How to: Declutter

So you have decided to reduce your material possessions. It may seem overwhelming. How do you begin? Make lists. Get boxes. Prioritize. Digitize. Divide and conquer.

Make Lists

I am a fan of Trello, but a spreadsheet or text file would do the job. Create at least 2 lists: Keep, and Toss. Personally, I made 4 lists: Keep, Sell, Donate, and Toss. Each time I think about a possession I add it to one of these lists.

Get Boxes

For clothes and smaller items, use corrugated cardboard boxes or plastic bags to represent your lists. Go through your closets and cupboards one item at a time, and sort them into the proper containers.

Clothing sorted for donation


How do you avoid putting everything in the “Keep” pile? Rank items and only take the best ones. For example, I don’t need 2 gray button-down shirts, so I keep the better one.

For clothing I emphasize ease of maintenance. Shirts that require ironing to look good go in the “Donate” bag. Synthetic t-shirts rate higher than 100% cotton ones, because they can be worn many times without stinking, are easier to wash, and dry quickly.

In the kitchen I got rid of single purpose utensils (Alton Brown calls these uni-taskers) in favor of more versatile tools. One good chef’s knife can do the work of three specialized knives.

Overall, anything that I haven’t used in the past year goes away.


I learned a valuable lesson from my good friend Joe, who has lived in a van for years. When he receives a birthday card, he takes a picture of it and tosses it in the recycling bin.

Mementos and keepsakes do not have to take up physical space. Scan it, record a video, or otherwise convert it to bytes. Store it in the cloud and not your closet.

Divide and Conquer

Any large project is best undertaken by slicing it into small specific tasks. An item on your To Do list that says, “Decide what to keep,” feels daunting. Instead, try, “Separate clothes in hall closet into Keep and Toss boxes”. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

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