Home Before Your Move Declutter Like You Are Moving

Declutter Like You Are Moving

by Ali Wenzke

I decluttered my wine collection over the weekend. I figured if I didn’t drink it in 2020, then I probably never would. When I offered a bottle of decluttered wine to a friend, she asked, “Are you moving again, Ali?” No, but I am decluttering like it, and it feels amazing. Whether you are moving or not, you should declutter like you are moving. Then, you will have the gorgeous home you deserve for the new year. After ten moves in eleven years, I can guide you step-by-step through how to declutter like you are moving. I guarantee your home will feel a hundred pounds lighter, and it will lift your spirits.

Visualize your dream space before you start to declutter

Take a minute to imagine your home in its most beautiful, organized glory. If you plan to move soon, you can envision your current home for staging purposes or you can visualize your new home instead.  Close your eyes and, in your mind, walk around your home as you imagine it in its perfect form. Spend a moment in each room and imagine the sounds, the smells, the textures that surround you. Breathe it in and enjoy the beauty. Now, open your eyes.

Take photos of the spaces in your home

You reached a level of calmness with the visualization, and I am not trying to bring you down. However, you need to see your home through the eyes of a camera lens. While our own minds may set aside the clutter like its background noise, your phone won’t lie to you. Well, unless you ask it to lie, and these photos are not for Snapchat. Your “Before” photos are for you and you only. This is not about shame or judgment or feeling guilt about the current state of our homes. Honestly, we’re living in a pandemic. Let’s cut ourselves some slack. These photos are meant to help you find the problem areas and the areas you love.

Take photos of your home to find the nooks you love or the spaces with clutter

Take a trash bag with you as you walk around your home

The “walk around with a trash bag method” is the easiest step to decluttering. As you walk around taking your “Before” photos, keep two trash bags by your side – one for trash and one for recycling. Do you see quick and easy trash? Throw it in your trash bag and empty the small trash containers you find throughout your home. Did your photo sleuthing find a stack of old magazines in a long-neglected corner? Toss the magazines in the recycling bag. Once you finish your photo tour, take the trash bags out of your apartment. There you go – within ten minutes, your home is ten pounds lighter.

Declutter like you are moving with my Decluttering Checklist for a Move

I created a special decluttering order for moving, because I found that decluttering for a move is different than decluttering to spark joy. Size and weight matters. Every item in your home adds pounds and dollars to the cost of packing, moving, and unpacking these items.

Let’s say you don’t plan on moving any time soon.* You can still feel the weight of these items bringing you down, which you may not even notice until that weight is gone. So, let’s begin with books and make our way down the list.

Change your mindset to declutter like you are moving

Spring cleaning or a New Year’s home refresher is one thing. To declutter for a move is a whole other level of decluttering. How clean and organized and calm and fabulous do you want your home to be? If you want it to be good enough until you do it again next month, then start with a drawer at a time. If you want this to be the type of decluttering that makes you feel like you can conquer the world, then declutter like you are moving. To do this, ask yourself, “Do I want to move this item to a new home?”

Is this better than Swedish Death Cleaning?

Personally, I think so. In case you haven’t heard of Swedish Death Cleaning, it’s as morbid as it sounds. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to picture myself dying as I clean out my closet. I would rather imagine myself moving to Hawaii or Paris or New Jersey.

So, I recommend you take the more optimistic mindset of a person moving.  Think to yourself, “Is it worth packing, moving, and unpacking this item?” When you look at your large TV cabinet that you filled with clothes because the flat screen TV is hanging on your wall instead, imagine loading and unloading that cabinet into a U-Haul truck. You may consider selling the cabinet or donating it now instead of waiting until you are in a rush at moving time. What about those six not-so-white t-shirts you own that sit in your drawer taking up space?  If the item doesn’t make you smile, then it’s time for it to go.

Okay, I’ve got the right mindset. So, how do I declutter like I’m moving?

With your decluttering order checklist in hand, start to declutter by gathering all the items in that category and laying them out. For example, display each book you own as if you had a bookstore. You can check out the way I do it with my kids here: “Ali’s Toy Store” and “Ali’s Book Store”. Then, start shopping. Choose the items you want to keep. For those you do not want to keep, create a trash pile and a donate pile. Next, take the trash and donations directly out of your home and into the trash can or the trunk of your car. Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect $200 (yet). As soon as you can, head to a donation center.

If you are moving, it’s time to pack your boxes

If you plan to move, it’s now time to pack your items into moving boxes. Pack, label everything in detail, and put your boxes to the side. Draw a heart on the boxes that include your favorite items, so you can unpack your Favorite Item Boxes first (#happymoving). Declutter and repeat. Then, when you arrive at your new home and unpack your boxes, everything will be pre-organized into categories for you, which makes home organization fun and simple.

If you don’t plan to move, it’s time to re-organize your items

I woke up with an epiphany on Sunday, “My kitchen is organized all wrong.” I couldn’t believe it. When we purchased our home, there was a utensil drawer organizer built into one of the drawers. So, that’s where I put the utensils. The only problem is that this drawer is nowhere near our dishwasher. Therefore, every day for years, my family and I took out the silverware caddy and carried it over to the drawer to put away silverware. Then, I also realized our coffee mugs were in the wrong place. We purchased a new coffee maker years ago and it didn’t fit into the old space. We moved the coffee maker, but the mugs stayed where they had always lived.

When I decluttered my kitchen this week and took everything out of the cabinets to make good decluttering choices, I could see my kitchen in a new way. I envisioned it like a new homeowner would, but with more time to make decisions instead of hastily emptying a moving box. We relocated the utensil drawer and moved our coffee cups. It’s life altering, I tell you.  Wherever you place your items when you move into a new home is usually where they end up (for years!), even if it is not the most logical space.

Be mindful when you organize your space

After you’ve decluttered, rethink your space and organize it logically

Go back to your visualization technique. What did your dream space look like? Did you envision less furniture, different window coverings, or a simplified bookcase? If you are not sure how you want to organize your space, a quick online search can help you find hundreds of photos for inspiration. Take a screenshot and mimic the photos you love. Be thoughtful about your space. Don’t just shove everything back onto the shelves. This is your chance to make it feel like the dream home you deserve.

Get motivated to declutter by listening to home organization books or podcasts

As I decluttered my home this week, I listened to Peter Walsh’s audiobooks. Peter whispered in my ear, telling me how fabulous my life would be after decluttering my home. I already knew he was right, but it felt great to have this notion reinforced as I was in the midst of cleaning out my pantry. Find your favorite podcasts or discover someone new. If you want to hear me talk about “Moving on a Budget”, you can check out NPR’s Life Kit or you can listen to my audiobook, The Art of Happy Moving. You can listen to Minimalist Moms or A to B Podcast about living a minimalist life or organizing. If you want moving-specific episodes, you can check them out here. Whoever makes you feel motivated, listen to that person and get your house into its best shape.

Listen to your favorite audiobooks or podcasts

It’s worth the effort to declutter like you are moving

We all feel overwhelmed with everything going on right now and I know it is hard work to declutter like you are moving. I can promise you, though, you won’t regret the effort when you see the results. Have you ever staged your home to sell and then thought, “Why didn’t I always live like this?” You can. Just clear out the clutter and you will feel lighter, happier, more organized, less stressed, and more in control of your life.


*Spoiler alert: There is a move in your future. The average American moves 11.7 times in her lifetime. If you are 45 years old, you still have 2 more moves in you. So, decluttering like you are moving may not be a hypothetical after all. Sorry!

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Mike Davis February 5, 2021 - 7:48 am

Pack your things much prior to your move so that you get stress-free from packing and do your rest of the things freely.

Miranda Karris February 23, 2021 - 4:26 am

I had a habit of saving all sorts of things thinking that I would need them sooner or later (I think a lot of people do the same). But I’ve been thinking that 90% of everything I keep goes unused by me for months and even years. So I did a huge decluttering earlier this winter. And my place got so cozy. Considering it’s a temporary apartment that I’m renting while I’m in college, it’s the best decision to get rid of the stuff so it’s easier to pack when I move.

Freya Emily April 15, 2021 - 5:37 am

Thank you for yours awesome tips.

Lavera Gomez July 16, 2021 - 7:28 am

packing is the biggest task for us when we are planning to shift to another place and your tips can help us very well. I also shift many times it’s very difficult to find the best moving companies.

Kaycia September 22, 2022 - 10:34 am

Hey! I love your tips! As someone who has moved 20 times, lived in 6 different states and is starting the moving process again, I find your content to be SO true. Decluttering and having a good attitude can change the way a move turns out! Thank you for all the content you share! I love how you pour into your community! Showing up consistently for your community takes dedication and you are rocking it!

Have the best day!

Kaycia Ellingsen

Lynne Huysamen March 18, 2024 - 7:10 am

Oh my word this is the first time I’ve heard of Swedish Death Cleaning, you are right it is quite morbid but it certainly gets the message home! I’ve really taken to decluttering recently. We moved 18 months ago to the same property as my father in law, so now not only do we have our own clutter in our home we have loads of his things in our garage too. It’s been a slow process and I’ve been working slowly through everything, I’ve got a list in my journal I’m working through. Our home has only recently started looking more like our home and less like a hoarder’s. Thanks for these tips, it is going to make a big difference moving forward.


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