How to Declutter Your Home Before You Move

Joe Roberts
Researcher & Writer
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Published on February 22, 2021
7 min read

At a glance

Decluttering your home is one of the most important ways to prepare for your move. Whether you’re hiring a full-service moving company, renting a moving container, or using a rental truck, reducing clutter ahead of moving day will save you time, energy, and money.

If you’ve been living in your house or apartment for over a year, you’ve probably accumulated an intimidating amount of stuff you don’t really need. To help you downsize, we’ve simplified decluttering into seven bite-size steps. We’ve also pointed out some companies that can take old stuff off your hands—sometimes for free!

7 steps for decluttering your home before you move:

  1. Make an inventory
  2. Pack and label as you go
  3. Decide what can go
  4. Sell valuable or useful items you don’t want
  5. Donate whatever you can
  6. Throw away the rest
  7. Optimize space in your new home

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The whole picture

1. Make an inventory

First things first, you need to inventory everything you own. Create a digital spreadsheet, download an inventory app, or just crack open a notebook and write down all your possessions.

Call us new-fashioned, but we think that tracking your inventory digitally is better than doing it in a notebook for two reasons:

  1. You won’t ever misplace your inventory if it’s stored in a digital cloud.
  2. You can just copy and paste a digital inventory into a moving company’s website when you gather quotes.

The best way to get an accurate inventory is to literally walk through each room in your house and write down everything you see. This can be tedious, but you’ll thank yourself later.

Begin making your inventory by looking through your storage. If there’s something you don’t need or use every day, it’s probably lurking in your attic or garage, so consider starting there.

After you’ve documented everything you have in storage, work your way through the rest of your home and make a note for every sofa, bookshelf, nightstand, dish, and sweater. Leave no closet or junk drawer unopened. The more thorough you are, the fewer surprises you’ll run into later.

If you’re already familiar with the layout of your new home, this is also a great time to plan which rooms your things will live in post-move. Planning ahead like this will pay dividends when you’re unloading, trust us.

2. Pack and label as you go

While you’re making your inventory, pack things you already know you’re going to keep but won’t need until after you move. This is a great time to box up books, seasonal clothing, and memorabilia.

Getting these items packed away early will mean less work down the road, and it will also help you stay organized. As you’re packing, label all your boxes so you remember what’s in them and where they should go when you unpack them.

It’s also smart to pick an out-of-the-way place to store full boxes as they wait for moving day. You can stack them in your garage or closet, but if you want to get them out of the house for when you’re deep cleaning, renting a temporary storage unit is a smart option.

Price Tag
Is a storage unit worth the cost?

Renting a storage unit might just seem like an extra expense, but if you need a convenient, secure place to temporarily stash your stuff while you work, a storage unit might be worth the cost. Also, a lot of self-storage companies give you a steep discount on your first month of rent. Public Storage will even give you your first month of storage for a dollar.

3. Decide what can go

Once you’ve written your inventory and packed everything you know you’re keeping, it’s time to decide what to get rid of.

Go down your inventory and color-code or make notes of things you need to keep, things you want to keep, and things you’re holding onto just in case. If nothing on your inventory fits into any of these categories, you can probably just get rid of it.

If we’re being honest, most of the “just in case” stuff can usually go as well. Will you ever really need a third waffle iron?

If there’s an item or two you’re on the fence about, it can be helpful to think about it like this: if it’s been a year since you’ve needed it and you don’t see yourself needing it in the next year or two, just ditch it. The obvious exceptions are keepsakes and other items with sentimental value.

Once you’ve separated the wheat from the chaff, sort everything you’re ready to part with into two different categories:

  1. Useful or expensive things
  2. Broken or useless things

Once you’ve sorted everything, you’re ready to move on to the next steps.

4. Sell valuable or useful items you don’t want

Not only can decluttering save you money on moving costs, it can earn you a little extra money as well. For every item you’re getting rid of that’s useful or valuable, someone out there might want to buy it.

If you’re not in a hurry, you can sell these items online through eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or a local classifieds website. Selling online can take a little while as you make listings and wait for offers to roll in, but it gives you the best chance at selling everything you’re getting rid of since a lot of people will see your stuff.

If you don’t have the time to sell your old belongings online, put on a garage sale or yard sale instead. This will go much quicker than selling online, but it means you probably won’t be able to sell everything.

5. Donate whatever you can

After you’ve sold off as much as you can, it’s time to donate whatever you have left that someone else might need.

Start by just asking your friends and family if they want anything you’re getting rid of. Chances are, somebody you know would gladly take some of the clothes, dishes, or furniture you no longer want, especially if you’ve taken good care of it all.

Next, you can donate everything else to a charity, thrift shop, or donation center. In fact, there are actually a lot of charities that pick up donations for free, meaning one less chore for you.

Keep in mind that some charities only accept certain items. They’ll usually have their donation guidelines listed on their websites, though, so you can check before delivering your donation or scheduling a pickup.

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Don’t forget the donation receipt!

Items you donate to thrift shops and charities can be claimed on your taxes. This means that any donations you make will equal a bigger tax return the following year. You just need to ask for a receipt for your records each time you donate.

6. Throw away the rest

Now that you’ve sold or given away the good stuff, it’s time to throw away the unsellable and non-donatable items.

There are three ways to do this:

1. Take your junk to a landfill

If you want to save money by doing all the work yourself, you can load your junk into a pickup truck and take it to a local landfill. To be environmentally friendly, separate out the recyclable materials beforehand and take them to a recycling center instead.

If you don’t have a pickup truck handy, you can rent one from Lowe’s or Home Depot for a reasonable daily rate.

2. Rent a dumpster

If you don’t want to cart your junk away yourself, you can rent a dumpster instead. You’ll need to make space in your driveway for it, but once your dumpster is in place, you can use it to throw away any useless and broken items.

Once your dumpster is full, the rental company will come pick it up and haul it away for you.

3. Hire a junk removal company

The most convenient option is hiring a professional junk removal company to take your junk. With this option, you get trained professionals to do all the heavy-lifting, driving, and dumping for you. Why break your back dragging a busted fridge through your house when a team of burly College Hunks can do it for you?

This convenience does come with a price, though. Hiring a junk removal company is much more expensive than driving your junk to a landfill yourself. Luckily, most junk removal companies will give you a free quote so you can find out what the service will cost before making your decision.

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What to do with hazardous materials

While most everyday items can be thrown away no questions asked, there are some materials that require special disposal. Things like asbestos, paint, vehicle batteries, and pesticides have specific EPA requirements for disposal, so most junk removal companies won’t take them. Learn more by checking out our guide about what junk companies will take.

7. Optimize space in your new home

Now that you’ve curbed the clutter, it’s time to make an action plan for controlling it after you move. Otherwise, you’ll need the Marie Kondo treatment all over again.

As soon as you have the keys to your new home, outfit the closets, bedrooms, laundry room, and kitchen with space organizers to accommodate all your stuff post-move.

This is where the planning you did while making your inventory will pay in spades. Looking over your list, make sure that every room will have all the shelving, racks, and wall hooks it needs to store things. If you need to get an extra shelving unit or some other space organizer, buy it and assemble it ahead of time.

Not only will space optimization make unpacking go a lot quicker, it’ll guarantee that your home stays neat and devoid of clutter for as long as possible.


Home decluttering FAQ

When should I start packing?

It’s never too early to start packing, and you can pack over a long period of time by boxing nonessentials (books, extra blankets, etc.) early on. The more work you do before your move, the less you’ll have to do later. As you get closer to your move date, you can pack more of the things you need frequently.

What is the best way to keep a home inventory?

Keeping a digitized inventory in a cloud-based service like Google Docs is usually your best bet. An inventory like this can’t get lost or damaged during moves or natural disasters, and it allows you to send copies easily when you’re getting moving quotes and filing insurance claims.

What should I get rid of when decluttering?

A good rule of thumb when decluttering is to evaluate each thing you own based on how recently you used it and how soon you’ll use it again. If you haven’t used something in the last year and you probably won’t use it in the next year, it’s likely that you don’t actually need it.


Recommended resources

Now that you know how to reduce clutter before you move, you should check out these other guides to ensure you’re ready for moving day:

Joe Roberts
Written by
Joe Roberts
Joe Roberts is a professional writer with a degree in writing studies and over three years of copywriting experience. He previously worked at Overstock.com, where he wrote about furniture, home decor, and moving. Joe has moved all over Utah, so he knows his way around a moving truck—and he spends his time (and money) expanding his personal library so it will be even heavier next time he moves.