Your home may look like it belongs on an episode of “Real Hoarders of East LA,” but that’s just because you’ve got the dreaded moving goggles on. It’s a common suburban phenomenon that transforms little messes into catastrophes and big jobs into herculean labors at the least convenient moment—when you’re about to transplant your whole life to a new town. To help you avoid getting overwhelmed during the crucial weeks before your move we created the most subjectively efficient guide to stomping out clutter ever. Despite not having anything to do with the military, we call it the Dejunking Boot Camp. Use it wisely, Soldier.
It’s important to split up big jobs into their constituent parts if you want avoid the despair that accompanies staring at an attic full of discarded memories or JNCO jeans. Your first task, then, is to size up your foe. Grab an industrial strength garbage bag for this room-to-room reconnaissance and fill it with the obvious bits of trash you encounter: forgotten toys with limbs missing, the nastiness tucked under beds or stuffed into closet corners, and anything expired.
Not only will this remove the first layer of junk that settles onto every home, it will give you perspective for ensuing tasks. If you want to pull double duty during this first sweep, bring a second bag or box for anything whole and functional that you’re still ready to get rid of. You can then decide whether to sell or donate these items.
Cheesy right? But imperative. You’ve cleared away the first layer of junk in your home; now you must cast off the junk in your soul. Before you can embark on a cleansing journey though, you must separate from your sentimentality. That doesn’t mean shutting off your emotions. It means recognizing that there will be dozens of “junk” items you think you SIMPLY CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT, but that you actually can. Things like that elementary school love letter scribbled on a piece of lined paper from the boy whose name you can’t remember. Maybe your first sidewinder joystick or the meshy bag full of free crap from that delightfully long timeshare class.
As you make your second pass at a room, separate all these “valuable” junk items from the standard storage. Once you’ve done that, return to these piles of fool’s gold and cut them in half. 50% will stay in the survivor pool while the other half will be voted off the island, not given a rose, or be subjected to some other reality TV metaphor that signifies getting thrown away or donated. If you want a true dejunking rush, do this one more time—you’ll end up with a fraction of the excess without succumbing to undue nostalgia or completely disregarding the human need for inexplicable keepsakes. It’s a decluttering win-win.
So far your dejunking treatment should’ve been easy—a natural flow of pretty obvious choices. Whereas the previous phases focused on sloughing off the first layers of junk, this one is about simplifying the difficult decisions. Everything that remains in your home after the first two passes will have some value. Whether we’re talking clothes, appliances, furniture, or hardware, these items should be near new or perfectly functional with minor dents and defects. The only exception to this should be heirlooms and the cherished keepsakes that survived the purge.
With that in mind, it’s time to apply The Four-Box Method to your remaining stuff. To do so, you’ll organize your ample leftovers into four categories (boxes optional): Trash, Sell/Donate, Keep, and Relocate. While the first three titles are pretty self explanatory, the last may require some definition and is an optional category. The “relocate” box is for items that you plan to put in more permanent storage or that don’t belong with the rest of your household items. This could be anything from bunk bed frames you don’t currently need to fishing gear that you need to take back up to the cabin.
With your categories in place, tackle one room at a time. You need to be sure to consider every item individually, querying whether it really belongs in the “keep” camp. By doing so, you ensure that any rubbish you missed on your first pass gets captured here. You also force yourself to consider which of your multitude of things deserves to move to a new home with you.
You now have the overall strategies for an effective dejunking program, but what about those Pinterest-worthy lifehacks? Fear not, we picked three of our favorites for you to carry into battle.
Popularized by none other than Oprah herself, this approach requires a few months (as many as six) to implement. It will help you determine which pieces in your wardrobe you actually wear. First, reverse the direction of all the clothes hanging in your closet so that the open side of the hanger hook faces out. Then, when you hang your clothes back up after wearing them you can do so in the normal fashion (hooks facing away from you). After a designated period of time you’ll have a good idea of what you wear and what you could safely offload.
This approach taps into the spatial requirements of a move. First, take a tour of your new home with some measuring tape. Get measurements of all the cabinets, shelves, closets, and other storage spaces. Once your back in your current home, lay down pieces of painter’s tape that correspond to the lengths of the measurements you took previously. Place everything you plan to keep on the tape in order of how important it is to you—anything that doesn’t toe the lines will need to go (you literally won’t have the space for it).
Anything you don’t use tends to gravitate down and back—to the back of the cupboard or fridge and to the bottom of piles and drawers. That’s because we like to keep the things we use handy and also due to the fact that when something gets used it rotates to the top of wherever it was before. Items that are perpetually unused will sit at the back and at bottom of every nook and cranny in your home. With that in mind, cut off the bottom/back third of all your things and you’ve got a pile of stuff you haven’t seen in years. Use this as a starting point for more thorough dejunking.
You did it! You successfully survived our dejunking boot camp and freed you entire home from the bonds of clutter in the process. It’s time for a well-earned rest. That said, you should be taking breaks between every step in this process. Give yourself a few days rest every time you clear a room to avoid burning out and giving up. You may feel like it takes longer, but odds are you spared yourself the inevitable freak out that accompanies trying to tackle a seven-day task in eight hours.
Armed with a little patience and our cleaning and organizing tips, you’ll be ready for a fresh start in your new home with your sanity intact. If you have a favorite method for avoiding clutter madness that we didn’t mention, feel free to share it with our readers in the comments below.