It’s no secret that most of us have too much stuff. Homes are just crammed with it: attics stuffed with dusty holiday decorations we never use, garages full of camping equipment and beach gear and sports paraphernalia, basements overflowing with old furniture, hand-me-downs, and heirlooms.
We hardly think about all the excess junk—until it’s time to move. Then it’s clear how much more of a headache those collections of possessions will be, complicating an already long to-do list.
If you’re willing to adjust your perspective a little, moving can be a chance for a fresh start—for your stuff as much as for you. This is your opportunity to clear out unwanted items and part with the old toys, collectibles, and everything else that no longer serves your life. Here’s how you can unpack the baggage around what you own, so you can pack up easily when it’s time.
Acknowledge That Our Belongings Have an Emotional Footprint
One of the biggest reasons it’s so difficult to declutter is that our belongings are typically more than mere objects: they’re stand-ins for different emotions. Maybe you like to have two or three extras of everything—what you’re really saying is that extra stuff represents the concept of safety to you. Or maybe you don’t want to keep all the old hand-me-downs your mother gave you, but you can’t bear to part with them because you feel guilty every time you try to throw them away. Recognizing that your stuff is more than just stuff will help you address some of the underlying causes for why you just can’t seem to let go.
Decide What’s Clutter—and What’s Not
Sorting your stuff is an important part of the moving process, but before you begin, you should decide on some rules for what goes and what stays—especially if you’re hoping to do some serious paring down. In The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo advises you to get rid of everything but those items that “spark joy,” but truthfully, it’s a little more complicated than that. Practical items like kitchen utensils or technical gadgets should be stuff you use everyday, so if you haven’t touched it for more than six months, give it away or pitch it. Remember, you can always borrow from friends or neighbors if you need that spare roasting pan somewhere down the line. Same thing goes for clothes that no longer fit you, or shoes you haven’t worn in the past year. You can always buy new pants if you lose or gain weight in the future.
Recognize That More Stuff Equals More Time
One thing that can help you de-junk is to realize what a time suck your stuff can be. Joshua Becker, who runs the website Becoming Minimalist, advises you to think about the time commitment demanded by each object you own. This is especially the case if you’re having a hard time parting with something you know you don’t use. Each thing must be dusted, maintained, and like now, moved, so it can really be a drain on your life if it doesn’t add some practical value or real satisfaction. Noticing how your stuff tends to swallow your time will make it easier to say sayonara.
Start with the Easy Stuff First
This is why so many people put decluttering projects off until it’s time to move. Once it reaches a certain critical mass, cleaning out the stuff can seem like a virtually overwhelming task. The best advice is to start early, and hit the low-hanging fruit first. You can sort through the old mail or go through a laundry basket of clothes in an hour or two, and it’s a great first step on the path to clearing out. As you work, make sure to separate your stuff into three piles: to keep, to toss, and to donate—and take it to the trash can or donation center as soon as you can. That will keep piles from becoming another unapproachable mess. Make a plan for how you’ll attack the rest of your home, and divide large areas—like the basement or attic—into a few days’ worth of work. After several weeks proceeding like that, you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish—and it won’t feel like you took two years off your life.
Don’t Keep Stuff Out of Guilt or Obligation
Just because you got it as a gift doesn’t mean you have to hang on. Yes, it’s nice that your friend bought that bright pink glittery “BEST FRIENDS” wall ornament, but if it’s not something you love, the best advice is to donate it. Instead, as you find these kinds of items in your decluttering process, write down all the memories and emotions behind the items you were gifted. That way, you’ll feel like you’re able to honor your relationships and express gratitude for your friends’ generosity—without keeping a bunch of stuff around you don’t want.
Realize That You’re Giving Your Stuff—And Yourself!—a New Life
It’s okay to feel sad, anxious or nervous when you’re decluttering, especially if you’re doing it ahead of a big move. But realize that you’re giving your old things a chance to make someone else happy, especially if you concentrate on donating it to charities or resale stores that are part of a good cause. What more could you ask for something you once loved? And cleaning out your living space means you’ll start life in the new house with a brand-new lightness. There’s a reason they call it baggage, after all. A fresh new take on life, with new opportunities ahead, is your gift for all your hard work—and it’s only a few trash bags away!