How Do I Successfully Organize and Get Rid of Clutter?

I have a long icky story that I won't bore you all with, but I am in a bit of a pickle. I have made huge strides in de-cluttering and clearing my home. I began 3 weeks ago with the easy stuff, garbage, old magazines, papers, etc. that were most visible and I knew would make the "visual" impact that would keep me motivated.


Now I am at the hard stuff. Let me give you a scenario. I have a ______ (enter "box, closet, room, container, etc") containing the following: letters, books, important papers, pictures, office supplies, crafts, samples, toys, kitchen items, bathroom items, shoes, etc.

My question is, what do I do first? Sort and put things where they are supposed to go? or purge? (do the emotional part of deciding to toss, ie., do I need this, do I have another one just like it, does it work, does it make me sad, happy, etc.). By Trina Sudhoff

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February 7, 20111 found this helpful
Best Answer

I'm going to call you Econo for short 'cuz your user name is too long for me to memorize as I scroll down the page to respond. :) Congrats for the first step! I'm like you, the visual improvement motivates me to continue the de-cluttering process. Just be aware that it can also cause a false sense of achievement! (Been there, still dealing with that!)


My best suggestion involves eight bins or bags with eight different labels:
1) Keep - Put back where it belongs.
2) Donate - Items must be clean and functional
3) Recycle - Plastic, paper, etc.
4) Trash - Trash, soiled, broken, dysfunctional, 'Nuf said
5) Sell - The garage/yard sell stuff
6) Sell - the more valuable E-Bay/auction stuff
7) Repurpose - Wood, fabric, etc.
8) Keep - Sentimental

As soon as the #1 bin (put back where it belongs), the #2) bin (donate), the #3 bin (recycle) or the #4 bin (trash) gets full, deal with them: put up, donate, recycle or trash at each days end.

Bins # 5, 6, 7, & 8, as they fill up, will need to move into another area for later action. (These will be the toughest to deal with and you will feel better by giving yourself a second, slightly delayed, opportunity to validate your original quick sort decision.) Honestly, however, by allowing yourself a second chance to go through these items you will probably find more and more items to eliminate via the trash, donate, recycle options.


You will feel more confident in these choices as you give yourself the opportunity to think through it twice!

For most, the room by room method works best, but for others, it's drawer by drawer, or wall by wall. Just keep your system flexible enough that if you get stuck ("what do I do with this?") you can forgive yourself for not tackling it immediately and move on to another area that helps you keep up the momentum.

Be realistic as to how many hours per week you can actually devote to de-cluttering. Even if you get behind schedule, never beat yourself up as long as you are making significant progress on a routine basis.

I got into my own cluttered life style because a) I'm sentimental - my grandparents and parents were all gone before I was 33 years old and I inherited a lot of their stuff, b) I'm frugal, borderline cheap, and can tell you within a dollar how much I spent on every item in my home, not wanting to part with a dime and c) I can't stand throwing away anything that still has a useful purpose, even if I don't have a useful purpose for that item. (In part, that's why I use so many bins.)


I'm getting out of my cluttered life style because I'm weary of being the caretaker of "stuff"! Wishing you the same sense of sanity and best of luck with the process.

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February 6, 20110 found this helpful

You need to determine how you want to divide stuff up (organize), get the appropriate number of boxes plus one for trash and just start. Start on one side of a room and end at the closet. When that room and closet are done do what you need to with the boxes and move on to another room. Add an extra box for things to sell and another box for things to give away. When in doubt throw it out.

So let us think about room one and the boxes needed: 1 for books, 1 for clothes, 1 for toys, 1 for magazines and newspapers, 1 for dishes,1 for tapes and 1 for misc.


Anything that doesn't fit in a box is trash (or furniture).

Move on to next room and start all over again with new boxes. As the boxes get full label and stack them. When the house is done you move your attention to the boxes by category. Empty each box into it's appropriate place in the house (organized).

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February 7, 20110 found this helpful

I'm in the same boat as you. After many years of accumulating things, I started going through them in a serious way on January 1, and am giving myself all of 2011. I'm calling it "the year of the purge" because I know it'll take that long after I go through the easy stuff and get to the hard stuff like old letters, photos, etc.


It's difficult to know what kinds of memory things to keep (good and bad), and difficult to go through all the emotions again.

It's also hard to know whether or not keeping those things is going to benefit anyone once I'm gone. Will anyone care about my things, or will they be discarded or donated without even being looked at and treasured (fat chance!)? And would it be a favor to my family to get rid of a lot of my things, while I'm still in charge and not relying on others for help? (Having those questions, and others, typed and with me whenever I get back to the task of purging has really, really helped me!)

The goal is to enjoy what we have without having to spend enormous amounts of time cleaning, sorting, moving, and taking care of more than we want; spending time with family and friends, doing activities we've wanted to do for a long time, etc. is what we should keep at the top of our minds.

Good luck; you'll be in my prayers for a successful cleanout!

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February 8, 20111 found this helpful

Sorry for the length, but hope this helps.

From each of these questions you've listed, pick one at a time, and stick with it until you've gotten through every item in the room/closet/box. Anything will be progress. My only consideration is: will what I do with this item now require me to address it again later? Because, the net effect is that you are just shifting/postponing the work, not really getting it done. But there may be value in putting like items together, then sorting what to keep and what to pass. You might have 8 pairs black shoes and not even know it.

My scenario is that I had to deal with a parent's personal effects, and it was one who saved everything remotely sentimental, potentially re-useful, recyclable, or whatever. I had the same project in front of me. I, too, had/now have boxes... and boxes... and boxes.... of stuff.

My strategy started with checking with family members and asking them to think back as to whether there was anything they wanted.

If not, then I started with the clothes and shoes. I couldn't use them, so they were donated. Before I did that, I pulled some significant items that spoke to me and set them aside. I plan to make a memory quilt for the family out of parts of these items - t-shirt fronts with sayings on them, swatches of a tweed coat, a piece of the hunting vest, and all of the wool hunting socks that will be sewn together and used as a binding. So that covered the clothing part nicely. My conscience is clear with these items.

Next came all the kitchen items. What could I use? What could my children use in their kitchens? What was spoiled beyond use yet recyclable? What is still donate-able? That cleaned up in a hurry, too.

Soon I was down to the effects of their work life and personal life. What to do with awards, certificates of recognitions, etc.- those items that mark the successes of their life. I had to dismantle some of them - plaques shed their wood backs, multiple copies of letters, etc. were shredded and saved only one for the scrapbook that is in the works, that kind of thing. This is where I am at now.

One of my biggest considerations is to stay in the reality frame-of-mind by asking if anyone would really want/cherish any particular item in their current lives. Did they really have a relationship with this person, enough that this item would mean something to them? So what did I do? I asked them - "Do you see yourself as wanting this item, either now or down the road?" If they said either yes or maybe, then it went into another box with their name on it. They can then make the decision whenever they want to. My part is done. Next item....

These days, I have finally gotten to a place in my personal life, and mind and heart, where I could shed the items that brought about painful reminders for me - broken hearts, lost friends, etc. It was my pain, not others. Therefore, it holds no place of worth to them. I keep the happy stuff, cast off the sad stuff. I set a limit on what I would want in a scrapbook if someone were to make one about my life. Then just limit what gets saved to one or two significant items for each big deal in my life. I don't need 80 pictures of my high school graduation... just a few really good ones that might include group photos of friends and family, some of whom are now gone themselves.

Another part of the equation was to set up a big envelope for each person that an item pertained to - mainly, my siblings and first-order relatives. I put anything in it that they gave to my parent - pictures, artwork, report cards, trinkets, etc. and am returning them. I bet they'll be surprised at what got saved after all these years. Plus, it'll add their their life's scrapbook and memory boxes for them to share with their children.

Keeping things in a bit of perspective really helped me get through some of the stuff that I had facing me. I have a clear mind, knowing that I have given each item a fair shot at extended life, either with me or with someone else who values it for their own reasons. I hope that this doesn't sound callous or disrespectful, but I know deep down that A) the things I have at this time, I don't want to feel a sense of weight with them, B) nor do I want to weigh others down with them when my time comes, and C) the one who has gone before me would not want me to be carrying the weight of their life's remainders, either. They would want me to happy with a light and peaceful heart and enjoy the things of significance that are saved. I cannot understate the value on my current family members by not subjecting them to all of the inherited stuff, too. They are grateful for the work that has been done, as well.

When it comes to me, yes, I have my 'past', as does everyone, but do I want to either live in it now or relive it again? Not really... I have my life ahead of me and too much to see, do, and enjoy. I save the good stuff.

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February 8, 20110 found this helpful

"You can't organize clutter!" Please look up It's a free site that covers all of your questions and can change your life. By the way, FLY stands for Finally Loving Yourself.

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February 9, 20110 found this helpful

This is a small way to deal with my clutter. A few times a week I try to find 10 items to take to the thrift shop or pass along to a friend to do as they please with the items. I usually find more than 10 get rid of things in the process.

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February 9, 20110 found this helpful

Thank you all for your support, ideas, and encouraging words! What a lovely blessing to have strangers reach out to help. Humanity is not lost! You are all very kind. Going to continue my "Year of Purge" ;) and only keep what brings me joy or is useful or necessity.

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March 7, 20110 found this helpful

I have an 8 yr old daughter and here's what I do when it comes to organizing her clothes; I buy 1 big tote with a lid. I put all of her off season clothes in the tote. If I find a sale and purchase an off season item for her, I put the new item in the box.

When it's time to change seasons from winter to summer, we trade out the clothes and I hang up the current aeasons clothes. I only use 1 tote and exchange things out when the new season comes around. I put off season clothes on the lid and we store it in my daughters closet. It helps so much!

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April 10, 20110 found this helpful

I can't add much to the great advice here but I did come across a great quote recently concerning living in the past, "Never go back...not because the past has changed, but because you have, and you will pass yourself there like a stranger." This is from "The Collectors" by Robert Carter

One thing I can contribute towards the elimination of bits of paper with information, quotes and such is to create a journal that lives on your computer, I have two, one that contains information on online purchases, links to important sites, directions on navigating difficult sites, computer related stuff. The second one I just started, it contains organizing and decluttering ideas and motivation.

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