10 Steps to Declutter a Huge Storage Area Over Time
Updated: May 19, 2019
My sister Lynette urged me to share the steps I took to declutter a large storage space while living without disruption for extended periods of time (weeks and even months).
If you're like me, you don't have (or want) a dumpster in the driveway. You aren't under the gun to do this. You have no deadline, so it's easy to put off. But, it never leaves your To Do list. You're never really free of it. It's a giant bomb waiting for your kids some day.
It's not that I never thought about doing it before. I had many failed starts. I'd quickly lose enthusiasm as I'd open a box, hold an item and walk in circles not knowing what to do with it. So, I'd put it back, leave, and resolve to try another day. And what about the junk? We aren't on a TV show and can't just throw everything on the front lawn for a few months while we work through it.
My sister Kay always advises, "How do you eat an elephant?" Answer: One bite at a time. That was the inspiration for step 2. In fact, it's one of the most important steps to breaking down the project into bite-size helpings which will help you get mentally focused and energized.
As for what to keep and what to toss? If you want to declutter, you can't merely reorganize. You have to toss (and toss doesn't only mean garbage). The famous Marie Kondo advises to keep items that give you joy. I followed that advice while I worked over many weeks attacking the space. Once I figured out a process, walked away and closed the door when I was finished with a session, I became super motivated to return and before long, it was done.
I did this for our children so they'd not have to do it some day. Why are you doing it? I hope you'll share this if you find it helpful. Friends don't let friends declutter alone!
10 Steps to Declutter a Huge Storage Area over Time
Even if you're not ready to start, JUST DO THE FIRST TWO STEPS ASAP!
1. Put These Supplies in the Clutter Room (Work Only One Room at a Time)
Hefty Ultra Strong Garbage bags, Post-it Notes & Sharpie marker.
4’ folding table, card table or other workspace. Chair and good lighting.
Storage bins. Ideally get rid of all boxes, if possible.
Avery large labels to label bins (LABEL BINS AT THE END).
Portable shelving units or similar if possible
2. Divide and Conquer
Visually section off the messy room into small ‘zones’ that can be knocked out in an hour.
Number each zone with post-it notes # 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc somewhere visible in the zone.
Continue until the whole area is zoned off.
Yay! You have just carved the clutter into manageable, one-hour bites. The final number estimates the number of hours the decluttering will take + clean-up time. It’s ok! Eat an elephant one bite at a time.
3. Pick a Zone and Start!
Pick a zone any zone! Use the worktable to open boxes and review items.
Touch every item. Decide Keep or Toss.
Unpack every box including boxes already organized by category. Decide to keep or toss each thing (exception: don’t unpack tax documents already organized by year. Keep up to 7 years).
Be systematic. Simply process and organize. Put on music. Enjoy the memories.
Be tough. The object is to reduce the amount of clutter, not reorganize it.
4. Keep, Toss, and Categorize
Every item should be moved from its current spot and categorized in the keep or toss areas.
Keep: Use the bins to re-organize into separate categories.
One bin minimum for each person by name for items assigned to each.
Create a new category bin for things not assigned to a person.
E.g., Bin categories: photos, games, baby, collectible toys, newspapers, sports memorabilia, tech, books, Christmas, wrapping paper, hobby, White Elephant etc).
Avoid creating a generic “clothing” bin. Put in the person’s personal bin.
Special categories: “Quilt” - A separate bin or bag for each child’s keepsake t-shirts, sweatshirts, jerseys, rally flag, garment and other fabric items to be made into a quilt.
Toss: use garbage bags & old boxes to separate garbage, recycle, charity, or sale (online, yard)
5. Staging – (Where to Hold Stuff While Decluttering)
Important! As you go, move items from their current spot to a temporary new spot (staging area).
Keep: Stage the bins on the clutter room floor. Toss items into the bins by category as you declutter.
Toss: Stage garbage bags so they’re handy next to table to sort garbage and donations.
Move full garbage bags to a nearby spot (e.g., hallway) to hold there until end of the day’s work.
The old messy area will be empty when the area is finished except for bins on the floor.
6. During a Declutter Session (A Session is Time Spent in Any One Day)
Don’t fret the pace. Touching everything takes time! It takes as long as it takes.
Fatigue and exhaustion are demotivating & a deterrent to return. Stop when physically or mentally tired.
ALWAYS clean the staging area outside the clutter room after every declutter session.
7. After EACH Decluttering Session
Close the door and walk away until next time. Feel great no matter how little or much was done.
Allow enough time to clean up areas (e.g., hallway) of garbage, donation bags etc.
Don’t stockpile donation bags in the garage. Arrange delivery or pick up asap.
e-Bay/Craigs/FB sales: Research & create the listing as you go. Yes, stop. Then stage it & move to garage.
Garbage and recycle. Move garbage to the garage. Call for special pickups as needed. Use a dumpster only if there is no time restraint or issue with a dumpster sitting at the home for a while.
Keep sensitive docs, account numbers, bank statements, PII in garbage bags for one trip to a commercial shredder. Google commercial shredders. They take all kinds of things including stapled documents, envelopes, paper, and some take spiral binders and filled Pendaflex-type folders with the hanging metal clips!
8. Final Step After Entire Room is Decluttered
When finished, the shelves/area should be empty. Recategorized full bins are on the floor.
Dust & clean and then organize the bins back onto the shelves. Label the bins with the category.
9. Other Tips
It's not all your stuff. Use texting to send pictures and ask kids & family members to respond with keep or toss.
Use a phone to take pictures of sentimental items being tossed instead of keeping
Photos. Remove from frames. Trash big portrait photos (keep small copy). Keep best pics, not all.
Cards and letters. Keep treasured family members’ personally written notes and stamped envelopes.
Old computers, laptops. Don’t donate or resell. Destroy motherboard and dispose.
Children’s artwork & sentimentals. Photograph and toss. Keep a few treasures in their bins.
Old furniture, lighting, décor, etc. – Sell, donate, or repurpose, but get it out of the clutter zone.
Try to touch an item only once. Don’t set is aside for later. Decide now.
10. Congratulations! Celebrate your accomplishment!
Start Date: ____________________ Completion Date:__________________________
Would love to hear what helped and your tips. Best wishes, JillKeogh@gmail.com
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