Moving? Here Are 5 Ways To Declutter While You Pack Up All That Stuff

These super-simple tips will help you get rid of junk—and take some of the stress out of packing up.

September 14, 2017
moving boxes stacked up

Decluttering your space often seems daunting enough—now try thinking of packing it all up to move. Yikes. Whether it's across the street or across the country, the prospect doesn't sound fun.

But, according to bestselling author of Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life, and professional organizer Peter Walsh, moving actually is a great opportunity to start fresh, without the extra baggage. "People will often say, 'I just don't have enough space,' but that's a fallacy because you only have the space you have," explains Walsh. "There are things you can do to make that space more flexible, but you only have the space you have. What is flexible is the volume of stuff you own." (Read more on the four biggest causes of clutter in your home.)


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Whether you're moving to an apartment, a tiny house or a big Colonial in the suburbs, Walsh recommends starting the moving process with a clear image of your new space. "It's about establishing limits about how much space the space you’re moving to has," he says. "You need to look at what you're packing and only pack what fits into the space you're moving into."

Below, Walsh's favorite rules to abide by in order to avoid excess baggage during a move:

Nervous about forgetting to water your house plants once you get settled? Watch the video below for an easy DIY hack. 

It has to measure up

Measure a line of painters tape the same size of the storage space you'll have in your new space. Say you will have four bookshelves, each a foot long. Measure out four feet of tape on the floor and put your books on that line. If it doesn't fit on the line, donate it.

"It forces you to declutter the stuff and make choices about what's important to you," Walsh says. "It puts a very specific measure or limit on the stuff you can take. It's not arbitrary; it's set by the space you're moving to."

He also recommends this tip for moving furniture. Draw a scale model of your new home on graph paper (one block equals one foot) and cut out scale versions of your furniture. This allows you to easily see what you can and cannot fit into your new space.


Related: 5 Eco-Friendly Ways To Declutter Your Closet That Will Save You Money And Won't Create Trash

Start early

Getting started can be the hardest part of packing, but Walsh suggests using your new space as a guide. He says, “This whole thing of starting with knowing the space you have, takes the stress out of it. Think to yourself: I know we have 8 shelves of plates/cups/glasses. Tonight we’ll pack that and the rest we’ll donate.” If you do this every night for two weeks, you’ll find that you’re left with two piles–things that will fit into your new space and things that need to be donated.

Related: The Toxic Home Conversation America Needs To Have 

Make unpacking as easy as 1, 2, 3

Start by numbering each room you are moving into. So the bedroom is room number 1, the kitchen is room number 2, and so forth. Then write that number on the box and you put that number on a piece of paper on the number on the wall. That way, if you've hired movers, they know exactly where to put the stuff. If you’re doing the heavy lifting on your own, this system makes it impossible to put a box in the wrong room (and if a box is especially heavy, you’ll definitely want to get it right the first time). Here's how to clean your stuff naturally once you've installed it in your new home. 

"Plus, if you've packed for the space you're moving into, you can open the box and unpack because you've planned ahead," says Walsh. "I've had three-quarters of a house unpacked before the movers even left." 


Related: 13 Tricks Personal Organizers Use To Keep Their Own Clutter Under Control

messy drawer

Use the bottom third rule

"People leave packing to the last minute and they chronically underestimate the amount of stuff they have in their house," says Walsh. When faced with a short deadline, people try to cut corners like packing everything instead of decluttering or packing indiscriminately. Ultimately, this results in more work for you later as you ship or schlep boxes that may sit, still packed, in a garage for months or years.

If you find yourself in a last minute pack, try Walsh's Bottom Third Rule: "When you have a stack of something, the stuff you don’t use tends to fall to the bottom." Think about your drawer of t-shirts. The stuff you wear a lot floats to the top because you put clean clothes on the top of the stack in the drawer. If tackling the whole drawer seems like too much work, just sort through the bottom third of the stack. You’ll probably find that most of it will fall into the "donate" pile.

Related: 7 Genius Toxin-Free Cleaning Tricks That Will Change Your Life

Respect your new space

The relationship between your stuff and your space is just that—a relationship. "If you overload the space that you have, if you fill it with more stuff it can reasonably hold, you're not treating the space with honor and respect," explains Walsh. "In the same way a relationship goes bad, if you overload your space, you will never be happy in that space."

With this in mind, a move is a great opportunity to re-evaluate the stuff you have and start with a clean slate. (Here are 70 little ways to go clean and green, while you're at it.) If you start with a clean slate, "All of the hassle is dealt with before you get to the new place and you move into the new space feeling like its open and breathing," he says, "rather than feeling stressed or overwhelmed that you have to look at boxes for two months before you unpack."