona in the next few years, and I honestly didn’t know where to start. You have me motivated to start in one of my closets and just DO IT a little every weekend. I’m a pretty organized person, but just the thought seemed to scare me into staying put. Thanks for the push right when I needed it.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Karen: You’re welcome. Thrift stores would likely welcome the donations. Another idea is to invite friends over to “shop” your discards before you take them away. Christmas in October!
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  14. I have a reminder in my e-mail calendar that reminds me once a month to get rid of ten thing. It makes me walk through the house and basement and spot 10 things to donate or throw out. That’s 120 things per year and it helps to do a bit at a time, but regularly!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Debra: Wow! That’s a great idea. I bet some people (ahem, me, ahem) could have trouble picking out 10 things. Five things, maybe. And does junk mail count? 😉
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

    • Cool idea Debra!

  15. You are so right about this! I thought I did a good job of decluttering before our move 11 months ago, but guess what? There are still boxes in our basement that I haven’t unpacked yet. Clearly I didn’t declutter enough.

  16. This feels like one of those things we should keep doing but takes some managing!

    I used to pretend that I was going to move in a couple months and go through all my storage nooks and crannies to weed out anything that had accumulated since the last moving imaginarium.

    It wasn’t totally loony, I was job-prospecting for about a year. When that went limp thanks to the recession, I just kept up the habit. After that, we knew for almost a year that a layoff was in the pipeline so I picked up the pace even more. By the time I actually had a job and moved, the actual move was only about half as painful as feared.

    It’s been a few years though and I’m starting to feel a bit claustrophobic – I think it’s time for another good clearing out!

  17. Jbronwan

    I just moved from Wisconsin, home to Arkansas. I thought I’d done a pretty good job of decluttering, but no, there is still more to do. Luckily I received a card for a donation pick-up in a couple weeks, so I’ll get as much ready as I can for that.
    I really enjoy your work Donna. Thanks so much!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Jbronwan: In retrospect, all I can think is “I can’t believe I moved all this stuff to Seattle in the first place!” And yep: Although I thought I’d really pared down, I’m still finding things to donate or discard. It’s really hard for me to let go of some things.
      Thanks for your kind words, and for leaving a comment.

  18. In the past I had trouble parting with clothes that still fit and were not out of style. Then i realized that those items were taking away from the occasions i could be enjoying wearing my newer items.
    I have been taking pics of those for memory purposed .Even if I keep the silly pictures they are tiny compared to the actual article of clothing.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Gail: It’s awfully easy these days to keep photos since they take up only virtual room. I like the idea of doing a sort of fashion revue: Pose (or even vogue!) in your clothing while a friend takes pictures, and then get rid of the garments. Ten years from now you and the photographer can look at the pictures and smile.
      Thanks for the suggestion.

  19. Now see! If you hadn’t saved all that paperwork, you and the rest of us could not have had a chuckle at you paying $45 for child care.

    Sorry. It’s good that it’s gone.

  20. Every time I meet my girlfriend (w/ 4 girls), I always have 2 bags of clothes,books,kitchen gadgets…with a note: “Take what you can use, pass it next to anyone you know who can use them”. I get positive feedback about the savings they get, instead of paying $4./blouse at the thrift store. Your decluttering article NEEDs published periodically-i.e. every spring/season changes/moving mag. etc. Like me,it is nice to be reminded! Many thanks…

  21. donna

    hi all, My big hang-up is magazines. I must subscribe to atleast a dozen each month. I had boxes going back to the 70’s. One day, looking at them and not remembering why I still had them I knew it was time. Going throw ec mag I’d tear out what it was to save, it may not have even been what it was initally saved for, and got rid of the rest. Garden mag went to nursing homes etc. At about the same time we were looking for a new home after 35 yrs and my husband spotted them. “If you think we are taking all that with us you have another think coming” says he! ok, ok, You get the picture. now I have a couple boxes of pages. DIY’s, reciepes, and what nots. Sure takes up a lot less room. There are still 10 or 12 boxes of knick knacks, and dishes to hang on the wall to unpack. We have only been in our new home about 10 yrs now, they might get put up eventually. Ya think?

    • Donna Freedman

      I’m still paring down belongings that I took a lot of trouble to bring up with me. Just wasn’t ready to let go of some of them. Now I am.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.


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