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5 Decluttering Methods You Haven’t Tried (That Really Work!)

Are you struggling with too much clutter? Here are five outside-the-box decluttering methods you have to try!

As a former shopaholic and lover of “stuff”, I spent years trying to declutter my home. Along the way, I tested many different methods but found that the most popular advice didn’t work for me. 

I have a highly sensitive, overactive brain and can only assume it’s what got in my way. Most of the decluttering tips I encountered made sense in theory, but in reality … it was hard. I knew what I was supposed to do, but I struggled to follow through.

If you can relate, here’s the good news. 

I spent over a decade experimenting with new methods of decluttering, testing them in my own home and eventually with clients as well. My focus was—and continues to be—on creating new perspective shifts. When we find new ways of looking at clutter, we find new opportunities for letting go. 

Here are five of the best decluttering methods I’ve used, and I hope you’ll try them too!

"5 Decluttering Methods You Haven't Tried But Should!" in white letters over a translucent black background on top of an image of a made bed with a plant on a wooden table.

The most popular decluttering methods

Before I share the methods that have worked best for me, I want to do a quick review of the most popular options and explain why they didn’t work for me. (But remember, everyone’s decluttering journey is different, so feel free to try anything that resonates with you!)  

The Packing Party

This method was made famous by The Minimalists, and the concept is simple: pack up everything you own. Yep, you heard that right — your entire house! 

Then, only unpack the items you genuinely need during a set period (one week or one month, etc.). Anything you don’t unpack at the end of that time, you don’t really need and can therefore be decluttered.

Why it didn’t work for me: This is an extreme method that doesn’t consider your emotional relationship with stuff—and who has time to pack up their entire home? 

I understand why someone might do it, but I didn’t even give this a try because I knew right off the bat that it was too much for me. Having said that, I do think this is an excellent mental exercise, and I would recommend getting out your journal and exploring the idea. 

The Box Method

There are several variations of the box method, but here’s what most people recommend:

  • Gather four boxes
  • Label the boxes as follows: trash, give away/sell, storage, put away
  • Go through each room of your house and put things into the relevant boxes

Why it didn’t work for me: The concept is logical but incomplete. The Box Method explains what to do but leaves out the how—and I think most people would agree that the most challenging part of decluttering is deciding what ‘box’ to put your things in (and feeling prepared to let go!). 

The KonMari Method

The KonMari method was made famous by Marie Kondo in her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

There are many steps to her process, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not an expert in KonMari. But most people know it involves decluttering by categories, completely emptying the area you’re working on, and—of course—asking, “Does this spark joy?”

Why it didn’t work for me: Overall, there’s a lot about this method that I like. But I found taking everything out was very overwhelming, and a focus on ‘sparking joy’ isn’t that helpful when you’re someone who loves stuff!

Check out The Problem With “Does It Spark Joy” [Episode 28 of The Simply + Fiercely Show]

12-12-12 challenge

There are many decluttering challenges that aim to gamify the process. This one comes from Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist, and here are the rules:

“Locate 12 items to throw away, 12 to donate, and 12 to be returned to their proper home. That’s it. Repeat if desired.”

Why it didn’t work for me: This challenge is great for people who need motivation to get started, and it can help kickstart the decluttering process. 

But yet again, there’s nothing about this method that tells me how to let go. And ultimately, that’s where most people get stuck.  

5 Different decluttering methods for you to try

If it’s not clear by now, I think the best method for decluttering is one that helps you tackle the emotional side of decluttering or, at least, provides some guidance on how to let go. 

Here are five ideas that worked well for me (and note—these methods would probably work well in combination with some of the popular methods listed above). 

The Snowball Method

Choose one item in your home that you feel prepared to declutter. 

Before you get rid of it, pause and ask yourself this question: What is it about this item that makes me want to declutter it? (Be as specific as possible.)

For example, if you’re decluttering a dress, it might be that you don’t like how the colour looks against your skin. Or you might not like the fabric—it doesn’t breathe well in hot weather, or it’s too scratchy to wear for long periods. Or maybe it’s dry-clean only, and it’s too much effort to take it in. 

Write down everything you can think of. Then, when you’re done, return to your closet and look for other items that meet the same criteria. 

Personally, I don‘t love how yellow looks against my skin, and when I realised this, it was a huge “ah-ha” moment! I could then go through my closet and remove all the other yellow clothes without overthinking because I had already decided I didn‘t want to wear yellow clothes. 

Rinse and repeat the process. Each time, there’s potential to learn more about what ‘clutter’ means to you, which in turn makes it easier for you to make quick decisions—and this has the potential to snowball (hence the name of this method!)

Why this works: The Snowball Method reduces decision fatigue by providing practical criteria about what to keep and what to let go. In my experience, this is a lifeline when you’re feeling overwhelmed or struggling with decluttering emotions.

The Simply + Fiercely Show With Jennifer Burger

The Simply + Fiercely Show is a podcast for women who want to clear their clutter and create space for freedom and joy. If your life keeps getting bigger—but not better—then it’s time to declutter from the inside out. LISTEN NOW

The Overly Inconvenient Method

One common decluttering tip is a mini-version of the packing party. When you have things you don’t know what to do with, put them in a box. Then pack it away for a set period, and if you don’t find yourself reaching for the contents, get rid of it! 

I’m sure this works for some (as I’ve mentioned, decluttering is personal, and there’s no one right way), but it didn’t for me. At the end of the six months or however long, I would open the box and feel like I was back at step one. It never got any easier to let go. 

But here’s what did work for me …  and I warn you, you’ll feel resistance to doing this! But I promise, that’s why it works. 

Take a few items that you’re struggling to declutter. Instead of packing them away, put them somewhere inconvenient, like your dining room table or the middle of your living room floor. Leave it there until you’re ready to make a decision. 

Why this works: At its heart, decluttering is a value proposition—you’re weighing up the value of keeping something against the potential cost of letting go. 

This is why decluttering is hard. Loss aversion is “a phenomenon where a real or potential loss is perceived by individuals as psychologically or emotionally more severe than an equivalent gain”. It’s why people hold onto bad investments AND why we keep clutter. 

Emotionally, it feels like the better option, and if you think about it, it makes sense. There are many benefits of decluttering, but they are less tangible. Sure, ’less stress’ sounds great, but it’s almost like a fantasy for most people. In contrast, the $90 you wasted on that juicer is very, very real. 

All this to say—if you want to declutter, it’s helpful to create immediate, tangible benefits to letting go … like getting whatever you’re trying to declutter out of your way! 

If it’s in your closet or hidden in a cupboard, it’s easy to think, “What’s one more item? Getting rid of it won’t make a difference.“ 

But if that same item is in the middle of your dining room table, and you have to move it every time you eat dinner, or if it’s on the floor and you are literally tripping over it … well, I can almost guarantee that getting rid of your stuff will become more and more appealing.

It may not work immediately, but give it time. Resist the urge to move your item out of the way, and I can almost guarantee you the desire to declutter will increase exponentially! 

The Toddler Method

My three-year-old inspired this method, and it’s especially helpful when you want to tackle one specific category of an item or have many similar items to declutter. 

For example, let‘s say you have twenty pairs of jeans, and you want to reduce them by half. It’s a great way to declutter your closet, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll find it easier said than done. 

How do you decide which pairs to keep and which to let go? 

You could try the Snowball Method, but if all your jeans are similar, you might struggle. In this case, I recommend the Toddler Method. 

Simply choose two items and then ask yourself, “Which of these items do I like more?” 

Repeat this process over and over until you’re done, but never choose between more than two items at once. 

Why this works: I have two young kids, and when we go to a restaurant with an extensive kids’ menu, I never read them the entire thing. (I made that mistake once and learned my lesson!) Instead, what works best is when I scan the menu, present two options, and then let them decide. 

It reduces information overload, and honestly, we’re not that different as adults. When faced with a difficult decision, like what to keep while decluttering, it can feel overwhelming because there are so many factors to consider. 

But reduce your options to two, and the question is simple: Which pair do you like better? In my experience, this new perspective is the easiest way to make tough decisions because your intuition kicks in. 

Start with Enough

This is one of my go-to decluttering methods, and it’s why I’m able to live in such a small space (a 660-square-foot apartment with my husband and two kids!). 

Before decluttering anything, ask yourself, ”How much is enough?”

Don’t think about what you already own because that will influence your answer. Instead, think of a best-case scenario. If everything you owned disappeared and you were starting fresh, how much would be enough in all areas of your life? 

Here are some examples of how I define enough in my home:

  • My hall closet is tiny, I decided “enough” towels and sheets is how many I can fit on one shelf. 
  • I live in a warm climate and wear skirts and dresses most of the year, so I decided “enough” jeans is three pairs. 
  • My kids are young and get easily overwhelmed by mess. I decided ”enough” toys is what they can easily clean up in fifteen minutes. 

As you can see, ”enough” can be a quantity, a space, or even defined by time or energy. But thinking about the finish line—what you want to achieve and why—is powerful because now you have a game plan and a purpose. 

Why this works: There are two reasons why this method works so well.

First and foremost, it’s because you create a ‘why‘ for your decluttering. 

If you look at my example, there are boundaries AND explanations. I have a specific motivation for decluttering towels, jeans and toys, which stops me when I’m tempted to keep more. I intentionally decided what a clutter-free home means to me, which is a powerful motivator.

It also gives you a goal to work towards. You’re not just randomly tossing things into piles. Instead, you’re actively moving towards a finish line.

The Discharge Method

This is a favourite method for dealing with sentimental items or anything that feels emotionally charged. 

It’s a little out there, so I’m going to explain the method and why it works at the same time. 

In my experience, items of sentimental value often have loose ends attached. For example, the hardest thing I’ve ever decluttered were items related to my brother, who passed away in 2004. I knew I didn’t want to keep everything, but I didn’t have the heart to deal with it. 

So I packed it away in the back of my closet. 

Every year or so, I would open the box … but as soon as the lid came off, it was like a tidal wave of emotions. After a bit of browse, I’d pack the box away and tell myself, next time.  

To be clear, I think it’s OK to keep sentimental items if you want, and it’s also OK to take your time (especially when the loss of a loved one is involved). But I really wanted to downsize—it was too much to keep—so I needed a way forward. 

What helped was what I have since named the Discharge Method. 

As I said, sentimental items frequently have loose ends: emotions that need to be processed or something else that needs closure. Either way, facing your feelings is critical to letting go … and it’s hard to face them when your sentimental items are stored out of sight. 

Instead of packing things away, you need to embrace the tidal wave of emotions and ride it out.

So I took my brother‘s items out of my closet and placed them on my dresser (put your items anywhere you’ll see them on a daily basis, but it doesn’t have to be somewhere inconvenient). This encourages you to face whatever you need to face, which in turn discharges the emotion from the item. 

It’s like the difference between bottling up your emotions or having a healthy conversation about them. It takes time, but in my experience, it helps immensely.

Important: If your sentimental items are related to a traumatic event, or you struggle with difficult feelings, I recommend you work with a therapist or other mental health professional first.

How to declutter (more tips + advice)

These are some of the methods that helped me clear over 80% of my belongings, but ultimately, no one hack or tip works for everyone. 

Instead, it’s more like learning a new skill. When we’re intentional about decluttering, it becomes less like a stressful event and more like an opportunity to create the life we want. 

This is what I teach in my group program, Clear Your Clutter, or you can check out these popular blog posts:

Do any of these methods resonate with you? Or do you have a favourite decluttering method? Let me know in the comments!

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12 thoughts on “5 Decluttering Methods You Haven’t Tried (That Really Work!)”

  1. Try telling this to people who grew up after the great depression, rinse tin foil after use, make ripped clothing into bed quilt or cleaning rags, use store bags for the waste basket, I just used that piece of wood in the garage from 2004 over the weekend, or eat what you get or you do not eat at all, don’t waste heat, don’t waste electricity, don’t waste water, besides “buy now, pay later”

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  2. I’m a bit late to the party, but wanted to share this tip anyway in the hope that it will help someone who’s having trouble letting go of sentimental items. When my mom passed and we had to clear out her apartment, there were so many things it was hard to let go of. I wanted keep everything! Of course that’s not practical, so instead I took a picture of the items that I couldn’t take home with me. I took a ton of pictures, and have them in a folder on my laptop. I shared them with my family when I got home, and looked at them a few times in the following months. It reminded me of good times and items that obviously meant something to my mom, since she kept them alI those years. It’s been a few years now and I haven’t felt the need to see them again, but the photos are still there if I do. I’m sure this isn’t a new idea (and perhaps you’ve mentioned it in another post) but it helped me let go of things but still be reminded of them whenever I feel the need. Thanks for this post – it’s given me a lot of new ideas to start decluttering in this new year!

    Reply
  3. The one less idea is new to me, but should help because office supplies, etc., are a problem since they are sometimes given to me b y someone who no longer uses them. Since that would keep me from having to purchase the item later, it is hard to decide what to get rid of, but just one less would certainly make a dent.

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    • Absolutely! Then once you get rid of one less and get used to it, you might find you’re comfortable with ‘one less’ again … and so on, and so on. It’s a (semi) pain free way of decluttering! 😊

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  4. For the “Inconvenient” method, put your things in the box, tape it shut, and put a date on it. If you haven’t needed something enough to open the box by that date, donate it without opening.

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  5. These are the most helpful ideas I’ve come across.
    The emotional part is so difficult yet seldom addressed, and the decision overload makes me close the closet door or turn a blind eye to the desk chaos every time I think I might get started.
    THANK YOU for sharing these tips and explanations!

    Reply
  6. I love the “out of the box” approach. Your article has helped me see decluttering from a new perspective. I certainly will have no problem with the Overly
    Inconvenient Method because parts of my home are already like that due to lack of space for an excess of stuff. I agree that the vision of the clutter has always been the best motivator to get me going. I also appreciate that you point out the “enough” concept as I have a personal tendency to struggle with it. Never had thought of bringing it into the the decluttering process but it will be very useful. Thanks.

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