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How to declutter your home before moving

Lighten the load for your next move with these helpful decluttering tips

Last Updated 7/17/17
by David Chandler, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
Garage filled with random items

Introduction

You’re almost ready for your big move. You’ve started the process to rent or buy your new place. You’ve set a moving date. You’ve enlisted the help of a moving company (or a few really good friends), and all that’s left is the packing. There’s only one problem: You can’t-or don’t want to-take all that clutter with you.

Choosing which of your belongings to take to your new home and which to get rid of can be a tough call. You have to keep in mind your current finances, the space in your new home, the emotional value of your items and how physically difficult it is to move certain things.

Ultimately, the decision of what to keep and what to toss is one only you can make. But this guide can make that decision a bit easier with advice for planning and carrying out your pre-move purge. Let’s get to work!

Box of canned food

Make a plan

Honestly, no one remembers how they came to accumulate all the clutter in their home, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. That’s why it’s smart to have a plan when it’s time to downsize.

  • Give yourself some time: If you’re waiting until the last minute to sort out your belongings, you’re going to have a rough time. Give yourself at least two weeks (or more, depending on how much stuff you have) to start sorting and getting rid of your stuff. You’ll thank yourself when you’re not rushing around at the last minute.

  • Work one room at a time: The best plan of attack is to work one room at a time. That way, you can keep your scope focused and your sanity intact.

  • Start big: Start with the big items you simply can’t move. Heavy pieces of furniture you don’t want anymore, old tires, houseplants (some moving companies won’t ship them) or anything with hazardous chemicals all need to be taken care of first. Contact a haul-away service or rent a dumpster to take care of these.

  • Dine in to clean out the fridge: When you’re getting ready to move, start eating all the food in your fridge. Perishables won’t travel over distances, so make sure they don’t go to waste. If you can’t eat it all, give food to friends, or donate your canned goods to a local food pantry.

  • Separate items into categories: With the big pieces out of the way, separate your items into one of three categories: sell, donate and junk. Items in good condition, especially furniture and electronics, can be sold for extra money. Donate anything that probably won’t sell, like appliances and clothing that are in decent condition. Anything that’s broken can be thrown in the junk pile.

  • Don't second-guess yourself: Once you have your piles separated, leave them alone. If you spend too much time debating whether or not you need that second set of novelty salt and pepper shakers (you don’t), you’ll get stuck.

  • Take breaks: When you do get frustrated with your sorting (and you will), take a break. Evaluating what to keep and what to let go can be exhausting, especially if you’re a particularly sentimental person. Give yourself some time to decompress, and try not to do more than an hour of sorting at a time.

Woman paying for item at garage sale

Earn some extra money

Moving is expensive, especially if you’re renting trucks or paying for movers. Selling your stuff can be a great way to put some cash in your pocket to help pay for your move. Here’s how:

  • Garage sale: A garage sale can be a great way to offload some unwanted items, but it will take some planning. You can sell furniture, clothes, toys, electronics and everything thing else you don’t want to move. Post flyers around the neighborhood, and advertise on social media to let people know when and where they can expect a sale. You may need a permit for a garage sale depending on local ordinances.

  • Sell online: Websites like eBay, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace can help you sell unwanted items. Electronics, books and other odds and ends can sell quickly on eBay, provided they’re in good condition. Sell bigger objects you don’t want to ship, like furniture and larger appliances, locally on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

  • Secondhand bookstores: If you have boxes and boxes of books you’ve already read or don’t plan to read, take them to a secondhand bookstore. You can usually trade books in for cash or store credit.

  • Consignment shop: Consignment shops sell secondhand items for you, and you receive a percentage of the sale. Consignment shops often specialize in certain items; some exclusively sell furniture or clothing. See if there’s a consignment shop in your area, and have them do the work for you.

People putting clothes in donation box

Give to people in need

Some things just don’t sell. Maybe no one wants to give money for some outdated clothes, an old computer, a pile of books and old towels. But that doesn’t mean someone can’t use them! Before you throw it all away, see if you can donate your belongings that are still in good condition to people in need.

  • Donation centers: Donation centers like The Salvation Army and Goodwill are always in need of clothing, linens, appliances, electronics and toys. Find out where your local donation centers are, and give them a call to see what they need.

  • Libraries: If there are no secondhand bookstores nearby, take your unwanted books to the local library. Many have donation boxes, and the library will take almost any book as long as it’s in decent condition.

  • Community centers: Local community centers will usually take your old computers. Just make sure you’ve deleted any personal information from the computer before you donate it.

  • Schools: Check with your local schools to see if they need any computers, art supplies or books. Schools will usually take these items to help improve their classrooms and libraries.

Shredded documents

Throw away the rest

When you’ve exhausted your options to either sell or donate your stuff, you’ll still be left with a pile of junk. Maybe some of your furniture is broken, or your old clothes are getting too ragged to donate. Don’t be afraid to throw that last bit of junk in the trash; it’ll be less you’ll have to move. Here’s how to get rid of it:

  • Shred documents: If you keep a lot of physical records, you’ll want to get rid of them before you move. Run your documents through a shredder to make sure any identifiable information is impossible to read.

  • Expired medicine: To get rid of expired medicine, mix your pills with an unpalatable substance like coffee grounds, cat litter or dirt. Seal the pills in a container like a plastic bag and throw it in the trash. Pour any liquid medicine in the trash. Remove any labels with your name and information, and then throw away or recycle the bottle. You can also donate expired and unused EpiPens and inhalers to select pharmacies and hospitals. Check local pharmacies and medical centers to see if they can dispose of medicine and medical supplies for you.

  • Old makeup: You can throw old makeup away like any other material. However, some retailers will recycle containers and unused makeup. Call your nearest makeup retail outlet to see if they will dispose of your old makeup.

  • Nail polish: The EPA considers nail polish and polish remover hazardous waste. Hazardous waste disposal programs vary across cities, so you’ll need to take these to your local hazardous waste facility. Earth911 can help you find a disposal facility near you.

  • Household cleaners: Just like nail polish, household cleaners can contain hazardous materials like ammonia. Take these to a disposal facility to get rid of them responsibly.

  • Mattresses: If you can’t find someone to take your mattress, you can contact your local recycling center to see if they can take it. Otherwise, you’ll need to break it down yourself.

  • Paint: If you’re selling your home, consider leaving leftover paint for the next occupant. That way they won’t have to go through the hassle of matching their paint with colors at the store. If you need to get rid of the paint, look into community paint recycling programs to see if organizers need paint for community projects. You can also take paint to a hazardous waste facility to take care of it.

  • Gasoline, oil and propane: You’ll need to dispose of gasoline and motor oil similarly to getting rid of paint; take it to a hazardous waste facility. Communities will occasionally set up a collection for gasoline and other materials. If you’ve been using a propane tank for a gas grill or other appliance, you can usually bring the tank back to the retailer where you purchased it to recycle it. Hazardous waste drop-off sites will also take your propane tanks.

  • And all the rest: As for the rest of your belongings, take them to the dump. If you have a lot of heavy junk like busted furniture, broken appliances, dead electronics and many other things, you can rent a dumpster or use a haul-away service.

Couple packing boxes

Conclusion

Getting rid of the stuff you no longer need may be a chore, but it’s incredibly rewarding when you pack and set up your new home that’s free of unwanted stuff. Once you’ve sold, donated or thrown away all the belongings you no longer need, you can start packing the things you want to keep. You’ll have an easier time loading up fewer (and hopefully lighter) boxes.

Did you find this article helpful? |
Need help for your next big move?

David Chandler, Ph.D., writes for the ConsumerAffairs Research team to help consumers make smart purchasing decisions. David is passionate about creating content that is useful and informative, and he devotes several hours to researching companies, industries and articles for each piece of content he writes to help consumers find what they need.

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