Staying Sane While Decluttering Your Home

This is an excerpt from my ¨Be Your Own Decorator!¨ online home decorating course. To purchase the full one-month course, sign up here.


Congratulations! You have officially finished the hardest part of this course!


I'm not kidding. I’m fact, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Clarifying your desires, choosing a focus, and setting goals for your space are the biggest, most challenging aspects of the home design process.


Unfortunately, many decorators and designers (in my opinion) spend little or no time on these soul-searching questions with their clients.


However, if you don’t dive deep BEFORE decorating, you’ll end up with a home that’s beautiful -  but that’s it. It may not light you up or serve the functions needed for your lifestyle.


Once you have your intentions in place, the remaining choices you make (things like color, furniture placement, and accessorizing) will be much easier. Not only that, but having clarity on your own personal “why” of decorating will ensure that the choices you make are in fact bringing you closer to your goals and intentions. This means a lot less frustration of “I bought this, and changed that, and it doesn't even work for me!”


Today we're going to focus on the final piece of your redecorating foundation - it’s D-day, my friends. Yes, THAT D-word...decluttering.


I'm sorry, but no - you can't skip this part! You simply must declutter before decorating. If you don't, you'll find yourself working around a mess - not to mention considering things in your final design that you don't even need to begin with.


You owe it to your dreams to create a blank slate.


Besides, want to know one of the secret reasons why those rooms in design magazines always look so amazing? Because they aren't cluttered! This is a secret that home stagers use first and foremost in preparing a home for viewing. They simply tell their clients to remove two thirds of the “stuff” in the home.


I know that decluttering is a stressful topic for many - actually, most! - people. Not only is it challenging to let things go, but it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the process.


This is why I have made decluttering a Friday project. You have all weekend to work through it. And remember; for now, we’re only focusing on that single space that you’ve decided to transform in this course.


Don’t worry about being “perfect.” In my opinion, the drive for perfection is always the enemy. Let’s focus on action, and on making sure that the items you keep as you declutter serve your intentions for the space.


There are so many approaches to decluttering, and none of them work for everybody. Below is my personal method - the method I use with all of my decorating clients - that I find works well.


Feel free to skip around, add or subtract steps - this is your process! If you're unsure, I suggest following the steps in order to limit overwhelm.


  1. Pick one corner to start. We are going to be purging and decluttering the entire space, one item at a time.

  2. Starting from that corner and working clockwise, pick up one item at a time. It is very important to touch each and every item - no matter how small! This, I've found, is the only way to ensure that you truly cover everything without cheating and skipping over things.

  3. For each item, you're going to determine which of four piles it will go into - definite keep, definite trash, donate, or action item/fix. Yes, this means you are removing everything from its original place and putting it into a pile. This may feel like a waste of time. However, I really encourage you to do it anyway - you want to fully clear the space before adding items back in. Read on for more specifics about how to decide which pile things will go into...

  4. Definite keep - items you are certain you need and are truly functional for their purpose. Truly ask yourself, “Do I need this?” Not “everyone needs one of these” (when in reality you have never used the item in question). You may find multiples of the same item - keep them together so that when you're done, you can get rid of the duplicates if you have more than you need. Not sure if you need the item? Then guess what?You definitely don't need it (important documents exempt)!

  5. Definite trash - think junk and broken items. Dried out markers, broken pieces of anything, little scraps of paper, things like that. If it's a piece of paper with sensitive information, feel free to shred it and recycle.

  6. Donate - anything that can be reused, assuming you will take it to a donation center THIS WEEKEND! Duplicate yet perfectly good items, items that never quite worked for what you bought them for, clothing that doesn't fit, etc. If you know you are the type of person who does not take those bags to the donation center (no judgement!), then I suggest putting them visibly on your curb or next to your dumpster for the neighbors to pick through immediately. Give yourself a deadline of the end of the weekend to get rid of the items. Otherwise, the clutter in your bedroom (for example) will become the clutter in a bag in the corner - just as bad.

  7. Action items - anything that has to be given back to its original owner, repaired, etc. Keep in mind that every item in this pile adds a line item onto your to-do list! When I go through this process with my in-person clients, I actually make a giant to-do list containing all of these action items. It really puts into perspective how many unfinished projects we have - and whether or not it may be time to let some go. If you have more things in this pile than you can handle in a weekend, you're better off just getting rid of them into another pile (like trash or donate!) Be honest with yourself!

  8. Once every single item is in a pile, thoroughly clean - dust, vacuum, etc. - the area. If the area has furniture, pull it out from the wall and clean behind it. Be sure to fully take advantage of this opportunity. It’s likely you’ll come across some spots that haven’t been cleaned in quite some time!

  9. Place the “definite keep” items back into your space. If you now realize the need for some kind of specific storage solution, take measurements and make a note of what you need. I won’t be covering specific storage ideas in this course, but if you have any questions after completing your decluttering, feel free to reply to this email and ask.

  10. Donate the “donate” items - today or tomorrow!

  11. Make your “action item” to-do list (include any shopping for  specific storage solutions needed) and commit to completing it this weekend. Anything that doesn't get finished by the end-of-weekend deadline gets donated or goes in the trash. Period.

  12. Another note on storage - it can be a seductive prospect. Container Store bender, anyone? But be careful - IT’S A TRAP!! The more storage you have, the more stuff you can hide that you don't even need to begin with. You're much better off reducing the stuff you have to as little as possible, and only then determining if you need added storage. If you decide that you truly need additional storage, take measurements of the size you need and/or the space you have, and take note of exactly what will go in that new storage container. This way, you are sure to buy the ONE container you need, rather than several containers that are pretty but just don't serve the purpose at hand.


Whew! This lesson is a big one. The process I have designated above is largely the general steps to follow - as always, if you have any questions, just hit “reply” and ask! I'm here for you.


By the end of the weekend, the space you're focusing on should be clean and less cluttered. On Monday we'll be starting on the fun parts - making it look good.


See you then!