7 Ruthless Decluttering Truths You Only Learn When You Move

You only learn these organizing lessons the hard way.

For most of us, the accumulation of clutter is a natural part of nesting. We stock up on spare throw blankets (because you just never know when you'll need one), and collect clothes that don't fit us (but may one day?), and hoard kitchen appliances we've never taken out of the box (since we've always dreamed of making homemade pasta). The stuff collects, the piles grow—until one day, it's time to move. And panic strikes.

As difficult as decluttering and letting go can be (we see you, Marie Kondo), there's something about the prospect of packing up and hauling every single item you own that suddenly makes you willing to give things up. Combine that with a time constraint (aka, the movers are arriving at 2 p.m.), and the urgency the situation creates makes it easier than ever to determine which items to keep and which to ditch.

As a renter who lives in Brooklyn, the prospect of moving is always looming in the not-so-distant future. Yet when I moved apartments earlier this fall, I was surprised to discover just how much I had collected in three and a half short years. Tearing through my closet, the kitchen, and my stash of bedding, I (finally) learned how to be a harsh declutterer. Here are the organizing secrets you only learn when you move often enough, but that we can try to emulate even if we're staying put.

Don't Keep Clothes You Don't Wear

It sounds so obvious, right? And yet most of us hang onto a skirt that hasn't fit us in years and a sweater we bought on sale yet never really liked. When you move and are packing up each garment one by one, it makes it easier to be honest with yourself. To get the same effect, create a pile of all of your clothing, then go through them one at a time. In addition to the common decluttering questions ("Does this spark joy?") ask: Would I take this with me if I were moving? If it doesn't fit, you never put it on, or it serves no purpose, it's time to donate it to someone who will actually wear it.

Stop Storing Appliances You Don't Use

For me, this lesson arrived in the form of a handheld immersion blender from circa 2013, still in the box. I had aspirations of whipping up butternut squash soup, but in the years that followed, the dream just never materialized. Was it worth lugging this appliance to yet another apartment?

Take a look around your kitchen—is there anything you wouldn't take with you if you were to move next month? Perhaps a coffee maker, a bread machine, or a vegetable spiralizer you haven't touched in years? Giving away these items will free up valuable kitchen cabinet space.

Corral That Mess of Cords

There may be a bin, basket, or drawer lurking somewhere in your home that's hiding a jumble of cords. Phone chargers, HDMI cables, plug adapters all live here. When you move, you suddenly have to piece the cords together. Why wait until your next move? Take all of the cords and cables, and match them up with the tech device or appliance. Consider investing in a set of labels so they'll be easier to identify in the future. Then, let go of the charger for that old iPhone you no longer own.

Check Your Towels

When you use them every day, it's easy not to notice how dingy your bath towels have gotten. But when you move, you suddenly take stock of those home essentials. If your white towels have gotten dingy, a wash with bleach may do the trick. But if they have holes or are badly frayed, it may be time to donate or recycle your old towels and invest in a fresh set.

Take Note of Your Tchotchkes

Once you've lived with them for long enough, there are those decorative touches in your home that you simply no longer notice. Think flower vases, porcelain collectibles, sculptural objects, picture frames. Take some time to actually look at the items on your shelves and side tables. Would you pack them up if you were to move? Once you've curated your collection, consider relocating them to another area of the room or try a fresh arrangement.

Stop Stashing Duplicates

Do you really need four plungers, three garlic presses, and two staplers? Probably not. But these are the types of redundancies we generally only discover when we're packing up our homes. Start taking note of the unnecessary duplicates around your home and select just the best to keep. Bonus: taking stock in this way can help you avoid buying another item you don't need.

Peruse That Paper Pile

We all put it off for as long as possible, but once it's time to move, we must come face to face with that towering pile of mail, bills, catalogs, and coupons. To break it down, quickly sort into categories: important papers (bills, tax documents, etc.), to recycle (flyers and catalogs), to keep (the best of your kids' artwork and those wedding invites). Once you've sorted out the recycling, the pile will feel much more manageable.

To reduce the paper pile-up in the future, see if you can switch to online banking, emailed medical bills, and unsubscribe from catalogs at DMAChoice.org.

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