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How to finally get rid of stuff you don’t use

Professional organizers share tips with Moneyish on how to purge obsolete or unwanted belongings, whether you’re moving out or just cleaning house.

By Meera J, edited from

Decluttering makes for a good move.

The off-season months of December and January can be the best periods to move if you’ve got some flexibility, the rental marketplace Apartment List notes: While there may be slimmer pickings than there are during the summer, “rent prices tend to plateau or decline, offering cheaper rents than other times of the year.” And it just so happens one of the five most popular New Year’s resolutions is getting organized, according to data from Google by iQuanti.

But the process of decluttering doesn’t come easily to many of us. The average American is hanging on to 23 items for which they have no use at all, according to a 2017 ClosetMaid survey of 2,000 people; 57% said they kept things for sentimental reasons, while a third procrastinate throwing things out. Meanwhile, research has linked clutter to heightened stress and diminished focus.

If you’re looking to downsize your personal belongings for an upcoming move, or just looking to clean house at your current pad, here’s advice from professional organizers on how to make the process as painless as possible:

Tackle low-hanging fruit first. Start by scraping off the top from wherever you see surplus, professional organizer Andrew Mellen told Moneyish, perhaps by going through your ill-fitting or unflattering clothes, old magazines, junk mail or kitchen stuff. “What we’re looking for is the easiest stuff to get rid of,” he said. Think of the things that don’t tug at your heartstrings when you imagine discarding them.

Pull everything from your closet and throw it onto your made bed, professional organizer Regina Lark said, then go through each item with a critical eye. If you think you may need a particular item someday, try and envision what specific occasion “someday” might be. If you think you’d look cute in something if you lost a little weight, consider whether you’re on any sort of weight-loss plan. “It’s coming up with specific or measurable ways to decide if you’re going to use it someday, or if you’re going to fit into it someday,” she said.

Enlist help from an objective friend with the promise of pizza and wine, Lark added — someone who’ll be honest and tell you what never looked good on you in the first place. Budget in ample time for putting things back and reorganizing what’s left.

Consider what the clutter is holding you back from, professional organizer Julie Morgenstern, author of “Time to Parent,” told Moneyish. If you’re trying to make space for creativity in the next chapter of your life, for example, it’s hard to write, paint or use your imagination if your apartment is cluttered. If you want to make room for connection, a cluttered home might keep you from having company over. Whenever you get stuck on a particular item, Morgenstern said, ask yourself what’s worth more to you: that object, or having the space to fulfill those goals?

Block off decluttering time on your calendar well before your move-out date creeps up, said Lark. Professional organizer Julie Naylon also recommended setting timers while you sift through, as “it’s very easy to get distracted in your stuff.”

Have a plan for where discards will go. If an item still has utility and isn’t broken, Mellen said, donate it. Pre-arrange the recipients of the donations, how you’ll transport them, and when these giveaways will take place, Morgenstern said. Make sure the items actually leave your space instead of making it to your next apartment — otherwise, she said, you’ve just moved the clutter instead of releasing it. Knowing that unwanted items can go to someone who needs them often serves as a strong motivator, Naylon added.

Declutter by category, not by room. Go through each room and group like items together, Naylon said, like sweaters, paperwork, shoes and medicine. This method helps weed out duplicates along with expired or outdated items — plus, “once you see how much you have, it’s much easier to let go,” she said. “It’s in that category you are identifying which of those (items) are obsolete, and which of those in that category belong in the next chapter of your life,” Morgenstern said.

Ask yourself which items you’d miss if they were all gone tomorrow, she added: In your book collection, for example, would you miss books from your childhood, the classics or books you’re currently reading?

Don’t procrastinate on deciding whether to toss something. “How long do you want to prolong the process? Do you want to spend this time twice?” Mellen said. “Are you confused, or are you just lazy? … If you’re confused, then that’s one thing, but if you’re just letting yourself off the hook and you’re going to come to the same conclusion, make the decision now — because you’re just eating up time.” Make all keep-or-toss decisions before the move, he added, since inertia will set in once you schlep it all to your new place.

Instead of asking questions like “What if I need it in the future?,” ask whether the item supports the life you want to lead now, said professional organizer Shira Gill. “I think people keep so much stuff that they don’t actually need or use in their life that’s taking up precious real estate in their living spaces because of that ‘What if?’ thinking,” she said. Rather than clinging to old camping equipment or knitting supplies, for example, trust that you’ll be able to recreate that experience for yourself if you return to it in the future.

With sentimental memorabilia, consider whether that particular object is the best representation of that life period, person or moment, Morgenstern said. “If it’s the best representation of it, you keep it,” she said. “If it’s not … you don’t need every representation of that period of life. You need the best.”

Learn from your purge. “Don’t do this to yourself again,” Mellen said. “You really should feel the weight of being responsible for crap in your life, so that you make smarter, more strategic, curated choices going forward — so that you don’t recreate this for yourself, and then the next time you move, you have to deal with it again.” The next time you’re mulling over a new acquisition at a store, a friend’s house, a trade show or on the street, he said, be mindful of what it means to bring more things into your life.