How to Declutter Your Home, Clear Your Head and Make Money
Decluttering can feel like it requires a mountain of motivation. Where do you even start?
While it may feel like hiking Mount Everest in a frigid flurry, if you’ve been itching to declutter your home, here are some ways to get started, maintain momentum and maybe even make some money.
Why Declutter Your Home?
You may wonder why you should even declutter your home. You may think something like “I have collected all this wonderful stuff. Why would I want to get rid of it?”
We all have a little bit of that dragon’s desire to keep a mound of gold. The problem occurs when you are collecting too many things. It is certainly possible to have too much of something good (even water).
Various psychological studies have shown that untidy environments that feel cluttered increase stress. In fact, decluttering can improve your focus, self-esteem, relationships and well-being. My favorite benefit is that decluttering gives you less stuff to clean, which means less stuff to maintain, which means less dust! And for those of us suffering from allergies, such as in the spring when the pollenocalypse occurs, decluttering could seriously improve your quality of life.
But the last, and possibly most important benefit of decluttering is that it can make you feel like you are in control of your environment. And that gives you motivation and begins your momentum to start doing harder things later, such as saving money, moving to another state or country and even reaching financial independence.
Now, before we go out decluttering together room by room, consider some questions to help you declutter the stuff that feels like clutter. Ask some questions for each item outlined below.
- Have I used this recently?
- Will I use this again soon?
- Can I simply buy this item again?
The last question is probably the most important. It helps you slash through sentiments for an object you may be holding onto out of fear of being unable to get it again. The truth is that most items we have we can simply buy again later if we need them. This also makes decluttering easy and gives you a logical stop-gap of throwing out very old sentimental items just for the sake of decluttering.
How to Declutter Your Home, Room by Room
Declutter Your Living Room
Let’s start with what will hopefully be the easiest place to declutter — the living room. What’s usually in there? A couch, a television, some lamps, a coffee table and maybe some tray tables. If you have just about everything essential to keeping your living room operating, then hopefully you are good and can simply move onto the next room.
But if you’ve got other stuff that’s not usually there, then let’s consider what can be taken out. Perhaps you have a second couch, and you never used it. Or you only use it once a year or every few years. Consider removing it. That couch will probably be a good sale, too. Maybe you have a ton of video games or movies laying around. Consider, like me, getting rid of the cases if you don’t plan on selling the games and putting them into a more compact storage container, like a disc binder.
Maybe you have a desk in there. If you use it frequently, then, of course, it’s being used and fulfills our first question of whether to declutter or not. But if it is covered in various envelopes or notes or cables that you never use, maybe it’s time to sit down and go through it. For the envelopes maybe you can even get a shredder to make it easier, and a bit more joyful, to declutter.
Declutter Your Bedroom
Your bedroom may be the hardest room in your house to declutter. It’s personal and it’s likely the place you keep the most important items in your house.
So, what’s normally in a bedroom? Your bed, of course, clothes in your closet or dressers, collectibles like books, posters and paintings, stuffed animals, trophies of all sorts and maybe a desk.
Your room’s desk may be its own dragon to slay, so you could wait to declutter that. Or maybe it’s the easiest spot for you because there’s not a lot on it. Just find the easiest, lowest-friction area in your room (or any room) to begin decluttering. For me, it was the clothes in my closet, mostly because that’s where I’ve kept clothes I haven’t worn in half a decade. Those went immediately into a donation bag.
For lots of people, clothes are probably relatively high friction to declutter, because style can be so personal and often unique to you specifically. So that’s why it’s good to start with clothes you forgot about and haven’t worn in years. Then move on to clothes you forgot about but still love, and finally clothes that you have realized you don’t like too much and are probably staring back at you.
As far as trinkets and all the little personal things, only declutter what feels right. Most objects we collect aren’t really “used” per se. Does it really feel like you are “using” a poster or painting if it’s hung up on the wall? So don’t fret over those items unless you have a very strong urge to remove them, whether for peace of mind, to move on or for any other reason.
You may also be keeping many important documents in your bedroom. Whether it’s old receipts for important purchases, user guides to TVs and headphones, or tax documents that are a decade old. This is where it gets a little confusing on whether or not to declutter that stuff, even if you really want to. But let’s go through these real quick.
Old receipts are completely up to you to keep or get rid of. If it’s for a store that no longer exists, like Blockbuster, maybe it’s best to move on and remove it from your mind. If it’s for important tax purposes or if you have an awesome lifetime deal, consider keeping it or only keeping a picture of it. It is going to be dependent on your case.
As far as tax documents are concerned, the IRS provides different recommendations. If you want to be safe, keep records for a minimum of seven years, according to them. Feel free to add a safety factor of a year or a couple of years depending on how you feel about it. Though, the IRS does note that if you do not file a return or file a fraudulent return you should keep your records indefinitely, which does not sound fun.
Declutter Your Kitchen
Your kitchen may be surprisingly easy to declutter. It does depend on who you are, however. I am not a gourmet chef, nor do I know anyone who is. But I imagine they might have a harder time decluttering kitchen items that I never have even heard of in my life.
The first place you should attack is your fridge, since it’s probably the lowest friction place in the room. While you probably have a good idea of what’s in there, there are plenty of items that like to hide away in the back of the fridge that you do not notice. And the next time you do, it ends up being expired for a year or two. (Which makes it easy to declutter!)
The next step is to continue making sure your food stores are good. Check your pantry and cabinets for any other expired items you simply forgot about. It happens to all of us. While you’re in there, you might start coming across items that have been stored away that you never even realized were there. Items like appliances, dishes, bags and possibly cleaning supplies. If you found something you could use and need, awesome! Now you don’t have to go buy it. But if you found a milkshake machine from 1970 that you never once thought about, it’s probably time to give it to someone who is interested in using it.
Declutter Your Garage
Your garage could be the easiest place in the world to clean or the hardest. Luckily, it’s also probably the most profitable besides your closet. We all seem to have gotten into the bad habit of storing anything but a car in the garage, and it eventually just becomes a storage space. That’s because all the valuable things that we don’t have the room for or really know what to do with end up in there. After all, it’s probably the reason the phrase “garage sale” exists at all.
So, the good news is that you might be financially motivated to declutter stuff in your garage more so than in any other part of your house. Additionally, it might be super easy because the stuff stored in the garage probably hasn’t been touched in years, and it probably won’t be used soon. The only exception to this can be sentimental items that you want to restore or keep.
Decluttering your garage also provides an insane amount of bonuses. For example, you could turn your garage into a home gym, into a workshop, into an office, into an art studio or even into income. Whether that income is through a guest room or storage is up to you, but the possibility is endless for an extra room.
Declutter Your Attic or Basement
The situation in your attic or basement is likely similar to that of your garage. It’s either completely empty or chock full of valuable items (sometimes waiting to be sold). But for others, the attic and basement could fulfill multiple other roles. Specifically, it could act as another bedroom, another living room, a gaming room, an office, a gym, etc. It, of course, depends on what’s in there right now, and what you want to be in there.
Consider your ambitions for your house and rooms when you are decluttering them. If you have a garage, an attic and a basement, and they are all currently being used as storage rooms, maybe you can use them to serve you better. Any one of these three rooms could be turned into a room to rent out. Another could be turned into a gym or office. And you can still keep the last as a storage space. Plan out some ways to use the space you have more efficiently to help yourself better.
Declutter Your Bathroom
You might be surprised that the bathroom falls on this list of places you could declutter. But you shouldn’t be if you like to use some of your bathroom cabinets as storage space. Oftentimes, it holds essential cleaning and hygiene products. Sometimes, it holds all that, but some of them are expired.
Take this as an opportunity to check things such as hydrogen peroxide. If it’s a few years too old, it’s probably a good idea to simply throw it out. Then if you need more of that item, such as in our hydrogen peroxide example, just go buy it and get a smaller amount so it will hurt a bit less if you find yourself in the same situation again.
Declutter Your Laundry Room
Some of our laundry rooms are basically closets with laundry machines. For others, they are in a separate part of their apartment complex or other living situation. And for others still, they could simply be placed next to the plumbing in the bathroom.
Some laundry rooms are that — entire rooms. And sometimes they turn into an easy place to store stuff out of sight and out of mind, especially from any guests. You might go in there and tumble under a leaning tower of towels. This should hopefully lead you to the low-friction thought of decluttering some of those relatively unused towels so that next time the towels, bed sheets, extra cleaning supplies, or whatever else may be in there doesn’t knock you out by accident.
So You’ve Decluttered — Now What?
By this point, you should have successfully started decluttering areas of interest in your house. Congratulations!
It may take a while to fully declutter to the point you’re comfortable or feel done. If you’re in a rush to do it like a college kid leaving a dorm in a blitz, you might get it done in one day of multiple hours of work. It will likely be exhausting, and there will likely be a lot more stuff you will want to get rid of, but decide not to just yet.
Instead, a more sustainable approach is to build momentum. Start with the easiest room in your house and the easiest items to declutter. Then move on from there. It could take days of concerted effort. Sometimes weeks, or even months. It all depends on the amount of stuff you want to declutter, the amount of stuff you want to keep, and how much friction you might have with parting with some items. So this probably won’t happen overnight, and don’t beat yourself up trying to do so.
But if you’re ready to see what you could do with some of those items, we’re here to help.
Garage sales are the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to making money from decluttering items. Often you will have to get a permit, set up shop on the weekend, and simply negotiate with neighbors or whoever else comes along. This is most likely the quickest way to make money from decluttering, as well as make money from those strange objects that you don’t think will sell well. Think about something like an antique lamp. It probably won’t fly off your online listing, but it could be gone in a few hours for the right price at a garage sale.
Here are a few tips for garage sales:
- Advertise, even if it’s just on your local Facebook Marketplace.
- Make sure you have change. Go to the bank for some rolls of coins and one-dollar bills before the start of your sale. Otherwise, one person with a $20 bill could ruin your whole day.
- Be ready for hagglers, but keep the value of your items in mind. Garage sale shoppers are looking for a deal, and you’re looking for someone to buy your clutter. Don’t get lowballed.
- Start early. Hardcore yard sale shoppers are out and about early. Consider starting your sale around 8 a.m.
Selling items you decluttered online may be a good way to slowly make some extra cash. You will have to figure out how to ship and pack different items, however. So selling that six-foot tall antique lamp online might not be the best option. It also could take a bit longer to sell each item, provide a listing, deal with negotiations from multiple people, package the item, then ship it. And then you might have to do it for every single item.
Now, this might be the most profitable way of decluttering, but it could be the most strenuous. Clothes are probably going to be the best item to sell online out of most items you declutter. Clothes can be packaged easier, will likely sell faster, and can go for decent prices.
Donating is by far the easiest, frictionless way of decluttering, besides simply throwing the items out. But donating any decluttered items gives the item a chance to be used again by someone else who has the time, opportunity, and desire to use the item. It’s also often super-quick, with no questions asked, and no haggling. You might even be able to make a taxable deduction from donating. If you’re serious about decluttering and maybe need to trim all your stuff down to a suitcase or two, maybe you’re moving to a new country, then donating will be the fastest way to fulfill your ambition.
Don't forget to ask for a receipt when you make a donation. It can help on your taxes next year.
Now, go forth and declutter your home. Good luck!
Dennis Lynch is a civil engineer turned freelance writer with a passion for personal finance. While young, he acts as the spearhead of personal finance to just about everyone in his life, passing on his knowledge from the perspective of financial independence. You can find Dennis over at colossicus.com between his freelance ventures.