Moving creates an opportunity to declutter

We moved five months ago, but our decluttering process started over a year ago. In anticipation of our move, we were forced to take stock of absolutely everything in our home. Moving tends to help in that regard. We knew were were downsizing, so the need to get rid of a lot of items was a must. We held a yard sale and we also used Craigslist to get rid of larger items. All of our efforts paid off, and, in the end, we downsized our home and reduced the amount of clutter in our lives.

I thought of all the clutter that we had to inventory when I read this article in the Ireland edition of The Independent. The author forced himself to declutter during his fifth move in as many years. Moving is a great motivational event that should lead to getting rid of tons of clutter. From the article:

I’m discovering that, despite all that to-ing and fro-ing between places over the past half-decade, I’ve never properly culled my mountain of possessions. Instead, I’ve just created a lot of work for myself and the unlucky slave labour I recruited for each move by hauling all this stuff around with me each time …

My guiding rule this time out is: if I haven’t worn it since I moved last time, then it’s getting tossed. I’ve been surprisingly faithful to that guiding maxim, ignoring that little voice in my head that says: “Hey, those X-Works jeans and boot runners could be considered vintage next week, hang onto them!”

Everyone moves, but some of us don’t take advantage of this situation and needlessly transport clutter from one location to another. Make sure you take stock of everything you have, and ask the question, “Do I really need this in my new home?”

32 Comments for “Moving creates an opportunity to declutter”

  1. posted by Lissa on

    I’ve definitely found this to be true. I’m in the process of downsizing from a 1,000 sf townhouse to a Manhattan apartment that will be about half that size. As I’m not a fan of Tiny Living, the solution is to have (and move, and use) less. After the first six weeks of asking “Do I really need this,” the question evolved into “Do I really *want* this.” In so many cases, the answer turned out to be, “No, but I know someone who does,” which was freeing and rewarding and wonderful.

  2. posted by Another Deb on

    I will have to say, after moving 8 times in the past 12 years, that I find myself using things differently in some of my new locations. My moved have included both my home and my classroom, which included the clutter of 10-20 years worth of science teacher clutter at various times.

    In some new places, I needed all kinds of bits and pieces of nails, dowels, paint and fabric. In some places I needed more furniture or less extreme weather clothing. The gardening stuff got left behind when I moved to apartments, then repurchased in the next home.

    I also decluttered in a rush during one unplanned move and still find myself regretting the loss of a sentimental item that was just too large to move at the time.

    Of course I am totally on board with using the move to declutter, but I tend to do the decluttering after I have learned the needs of my new situation and decided what I want to do with the spaces.

  3. posted by Trish on

    I was wondering if I could ask for you and your readers’ advice on a related topic.

    We are a family of four (two school-age kids) and are seriously contemplating moving to the other side of the world to live, just for fun 😉 We don’t know how long we’ll be gone, but I would like to give the expat lifestyle at least three years.

    We rent our current house, so we don’t have to sell it or find tenants. What I’m wondering, though, is what do we do with all our stuff?

    We will rent overseas – we’re headed for Europe where the vast majority of rentals are fully furnished, and we’re likely to move around a lot, so buying a house there is probably not an option. So we’re not going to take furniture.

    We are prepared to sell just about everything we own in a yard sale, but there are a few things that we want to keep – art/framed family portraits, a few treasured possessions, a modest collection of about 500 books, and our large bespoke dining table. I estimate the treasured possessions, gathered together, would probably fill a couple of boxes.

    I would love to hear what others who have done this kind of ‘migration’ have done with their stuff – from those of you who went for one year, or for ten.

    Do you take the treasured possessions with you to personalize your foreign home? Do you put the books in storage or give them to a trusted friend to mind or take them with you? How would you store one large item of furniture? What wouldn’t you do if you had it all to do again??

    Thanks for your help! Much appreciated.

  4. posted by Dorothy on

    @ Trish, a couple of boxes worth of stuff can be taken with you. And the table — can it perhaps be stored with friends or a family member?

    My husband and I moved from LA to Houston quickly and suddenly about 20 months ago. We came for a job assignment for me, so DH stayed behnid to oversee the moving. I didn’t have time to sort, downsize and pack, so pretty much everything got packed and moved. Some of the items came directly to our small (now crowded and not very comfy) apartment, and the rest went into storage. The sojurn in Houston is for 30 months, so I figured I’d sort through stuff once we retire and move to South Carolina.

    I’d picked a “nice” storage place — immaculately clean, new, climate controlled, space on the second floor, the owners live on-site. I thought is was safe if expensve (almost $300 per month). A month or so ago the owners called to tell us their airc onditioner had mal-functioned, and had leaked into our unit, soaking the bottom layer of many boxes of books. Of course, they are not paying for our damage.

    If I had to do this all again, I’d insist on more time to cull and pack myself. And I’d put pallets down on the floor of the storage space to guard against water damage.

    On the bright side, unpacking once we get to our “forever” home in South Carolina will be fun!

  5. posted by Megan on

    Trish — do you have family or friends who would store this? Our family is cleaning out a storage unit right now, and we found that things don’t always survive in there (moisture, mold, etc.). Plus, it’s very expensive! If you truly have just a few boxes, I would suggest that you find a trusted friend to hold them or you ship them around the world and keep them with you.

    Congrats on being brave enough to pick up and go around the world! Sounds like a great experience.

  6. posted by Megan on

    @Dorothy… we had pallets down in our storage unit, yet we still got mold. Ugh!

  7. posted by Fit Bottomed Girls on

    I totally learned that this is true after moving out of an apartment. It’s amazing what you can cram into a small space!

  8. posted by klza on

    We recently moved for the fourth time in five years. The third house was a short-term rental while we searched for a house to purchase after a cross-country move. Of course, we kept everything because we didn’t know what the house we planned to purchase would require. For two years, I felt like we lived in chaos as nothing fit properly in the rental house, but I wasn’t comfortable getting rid of it.

    When we finally purchased a few months ago, we down-sized, and I found that only about 25% of our furniture was appropriate for the new abode. We donated the extraneous pieces to a local charity, which included coffee and end tables, lamps, a kitchen table & chairs, a bed and dresser, a couch, two upholstered chairs, and various pieces of artwork. We kept only what was useful and meaningful, and filled in with a few new purchases.

    It was a huge relief to let go of all that stuff and bless someone else with our abundance. I’m loving our newly uncluttered house.

  9. posted by Jennifer on

    We’re in the middle of this process as well. My husband is job hunting and we could move pretty much anywhere, anytime. 4 years of grad student life has pretty much prevented the accumulation of new stuff but we still have a lot of pre-grad school stuff. The garage sale is tomorrow. My motto is lose it or move it.

  10. posted by Tabitha on

    I agree – moving in also forces you to declutter. My husband and I were married and bought a house last year and had to combine one apartment and one house worth of stuff into 1680 sq. feet of space. Needless to say, goodwill got lots of good stuff during the process.

    tabitha from

  11. posted by CoffeeKim on

    I have even stumbled upon a neat technique for decluttering that involves your pretending to prepare for a move. It’s a GREAT idea, if you work with it and truly act out the part!! It forces you to ask the following:

    Do I need it? Do I use it?? Do I LOVE it?? (as in, “would I run through the flames in a burning house to save it?!) Really makes you think.

  12. posted by Sairey Gamp on

    I moved twice in a year not long ago, and both times I had yard sales and gave way tons of stuff on Freecycle — and I STILL have a house full of doodads.

    Personally, I think stuff REPRODUCES in hidden corners, like rabbits when you aren’t looking.

  13. posted by Matt on

    I moved from the UK to California about 4 months ago. I own my flat in London, which I have let out. It has an attic, which I was forced to leave some stuff in.
    My company gave me a lump sum relocation bonus, and I used a shipping company to get my stuff across the world, so it was up to me to reduce the amount sent.

    Actually this really belongs in a blog post of my own! I must get round to writing it.

  14. posted by Karen on

    Love your website. We moved two months ago, and I agree it provided a great incentive to declutter. However, I found that AFTER the move, I am getting rid of probably as much stuff. I hung onto a lot, knowing we would be in a bigger place and might need things to fill in until we could afford the furniture, wall hangings that we wanted. But, in reality, I’d rather sit with the empty space and get to know it, than to fill it up with the same old stuff that didn’t inspire me to begin with.

  15. posted by DJ on

    “floor-drobe” … heh.

  16. posted by infmom on

    When we moved from Kansas to California, my husband was gone for four of the five weeks preceding the move. Thus, I was left to care for two small children (7 and 4) plus deal with nine years’ accumulation of Stuff and pack everything to be moved. Needless to say, I did not get the job done in time, and thus we lost things we shouldn’t have, and moved things we shouldn’t have. When we got to California we were greeted at the door by the landlord saying he’d sold the house to a developer and we had 90 days to get out. So precious few of those boxes got unpacked before we had to move them again.

    Our next landlord evicted us because he had a balloon payment coming due, so the Stuff got schlepped to what I could find on less than 30 days’ notice and a week after our only car got totalled when someone flew through an intersection and hit it head on. The boxes ended up nearly filling the garage of the tiny townhouse I found. And there they stayed till we bought a house. And moved all the boxes once again, and most of them ended up in the garage and storage room

    A month after we moved in, there was a downpour that flooded the back yard. We lost 15 boxes of books. I finally had to go through just about every box of Stuff to see what could be saved. A lot of it couldn’t be.

    I don’t recommend that kind of Stuff-schlepping, crisis-decluttering process, believe me. We still have boxes of Stuff in storage, but I make it a point to go through them on a regular basis and get rid of as much as I can. Next time we move we’ll be down to the bare minimum.

  17. posted by Minimalist J on

    I recently wrote about why it is so difficult to get rid of stuff before a move, and why, despite the packing part being the seemingly obvious time to all your culling, it probably won’t work out that way. Sure, you’ll get rid of lots of stuff before you move, but really cutting to the bone is surprisingly difficult due to a combination of stress, fear, and money issues.

  18. posted by jen on

    I’ve thought about it like this: If my house burned down, would i buy this again or be crushed if it was gone? I don’t think we’ll move much next time :).

  19. posted by Laura on

    Growing up, my family moved six times in nine years, then as an adult my husband and I have moved nine times in 20 years, and my decluttering has almost always taken place after the move. My husband (total neat freak) refused to let moving boxes into the house, so ALL boxed possessions went into the garage, where I had to unpack and clean each item before taking it into the the house to put away. Our current home is 4,000 square feet … it took me nearly two months to find items and get everything squared away (that’s a whole different story, though :P).

    I am really writing to share this: one move, when I was small and my sister was a baby (she had multiple medical issues and was in a body cast), my mom had the moving company do the packing.

    When we got to our new home, as she was unpacking one box, she found the kitchen garbage wrapped up in newsprint. My jaw still drops thinking about it. Since then, nobody has packed for a move for us.

  20. posted by Leslie of Kaleidoscope on

    I agre, moving house is the one sure way to declutter.

    But – I have now been in this one for eleven years. And you know that black velvet top that has hung, unworn, in my wardrobe since I was given it 7 years ago? Well, it’s pretty! I might wear it ONE day! *wail*

  21. posted by sky on

    Moving ain’t easy. Trish, can you take your dining table apart? If so, you can store it much more easily in a friend or family members home.
    I’ve moved a lot and my best advice is to ruthlessly declutter before time to pack.
    I read about a game to help get rid of “stuff” Pretend (God forbid) you lost all your possessions in a house fire. Go “mentally” room by room, closet by closet, what would you buy again? I did this and I wouldn’t replace most of my stuff. It was an eye opener!

  22. posted by sky on

    Trish….one more idea, pack your stuff in Rubbermaid boxes and be sure they are sealed well. Much more water and bug proof wherever you decide to store them.

  23. posted by Trish on

    Thanks very much for your advice, esp Dorothy and Megan. I think we can leave the table with somebody. That’s my preference. It seats ten, is made from solid jarrah (a beautiful Australian hardwood), and was made for us by a furniture maker ten years ago for next to nothing in today’s dollars. I’d prefer it be used and loved than kept in a dark storage room for years.

    I would like to take some books, and the framed photographs of our children will make our new home feel familiar. I read somewhere that you should take things from home if you’re living in foreign country so that you can get a break from the culture shock.

    I’m very excited at the prospect of going, and of starting over when we eventually move back home, with a new house and new stuff (but not too much stuff!)

    Thanks again!

  24. posted by Luisa on

    Last year, after I moved, I found out there is a goodwill truck that’s always parked at a shopping center near us. Ever since then, it has been a lot easier for me to get rid of old clothings. It never felt right to throw away perfectly good clothing just because they are no longer in style or no longer fit me. Once the closet shrinks, I also have more excuse to buy new clothing. Works out well for me 🙂

  25. posted by Charles on

    My wife and I are moving soon, and I am looking forward to it for just this reason. I am super excited to get a fresh start at the new place.

  26. posted by gypsypacker on

    Are the books first editions, or can you live with e-books? I’ve had to make that decision. The e-books don’t mildew, don’t have to be dusted or sprayed, and don’t get infested with silverfish, roaches, or other nasties.

    If you must get a storage warehouse, get one above ground floor and behind fencing, with security-coded entrance,. and negotiate a discount for annual payment instead of monthly.

  27. posted by Squawkfox on

    Moving is a huge opportunity to declutter. I’ve moved 6 times in the last 4 years…so I’m down to what I really need in life. I created a Free Printable Moving Checklist and Planner to help declutter and move house and home.

  28. posted by Michelle on

    On our most recent move we had to sell the house we were living in, so the whole decluttering process started months beforehand as we cleared out closets, storage space, etc., in order to show the home. It helped that we knew we were downsizing so we decided to get rid of a bunch of the stuff rather than shove it into a storage pod (as many of our friends had done when their houses went on the market).

    As the move got closer, though, I got more irrational about what to keep and what to take with us, and I wound up throwing out some genuinely useful objects (bathroom trash can, anyone?) because I just couldn’t deal with any more stuff.

    So I guess I’d suggest that a move is an excellent opportunity to declutter, provided you start the process early.

  29. posted by Declutter on

    Moving is sort of like being given a fresh start. You have to physically touch everything that you own and move it from one location to another. This is the perfect time to get rid of the stuff you don’t need or don’t want.

    What a great way to Declutter! Don’t bring your clutter with you!

  30. posted by Peggy415 on

    I just found this site and as a professional organizer specializing in moving & relocation – this subject matter is very interesting. I’ve also personally had 52 different addresses in my 59 years of life.

    Here’s my 2 cents – declutter, declutter, declutter. The actual cost of moving items you will not use is expensive. If you need to keep items in long-term storage, use the humidity controlled long-term storage facilities of a national moving company in your current location. Most times, very cost effective. They store your items in *vaults*, usually 5’x7’x8′ – however many vaults you need for your stuff. But, you MUST purchase contents insurance to protect you in case of a mishap.

    And, whatever memorabilia you want to keep that can be digitized, please do so. Scan your children/family photos, children’s art work, diploma’s, awards, etc. You’ll save a ton of space.

    Of course, if you need help, think about the services of an organizer!

  31. posted by an organized, uncluttered move | Surfing Daisy on

    […] writes about moving as an opportunity to declutter – this is more motivational than practical 🙂  I loved reading through the comments […]

  32. posted by How To Be Happy Anywhere Everyday Bright on

    […] some have the fortitude to tackle “spring cleaning,” for me, nothing works quite like moving.  The more often you move, the more you throw/give away, and the more you realize you don’t […]

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