You don’t have to turn off your emotions when uncluttering

We sold our house yesterday. We signed a lot of papers, handed over the keys, and said an official farewell to a place we loved.

The rational part of me accepts that a house is just concrete, bricks, glass, steel beams, and wood. As George Carlin once pointed out, a house is simply a container for you and your stuff. The emotional part of me, however, has a difficult time separating all the wonderful memories created in the house from its drywall. The house we sold is where we brought my son when we brought him home. I wrote my book in that house. There are six and a half years of my family’s laughter and happiness within those walls.

As with almost all possessions, though, there comes a time when an object stops meeting your needs. Something that was perfect for you in the past, is no longer a perfect fit in the present. And, as difficult as it is to let go, it’s the right thing to do to be able to pursue the life of your dreams.

Even though I’ve been living as an unclutterer for close to a decade, I still haven’t come to the point where I can completely turn off my emotional attachments to sentimental things. I’m not an automaton. I still mourn a little when I say goodbye to objects that have passed through my life, but now I can at least bid them farewell when it’s appropriate.

There is nothing wrong with feeling a little sting when saying goodbye to objects you have loved. Just don’t let that sting keep you from parting with something that no longer fits with your life and the life you desire. When uncluttering, if you need to take a few minutes to mourn the end of ownership of an object, take a few minutes to mourn.

Staying organized during an office move

In some ways, moving offices is more stressful than moving a home. Personal appointments can be scheduled around a home move, but work demands continue regardless of an office move. Some things need to be unpacked right away during a home move (toilet paper, bed sheets), but for the most part you can take a few days, weeks, or months to put your belongings in their new locations. With an office move, it all needs to be put away instantly or you could suffer negative repercussions, like losing productivity, clients, income, or even your job.

I’ve learned a great deal during this recent move about what works — and, more importantly, what doesn’t work — when moving offices. If you’re gearing up for an office move, the following tips can help you to stay organized and avoid a good amount of chaos:

  1. Before unpacking a single box, make sure your office furniture is in its best place for your work. If you’re in a cubical, this decision has usually been made for you. If you’re lucky enough to have furniture you can move around the room, adjust it to accommodate your needs. You’ll want a location for your desk that will avoid glare on your computer screen, allow for a quick and unobstructed exit in case of emergency, will make it easy to plug in your computer and peripherals, and best suits your ergonomic needs.
  2. Once your horizontal surfaces are in place, grab your computer keyboard and a chair and establish the best location for these two objects. You want to be able to work so that typing at your keyboard every day won’t create any pains in your neck, arms, or back. Most people also need a good amount of empty work surface to spread out with projects during work hours. Make sure your keyboard will be in a location to work with these needs, too.
  3. Set up all of your technical equipment — computer, monitor, keyboard, printer, telephone, back-up drives, scanner, speaker system, headset, etc. Put the devices you access multiple times a day in the most convenient locations and those pieces of equipment you access the least often further out of your reach. Remember to leave yourself open work surfaces as necessary.
  4. Manage your cables. If you didn’t do so before your move, label the device plug with the device name (a silver permanent marker or label maker work great for this) so you’ll never wonder what cable belongs to what device when you’re crouched under your desk. Group and shorten cables with velcro cable ties or turtles or whatever works best for you. As best as you can, keep your cables from becoming a mess of a nest.
  5. At this point, locate any work associated with your current projects and set it in your open work surface area. You’ll want this at your fingertips if needed.
  6. Continue on to setting up your desk drawers. Again, put most accessed items in the most convenient locations.
  7. Set up the very few desk supplies that will take up space on your work surface. I only keep a pen cup and a pad of sticky notes next to my phone, and a well-labeled inbox on my desk so co-workers will know where to put items for me when they come into my office. You may also want a tickler file/to-do list, a reference book or two, and a to-be filed bin on your work surface if they fit your work needs.
  8. Books, binders, and archived files are usually the last items that can be put away in your new office. When you pack these items before the move, keep like objects together and label each box so you know exactly what items are included — labels like “Archived files A-N” or “Conference binders 2009-2011” will be more meaningful to you than “Files” or “Binders.”

Similar to a home move, unclutter as much as possible on both the packing and unpacking side of the move. You may also benefit from unpacking your office outside of regular business hours. You may not get paid for this time, but you will be rewarded for it in other ways during the work week — mostly with your sanity. Also, be prepared to be responsible for your most sensitive and current projects during the move. Many employers do not wish for these items to be moved by professional movers for security reasons.

What method do you use for unpacking your office during a move? Share your experiences in the comments.

Ask Unclutterer: Emptying a storage unit

Reader Allicia submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I recently moved to Minnesota from New Mexico. I didn’t have a job at first so I moved most (almost all) of my stuff into a storage unit. Now that I am settled, I have a plan to go to New Mexico to unload and organize my storage unit and get rid of stuff I no longer need, etc. I am sitting here in Minnesota and cannot fathom an idea of how to sort through the stuff packed away. I also wonder how to deal with family who will be helping me and may not want me to get rid of stuff. They have more attachment to things than I usually do. Can you help me devise a plan to attack my storage unit?

Storage units are great resources when you temporarily need a place to put your things for three to six months, like you needed to do with this move. Storage units, however, are not where things should go to live for years. When you abandon things in storage units you end up spending more money storing the items than you would selling everything and buying replacement items in the future. Additionally, the storage units are much more likely to be infested with bugs, rodents, mildew, mold and other possession-ruining things than they would be in your home.

It’s not exactly clear in your question if you plan to move your items to your new place in Minnesota or if you just want to organize the unit and leave your things in New Mexico. Whatever your current thoughts, I’m advocating that you completely get rid of the need for your storage unit. I think you’ll find that you don’t want or need the majority of the things you left in New Mexico when you headed to Minnesota.

Think of the first step of your storage unit clean out like a treasure hunt. Go through the unit on your own and find the irreplaceable things you truly value — photographs from your childhood, your favorite pieces of jewelry, and whatever else you would feel truly crushed about if they were destroyed by a fire. For most people, these items fit in one medium-size box.

Tape up the box and carry it with you on your flight or drive back to Minnesota.

For the next step of the process, have your family come in to help you sort through the remaining stuff. Before opening the storage unit door, let your family know that you plan to close the unit by the end of the day. This goal should be crystal clear in everyone’s mind, including yours.

Then, clearly mark four areas near the storage unit for your objects — trash/recycle (these are things everyone agrees are ready to be purged), sell (these are items you can post to Craigslist or take to a consignment shop), donate (these are things in good shape that a local charity could benefit from having), and family stash (these are items your family members will take with them at the end of the process).

The family stash pile is going to be the most controversial pile you create (or, rather, don’t create). What will likely happen is that someone in your family will say, “Oh, you can’t give that away!” about an object in your storage unit. In response to their declaration, you can respond, “I will gladly give it to you if you would like it.” If the person says she wants it, then it will go into the family stash pile for that person to take home. If the person says, “I don’t want it, but I think you should keep it,” the object will then go into the donate or sell pile. If someone doesn’t want an object enough to want to care for it themselves, they have no leverage to try to guilt you into keeping it.

Have a truck or trucks available at the end of your sorting process to immediately haul the four piles to their appropriate destinations. If you are selling objects on Craigslist, you will likely need to store these objects in someone’s garage for a few days so potential buyers can come by and view the items. Give yourself a strict deadline that any objects that haven’t sold by the day before you leave will be donated to charity.

With the money you get from selling items on Craigslist or through consignment, you can buy things (if you want) for your new place in Minnesota.

Finally, I strongly recommend thanking your helpers by providing them with drinks and snacks as they work and dinner when you are all finished. People tend to be more level-headed and easy going when they’re well fed and hydrated.

Thank you, Allicia, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I was able to help you navigate this process, and congratulations on your move. Be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions and different perspectives from our readers.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Moving: Change of address notifications

Changing your address when you move can sometimes feel as exhausting as unloading a moving van full of boxes. Having an organized checklist of all of the institutions and individuals you need to notify can reduce some of the stress you’re feeling and help to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Using these lists as a guide, create a list tailored to your specific needs.

Two weeks before your move you’ll need to call your utility companies to set dates to end your service at your old place and subscribe to utilities at your new place. These utilities are usually:

  • Electric
  • Water
  • Gas
  • Telephone
  • Cable and internet
  • Sewer
  • Postal service
  • Trash collection
  • Regular home care service providers (lawn care, snow removal, etc.)

Then, once you’ve arrived at your new place, the adventure will begin to notify individuals, government entities, companies, and organizations of your address change. If you drive, always start your address change process by notifying the Department of Motor Vehicles. In some states, you have less than a month to update your records. After the DMV, I recommend setting a goal to make five notifications a day. You won’t feel overwhelmed when you do only a little bit each day, and you’ll be done in less than two weeks.

By no means is the following list a comprehensive one, and not all groups on the list may apply to you, but it’s possible you’ll need to change your address with the:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Post office (if you didn’t take care of it with your utilities)
  • Bank (and don’t forget to order new checks)
  • Voter registration
  • Human resources and payroll where you work
  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Insurance companies (auto, home/renters, life, workers comp, etc.)
  • Doctors offices
  • Schools (yours/your kids)
  • Cell phone company
  • Credit card companies
  • Loan companies
  • Personal and professional clubs, licensing boards, organizations, and memberships with benefit plans (like AAA for your car)
  • Places of worship
  • Gym memberships
  • Lawyer
  • Financial advisor/investment firms
  • Accountant
  • Possibly the IRS (Form 8822), especially if between filing and receiving a return/refund or if you pay quarterly taxes
  • Regular deliveries (such as restaurant delivery places or CSAs)
  • Friends and family

Many businesses, organizations, and government entities now will allow you to change your address online. Save yourself some time by checking out a group’s website before hitting the streets.

Also, be sure to check the comments to this post for even more suggestions from our readers.

Moving: The art of unpacking

If there is a stage of the moving process I dislike the least, it is probably unpacking. I’m not suggesting I enjoy it, because I certainly do not — I garner about as much enjoyment from unpacking a house as I do from getting a cavity filled at the dentist. However, compared to packing and carrying boxes, the unpacking stage of the moving process is the bee’s knees (and since bees have six legs with multiple joints in each leg, I guess that is worth something).

If a new place wasn’t cleaned before the previous residents moved, I start the unpacking process by having professional cleaners come in and give the place a good scrubbing. No one wants dust and grime under their belongings in closets, on shelves, and on the floor.

After the cleaning crew is gone, I unpack supplies and rooms in this order:

  1. Essential items: Toilet paper, hand and body soap, shower curtain, bath towels, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, paper towels, trash bags, scissors (I use them to open boxes), a change of clothes, vacuum, broom, dustpan, pillows, bed sheets, and pet food and bowls. I usually pack these things in a clothes hamper and have it packed in the car, not the moving van.
  2. The kitchen. I start by unpacking the food first and then dishwashing supplies, drinking glasses, silverware, plates, pans, and finally everything else.
  3. Assemble beds and put on sheets.
  4. Bathrooms. They’re easy to unpack, and easy is what you’ll need at this point.
  5. Coat closet. This is more of a priority in cooler weather than in warmer weather.
  6. Clothes closet and dressers.
  7. Laundry room. Dirty clothes tend to pile up quickly when moving.
  8. Remainder of bedroom.
  9. Home office, if you have one. Beware, hooking up equipment with all of its cords and cables can be stressful, so take your time with this step.
  10. Dining room. After putting your office together, you’ll need this low-key room.
  11. Family room. Setting up the television and all of its peripherals can be just as frustrating as putting together the home office. Take your time.
  12. Porch. You’ll need a breather.
  13. The garage, basement, and storage spaces. Save these spaces until late in the process because it might take you weeks to get these the way you want.
  14. The last thing I do is hang artwork throughout the entire house.

When you’re unpacking boxes — and unpack all boxes — be sure to lay all pieces of packing material flat to ensure you don’t miss small items. Also, break boxes down as you go instead of waiting to do them all at once. Moving boxes are great to sell on Craigslist, so try not to damage them if you can.

I try to wait until I’m in the process of unpacking a room to buy any organizing products. You may not need bookshelves, storage bins, etc., once you’re in a space.

Finally, a few weeks after you’re unpacked, evaluate all of your decisions and make any changes as needed or desired.

Do you have unpacking methods you can share? Add your insights to the comments.

Also in this series:

Moving: How to transport the belongings of your home

I’m not sure there are words to fully express my feelings of loathing about moving. After a week of boxing up our things, moving the things to the new house, and starting to unbox our things, my animosity about moving has only deepened.

I’m of the opinion that if you can afford it, you should have professional movers handle the entire process for you — packing, moving, unpacking. At the very least, have professionals take care of the moving part. Your body and mind will greatly appreciate not carrying boxes and fighting with large pieces of furniture.

Our move is actually happening in two parts, and we decided to only get movers for the second part. Since we are selling our old house, we needed to leave some furniture in it to stage it. Staging a house is when you make it look like a home that belongs in a magazine or catalog — no personal items, no clutter, and nothing in the cabinets or storage areas. Our real estate agent told us that staging a home can improve the sales process because it allows people to see the space in use, but also imagine their lives in the home.

As a result, our dining table, chairs, bookshelves, and other large pieces of furniture are still in the old house. These items will remain there until someone buys our place, and then we’ll have professional movers come and do the heavy lifting for us.

Unfortunately, this means we handled the first part of the move on our own. We carried boxes and boxes and boxes out of our old house, into a van, out of the van, and into our new house. I’m honestly surprised I have enough arm strength after carrying so many boxes to type this post.

The following are lessons learned about moving from this experience and the 14 times I’ve moved previously:

  • As previously stated, if you can afford it, hire professional movers to take care of the move for you.
  • If you can’t hire movers, the first thing you should do is have a lot of drinking water and food on hand. You don’t want to get dehydrated or hungry during this process. You need as much energy as possible to keep you going and in a good mood.
  • When loading a moving truck or van, I like to put the heaviest objects in a U-shape against the sides and back wall of the space. Mattresses, couches, dining tables, and dressers are the things that I usually load first.
  • Use blankets to wrap the objects and keep them from being damaged.
  • In the open space at the center of the van, I stack the heaviest boxes in a single layer on the floor. Then, I build up boxes from heaviest to lightest and from back to front. Since you tried your best to get absolutely everything into boxes, you shouldn’t have much left after creating your tower of boxes.
  • Play a game of Tetris and fit in the last, unboxed items. Again, use blankets to wrap these items to protect them from damage.
  • Get a large padlock and lock up the truck.
  • When you arrive at your destination, plan to unload the truck in the opposite order, starting with the unboxed items and finishing with the large furniture.

Be sure to check out our article “Moving: How to pack your home” and the comments for advice on packing. The next article in this series will cover the more pleasant, yet still mentally demanding process of unpacking. Also, please share any advice you have about the actual moving stage in the comments to this post.

February resolution wrap up, and introduction of March resolution

In 2011, I’m trying out small, monthly resolutions instead of large, annual New Year’s resolutions. My public resolution for January was to be more organized in the kitchen, and create and use more nutritious meal plans for my family. In February, my public resolution was to go through everything — absolutely everything — in my office.

Within days of declaring my February resolution, I had abandoned it. My aunt passed away and I ended up traveling to Kansas and tending to family responsibilities for awhile. Uncluttering my office wasn’t a priority on my list of things to do, and I wasn’t even physically near it had I wanted to organize. After returning to the east coast in the second half of the month, my immediate family then decided to sell our house and move. Without intentionally doing so, I ended up sorting through everything in my office after all.

February came to a close and everything in my office had been sorted, dusted, and packed in a box, dropped off at a charity, sold, recycled, or thrown in the trash. Even the Elfa shelving system was disassembled and sold, as we purchased new office furniture for the new place. Packing the office was similar to packing the rest of the house, but with some notable exceptions:

  • Sensitive data. My corporate clients almost always have me sign non-disclosure agreements. As a result, I have to transport their files personally and can’t let a professional mover or friend tend to them. If you’re in a corporate or government setting, you might have similar restrictions when moving offices. I recommend color coding all of these sensitive boxes with bright orange or red stickers and numbering them (Box 2 of 7) to help keep track of them. Then, personally move the boxes last out of the old place and set them up first in the new space. Don’t leave these boxes in your car overnight if you are making a multiple-day move — your job and/or client relationship depend on it.
  • Knick knacks. I realized I had a ridiculous number of personal knick knacks in my office. For example, I had four pictures of my husband on my desk … and he works seven feet away from me. It’s nice to personalize a space (it sends a cue to your boss that you are not planning on leaving), but not let the personal items become a distraction to you or others. In the new office I’m going to try to limit knick knacks to one per every two or three feet of desk space, which will be about three knick knacks total.
  • Cable control. With the help of a label maker, I labeled both ends of every cable before packing it (external hard drive, scanner, stereo speakers). This will speed up the unpacking process and make things easily identifiable the next time I have to crawl under my desk to unplug a device.
  • Office supplies. Painter’s tape is great for keeping cables with electronics, lids on small containers, and little objects grouped together. Don’t use Scotch tape, masking tape, or packing tape for these objects, as you will waste too much time removing the adhesive once you’re in the new office. You can also write on the painter’s tape to identify objects.
  • Scan and recycle. Paper is extremely heavy, and you will want to move as little of it as possible. Use the move as an excuse to sort through all of your paper files and purge anything you don’t need in physical form. Scan the data you want, and then recycle the paper. Also, don’t move any “to be filed” piles — file before you pack to avoid moving something you don’t really need.

It should be no surprise that my public resolution for the month of March will be to completely unpack and organize our new home and office. In fact, my husband’s family is coming to visit in mid-March and my goal is to have almost everything unpacked before they arrive. I’m trying to think of it like an adventure instead of a chore. Wish me luck!

Do you have resolutions? What are you doing to achieving them? Can you do something today to get one step closer to your goal?

Moving: How to pack your home

This week is a bittersweet one for me. After six years in our amazing home, we are moving. I’m sad to say farewell to this place — we love our neighbors, we love the house, and this is my son’s first home. Unfortunately, the house isn’t configured for our needs. My son really needs his own bedroom (he’s been in a crib in our bedroom for the past 18 months), and we also want a dedicated office space since both my husband and I typically work from home.

We found a new place, which surprisingly has fewer square feet than our current house but has the exact room arrangements we need. Honestly, the new house is incredible and it’s going to greatly improve our quality of life, but packing up everything we own, moving across town, and selling our current home is very stressful in the short term.

I’ve moved fourteen times in my life, and I’ve learned a great deal from these experiences. Additionally, I’m learning even more on this fifteenth move. Over the next couple weeks as we personally go through the moving process, I’ll write posts sharing tips and tricks for each stage. Please feel welcome to jump into the comments and share advice you’ve garnered from the moves in your life. My hope is for these posts to become guides for anyone going through the moving process who wants the move to be as simple and organized as possible.


  • Wear shoes with good arch support and full-foot coverage. If weather permits, also wear long sleeves, jeans, and socks to help avoid injuries.
  • Gather supplies: boxes (small, medium, and large), packing tape, roll of bubble wrap for fragile pieces, permanent black markers, band-aids, ice packs, pain reliever, trash bags, a wardrobe box for each person in the house, a good sense of humor, and anything else you’ll need.
  • When acquiring boxes, make a stop at your local liquor or wine store to grab a few boxes with divided inserts. These boxes are perfect for safely transporting alcohol and other kitchen liquids like vinegar and olive oil. (If moving across state lines, check regulations for transporting alcohol and make certain to abide by these laws.)
  • Make a hotel reservation for the night you arrive at your new place. Your goal will be to get the best night’s sleep possible so you can start refreshed for your first day of unpacking. You’ll also want a shower after moving stuff all day, and it’s best to not have to worry about making sure these things can easily happen.
  • Clear floorspace in your home in four different locations and mark each area: Packed Boxes to Move, Charity Donations, Giveaway/Return, and Sell. These areas are where you will put these items until you’re finished packing your things. You will likely need at least a 10′ X 10′ area to hold the Packed Boxes to Move. Also, the area holding items you intend to sell should be easily accessible from the front door or in your garage so that potential buyers can see the product without having to climb over boxes and mess in your home.
  • If you have children under the age of five, see if a grandparent, friend, or babysitter can keep your child occupied while you work.
  • Your first act of packing should be a suitcase with two weeks of clothing and supplies. Be sure to include your toothbrush and toothpaste, a couple bath towels, soap, shampoo, hair dryer and anything else that is part of your daily hygiene routine.
  • Your second act of packing should be an essentials kit — but don’t tape it up! These will be the last items you take out of your current house and the first items you unpack in your new place. These will be things like cleaning supplies, two or more rolls of toilet paper, a frying pan, a few paper plates and plastic utensils, sheets for all the beds, and anything else you will need the first couple days in your new place.
  • Make large print signs for your new home with room names: Living Room, Family Room, Master Bedroom, Sally’s Room, Sally’s Bathroom, etc. These signs will make it easier on you and anyone helping you move boxes into your new place. Bring a roll of painter’s tape with you in your essentials kit and plan to hang the signs immediately upon getting access to your new place.
  • As you move throughout your home packing boxes, I recommend starting with the heaviest items that will form the base of your Packed Boxes to Move area. Books are almost always a good item for this. Use small boxes, and group similar types together (cookbooks with cookbooks, children’s books with children’s books).
  • Label the top and all four sides of a box with a short explanation of what is in the box (Toys) and what room the box should be placed in at the new house (Bobby’s Room). You want to label the top and sides so that the box can be facing in any direction and you can still know what is inside it and where to take it.
  • Try your best not to mix different types of things in boxes (your shoes shouldn’t be with your coffee mugs). If this is unavoidable, at the very least do not mix items that belong in different rooms. Only pack kitchen things with other kitchen things, bathroom things with other bathroom things, etc.
  • Sort and clean everything before packing it. If you never plan to use eight vases, put some of the vases in the Donate to Charity pile. The key is not to move ANYTHING you don’t want in your new home. Clear the clutter now so you don’t have to spend time and energy moving it.
  • Only use trash bags for trash. This will keep you from accidentally throwing something valuable away. If you want to use trash bags for transporting charity items, use differently colored bags (black for trash, white for charity) and write DONATION in big letters on the bag. Be sure to let the ink dry before using the bag.
  • Set packing goals the same way you set other goals in your life. Be as specific as possible: Pack the living room on Monday, the garage on Tuesday, or whatever systematic method works best for you.
  • Take breaks at least once an hour for five or ten minutes. Your sanity depends on it.

Ask Unclutterer: Sell everything and buy new to achieve an uncluttered life?

Reader Catherine submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

In two years, [my husband and I] will be moving back to California where most of my family lives. I want to sell just about everything we own and ship only the things we want to keep and know we will use, along with photos, important papers and other sentimental items. We would also sell the car and fly out. We have made two cross-country trips over the years, trucking all our belongings and towing our vehicles both times. To be honest, I really don’t want to do it again …

We will be moving from [a] large house to an apartment only about a third of the size. I have told him that one of my fears is that we will truck all our stuff out and then find out a lot of our stuff won’t fit. Then we will end up selling stuff anyway, but will have transported it all for nothing … My husband keeps saying, “But then we’ll have to buy new things.” It’s just stuff to me and I am actually looking forward to starting over and buying new items to fit a new smaller apartment. Any suggestions on bringing my husband over to my side?

I understand the tabula rasa desire to wipe the slate clean and start a new life with new things in a new place. I get it, really I do. You’re imagining all of your problems with clutter and disorder magically disappearing when you create your new life together in California. It’s a blissful thought!

Except, your problems with clutter aren’t going anywhere.

You and your husband will acquire things in California in the same patterns you do currently. The disorganization will eventually reappear and the chaos will come back because the two most important factors in your life haven’t changed: you’re still you, and your husband is still your husband.

Until both of you choose to commit to a clutter-free, organized life, it doesn’t matter if you move the stuff across country or not. And, as much as I’m sure you would like to force him into becoming an unclutterer, you can’t make him. He’s an adult with free will and an attachment to his things — and you love him, clutter and all.

You should definitely talk with him about your desire to live as unclutterers. Have a respectful conversation detailing your specific visions for your current living space can help him to better understand the benefits of an uncluttered life. (You have two years in your current home, and your plans for California could easily change, so forget about some distant future and focus on the present.) He may be 100 percent on board with your vision of an uncluttered home and the path you should take to get there. But, you have to be prepared for the possibility that he might not agree with you and you’ll need to listen to his opposing viewpoints. Additionally, your definition of clutter might be completely different than his. Check out “What to do if you are organized and your partner isn’t” and “How can I change someone into an unclutterer?” for ideas on how to open up effective communication lines on this topic.

I’d also suggest you spend some time thinking about why you are so eager to let go of the vast majority of your possessions when you move? It makes sense to purge the clutter, but why do you want to get rid of things that aren’t clutter (like a car, if you use it)? Is it because you love shopping, and you’re simply looking for a reason to buy new stuff? Or, is there something bigger going on that you haven’t yet admitted to yourself? There might not be any underlying issue, but if there is, now is a good time to explore it. Otherwise you could find yourself in California, surrounded by new stuff, but plagued with the same old clutter problems.

I’m sorry I don’t have a “do exactly what Catherine wants you to do” response for you to show your husband. I was really tempted to write it, though, because I often hear that same siren call to recreate myself in a new place. But, it doesn’t matter how far your go or how little you carry with you, the underlying issues always reappear if you don’t deal with them. You have at least two years to get clutter under control in your current place — if your husband is on board, learn to live an uncluttered life together now and what stuff you want to move won’t be an issue when/if you go to California. Plus, you won’t have a two-year disagreement over moving logistics wreaking havoc on your marriage.

Thank you, Catherine, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope your conversation with your husband brings about an outcome that satisfies both of you and helps you in your current and future life together. Good luck!

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Reader uncluttering strategy: Buy back your stuff

Yesterday, in the comment section to “Downsizing after a divorce” reader Clutter Junkie left an amazing strategy for reducing clutter that I wanted to highlight as its own post. From Clutter Junkie:

I’m rubbish at decluttering, but I had a girlfriend help me do my place.

She brought $20 in coins to start me off, and put everything I owned to one side of the room. If I wanted to keep anything, I had to buy it for a dollar (Just one dollar!) at a time. You soon realise that you wouldn’t pay a dollar for that CD in a junk shop — so why are you keeping it? All the money I paid went to charity, the amount of stuff I didn’t want also went to a charity store. It’s amazing how unappealing that old sweater looks when you have to pay for it.

I think this idea would work amazingly well for some situations — helping kids to minimize their toy collections, reducing the number of clothes in a closet, and deciding which sentimental items to keep and which to toss are a few situations that instantly come to my mind. If you have to “buy” your things again, you will certainly be more selective with what you choose to keep.

I also love the idea of the money and the left over items going to charity (assuming they’re in good condition). It’s nice to know that good things can happen as a result of your uncluttering efforts. Thanks, Clutter Junkie, for sharing your uncluttering strategy with us.

Ask Unclutterer: A successful move

Reader Katie submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My husband and I will be moving apartments soon and could use some help thinking through the cleaning/uncluttering, packing and unpacking process. The new apartment will be close to the same size as the old one (possibly a little smaller, depending on which one comes through), but our current place is extremely cluttered with a lot of misused space and even boxes from our last move that we have never even touched (in 3 years — I know, I know — you’re going to tell me to get rid of them without even looking in them!). We are looking forward to starting fresh in a new place and doing some necessary uncluttering in the process, but we don’t want to delude ourselves that it will be an easy process, as we both have clutterbug and procrastination tendencies. What tips do you have that might help us in the process of decluttering and packing up our old place and getting an uncluttered start in the new place??

I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to tell people to get rid of unopened boxes, but it’s some of the worst advice I’ve ever heard. And, I’ve surprisingly heard it a great deal. When I was going through my major uncluttering project, I became fed up with the process and tossed out a number of boxes I hadn’t opened since my move. Inside those boxes were my social security card, birth certificate, and my passport. Throwing out those boxes was a huge mistake and the paperwork was a hassle to replace! One thing you can be sure of is that I will never tell you to blindly get rid of unopened boxes. I don’t wish those repercussions on anyone.

My advice to you is to unclutter twice. It sounds like a lot of work, and I won’t lie to you, it is. However, you will be so amazed by the results that your hard work will be worth it. You will love your new place and really enjoy living in it.

Start by sitting down with your husband and mapping out the life you want in your new space. This vision will be your motivation as you go through this uncluttering process.

The first wave of uncluttering will come when you’re packing up your things. Start by packing up those objects that you won’t need over the next couple months — winter clothing (assuming you’re in the northern hemisphere), cold-weather supplies, and holiday decorations (if you have such things). Ask yourself: 1. Did I use this in the past six months (or however often you are expected to use it)? 2. Do I plan to use it next winter (or whenever you would customarily use it next)? 3. Do I love it enough to go through the hassle of moving it? 4. Does it pass the red velvet rope test? 5. Does it reflect the remarkable life my husband and I desire?

At this point, get rid of anything that doesn’t meet all five of these criteria.

Label boxes clearly with the room where they’ll be stored and the contents of the box. Use smaller boxes instead of co-mingling contents that will be stored in different rooms. A label on a box might say: “Front Closet — Winter Coats” or “Basement Storage — Christmas Decorations.”

As you continue to pack your boxes, work in a way so that the things you use every day are the last to be boxed and loaded into a moving van. This way, they’ll be the first to be unloaded and unboxed when you move into your new space.

The second wave of uncluttering will come when you’re unpacking your things. As you’re putting things away, remember that everything you own must have a space (“a place for everything, and everything in its place”). Anything without a proper space will need to go.

A great tip I picked up a few years ago is that as you’re unpacking, be sure to flatten every piece of newspaper and box that you used. This way, you’re guaranteed not to miss anything while unpacking and it makes recycling or selling these materials simple.

Remember, too, that unpacking isn’t a race. Give yourself time to make informed decisions about your things. Set up your bed, kitchen, and bathroom first and then work out from there. Agree to unpack 10 boxes a night (or more) until you’re all moved into your new place. I actually envy your situation a little — you’re going to have a wonderfully uncluttered home when you’re finished!

Thank you, Katie, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Saying farewell to a family home

I once worked with a woman who has kept every single piece of clothing her children wore from birth until they went off to college — including underwear, torn jeans, stained t-shirts, and socks with failed elastic. The clothing is stored in a room in her basement and it lines the walls on custom designed clothing rods. The items are organized by child and then by size. The room looks like a boutique children’s clothing store, except, of course, the clothes are not for sale.

Whenever I read an article about downsizing, my mind always returns to this woman. I wonder what will happen to the early-1980’s infant sailor suits, the haphazardly created Halloween costumes, and the Bedazzled worn-out Keds when my former co-worker leaves her family home for an apartment in a retirement community. Will she take any of her collection with her? Or, will she try to give it away to her children, a new parent, or a charity?

We all have collections like this — albeit probably smaller — that have meaning to us and possibly no one else. Maybe you’ve kept every fortune cookie fortune that has crossed your path or never parted with your favorite childhood action figures? Whatever it is, you care about it and have made space for it in your home. But, when faced with the possibility of moving to a smaller place, you might decide to let it go.

Unfortunately, the reality is that not everyone gets to decide what makes it into a new place when they downsize. Instead of making the decision for yourself, you might be the person making this decision for someone else, such as an injured or ailing parent. If this is the case, you have to make choices about the things other people value — and this can be extremely difficult.

“Of all the people in human history who ever reached the age of 65, half are alive now.” — Fred Pearce in the article “The shock of the old: Welcome to the elderly age” in the April issue of New Scientist.

If you are preparing to downsize (either yourself or for a family member), keep the following thing in mind:

  • Emotions are strong during this time, even when the move is desired. Take the time to carefully sort through everything. Whomever is downsizing needs to be heavily involved in the process and have time to share stories about the items with others.
  • Snap digital photographs of anything you plan to throw out, donate to charity, give away, or recycle that has an emotional connection for you or your loved one. This might be the one time you want to print the photographs and stick them in an album for easy viewing (especially if an older person who doesn’t have a computer will want to look at the pictures).
  • Consider hiring a senior move manager to help with the process. Having a third party involved who isn’t emotionally tied to the situation can help significantly.
  • Measure the new place and know exactly how much stuff can be moved into it. You may need to go through the “taking with me” pile multiple times to ensure that the right amount of stuff will be transported.
  • If family and friends are interested in some of the personal items in the current home, only let the person or persons who are downsizing decide what pieces go to whom. Try your best not to let the person moving spaces be bullied into decisions. When financially valuable items are involved, you can contact an appraiser to provide information so the best decisions are made for the person downsizing.

Downsizing can be a wonderful experience, especially if emotions are respected throughout the entire process. It can be liberating to rid yourself of the responsibilities of caring for so many possessions — even the objects you spent years collecting and treasuring. Take the time and say farewell appropriately to your family home.