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Ten Steps To Shrink Your Stuff and Grow Your Happiness

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

Your closet cannot hold one more hat. That desk drawer needs an extra little push to close. You don’t dare open that old garage storage closet anymore because… well… you can’t bear to look at what’s stacked up in there.

It happens to everyone! Stuff piles up, over time, in corners, closets and drawers. The stuff you own can end up owning YOU! The good news is that tackling it easier than you think! The GREAT news is that you will feel really good when finished. Here’s my favorite 10 steps to get control of the clutter:

10. Appointment with Dr. Self

Give yourself the gift of TIME to get it done. Your closets did not stuff themselves overnight and you won’t get them cleaned out overnight either.

Put a completion date on your calendar, 60 days out for example, and work backwards from there. Schedule one or two hour sessions each week and PUT THOSE SESSIONS ON YOUR CALENDAR. Treat these “sorting sessions” like a doctor’s appointment and show up for yourself.

9. Get real.

Your beautiful hutch has held your china- and your mother’s china- for the past 30 years. It is PRICELESS to you. But if you believe you’re going to sell it for big bucks because it is lovely/in flawless condition/real wood/etc., I want you to understand something.

The value you feel is sentimental. In terms of dollars, the value is only what someone is willing to pay. Most “big brown” furniture sells for a fraction of what owners think it will. Tastes & styles change. A quick check of Facebook Marketplace, Ebay, etc. will show you the listing prices… but the actual sales price is likely lower.

If a large piece of furniture doesn’t work for you anymore, let it go. It Whether via an auction or a thrift store, that furniture will find a new home and will help build new memories for a new family. The beat goes on.

8. Chunk It Out, Pt 1

Your garage, basement, closets and storage locker are FULL. Just thinking about it can make it overwhelming… which then makes it almost impossible to start sorting it all out.

Instead of staring down the whole job, chunk it out. Start with one type of item, like “Christmas Décor” for example. Once done with that group, move to the next type of item.

7. Chunk It Out, Pt. 2

Why go by item type and not, for example, chunk it out by area? Well, consider this: If you clean out the garage, you see just part of, for example, your Holiday décor. In addition to the tubs in the garage, you’ve got the skinny fake tree tucked into the front closet, the snowman platter in the bottom of the hutch and the reindeer napkins in the pantry… you get the idea.

Pull out ALL of one type of item (winter clothes, books, fishing gear, etc.) and take stock of what you have, what you need/want and what you do not need/want.

6. Four piles. That’s it.

As you sort items, stick to only four piles: Keep, Sell, Give Away and Trash. If you make a “Maybe” pile you are making a big, time-sucking, mistake.

If you believe Cousin Joe may want ol’ Uncle Charlie’s fishing pole, then call Cousin Joe and ask him. Right then, right there. If he wants it, ask him to come get it or pack it up, that day, and send it.

(Consider having a permanent box for Give Away items. As you go about your daily life when you decide something isn’t needed anymore- like your old winter coat when you’ve just bought a new one- place it in your Give Away box. When the box full, take it to the donation center.)

5. Be Generous

Now is the perfect time to gift items to family, friends or charities. Those old yearbooks? Give your high school a call and see if they have a need for their library. Old military uniforms? Call the local VFW or high school theater department and see if there is interest. There are many “Buy Nothing” groups on Facebook that allow direct-to-end-user gifting. Look to see if there is one in your town!

Do you have furniture and housewares that are still in good shape but you just don’t need? Check with local charities about donating it. I often get my client’s unneeded items donated to Mustard Seed of Central Indiana. This fantastic organization will get it, at no cost, to local needy families! Get more info at

4. Save Your Memories

Photos, old videos and slides have a way of piling up in bins and tubs. Sticking all of them into albums seems unlikely and time consuming. Thankfully, there’s multiple ways to preserve photos, slides and videos. A simple “photo preservation service” Google search will get you started. I’ve helped my clients use several of these services. Drop me a line at and I’ll give you my insight on them!

If you’re up for sorting photos, just like tip #7 and #8, chunk it out. Make piles by decade (1960s, 1970s, etc.) and then break down each decade in ways that work for your family. Categories could be, for example, “Christmas in the 60s” or “Family Vacations in the 70s.” When you have manageable piles, consider giving some to family or friends. Tuck the ones you wish to keep into labeled albums or small storage boxes.

If you are hanging on to a deceased loved one’s clothes, I understand the difficulty in cleaning this closet. I’ve faced this myself. One lovely idea to free the space AND to actually enjoy the memories is to have the clothes made into a quilt, pillow or even wall art. (Again, please drop me a line for resources here.)

If you love to laugh, consider what my family did: Our father was VERY on-trend back in his day and had closets full of flashy clothes. Seven years after his death we still had his things, as well as my mother’s, hanging in their closet. In what was a perfect tribute to their love of laughter, we threw a “Tom & Linda Party.” Everyone donned my parents’ fashions and had a blast reliving some great memories. After that evening, packing up and saying goodbye to their clothes was much easier.

3. Use Up What You Have

Pull out everything from your deep freezer, pantry, cupboards and bathroom vanity. Take stock of canned goods, frozen foods and paper/cleaning products. Sort out piles of health & beauty products. Toss the nasty and keep the usable.

Use as much as you possibly can before buying more. Challenge yourself to see what creative dinners- Tuna Surprise, anyone?- you can make from the random cans in the back of your pantry. Rediscover why you bought that eucalyptus honeycomb facial moisturizer in the first place.

2. Mind the toxic stuff

Don’t just dump hazardous products like paint, fertilizer, etc. Same goes for old cell phones. Visit for info on hazardous collection in your area. Cities and towns often have special days set aside for collection- just call your town hall and ask. If that day has recently passed, ask your town hall for info on the local hazardous waste collection site.

And the #1 tip:

You do not have to go it alone. Ask a friend or a family member to help. People love helping people. Or, consider hiring a pro! One benefit of hiring a pro is that they don’t make decisions FOR you, they just help guide you, motivate you and help to execute on the Sell, Give Away and Trash piles you create. They can even help smartly organize your Keep pile.

One resource you can check out is the National Association of Senior & Specialty Move Managers ( You will find compassionate & capable help in your area!

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