How to Declutter Before Moving

Are you in the process of moving and dreading the thought of having to declutter your home? Many people find the task daunting, especially if they have lots of items in the home and don’t have much time to do it. But decluttering doesn’t have to be daunting. Follow these tips, and you’ll be able to declutter your home quickly and easily before moving day.

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I used to live in a one-bedroom apartment before moving into a home. I didn’t think that we had much stuff. My apartment was small, and I kept it reasonably tidy. Once I started packing though, I realized how many little things, miscellaneous items, and loose odds and ends I had that all amounted to clutter. I discarded what I didn’t need, recycled recyclable items, and made several trips to donate to the local thrift store.

I only had a one-bedroom apartment, but I’ve seen the packed homes of family and friends over the years. Their bedrooms, closets, and garages are completely full. The bedroom floor has a narrow path and things fall out when you open closet doors. They don’t park their cars in the garage because it’s used as storage space.

My family and friends didn’t mean to accumulate so much clutter. After years of living in the same small homes and raising several children in that space, the space just filled up.

Don’t feel bad if you have lots of clutter too. It happens to many of us. Moving presents a fresh start and the perfect opportunity to declutter.

When should you start decluttering?

If you want to be on top of things, the best time to start decluttering is when you realize you’re going to move. For most people moving from apartment to apartment, that’s about 1-2 months before moving day. If you’re making a big move interstate, you may know several months before you move.

The key is not to wait until the last minute. Start as early as possible. You’ll likely already have lots to do. You don’t need excess clutter filling your home, your thoughts, and your moving boxes! Getting rid of the clutter means less to move. You’re also highly unlikely to get all your decluttering done in one day. Give yourself a lot of time to get it done.

What do you need to start decluttering?

Depending on how much stuff you have, you’ll probably want to set aside space and have some supplies on hand as you start to declutter. Items can be thought of as belonging to one of three main categories: keep, throw away, or donate.

  • Moving boxes (keep)
  • Trash bags (throw away)
  • Donation box (donate)

There are a few more categories that might apply to you depending on your interests and needs.

  • Shred pile
  • Giveaway pile
  • “Maybe” pile
  • Selling

A fourth category is for items that need shredding. These would be sensitive items such as credit card or bank statements or even anything with your address on it. You can get a personal shredder, bring it to an office supply store to shred, or bring it to work if your work has a shred bin.

A fifth category is a giveaway pile. This pile could be for things you want to give to family, friends, and neighbors. Only make this pile if you think they would want those items, and you’re going to give it to them soon. They shouldn’t go with you to the new house.

A sixth category is a “maybe” pile. This pile is for things you can’t decide on. Maybe you want to keep them, or maybe you want to toss them. Only make this pile if you’re going to recategorize the items in it before you move.

Some people end up putting everything in the “maybe” pile as a way of avoiding decluttering. This adds time and effort to the whole decluttering process. You have to be disciplined to use this pile.

A seventh pile is for things to sell. If you have items of value in good condition and are interested in making some money, why not sell your things? You might have some houseware, baby gear, or tech gadgets that are still worth money.

You’ll need to start decluttering early to have enough time to list items online and get them sold or take them to a consignment shop, but this is a great option to bring in some extra money before moving day.

How to declutter

1) Start decluttering the room or items that you use the least

When you start with minimally-used rooms and items, it’s easier to work through the items because you don’t feel as much attachment to them. Decluttering can move quickly. You’re also less likely to disrupt your current daily life by throwing away things you still need before the move.

Some less frequently used places:

  • Garage
  • Storage room or storage unit
  • Guest room
  • Attic

2) Work from room to room

An easy way to declutter is to work systematically from one room to the next. If you started in the garage, you might pick the office next, and then the living room. The order depends on what’s easiest for you.

Here are some things you’ll want to remove:


  • Extra cups and mugs
  • Extra utensils and flatware that you don’t use
  • Old, broken, and mismatched plastic storage containers
  • Water bottles
  • Disposable utensils, places, and condiment packets from takeout
  • Old pots and pans
  • Cookbooks
  • Expired food in the fridge, freezer, and pantry
  • Extra appliances and gadgets


  • Worn clothes, shoes, and accessories
  • Old bedding and blankets
  • Excess hangers
  • Children’s games and toys


  • Expired makeup, lotions, and beauty products
  • Expired medicine
  • Empty bottles of shampoo and body wash
  • Old washcloths and towels
  • Old toothbrushes and other toiletries
  • Used sponges
  • Empty bottles of bathroom cleaner

Living room

  • Furniture and lamps that are past their use
  • Old CDs, DVDs, videos, and video games
  • Worn pet toys and bed
  • Old books and magazines
  • Games and puzzles

Office space

  • Extra pens, pencils, highlighters, etc.
  • Used notebooks and scratch paper
  • Old papers and files
  • Unused books and textbooks
  • Out-of-date tech gadgets

Other spaces

  • Bikes & sports equipment
  • Holiday decorations
  • Broken appliances and furniture
  • Paint and replacement for household parts
  • Tools
  • Backyard and front yard decor

3) Set aside time to declutter

Setting aside time to declutter can help you to get rid of unnecessary items in a more organized manner. Do this is by designating specific days or hours for decluttering, which will allow you to focus on the task at hand without distractions.

It may be 2 hours on a Monday night if the move won’t happen for a while. If you have a larger home or the move is happening sooner, you’ll probably need to set aside more hours or even possibly days to get the decluttering done.

Let your family know that this is decluttering time so they can join in or not distract you from the task.

You can also try breaking the task down into smaller parts. For example, you can declutter one room at a time or focus on one type of item like sports or outdoor equipment at a time.

4) Move quickly through nostalgic items

One of the biggest slowdowns to decluttering quickly is coming across sentimental items that bring back old memories. You may come across old family albums and school yearbooks or baby clothes.

Fight the urge to inspect each item and let memories fill your time. Once you open an old photo album, you could flip through it for hours and then talk about it with family members. That’s not decluttering!

Be mindful to move quickly when you encounter such items. If you aren’t sure if you want to keep them, then put them in the “keep” or “maybe” categories. You can always come back to them at another time when you’re not scheduled to declutter or when you unbox in your new home.

5) Get your family to help

Since you’re moving the whole family, the whole family should help in decluttering. They probably even contributed to cluttering the house.

Ask your partner or spouse and children to join you. They can be responsible for at least their own items.

Teach your children to evaluate their old toys, books, clothes, etc. They may be old enough to understand cleaning and clearing the home for moving. Ask them questions about

  • The last time they used an item
  • How much they like an item
  • If they’d like to pass a toy on to another child
  • If certain clothes still fit them

This will serve them well for any future cleaning and decluttering you do at your new home too.

6) Place items in storage or portable containers

Depending on your situation, you may need to rent storage space or storage/shipping containers.

Storage space rental: One friend downsized living spaces, which meant she had minimal storage. Instead of getting rid of family photos and mementos, which were very meaningful to her, she rented a small space at a storage facility.

It helps to have a clear plan of what to do with the items in storage or you could end up paying storage fees forever. My friend plans to keep her items in storage until she moves into a place with more space.

Storage containers: When my neighbors packed to move from California to Pennsylvania, they ordered a storage container that would eventually be delivered to them across the country. This is great for transport and temporary storage when you’ll take a few months or more to find a permanent residence.

My neighbor reported that storage containers for moves such as his were in high demand and booked out several weeks in advance. He was only able to get one in time for his move because someone canceled their order. Book early if you think you’ll need one.

7) Rent a dumpster

Depending on your situation, you may need to rent a dumpster to clean out your house. If you have a large home filled with items that need to be thrown away, you know they’re not going to fit in your garbage bin week after week. Renting a dumpster is the best way to go.

When my grandparents moved out of their home, their 3-story house was filled with items from family members living there for over 30 years. My family rented a dumpster for the clean-out process.

This was necessary to throw out mattresses and other bedding, small household fixtures, paintings, and everything else they collected over the years. There was no need to sort things into many piles. They kept essential items, and everything else was tossed.

8) Hire help

You might initially laugh at the idea of hiring someone to help with the moving process, but if you are overwhelmed at the thought of decluttering and are in a time crunch, this may be your best option. A professional organizer can coach you to declutter your home better and faster.

Browse online for home organizing consultants in your area or ask those you know for recommendations. Many professional organizers have websites and social media accounts. You can ask about their credentials as well.

9) Take action on your piles of items

Start boxing the items you plan to keep, as long as you don’t need them until moving day.

For example, if you’re moving in the summer, you don’t need your winter clothes and bedding, so those can be boxed immediately. Keepsakes and mementos can be boxed up too.

Take action on other categories of items too. It’s easy to let donations and the “maybe” pile sit untouched until your close to moving day.

The same is true for selling your items. Selling can take some time whether you decide to have a weekend garage sale or yard sale, sell nationwide online, or arrange local sales. Popular sites for selling online:

  • eBay
  • Letgo
  • OfferUp
  • Poshmark
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Mercari

Be prepared to negotiate prices, wait for sales, ship items, and arrange and meet local buyers. The payoff can be worth it though if you make good money from your sales.

Tips to help you declutter

  • Ask yourself if you need or use each item when deciding what to do with it. If you have a salad spinner or a wine decanter but never use them, you might want to donate them. A good rule of thumb is to get rid of items you haven’t used in the past year.
  • If an item has sentimental value, take pictures of it with your phone before discarding it. This will help you remember the item without it taking up space in your home.
  • Toss items that are broken or need repair. It’s likely that if you haven’t repaired it by now and you’re not using it, you won’t get to it by moving day.
  • If you have several items of the same thing, like 10 pairs of jeans, keep the ones you wear most often and donate the rest.
  • For items such as artwork and household decorations, ask yourself if you’re going to decorate your new place with new decor. If so, toss or donate what you currently have.
  • Check out Marie Kondo’s book on her method of tidying up your home. She promotes keeping items that bring you joy and has helpful techniques for keeping the home organized.
  • Halt buying non-essentials until after your move. Don’t buy more clothes, toys, or other unnecessary items that will add to the clutter and amount of things you have to move to your new home. Order them to be sent to your new home once you move in.

How do you box up your stuff?

If you have boxes from when you moved, great! Use them again. If not, ask friends and family members if they have any old moving boxes they don’t need anymore.

Pack heavier items on the bottom and lighter items on top. This will help keep your boxes from becoming too heavy.

Label each box with what room it goes in and what’s inside. This will make it easier for you and your movers when it comes time to unpack.

Wrap Up

Declutter can be overwhelming, but you can do it faster and easier using the above tips. You’ll feel good knowing you’re moving only the essential items to your new home when moving day comes around. Good luck with your move!

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