How Do I Declutter My House Before Moving?

How Do I Declutter My House Before Moving

Decluttering sometimes gets a bad reputation. We’re not saying you have to get rid of half your stuff, throw out anything that isn’t “useful”, or go 100% Marie Kondo.

Some people enjoy the decluttering process. Others like their stuff and parting ways with anything is difficult. Some just find the whole process extremely time-consuming and frustrating.

The truth is though, that decluttering your house before a move will actually save you a ton of time and effort during your move. You’re cutting down on the things you’re physically packing and carrying and you’re eliminating the space needed to put stuff when you arrive at your new home.

That’s the why, but now what about the how? We’re going to discuss how to create a decluttering system, tips to get you going in the right direction and questions you should be asking yourself along the way.

Table of Contents

Decluttering System

Heaviest stuff and easiest to pack

Start with the heaviest things first. Books, furniture, sports equipment, and appliances.

Packing Books

We like to start with books. They generally don’t hold as much sentimental value, and they’re easy to pack. A lot of people also have books that they know they’re never going to read.

Don’t start with stuff that is going to be difficult to declutter. So, if books hold a lot of memories for you, don’t start with them.

Begin easy and work your way up. Decluttering is like a muscle, and you’ll need to work up to more challenging decisions.

Category, not room

Although at first, it might seem like a good idea to declutter room by room, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time. Keep your mind focused on one thing at a time.

If you’re sorting through magazines, for example, you might keep them in different rooms of your house. Gather up all the magazines and sort through them. Then you’ll be ready to tackle another category!

Piles of giveaways

Clearly label boxes or other containers for your giveaways. We recommend making a pack, donate, and garbage pile. If you feel like you need more sections, go for it! Some declutterers like to include a basket for selling as well. This is a good section to have if you’re planning to have a garage sale or selling on Craigslist.

Then, when it’s time to take a load to your local charity for donation, treat yourself for a job well done. For me, an Iced Coffee from Dunkin’ is a great reward for removing donation boxes out of the house (and for making sure they go to a good cause!)

Donate Items Before Moving
You’re going to be packing up everything anyway. However, any donations don’t have to be loaded on a truck or unloaded when you arrive.

If you’re sorting through larger items that don’t go in a box, clearly label what “pile” they’re in so you don’t forget. No need to go through the emotional turmoil of deciding to keep or give something up again. Use a sticky note and tape it onto the big item, or find another original way to label which pile it’s in.

Clear piles

Along with making piles, you’re going to want to keep these sections organized and clearly marked. Label the box, keep sections from mixing, and pack up your piles as soon as you are done. There is nothing worse than decluttering something and then forgetting what pile is which.

Leave the mementos for last

The most difficult things to give up are those with emotional value. Save these items for last during your decluttering journey. Not only does it take a while to go down memory lane, but you’ll already be in the habit of deciding what’s important to you and what isn’t.

We each have a box that we fill specifically for mementos when we move. This way, we’re able to choose what’s really important and have a special place to put each one.

Take pictures

If you know you need to get rid of something, but you’re feeling sad about it going in the giveaway pile, take a picture of it. This often softens the blow of decluttering. You’ll have the picture for you to remember if you ever do miss that thing.

Decluttering Questions

Ok, now that we have a system down, let’s talk about how to actually get rid of things. How do you figure out what’s a keeper and what’s not?

I’m sure you’ve heard the classic Marie Kondo question, “Does this give me joy?” But, for many of us, we may need to ask ourselves a few more probing questions. Here are a few good ones to start with.

Do I use this?

I get it. You’re still planning to use that cookbook. But have you? No. And you’ve had it for years. There are a billion recipes on the internet for you to use if you need to look something up. It goes in the giveaway pile.

This goes for both big and small things. The treadmill that’s acted as a clothes hanger for the last two years? Donate or sell that thing too.

Is this expired?

Some things don’t work as well as they used to. This is common for pantry staples. Spices, baking soda, baking powder, nuts, and other items, don’t last forever. In fact, after 6 to 12 months, they go stale. They don’t work as well as they used to. It’s time to throw them out and start fresh in your new home.

Declutter Your Pantry

You actually may be shocked by just how much of this kind of stuff you have. All of us are aware when things like the milk expire, but things like baking powder (especially if it’s not something used often) can become expired sitting in a cupboard.

Oh, and that jacket with the shoulder pads. That’s expired too. It’s not coming back into style anytime soon. And if it does, you can buy another one.

Do I want this in my new house?

Moving is a new beginning. When you’re looking at the item at hand, envision it in your new house. Do you actually want this in your clean new home? Will you feel good about having it? If not, it’s probably best to part ways.

We have a rule for this kind of thing. It’s simply this.

“Where is this going to go?”

If you don’t have a specific answer for which room and on which wall, shelf, etc something is going to go – it doesn’t make the trip. (We also use this same rule when deciding on buying things)

Why am I keeping this?

Not everything is about practicality. No one should be telling you to get rid of everything that isn’t useful. You’re going to want to hold on to some mementos even if it doesn’t make sense. But before dumping your entire memory box in the “keeping” pile, ask yourself this question. “Why am I keeping this?”

Do good memories come to mind? Do you remember someone special or a precious moment? Do you ever come back to look at this item and bring back that memory? Will taking a picture retain the same sentimental value?

What would I be willing to spend on this?

A lot of items can be re-purchased if you find out later that you absolutely can’t live without them. Although this tends to not be a usual issue — you generally don’t accidentally declutter things you actually use — asking this question can help soothe any doubts.

If it’s not too expensive or difficult to replace something you don’t use, it’s a good idea to get rid of it.


I've been a college coach for going on 20 years now and that career has led Jen and I on quite the journey. We've lived in 7 different states and have moved a dozen different times. We've learned A LOT over the course of all those moves and we want to pass on our knowledge to help others going through the moving process.

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