How to Declutter Without Making a Bigger Mess

How to Declutter Without Making a Bigger Mess at

I get this question/complaint a lot.

I totally understand the frustration since it was MY main frustration with organizing and decluttering before I started this blog.

To answer, I’ll show my current decluttering project.

I used to be all about maniacal decluttering sessions which involved pulling every last thing out of a cluttered space.

Every last thing ended up all over my floor, spreading into a bigger mess than I had before I started.

Since that method rarely/never ended well, I had to come up with a new way.

First, my only decluttering supplies are a donate-able Donate Box (so I don’t have to go back through the things I’ve decided to donate) and a trash can/bag.

No “Keep Box” allowed.

My garage has full-to-the-brim Keep Boxes from years past.

Even worse than a Keep Box is a Keep Pile. Keep Piles caused the most heartache and frustration. WHEN (not if) I got distracted, they morphed into a huge mess that was now in plain sight! Outside of the drawer/closet/cabinet that used to hide the clutter!!

Second, I use my two simple decluttering questions.

The key to not creating a bigger mess comes in the second part of the first question. (The part that isn’t really a question.) It’s also how I avoid the Keep Box/Pile.

The part about “taking it there right now.”

It goes against all Dreams of Efficiency to feel like I’m stopping in the middle of a decluttering project to take one little item across the house, but it’s essential for my distractible personality.

Taking something I’ve decided to keep to its proper home RIGHT NOW means there is no middle of a project.


If I have to stop before I’m finished, I’m automatically at a stopping point because I just need to empty the trash can and put the Donate Box in the Donate Spot.

I may not be totally done with the project, but I’m better off than I was before I started.

Here’s how it worked for me last week.

This corner in my gameroom has been taunting me for over a year now.

Photo - Before Decluttering the Junk Corner at

I pretended it wasn’t noticeable by putting a screen in front of it.

I’m motivated by dreams of having a place to set up my sewing machine (fine . . . one of my two sewing machines) so it can be available for spontaneous sewing projects.

Not that I really know how to sew, but whatever.

My main  goal was to purge. To stick as much as I possibly could in the Donate Box. I knew this stuff had been there for a LONG time. I didn’t know what was buried within the piles. It only made sense that most of it should go.

Gone!! (Things I didn't remember I had) at

I was brutal, but it wasn’t easy. Well, the two-year-old cornflakes and eBay packing slip holders were easy, but the rest wasn’t.

Cute Christmas paper for the newsletter I’m sure I’ll eventually write?

I’ve had it for at least eight years.

If that dream ever becomes a reality, I’ll spend less than five dollars to buy some new paper.

The random cords gave me heart palpitations.

Cords stress me out. WHAT IF I eventually need the item that needs that cord??

But those cords have been there for a very long time. And if I needed them, I would never have looked there.

If I ever needed information from the user’s guide for our rarely-used desktop computer, I’d search online.

My point in listing out those things is that I didn’t put off any decisions. I didn’t sort, then look, then ponder. I pulled out one item at a time and made a decision about it.

But not everything needed to go.

My “office supplies box” was back there. I often go digging in it when I need an envelope or scissors or such.

Having a place for office supplies is legit, but that place was not legit.

So I found a drawer in a nearby dresser that could easily become an Office Supply Drawer.

A drawer full of things we don't need at

The ONLY thing worth keeping was the CD of pictures. It was easy and angst-free to turn that drawer into a space for things I did need to keep.

And then there were the Heelys wheels.

I have no idea why there were six wheels in that pile of stuff.  But I do know I would never have found them if I was looking for them. Now, to be honest, I’m not even sure if our two pairs of Heelys shoes fit anyone right now. But . . . I do know that whatever happens to them (selling them or donating them or wearing them) . . . we really need the wheels.

Taking Items Where I Would Look for Them at

So I took the wheels to the shoes. Right then.

So how does this project answer the How to Declutter Without Making a Bigger Mess question?

Here’s the after picture:

After (But Not Finished) Picture at

(In the foreground of the picture are the trash bag and Donate Box.)

It isn’t done, but it also isn’t a bigger mess. It’s a smaller mess.

A smaller mess = progress.

Progress is good. It’s not magazine-worthy, but it’s a huge improvement.

Yes. I need to get back to this project and keep working until the space is clear. But I worked for an hour and made progress, not a bigger mess. Next time I can work on it for an hour, I’ll make more progress.

Eventually, I’ll be done.

Make sense?

If this makes sense to you, and you want more home management strategies that actually make sense (to us not-naturally-organized types), check out my new book, How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind. The book will be released wherever books are sold on November 8th, so pre-order now. HowToManage_3D

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  1. 1
    Janet the Mum says:

    So what do you do when the place you would put the item is where I just pulled it out of? For example: I sew (rarely, these days) and I have unfinished projects stuffed… I mean stored… in a couple of specific places. I keep trying to declutter those areas, but the place I would look for that is in the cupboard I just pulled it out of!

    Now that I write that out, I suspect my problem is more like the winter paper above. If I haven’t continued the project in X time, maybe it is time to toss it. Wait??!? I couldn’t have uttered such heresy!!!!! That can’t possibly be it!

    But serious, dear friend hoarders… I mean slobs… I mean creative types with a lot more imagination than time! how do I purge my precious sewing supplies? When I think of the rent I’ve spent dedicating an entire closet, a desk, under my bed, and various horizontal surfaces to “projects” and “I’m going to find some way to use that…”, I could have bought all the fabric new! I don’t live in the 1930s! But I can’t find a way to get rid of anything other than small scraps.

    • 2

      It kind of sounds like you answered your own question . . .

      I know it’s so hard! But are you following the second decluttering question? The one about if you even knew you had it? Also there’s the container concept that’s key. How much fabric can this fabric cabinet hold? Fill it with your favorites first and then purge what didn’t fit.

      I know. It’s so much harder than it sounds!

    • 3

      Quick Question: Is the challenge more along the UFO line (unfinished objects), or is it more beautiful yards of fabric that haven’t been committed to anything yet?

    • 4

      I’ve been struggling with this too, since I just moved into a smaller house. It’s SO hard to whittle down the stash. I thought of Dana and just tried to use the container concept. I also bought some clear plastic containers so I could use the vertical space in craft cupboard better.
      For unfinished projects, I try to remember why I stopped working on it. If the thought of restarting it totally overwhelms or frustrates me I toss it. If the material is too pretty to part with I store it with fabric or yarn, not with my projects. It’s not a perfect rule, but helpful.

    • 5
      Elaine in Ark says:

      I had that same attitude – I spent a lot of money buying these things and if I get rid of the stuff, all that money is wasted!

      I got over it.

      I just retired and cleaned out my office stuff. I’m donating loads of labels, dividers, etc. that I will NEVER use again, and tossing random cords and old floppies. Now everything I need and want FITS IN THAT SPACE! It’s great.

      Fabric stashes could be donated to any group that makes blankets/quilts for charity. I had loads of embroidery floss that I gave the quilting group at my church for their Quilts of Love, and they were thrilled to get it all.

      • 6

        Don’t overlook the American Sewing Guild for donating fabrics. I’m a member and we use all kinds of fleece, knits and cottons for chemo caps. We use quilting cottons to make pillowcases for children’s hospitals. (The little patients get to keep the pillowcases) We have been using cottons and lace for the little dresses for Africa project. We use mostly cottons for the special pillows for surgery patients. We use all kinds of fabric for doll clothes that get donated.

    • 7
      Janet the Mum says:

      Re: containers. I sort of have been for a long while. I have all of my fabric and yarn stash in containers. About 15 of them…. I used to have them labeled until my three year old niece decided to “help” me… So! A rethinking of containers– limit myself to say, 6 totes (10 may be more realistic…) may be a good first step. When it takes more than 20 mins to look through all of my totes, and still not find what I’m looking for… The mess is contained, but making a “smaller container” (less totes) would be a huge step in the right direction.

      Andree: It is both. Lots and lots of both. The unfinished projects are so hard to get rid of because of what they represent (emotional clutter, anyone?!?). And not having disposable income to buy the fabric I might want for a project means I want to keep everything, so I have tons of choices when I start a project. (None of which I can find in a timely manner)

      Wow, even the process of trying to put it into words is enlightening. If you were to ask me if I want to keep emotional clutter, I would say, no, of course not. But, as I sit here, I can see the cupboard with many of my UFO (unfinished objects). A significant amount of my space is dedicated to just that. I get so excited to think of the possibilities until I come face to face with the decision of ACTUALLY giving something away.

      Ok! Getting off the computer and going to go do something!

    • 8

      Check with local churches who might have a quilting group. Also the local quilt shop – mine takes in all kinds of sewing supplies to sell at the annual quilt show – money goes to charity. Daycare is another – they often need craft supplies and are short of money.

    • 9
      Kres Maples says:

      I had boxes and boxes of fabric and other craft items that I intended someday to use. After moving twice in 4 years, I finally asked myself “UGH! Why are you keeping all this stuff just to move it from place to place? And when are you ever going to have time?” The answer “When your old! And by then you won’t want any of it because it will be old too and probably out of style and you’d have found something better by then” So what to do? I went through it and SERIOUSLY had to decide what was worth keeping and what wasn’t. Surprisingly it wasn’t so bad once I got started. I donated almost everything to the local elementary school. Very few items were really worth keeping. The reward was the amount of space I cleared out, the piece of mind, the happiness with myself for following through and seeing some of the “projects” the kids did with my donations was the icing on the cake.

    • 10

      I have to tackle the sewing stuff. I am tackling the sewing stuff, and will probably still be tackling the sewing stuff in a year…or 2…or 3. But here’s where I’m at right now.
      Choose just one thing. One thing to go now. Next time I’ll worry about another. And I’ve reassessed what a UFO is. Now I’ve got IP’s WIP’s and UFO’s. IP = incomplete project that needs to have a decision made about it. I either begin working on it again so it becomes a Work in Progress (WIP) or it get’s downgraded to an UnFinished Object (UFO) and they have to go! So now I’m not deciding if I should keep it or not but if I want to continue to work on it or not. And that is an easier decision somehow.

    • 11

      I also sew. I hoarded, I mean I purchased fleece fabric that I was going to use to make baby blankets. I was constantly rummaging through those remnants bins for the best deal in fleece. The problem is that I made a few blankets and still had the big mess. Then when two friends had to have chemo, I started making chemo turbans. the nice thing is that they leave my home and go to my friends as soon as they are finished. If you have a lot of fabric make gifts. It is a great way to de-clutter.
      If you feel that you’re absolutely not going to sew the fabric, give it to a sewing guild.

  2. 12

    Yep, love that! I’m part of a FB group focused on decluttering and we keep encouraging one another with “baby steps, baby steps.” Even a little thing, like moving 4 canning jars from our pantry into our basement where the right box is, makes our pantry more manageable. With our family being busy, and having little people, I’ve found the “take everything out and sort and organize and then put it away” just doesn’t work really well. Like you said, interruptions happen and then it can be a disaster out in the open.

    • 13

      I’ve been decluttering too. I start taking on more then I should at one time. I would like to belong to a FB group on decluttering. I need the support and tips to help me. I do enjoy Nony’s tips.

  3. 14

    Yes, makes sense to me. Great new place for your office supplies!

  4. 15

    Great job! It is hard for me to not do the “pull everything out” too. I am working on it though. 🙂

  5. 16

    Love this! I’m working with something similar with my MIL (cleaning out my late FIL’s office). I’ve yoinked your ‘do the easy stuff first’ idea, and I’m getting her to declutter 5 easy things a day (five pieces of paper, 5 floppy disks, 5 ‘why did he keep those?’ items….) It’s about getting it better in really small amounts, rather than trying to deal with the overwhelming pile all at once.

    • 17

      I love this rule! I try to get rid of 3 items a week – some things I sell (takes a lot of time) and some I donate or throw away. Over time, it has made a big difference – although there is still so much to do.

  6. 18

    I need to get serious about this in my office. I have a comfortable chair and footstool I want to start using out here, but it’s not a huge space. Two sets of bookshelves have to go (time to purge lots and lots of books…totally LOVE my Kindle ‘bookshelves’). So, newly motivated after reading today’s post, I guess I’m going to sort one shelf at a time. Thanks for posting about this. You’re spot on…a little progress is better than no progress. 🙂

  7. 19
    Elizabeth says:

    I often go with the ‘full hands’ concept… I clean an area until my hands are full of things that need to go some place else… then I go and put those things away. Where ever it is that I finish putting things, I stand there and clean until my hands are full again and repeat as needed. I have a trash can in all the major rooms, so I just toss stuff where I am.

    • 20
      Jenny Jackson says:

      I agree with “a trash can in all the major rooms”. It made a huge difference when I figured that one out. Still 2 short but getting there.

      • 21

        I also put a paper recycle bin upstairs, as it seemed to be a huge stumbling block to me to have to carry paper downstairs to recycle.

  8. 22
    Elizabeth says:

    Kristy – Think of it this way… if you go and sell your books, you can afford more Kindle books!

  9. 23

    I have a craft room that is now known as the hole ( of doom) I have been paralysed in my fear of sorting it. I don’t want to get rid of materials in there but I know there is a lot of junk in there too and the foot of fabric you need to wade through it get in the room. My main problem is the thinking I needed somewhere to move stuff out to to sort. Maybe I don’t… Ive 30 blouses and 7 and a half pairs of lederhosen to make for a show in May, but once that’s done I’ll get started… Maybe, before to break up the sewing. Then I can then get the overflow of craft stuff that’s overtaken the dining room sorted and put in the craft room,
    thank you there may be light at the end of the tunnel!

  10. 24
    Lothelena says:

    I completely agree about the taking it there immediately thing, but what do you do when it won’t fit in the place where it needs to be because you need to declutter that as well? That’s what consistently trips me up. I’ve done a massive purge of my craft room, limiting myself to the storage available, but as I reclaim other areas of the house there’s more that belongs up there, it doesn’t fit and now it’s just piled up making the room a total disaster again. Grr!

  11. 28

    Your tip of put it where it belongs right now is my favorite tip I have learned from your ebooks. It is making a huge difference in my home and garage 15 minutes at a time. I used to think I had to pull everything out which like you said made a big mess and then I would get distracted and add to those piles and everything would just get worse and worse. I have been practicing taking the thing to where it belongs immediately for about 3 months now and I am amazed at how truly efficient that is. Thank you.

  12. 30
    KatieAnn says:

    This is so amazing! It’s works so well, and my house is only MORE livable! Huge sigh of relief! No more closet vomit covering my once usable living room space! Thanks!!

  13. 32

    Help! I’ve turned my 3 small children into hoarders. As I am trying to break my habit they are growing theirs. I work fulltime but will be quitting to be a stay at home Mom by the end of the month. Our biggest hoarding problems are clothes, toys and books. We have a big house but limited storage. I feel bad for just getting rid of their stuff but I can’t stand to look at it anymore. Suggestions?

    • 33
    • 34

      My children’s rooms were out of control. I learned to set limits. My boys were allowed to keep 7 nice shirts, 7 nice jeans, 2 nice pairs of shoes, 7 sports outfits, 7 work shirts, 4 work pants, etc…. This gave them enough to get through the week until their laundry day (We all choose a day to do our own laundry and the washer/dyer is all ours that day.) Special outfits were allowed like a cowboy shirt for the one country dance they go to a year. They got to choose…. this was really hard for me. I seldom agreed with their choices. I knew how much the stuff cost, but I stuck to it being their choice. We donated the rest immediately so it didn’t end back up in the closet. Now when we receive hand-me-downs or buy new clothes we stick to our count. Something new comes in….something old goes out. I have bought something new before and have my kids opt to not give up something old. The new goes out. I have learned to take them shopping with me! I have also been known to resort to bribery if I really hate what they have chosen to keep! This has really worked for us. It is amazing how much less time I spend on laundry also. They have to do their laundry because they are out of clothes and it never gets overwhelming! I think letting my children have control of what is kept within the bounds I set was the key. My daughter and I had to negotiate on her numbers. Seven didn’t work for her, but now as a grown adult with children of her own she still adheres to something new in…. something new out.

  14. 35

    In a future article, maybe you can tackle how you include your kids in this process. My house has stayed much more “picked-up” since I have implemented some basic expectations for the kids. I also have the declutter challenge of as soon as I decided this thing can go, someone in the house lays a claim to it and states that it is the most important item to them ever! Toys are especially hard – I swear as soon as I start to clean out the playroom the toy that hasn’t been played with in 3 years is now their most favorite item ever, and I feel terrible for getting rid of it. How to do you get the kids on the same page? (Mine are 6, 8, 10 – so still young).

    • 36
      Amanda B says:

      I feel your pain – over Christmas all four of my children changed bedrooms so EVERYTHING they owned ended up in the playroom. I purged and just didn’t give them any say in it – everything designed for children under six (my youngest turned six in October) went to a friend for her eighteen month old or to charity. It was hard – but they got over it right away. (They were 6,7, 10 and 12.) It helped that I told them they had no place for new Christmas presents until the cleaning out was done.

  15. 37

    I have a huge mess sitting on the floor of my 3rd bdrm (office/exercise room). It resulted in my attempt to move some large Rubbermaid tubs of craft supplies from my garage storage room to the bdrm closet where my sewing machine is stored. I wanted to sort the contents first and not just move a lot of things I didn’t need to keep. I have lived my entire life making bigger messes while trying to creating smaller messes. Thank you for writing about this. I hope to use your advice to complete the cleanup.

  16. 38
    JavaKitten says:

    I LOVE this method. I wish I had read this before I tackled the front “dining” room bookcases 4 weeks ago.. Ugh. What a mess!

  17. 39
    Sugar Mama says:

    I have a rather large storage unit that I’ve had for over 5 years that is full of …….. my parents items (past away) but nostalgia keeps me stuck. I have PLENTY of my own things along with things of my kids that …. well fit’s into the “One Day” or the “Too special to toss” or the “It’s a memory I’d never want to forget” and well…. when I lost my house, then was evicted and homeless……. everything got thrown… yes……. barely packed and THROWN into storage as it was winter and we had no time. I’ve tried to clean it out about 3 times or so already and have had multiple garage sales to sell all the BIG things…. (Due to needing rent money) and I cried my heart out for I had to let go of the things that were like “The one and only real bedroom set my mother was ever able to get me when I was about 28” among other things. Now I’ve been stuck in a 2.5 room apt with my 2 kids and well……. it appears my “saving” or “idk??” is taking what little space we have and really making it look like …… “If anyone ever came in here!?!?! OMG!!” Suggestions?????? Loved the article by the way! I will print it out and see if it works for me.

    • 40

      My biggest thing when resisting getting rid of things I’d I’m scared for the future. I keep things to feel secure. The irony is that I can not progress and move forward with all that stuff! I don’t have a magical solution, but recognizing that I’m afraid about the future goes a long way to help me release things and know there are brighter days ahead.

  18. 41
    Sugar Mama says:

    Oh… and yes… I totally do the “pull every last thing out” method……. at home & work… it terrifies people, but I’m so used to it and it’s the only way I really get things DONE! But I’ll admit it probably takes me 3 times longer than it should! Ugh!

  19. 42
    Kelekona says:

    I probably should have read this one before starting today, but I had to move some shelving units so it was a case of pulling out without putting back. At least I don’t have anything to do tomorrow except undo the mess.

  20. 43

    Once again, you have written a post out of “This is My Life!”
    Before I ‘met’ you, organizing/cleaning/decluttering were all mixed up together. I began adopting your method of put-it-away-or-get-rid-of-it-right-NOW and it was the most freeing thing ever. I often avoided tackling a room because I feared the to-do list that would follow, having to put away all the piles and boxes of stuff that I took out of the room.
    I know this may not seem like good sense, but it’s the only way I’ve found that makes sense to me. Thank you Dana!

  21. 44

    “A smaller mess = progress.
    Progress is good. It’s not magazine-worthy, but it’s a huge improvement.” YES!!!!!!! That’s the best way to de-clutter.

  22. 45
    Lisa G. says:

    Oh wow I could have almost written this post, down to the 2 sewing machines (I don’t sew. Yet. Lol), computer paper and Heely’s wheels. Thanks so much for breaking it down the way you do, thus is exactly what I needed to get out of my rut.

  23. 46

    I have ADHD and I cannot, for any reason, leave the space I’m working in or I won’t be back. For me, it’s helpful to set a series of alarms (1 for the time I’m able to work in that space, and 1 for an extra 15 minutes to clear up that space when I’m done). I just keep an extra box or bag handy for anything that still needs sorted, but usually – I just end up donating everything left over. If it were important, it wouldn’t have been on the floor or disheveled in the first place.

  24. 47

    I just found your blog and I’m sooo inspired! First my daughter and I went through her books and put away the ones she doesn’t like (I’ll donate them when she’s noot looking) and now I’m organising the hubby’s t-shirts who’ve been lying around in moving boxes. What, should I’ve started with my own clutter ;-)?
    Thanks a million!

    • 48
      Sherryl says:

      Yes start with your own project first! I decided to first declutter one my families bedroom and now I’m feeling stuck from burnout!

  25. 49

    If going to put something away elsewhere is just a big ol’ shiny squirrel that will occupy your time until another shiny squirrel comes along….

    I have found that making a keep PILE to be a better option than a keep BOX.

    I know…piles are dangerous! But here’s the trick…. put it somewhere you HAVE to clear to do whatever. Put it in the sink. Put it in the doorway. Put it on your pillow. After you’ve sorted it all, scoop up that pile and start distributing to the proper places. Wear an apron so you can use it as a basket, without having a BASKET that can be set down and become a “keep box”. I cleared off a table in my bedroom. Had I gone into my office for each of the thousand random electronic cords (I have a container!), I would have found papers that should be filed. Or just check my email real quick. Well….what’s new on Twitter….

    Because I had an armful of STUFF, I had to drop the cables/cords into their box and MOVE ON.

  26. 50
    Kristina says:

    This makes me laugh so hard. I have OCD but yet my house gets messy because I have children. I work to much, spend a lot of time at school & not much at home so by the end of a week it looks like a bomb went off in my most used spaces ( my house is tiny) I use my weekends to clean & purge. My fiends say I over purge, my mom says I don’t purge enough & I feel like it never ends. Right at this moment I want to throw away or donate every toy my son owns because instead of playing w them he gets into things he is not supposed to. I’m biding my time but he better look out momma’s cleaning demon is about to come out. In the past 3 days it has been unleashed on the yard, the freezer, the refrigerator (at home & my grandma’s) & a few cupboards. Happy cleaning friends! I think I’ll clean a closet or two tomorrow.

  27. 51
    Pat Wheeler says:

    Thanks for the before picture. I don’t feel so alone and embarrassed

  28. 52

    Dear Dana. This was very very helpful.I was listening to this as I prepared for my ill mum to come for a stay.My washer went out the night before, so out of the 40 loads of laundry only 10 were finished. Squirrels were haveing a party in my attic.The roof was leaking.My room to hide mess in now had no more room so the den became the new storage .
    I was also in the middle of separating my little ones,way way too many clothes and toys
    from a shared bed room into two rooms. Not an easy task. Lets just say the mess I made was unrully
    .I had a day of not sitting down just constantly spinning brain cells as to how to do this. Your words were very helpful and much needed at this sad and desperate moment. I have all too many of these moments. It tends to feel burdensome and frustrating. The way you give the tiny details and even pause to think are not at all a problem, but a chance to give my very fast thinking way toooo o creative overwhelmed right brain_—- a moment to process what you are saying.God sent you and your lovely personality to speak with the people that are” not normal ” as you say…… Thank you for all the trouble you go to I look forward to your every podcast as I go through this process of children that grow out of clothing way to fast ,
    and a precious hard working husband that still thinks he can keep everything
    hes ever owned since childhood…..My sweet family all hear you as I go about my deslobing,,,,
    with your experiences playing
    out loud in the back ground. My girls say ” o its Nonni ”
    You are like the therapist undercover planting seeds of change as
    we go.I hope God blesses you and you family greatly for this process….
    Sincerly The mom without any storage left……..

  29. 53

    I need to stop skipping the middle step! Why didn’t I think of a donate box? Love that — because when I go back through what I plan to get rid of to move it to the bag to donate, the kids always find things…. I need to try this with the basket in my bedroom that has been there over a year now.

  30. 54

    Cords. Cords are my enemy. I have an entire box of cords kept from old desktop computers (none of which even work now), AV cords, cords to god-only-knows-what-cellphone-they-once-charged, AC adapters, ethernet cords, and even cable cords. Just because you never know when a cord is going to need to be replaced. I didn’t realize until I read this, just how debilitating that fear of not having the cord when you need it really is for me. The thought of throwing them away? NONSENSE! But maybe it’s time. I’m almost ashamed to even admit to it to myself, let alone in a public, online setting.
    I had a little giggle at the cereal box, I don’t feel quite so “weird” now, knowing I’m not the only victim of finding random food in places where food should not be, and never knowing how it ended up there. So, thank you for posting this to FB today! I needed to see this today =)

    • 55

      i purged my drawer of random cords a few months ago. the very next day, my husband bought a bluetooth keyboard for our tablet. it came with a usb cable for the purpose of charging, but not a plug to plug it into the wall. wouldn’t you know, i’d thrown away not one, but TWO of those because they went with phones that we no longer could find.

      of course. the ONE TIME i throw away ANYTHING, it’s the ONE THING we actually could use. in my defense though, they really hadn’t been used in over three years!

  31. 57

    I am the queen of making a bigger mess when it comes to decluttering. I am still working on the emotional part of getting rid of stuff that ONCE WAS someone’s favorite but long forgotten.

    I love the idea of a smaller pile is still progress.

  32. 58

    So.. I have a quick question.. what if I am working on my craftroom, like trying to organize it at the same time but don’t actually have a space for something that I NEED to keep (not want to keep) but don’t have a specific spot for it yet. I only have 2 shelving units in my room and started sorting particular things to shelves but I need more shelves/ organizational stuff to put things in.. My craft room is mostly bins of stuff at the moment. It’s a disaster I want to get on but cannot seem to start anywhere. This blog post will definitely be a help but I know that I don’t have spots for everything yet as is at the moment and that bugs me more then anything at the moment. Any craft stuff I am not keeping will be put into a community box for my local craft group I started so I’m not too worried about getting rid of some things. Just I don’t have homes yet for everything. I don’t have money yet to buy anything and won’t for some time because of debts and lack of a job at the moment. Kijiji is my only source of income at the moment by selling stuff that I don’t want anymore.. mostly clothing at the moment it seems.

    • 59

      The stuff I try to sell on kjiji, if it doesn’t sell within the allotted time then I will be donating it because it’s just not worth to keep and try again! Should have mentioned that part above as well but forgot about it.

    • 60

      Hmmm. I’d work on just removing the things first that can leave your home. Just decluttering. If I’m understanding correctly, there’s not a home at all for certain things? That’s where the “Where would I look first?” question comes in handy. The spot where you would go first if you were looking for it should be its home. That’s where your brain has already decided it should be. Does that help at all?

      • 61

        Yeah that does help for some of the items.. but some of them literally don’t have a home other then the bin they are crammed into, like fabrics.. I don’t really have money right now to buy better solutions at the moment. When I do I will be able to put things into rightful homes. I am looking towards decluttering at least, most of the stuff I will be removing will be put on kijij at the moment (save for the things that may be useful to my local craft club). I need to make some money somehow and out of work for a couple months isn’t doing a whole lot of good at the moment. Mainly why I have been decluttering my home lately is in the search to try and sell stuff to make a little bit of extra cash right now.. It’s a pretty powerful motivator when you want to get stuff done.. still a very slow process though right now.
        Thanks for your help though! It makes a lot of sense… and not everything I am trying to sell, at the moment I have a stack of 2 boxes and a garbage bag full of donations.

        The where would I look first? question will come in handy when trying to figure this out!

      • 62

        Holy crap! I used your advice on a very small space to clean aka the top of my dresser. I did however find that taking multiple items from there to their home worked well if I could see it. Else I grabbed a 1 or 2 things that went to each home. Huge sifference. Only things ontop of my dreaser now are some writing books and reading books that are now between 2 bookends that have been siting in a drawer (same dresser I worked on as it contains a bit of this and that and not clothes at the moment). I really feel the difference and now want to tackle the mess beside it! 🙂
        Thanks so much for your tips! Much appreciated!

    • 63

      I just asked a similar question below before reading your post. Can’t wait to hear what ideas for this dilemma.

  33. 64

    I love this, especially the part about how any time you want to stop, you will be at a good stopping point. I so need to try this strategy. Thanks for the food for thought!

  34. 65

    Great strategy, and I’m so like you that I might just adopt you as a sister. I also had two sewing machines and don’t know how to sew (I gave one away, yay me!). I’m keeping my grandmother’s and my goal is to at least learn to make craft/simple things. It’s funny that what SHOULD be a no-brainer is not, and I needed your de-cluttering guidance. I’m excited about my chores today for once.

    • 66

      oh dear — someone else with two sewing machines — too funny — but blaming it on my mom — when I tried to borrow her machine — she would not let me (after I carried the thing to my apartment only to get a phone call that I had better bring it back pronto) — so drapes I wanted to make and bought a sewing machine of my own — made the drapes and never used it again — many years later she fell in and came to live with us — consequently two machines became resident in our home — had a hard time trying to rehome one of them — as it took me a hundred years to decide which one should go — never used either of them — but both had different features so how could I get rid of one over the other — now living with one and yeah not yet been used —

  35. 67

    When I first read your title I didn’t buy it. Decluttering means the mess gets bigger before it gets smaller — that’s just how it’s done! Even when I started reading, I wasn’t too sure… I mean, put everything that I need to keep away as I go? Yikes! But I’ve gotta say, I love the idea of it actually looking better even when I’m in the middle of a declutter project. I think I may be coming around… Thanks for this!

  36. 68

    Okay, so when the reaction of your family is happiness and excitement to have friends over once you’ve cleared all your “projects” out of the basement bar/family room–you realize that your hobby may be your passion, but your family’s contentment surpasses any joy that all those piles of fabric and furniture-in-need-of-rehab would ever bring. Sigh.

  37. 69

    This fits with something I came up with long ago. My childhood girlfriend’s father used to tell us, “Don’t do a halfway job.” When I became an adult, married, with children, I remembered that saying, & I re-wrote it for my use as, “Better to do a halfway job than no job at all.” So much can get done by “littles”.

  38. 70

    I’ve always had the same issue. That, in order to declutter our office/spare room, we need to take out EVERYTHING and sort. This solution is a much better idea. The question I have is this: What about things in that room that need a home that isn’t ready? For instance, we store air mats and camping duffel bags there. Once I sort them out they don’t have a home any place else. In order to move them to another closet, etc. I would have to clean that space first. Our family (6) keep our snow pants and ski bibs in there. I know where I want to keep them but that space has to be prepped first. It becomes a logistical nightmare of “For this to happen, that has to happen first. For the first thing to happen, such-n-such has to happen first.” I get so bogged down and stressed I quit before I start. Maybe my issue is that I have too many areas in the house that need attention and it becomes overwhelming. Any ideas?

  39. 71
    Catherine says:

    Dana, do you have a post that talks about the emotional significance of these piles of stuff? In my case it has alot to do with self worth. Along the lines of, i am a busy person, look at this work i have waiting for me, only i can do it, what or who will i be if all this just goes away?
    I’m very close to staging a “fire” and just walking it out to the garbage bin. I’ve even checked into borrowing a trailer to take it all on one trip to the dump. What holds me back? the fear of being in shock at the wide open spaces that would be left, as i have become very accustomed to moving around all the piles, bins, bags and boxes of perfectly good-useful-necessary-to-have-in-a-house-in-order-to-call-it-a-home stuff.

  40. 73
    Robyn Gaffel says:

    You get me again. Are you in my house? Hearing me saying the same things. I know its usually recommended to handle once, but I agree with you, you made progress, improved culled what didn’t have a use or place and if there was still likely to be a use, kept for now. Some things, like the paper are easily replaceable, why disgard the wheels if they may still be used and aren’t detoriating. And you have room. Happy second round of organising. That will be euphoric, orgasmic even.

  41. 74

    ok firstly thank you for being who you are and your honesty and secondly for being an inspiration
    My quandary well two actually are a small wardrobe , chest of drawers (summer stuff) and a small bedroom that hosts the alohabetically stored DVDs and my sewing stuff
    1) how do I address the wardrobe how should I store t shirts hang or fold?
    Do you have any thoughts on the theory of minimum number of items of clothing we need
    2) how to store fabric that’s my main bug bear
    Happy Easter

  42. 75

    love your blog!

    Something I do to my husbands clutter (as the house hoarder) is when he’s away for the day I pick one cupboard or room or pile (only an hours worth). I fill two plastic black (that’s important) garbage bags – one for charity and one for rubbish.

    He has just one week to name what’s missing/gone and time ends early if he peeks. If he can name it, he can have it back. At the end of the week it goes to charity or bin.

    Works well because I do it regularly and never too much at a time and I’m conscious of what he really values.

    He could do it to me to keep it fair if he wanted, but I’m not really the hoarder

  43. 76

    I am trying to get one house of a 9-year bachelor (my new husband was a widower; his first wife died of breast cancer 9 years ago; they had no children), combined with mine and my daughter’s household (we moved in about two months before all his step-mother’s possessions combined/descended into this house. His step-mother was put in a facility for severe Alzheimer’s recently and we had to pack up and move everything from Alameda, Ca to Reno, NV: where we live). Right now in this house (3700 sq, feet) I have all his bachelor belongings, my daughters and my things and his step mother in law’s (46 year old house contents (that my husband grew up in) every where in my house and in a 4-bay garage; literally EVERYWHERE.

    When I first moved in, there were rooms that had not been opened/gone in for years. When you walked in, cobwebs greeted you. Between the 3 households we have in one house I am going NUTS. We had a 37 table (8′ banquet tables we rented) garage sale. We have had the furniture we are not going to use that is in very good condition taken to a consignment shop. We have taken things to the dump. Craigslist and freecycle are my new best friends.

    I don’t work; this house is my full time job.

    My new husband has PhD in toxicology and works closely with authorities so he works long hours and I have a 16 year old daughter (enough said).

    I want to share my journey, but I don’t know how to get it out there.

    I just need to vent and share my experiences on how to make all this clutter go away and how to get the rest of what’s left to make a house where the three of us (and 3 dogs) can live like “normal” people. The house is not dirty – we have a housekeeper (who finds this house very frustrating, but thankfully he comes back every 2 weeks: This house to him has become a challenge….Thank you Jesus!).

    Thank you very much for your time and any advise on the house would be greatly appreciated.


    • 77

      I’m not exactly sure what you are asking, Marsha. It sounds like you have a HUGE job and have really been doing well working your way through this abundance of stuff!!! If you would like to start blogging, I recommend She has a series on how to start a blog and I’ve followed so much of her advice!

  44. 78
    Darlene says:

    Hello Dana I ran across this when I was trying to figure out how in the world I was going to get my HIDDEN OBJECT ROOM back to a guest room… Well of everything I have read your ideas, they will work for me. I will keep you posted! Thanks again, Darlen

  45. 79

    What my problem is my husband, after years of thing begin in one place, today he needs to fix this. he takes this thing and makes it a mess somewhere else. A place he will complain about later is too cluttered. Like in the winter all the winter stuff that piles up in the hallway,until spring, that goes out on the porch. All of these places I am supposed to clean up because I clutter!

  46. 80

    Thanks for sharing this! I can totally relate, I usually make a bigger mess when trying to clean, and then I get overwhelmed and discouraged. Thanks for not being afraid to be real and show what real life looks like on your blog. It is encouraging to a messy like me. 🙂

  47. 81

    I have a room just like your game room, It has a huge big screen across, it is meant to be my husband’s study, but as he is a hoarder of everything it has just gotten more packed with junk. I have recently started decluttering my house, but I am leaving his till last as it will take the longest to do. I only have a few minutes after work to declutter, and 3 of 4 my kids have proved to have inherited my husbands hoarder genes! I do 15 minutes a day and then 5 minutes to put away, throw out, or donate.

  48. 82

    OMG! I am buried in three rooms having emptied out 2 closets. I totally know what you went through. I don’t know if I’ll be able to dig out before my family calls Hoarders, but I’myouring your advice. Thanks

  49. 83

    I’ve read many posts throughout the internet about decluttering and organization. I recall my first major purge and how excited I was when everything had been organized, labeled and stored. My husband came to see the finished project as he’d been very supportive and offered encouragement along the way. I asked him to be perfectly honest with me and tell me what he saw. His response was, “organized clutter”. I knew that he was right and that I would be entangled in an ongoing process for some time to come. Sunken costs, memories, duplicate/triplicate items and unfinished projects are difficult to part with, however… it becomes easier when you re-purge. My organized clutter became easier to part with as I focused on one box at a time, revisiting each box every month and parting with more items I had once felt I couldn’t live without. Through doing this, I also realized how much money I was throwing away on impulse purchases and curbed my spending and clutter collection. This “revolving clutter removal” is an ongoing process in our home and has been a positive force in enhancing the relationships within our family as we no longer spend time with, or worrying about, our stuff, but rather with one another.

  50. 84

    Great ideas, because it does usually end a bigger mess than when I started, which then discourages me from continuing.

  51. 85

    Hi! Today I declutter with out creating bigger mess that’s to that post of yours. Points that helped a lot was: don’t aim to perfectly clean be happy with smaller mess. It might be useful but if you haven’t used it in all that time it’s obvious you don’t need it. And taking things to they rightful place as change of activity. I went through papers (bank, car insurance, old credit cart statements etc) lots of those went into garbage (no worries only totally old like collection of car insurance of 6 years), warranty papers went into special box and overall I am so happy with result. Took me 2,5 hours but I am proud of those. Also I did spoil myself with cup of tea but for the first time it wasn’t my way to escape my task and even took brake for lunch but went right back after.

    Thank you!

  52. 86
    Patti Smith says:

    I just recently discovered your posts and your blog, and can really relate to how your brain works. One of the first posts that I read had to do with you organizing your craft room. I remember that you took everything out, and your Christmas tree that year was a tablecloth thrown over the pile of stuff from your craft room that ended up in another room. Now that you’ve advanced a bit in your decluttering technique, do you still recommend emptying the entire craft room to organize it?

    • 87

      Hmmmm. I’m thinking the craft room must have been a guest post, or a post somewhere else? I did empty out my master bedroom once and did a series about it on video. But no, I definitely don’t recommend emptying out a room. This way works much better for my brain!

  53. 88

    What a blessing it is to read that I am not the only person with the problem of hoarding and clutter. I can relate to all the reasons given by the ladies. I am a retired, spinster and so I do not have to account to any one except my Church Family who assist me financially. I have 2 Over lockers plus a sewing machine. I have a 4 tier vegetable baskets filled with cotton for machine and Over lockers. Thousands of Rands material which I bought for when I retire and make clothes for a living plus boxes full of patterns. Each piece of material was bought with a specific outfit to be made, in mind. I have been retired for over 8 to 10 years and have not sewed in all these years. My excuse is that I have a job as a Day Mother and also look after other people’s pets. I have a link that states there is a psychological reason for us being the way we are. It is not our fault!
    I have two bedrooms, under-staircase cupboard and a garage. Everything is a store room with things under and on top of tables, against the walls. I have 3 double wardrobes full of clothes and wear only 5 to 10 of the same outfits. I have given a lot of my good stuff away already but find people do not want to buy but want everything for FREE!
    I procrastinate and move things from one spot to another.
    I can pay my Bond this month but next month is crunch time. Maybe that is what is needed in my life. Do or Die. The internet and Printerest are my biggest time consuming activities plus a bit of TV.
    I wish you all well. Be kind to yourselves and just know you are not alone.
    Frances from South Africa

  54. 89

    Thank you so much for this post. Putting the stuff away right away is an awesome tip for people like us that get interrupted by kids and husbands or get distracted by shiny things!

  55. 90

    What do you do when you find, say, the Heely wheels, and you know they need to go with the shoes, and you know you still have the shoes, but you don’t know where else in the house the shoes ARE so you can put them together right this minute?

    • 91

      Put them where you would look for them first. Then, when you run across the shoes, and ask yourself that question about them, there’s a pretty decent chance you’ll answer the same place.

  56. 93

    Yesterday, while folding a load of laundry (wait, piling it onto the sofa in the laundry room ISN’T where it goes?!?), I found a mattress pad. I couldn’t immediately tell what size it was. Slob Me would have wadded it up and shoved it in a random closet to deal with it “later” (translation – never). New Me remembered “take it there right now”, and went to the guest bedroom, laid it across the bed, and found it was a (needed) twin size! It now sits at the foot of the bed for the next sheet change. Yay, me!!!

  57. 95


  58. 96

    You are speaking to my soul! I am an all or nothing cleaner… which usually leads to not ever starting because I’m tired of seeing unfinished projects all over the place. Your pictures look like they could have come straight out of my house. Christmas paper – check! Iron on transfer paper – check! Box of office supplies – double check! Random, unidentifiable cords – BANE OF MY EXISTENCE!!! I’m going to try your method out tomorrow. I have a list a mile long of spaces to declutter and reorganize. I’m very excited to get to work! I’m bummed that I didn’t find this site sooner… It would have saved me a lot of stress over the last few years.

  59. 97
    Valerie says:

    My biggest problem is paper. Bible study notes that I might want written on random pieces of paper. Tax papers they say keep only so many years and then someone says don’t get rid of certain things that are in them. Nursing implements I just might need although I’m not actively working. Paperwork acquired whiled getting disability…..and yes, those seeing and needlework books I’m going to use one day. …… Sigh

  60. 98

    Glad I found you my kindred spirit! I came to your blog (a day late) through Pinterest. Here’s the irony…I just finished cleaning out my son’s walk-in closet (lack of visibility) which was so full the door wouldn’t close. I don’t know where he gets this from. We threw out all of the garbage but ended up with a big “keep” pile in the middle of his bedroom floor. Now I know, put it where it belongs instead of the “keep” pile. The keep pile is still there 4 days later, but we can close the closet door :). You’re are helping me slowly make dents into our mess.

  61. 99

    This. Is. Brilliant!!!

    Also, you can bill this as an exercise program for people with more than one floor in their houses. I’ve gotten at least an extra 6 floors on my fitbit just from decluttering a corner of my bedroom. (:

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