16 Best De-cluttering Tips
Decluttering as part of downsizing is a big job. Here, we’ve compiled some of our favourite tips from the experts: Susan Borax of Good Riddance, Pat Irwin of ElderCareCanada, Margo Salnek of Move Seniors Lovingly, Vicky Keyes of Red Coats Moving Solutions, and the experts at Gordon’s Moving Services. These tips will apply to the process of reducing your belongings in a careful, well-considered process.
1. Maintain a positive outlook
Focus on the life ahead of you. Cleaning out can be a time to reset. As you remove things from your life that no longer have significance to you, it inevitably becomes a time to think about what is important to you now. What do you think will be important to you in the next five or ten years? Decluttering from things can make you mindful of how your values have changed over time. How do you think your values will change in the foreseeable future?
If there is a move in your future: If you are aware of an upcoming change in lifestyle — whether that is a move to a retirement home, to an active living community or anywhere else — this is a time to focus on what you'll be doing there and on what you will find useful in that new environs.
Be sure to congratulate yourself as you go along. Go back into the area you were working in and see what has been accomplished. Feel good about it.
Don’t be shy about reliving memories as you declutter. As you go through your old things you will find things you haven’t seen in a long time. Don’t be shy about going through those old photo albums or old journals, etc., and reliving memories. In some cases, some of these things will be too precious to let go of. In some cases, though, be mindful that this might be the last time they have any meaning to anyone.
2. Downsize in good health and a good frame of mind
Start downsizing while you are still in good health, one room or area at a time. Work through the process when you have a clear mind. Quit for the day or take breaks when you get tired. Remain aware of your mental state. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by tiredness or by emotion.
For some people, it may make sense to break decluttering into a long process. If you have lots of time before now and a possible move (months or years), create a schedule.
3. Planning your new space?
If your decluttering process is part of a move and you know what size place you are moving to, then planning for that new space an important part of your process:
- Get the dimensions of the space you’re moving into and develop a floor plan. A floor plan on a magnetic board with small furniture pieces cut to-scale is a great way to move items around and see how they will fit. That way you can create a vision for your space and decide what furniture to bring and what pieces to eliminate.
- If you can, go to your new residence and plot out where things will go so that you can visualize how it’s all going to come together.
- If you want to visualize how much closet space you’ll have in your new place, take the measurements of the closet at your new place and then using tape, section off that same area in an existing closet in your house so that you can get used to the space and see what items will fit inside.
4. Understand the market value of your possessions
- Recognize that you’re not going to get very much for many of your possessions. Many items are not rare, not valuable in a market sense. They are valuable to family and friends so give things to them and take some favourite things with you like your china cabinet. One thing you can’t do is separate a man from his desk so take it too!
- People often overvalue what they have. You may have paid $600 for an item but if you can get $150. or even $75. then you are fortunate. Set realistic expectations.
- For the most part things like furniture, household articles and clothing depreciate over time because styles change and tastes change. People often think that their dining room suite is going to be a big seller but most of the time younger people don’t want that style of furniture. Sofas are hard to sell because people often have health concerns about them and chips or cracks in china will devalue those items.
- Sometimes it is the unusual and unique items that will sell, not the bigger ticket items.
5. Get appraisals and set fair pricing for items you want to sell
- Before you get rid of your items get advice and take your time. Get an appraiser.
- Understand how to price: Look online to find something similar, see what others are selling these things for and price accordingly.
- Create a resource list of consignment stores, auctioneers, buyers, relatives and friends who are taking items.
- Take photos of things you want to sell and email them to prospective buyers.
If you have a collection, don’t take every piece with you; take a subset—a few pieces that are representative of the set.
7. Great places to donate
- You will not get a tax receipt for donating items in Canada but there are lots of great places for your things. You can Google “furniture donation” and the name of your province for a list of options. For example, The Furniture Bank in Toronto gives to immigrants. We were all immigrants once so this is a great solution! In British Columbia try Homestart which gives furniture to homeless families. You can also donate household articles to local women’s shelters.
- When people call from a charity saying they’ll be in your neighborhood next week always say, “Yes!” It will give you the inspiration to go through your closets and find something you can donate.
8. Labels and note taking
Try to label things for their destination (new house, family/friends, sale, donation or recycle/dispose). Ask family and friends if they can take notes on where things have been sent (auction, Goodwill, a friend etc.). That way, if you are wondering where an item went later on, you will be able to check.
9. Make sure items are in good working order
Make sure your things are clean and in good working order. Before you sell or give them away plug them in and make sure they’re completely operational.
10. Know your schedule
Decluttering or downsizing is different for everybody. In many cases, the move happens on a tight, restricted schedule. For some people, though, the decluttering is planned ahead and there is a slow, languorous process that allows for planning, care and deliberation. Of course, the latter is ideal, but the former is more likely the case.
If you have to move quickly, you still want to break it down into steps:
- How long have you been living in the house?
- How many items do you have that are already in storage?
- How sparsely or densely are rooms furnished, and how many rooms do you have?
Start by estimating how long it will take you to work through all your items. To do this, you need to assess how many different things you have to move. You also need to have a good idea how much time you want to spend downsizing and decluttering. You may want to simply dispose of things as quickly as possible, or you may want to ruminate over specific items, rooms, collections, etc.
Make an estimate of how long you think it will take, then double that time, to be realistic.
11. Stick to deadlines and decisions
- It’s very tiring emotionally and physically to go through your things so limit each session to no more than three hours.
- Once you make a decision about something stick to it. Don’t let items pile up in the garage, the back of the car or the front hallway.
- If a friend or family member wants an item and is coming to pick it up, give them a deadline. Say that it will go onto the charity truck if they don’t come at the specified time. Make decisions and move the process along; you don’t want items piling up.
12. Moving? Hire the right senior moving company
If you are moving, note that Senior Move Management is a relatively new industry. Be sure you are hiring a qualified company to move your things. Services they may be able to provide may include everything from preparing the home for the real estate market, to finding the right real estate professional, to unpacking and setting up the new home (to everything in between).
- Make sure they are a member in good standing of the Better Business Bureau
- Ask for a free consultation, then review their estimate carefully.
- Don't sign anything until you have done a thorough check on the company and on their itemized estimate.
Read our full look at finding the right seniors' moving service.
13. Get a second opinion and ask for help
Get someone else to help you make decisions so that you have another pair of eyes. Downsizing can be an emotional minefield because you have too many memories attached to your things; you need someone who has no association with them.
14. Declutter regularly
Set aside 15 minutes once a week (schedule it on your calendar) to do some de-cluttering—a drawer, a shoe closet—and make it a general part of your routine. Then if you do decide to move in two years, you’ll be much better prepared physically and mentally.
15. Understand the value of storage lockers
If your house is being staged, make use of storage lockers for your things but don’t make it a permanent solution. Storage lockers can become expensive and having things there only delays the work you’ll have to do later on.