The 'Move-Out Method' of Organizing Is for Anyone Who Desperately Needs to Declutter

I write about home organization for a living—and this decluttering technique really works.

I have been writing about home decor and organizing for the past decade—but perhaps similar to a chef who can barely bring themselves to boil pasta when they get home, after a long day of writing about closet decluttering and kitchen organizing secrets, tidying up my own home is the last thing I want to do. That's why, when I finally found a decluttering method that motivated me, I figured it would likely work for others—yes, even for those fellow procrastinators out there. In fact, I felt so confident about the Move-Out Method of Organizing that I even included it in my first home decor and organizing book, titled Embrace Your Space.

Featuring 12 inspiring homes—including rentals, "for now" houses, and even one family's Airstream—Embrace Your Space is all about easy, affordable ways to love where you live right now, even if you don't plan to live there forever. When you know that you haven't landed in your "forever home" just yet, moving is never a far-off concept. Maybe it's three years, maybe it's thirteen—but you will eventually move out.


Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Having lived in several rental apartments myself, I'm no stranger to a big move. And while each move was stressful and a ton of work, I became intimately familiar with the benefits of moving: nothing will ever make you as ruthless of a declutter or as thorough of a cleaner as moving will. I may have put off organizing for months, but once I knew the moving truck would arrive within a couple weeks, I had no choice—decluttering had to happen and it had to happen fast. Realizing the motivational power of a big move, I decided to channel that energy into a decluttering strategy I could use any time I needed: say hello to the Move-Out Method of Decluttering.

What Is the Move-Out Method of Decluttering?

The good news is you don't actually have to call a moving company or order cardboard boxes to try out this technique: a little imagination and a deadline will do. Ready for a space that's not just clean but new-home clean? Follow the steps below to put the Move-Out Method into practice.

  1. Set a Move Date. Since you're not actually moving, this is just a deadline—but it's a strict deadline! Decide if you want to declutter the entire house or just one room (or even one closet) and set your Move Date accordingly.
  2. Clear Everything Out. When you're moving, you're not just decluttering, but also packing everything up. To keep things authentic, start by removing every item. If you're organizing a drawer, start by taking everything out. Decluttering a closet? Pile everything on your bed first. Kids' toy chest? Dump it all on the floor.
  3. Decide What to Take With You. Pick up each item and ask: Would I take this with me if I was moving? What about if I was moving to a much smaller home (think 500-square-feet small)? If you would go through the effort of packing it up, hauling it to the new home, unpacking it, and finding room for it—then it's worth its weight. Add it to the "keep" pile.
  4. Let Go of the Rest. For anything that didn't make the cut but that's still in good condition, place it in a bag to donate. For broken, stained, or irreparable items, recycle them if you can and toss everything else.
  5. Do a Quick Clean. It's pretty rare that every item is cleared from your pantry, dresser, or under-sink cabinet. So while you have the area empty, vacuum up any dust and wipe down the walls.
  6. Move Back In. Now that you're down to only what you're keeping, it's time to move everything back in. But remember, this is your new home, so take your time folding shirts in your dresser or hanging dresses back in your closet. The end results should feel as though you hit reset on your home.

Some Tips

Stay Focused. When you're moving, there's a sense of urgency that keeps you motivated and helps you make quicker decisions about what to keep and what to toss. With that moving truck looming in the not-too-distant future, there isn't much time to deliberate. Channeling a similar energy can power you through the decluttering process. (But then take a deep breath and rejoice in the fact that you don't actually have to move at the moment.)

Try the Cardboard Box Test. Unless you're the type of person who unpacks the day they move in (I salute you), then you may be familiar with the fact that some of the items you packed will sit in a box for months, completely untouched, until you finally get around to unpacking them. But the fact that months went by and you never reached for those belongings is pretty telling. Maybe you don't need to keep them at all? If there are items you're thinking about decluttering but are having a difficult time letting go, try this: pack them up in a cardboard box, write a date on the box (it can be three months from now or nine months from now) and set a calendar reminder for yourself on your phone or Alexa. When the day comes, if you haven't already needed to grab any of the items in the box, you can donate them without hesitation.

Break It Down. You don't have to declutter your entire house at once. Take it in chunks—the pantry one weekend, the bedroom closet another. Just set a time constraint for each space and keep the moving mentality in mind.

Embrace Your Space Book Cover with Leanne Ford's L.A. cabin living room

Genevieve Garruppo / Weldon Owen

For more organizing tips and decor ideas to help you love where you live, check out Embrace Your Space (Weldon Owen, 2023, with photography by Genevieve Garruppo).

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles