How to declutter for a move. Oh, man. If there was ever a topic I knew about through experience, it’s this one. I’ve decluttered for a move easily over a dozen times in my adult life, and more if you count childhood moves.
Moving can be hard.
There’s not really any way around that. There are so many steps that must be done just for the physical move, and that’s not even counting everything that has to be handled to find a new place to live. (If you’re buying or selling, or buying AND selling a house, that complicates it even more.)
That being said, when you declutter before a move it will keep moving day from being a complete nightmare. Dare I say, it will even make everything from showing your house to packing to move much easier.
So, here’s the thing. We talk a lot about how decluttering helps your daily living in your home because it eases household chores. But decluttering for a move? You are literally lightening the load.
Your body (or your movers!) will thank you.
How Do I Start to Declutter for a Move?
So, where do you start decluttering for a move? Well, the question is less where or how and more when. And the answer? As soon as you know you’ll likely be moving.
Start to declutter well before you start packing.
Assuming your home goes under contract and you find another one quickly and there are no complications with the lending process for the buyer or you, the actual sale of a home takes a minimum of 30 days from start to finish. (Time on market could be longer prior to an accepted offer, but once the underwriting process has begun, that’s the average for an uncomplicated sale with a loan to purchase the home).
So, if you accept an offer on your home, say, in June, then it should reasonably close by the end of July.
When Should I Start Packing for a Move?
It’s recommended you start packing around 6 weeks before your move, which, in this example, would mean you would begin packing even before accepting an offer on your home. So you should begin to declutter for your move at least while you pack, if not sooner.
TIP: It wouldn’t be a bad idea to start decluttering 6 weeks before you even list your home for sale, because it will be easier to prepare the house for professional pictures for the listing when staging the house and also make getting ready for showings easier.
Here’s the thing: even if you change your mind and decide your current home is the best one for you, you’ll have done your home a favor by decluttering it. So, honestly, there’s no downside to starting early to declutter for your move.
Starting to declutter early means it will be less rushed and more comprehensive because you’ll have the time and energy to be thorough. Those last few days before a move are chaos. CHAOS, I tell you! You will not be in the right mindset or have the time to sit and make decisions about your desk drawer’s contents. That sucker will get dumped in a box and forgotten. And then you’ve only brought the mess with you.
Don’t do that.
Instead, start early, go slow–just a cupboard or drawer or two at a time at first–and pick up the pace as the moving day draws near.
What to Keep When Decluttering for a Move?
Only what you need, use, or love. Do not hang onto things “just in case.”
Purge ruthlessly. Be brutal. This is not a time to waver or second-guess your decisions.
Anything you do not decide to declutter before you move will be physically picked up and moved to another location. The less stuff you bring, the easier it will be on you, your friends and family who help you, and your movers (if you have them).
Quite simply, only moving what you need, use, or love will save you time and money. (Moving without decluttering unused furniture, for instance, requires a longer, more expensive truck rental.)
Sell, donate, or throw out anything that does not fit those requirements for you.
TIP: Feeling a little overwhelmed? Look below this box to download a handy checklist of 60+ items, listed room-by-room, that you can start decluttering right now, totally guilt-free, and won’t even miss when you unpack things in your new home.
What to Get Rid of When Decluttering for a Move?
Your specific needs will vary, but in general, here are some ideas to get you started:
- Old bills and tax documents passed their “keep-until” date by law
- Junk mail, old documents and newspapers
- Trash, wrappers, packaging that isn’t used
- Anything that should be recycled
- Old, outgrown, worn out clothes, or clothing in good shape that you never actually wear
- Extra pots and pans or dishes and utensils that you don’t use often
- Extra mugs, glasses, or cups that are rarely, or never used
- Duplicates of any item you rarely use
- Broken or outdated furniture you don’t want anymore
- Old college textbooks, bulky encyclopedia sets (you have Google now!), books you probably won’t read, books your kids have outgrown, magazine collections, etc.
- Toys your kids don’t play with or have outgrown
- VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs, Blu-ray discs of any movie or show you can get digitally
- Old, worn out pet supplies
- Decor that is no longer your style
- Expired canned goods or packaged foods
- Craft supplies you haven’t used in ages
- Old electronics
- Seasonal items you no longer need/want
- Building supplies
- Broken tools
A Simple Decluttering Timeline for Your Move
ASAP after you decide to move:
- Declutter storage areas (garage, attic, shed, closets)
- Declutter seasonal items
- Declutter sentimental items and memorabilia (this is hard to do under pressure)
- Declutter old tax documents, bills, and important papers (that are past their keep-until date)
- Declutter books and magazines
- Declutter anything in long-term storage or hidden in tubs or boxes you haven’t opened recently
- Declutter anything you only use occasionally and won’t need for living in your home on a daily basis prior to your move (you can even go ahead and pack those occasional-use items that you do decide to keep, if you want)
Decluttering these out-of-the-way areas and highly emotional categories is time-consuming. The closer you get to your move, the more likely they are to be just thrown in a box to “deal with later”.
It’s in the best interest of your stress levels, your new home’s storage, and your mover’s backs that you handle those decisions and declutter for the move while you still have time to do it without stressing yourself out.
2-3 months before you move
- Declutter kids’ toys (and try not to bring more into the home afterward)
- Declutter furniture you know you won’t bring with you
- Declutter any household items you want to try to sell prior to your move
- Declutter clothing
- Declutter small kitchen appliances and any dishes or cookware you use less frequently
- Declutter household cleaners, chemicals, old paint, batteries, fluorescent bulbs, and anything else you might need to take to a specific location to dispose of properly
- Declutter display areas in your home (shelves, bookcases, etc.)
- Declutter any remaining closets
- Begin packing
Prepare Your Home For Staging and Listing
Now that the move is getting closer, you’re more likely than not going to be working with a real estate agent and possibly staging company if you are selling your home.
They will weigh in on what needs to be changed in your home to get it ready for sale. Prioritize those activities, and focus your decluttering efforts on areas that will be likely to be inspected during a home showing.
By removing things from these areas now, you’ll be in a better shape to do the final quick decluttering prior to staging and professional photographs.
TIP: For items you decide to get rid of when you declutter, try to sell or donate them as soon as possible after your decluttering sessions. Throw out trash and unusable or broken items sooner rather than later. You don’t want to make more work for yourself on moving day.
You’re still a ways off from the actual move, however, so it’s normal that you can’t pack up everything yet because you still will need to live in your home. This stage of decluttering is just paving the way for the final stage, in which you will pack up anything that is not necessary for your daily life prior to the move.
2-3 weeks before you list your home
- Declutter more kids toys
- Declutter kitchen cupboards
- Declutter kitchen drawers
- Declutter pantry (toss anything expired, old, etc.)
- Declutter linens
- Declutter cleaning supplies (if you haven’t already)
- Declutter yard tools (if you haven’t already)
- Declutter laundry room
- Declutter bathroom vanities
- Declutter bathroom storage
- Declutter any office spaces. Try to reduce how many cords you can see.
- Put extra furniture into storage that makes any room feel tight or too full
This is the decluttering stage where you will be the most ruthless. Keep only what is absolutely necessary to get through the next weeks or months while your home is on the market.
Live Like You Are in a Vacation Rental When You Declutter for a Move
I’d like you to only keep out what you would see in a condo you rent on vacation, plus a few personal items like your kids’ favorite toys.
Do vacation rentals have 2-3 sets of dishes and a dozen or more glasses? No. Do they have every kitchen appliance or gadget you could ever want? Nope! Do they even have most of the things in your home right now? Probably not.
That’s what you want to do here.
TIP: You can live in a vacation home for a week or two with minimal dishes, silverware, glasses, and cookware. You can live in your own home while it is on the market the same way.
There’s a couple of reasons for this.
First, this will save you time. Time spent cleaning (fewer dishes to wash), time spent packing for your move, and time spent dashing around trying to hide things before a showing.
Next, it will not make the people viewing your home feel like there isn’t enough storage for their stuff. It’s human nature to look inside a kitchen cupboard, for instance, see the haphazard piling of plasticware, and think, “oh man. I don’t know if this is enough room for my dishes.” It’s a quick gut reaction. And you don’t want to give potential buyers any reason for their gut to tell them “pass.”
So make sure you have downsized the items in your home to only the bare necessities.
Depersonalize Your Home While it is For Sale
Not only that, you will want to depersonalize your rooms so buyers can picture themselves living in your house, not feel like they are trespassing in someone else’s home.
Think: capsule wardrobes for you, your spouse, and your kids. Favorite toys that fit in one toy box only. Favorite books on the bookshelf. Fewer decor items on the walls or on built-in shelves.
Keep out only 4-6 place settings for your dishes (unless you have a large family). One big pot, one little pot, one cookie sheet, one bake pan, one wooden spoon, one spatula, etc. Duplicates and occasional use items should be packed away.
TIP: Need a list? You got it! Here are recommended items for owners of vacation homes to keep in their kitchen. Try to stick to this list from VRBO. (In fact, their list on how to clean for guests can be easily modified to be used when preparing for a showing.)
1-2 weeks before move
- “Shop” your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator first when meal planning to avoid spoiling any food or having to move everything.
- Go through toiletries one final time. Toss anything expired or that you don’t use
- Go through paperwork one more time and toss anything that has come in since your listed your home that you don’t need anymore
- One final go-through of all dishes, glasses, flatware and cookware. Pack these all up and use disposable items until your move, if possible. If not, keep out just enough for each person in the family and toss it all in a box on the last day in your home.
Day before / Day of move
- Throw out all trash
- Take last recycling to recycling center
Decluttering to Move When You’re Under a Time Crunch
Decluttering to move ideally should happen over a series of weeks, if not months, prior to listing your home for sale. However, this is real life, and sometimes things happen that make that impossible. If you’re pressed for time, follow the same general order of decluttering but condense the timeline.
This will mean longer hours spent decluttering in a shorter amount of time, but it is possible.
I recently prepared my late mother-in-law’s house for both an estate sale and home sale in three months total and then helped one of my best friends prepare to put her house on the market in a matter of only a week or two. It was chaotic, but she got it done!
Declutter Your Home Before Moving
You can do it. I promise. It might take all the spare minutes and hours you can give it, especially if you’re under a time crunch, but just think of how you’ll only be taking what you need, use, and love into your home.
PICTURE THIS: You are moving out of your current home. You are able to take less time and spend less on a moving truck because you know for sure you’re only bringing the necessities with you. You don’t have to pay movers or beg friends and family to carry anything for you that you will only get rid of once you unpack.
In fact, you’ll only unpack the things you know for sure belong in your new home. You’ll unpack quicker because everything is necessary and can immediately be put in its new spot. You won’t open a box from the attic years from now and find junk mail you hurriedly stuck in a box just to finish your move on time. (Not that I’ve ever done that or anything …)
You got this. And if you get stuck in the process and need a little extra help, send me an SOS. I offer virtual decluttering services! I can guide you through any sticking points, help you make decisions, and offer advice for next steps in the process. Just go to my services page and fill out the contact form to learn more.
(P.s. if you find you don’t unpack all those boxes, perhaps you have a little more decluttering to do, after all. Anything you haven’t opened in your first year in your new home is automatically a candidate for selling, donating, or tossing if it isn’t strictly sentimental in nature. Just sayin’.)
For more inspiration:
- 8 Minimalism Lessons Learned From Living in a Short Term Rental
- How To Declutter Your Attic (Without Losing Your Mind)
- This step-by-step decluttering book helps you ditch clutter in 90 days
- Don’t feel like cleaning your home today? It’s okay. You’re not broken.
- How to Change Your Mindset and Declutter Your Home at Last (Part 2)