Most people would love to live a simpler life. Unfortunately, despite our best intentions, living a simple life often feels easier said than done! One of the most common culprits is clutter, or having too much stuff and not enough space.
Owning a lot of things feels fine when you have enough storage to put everything away, but if space is at a premium, owning too much stuff can make everyday tasks more stressful.
For many of us, it’s daunting to think about getting rid of excess stuff. After all, what if we might need it one day? Fortunately, there are many tried-and-true strategies to help identify which items you really need—and which items can be tossed, sold, or donated. Wondering how to organize a room with too much stuff? Learn how to get rid of your clutter using the four-box method below. We’ll walk you through exactly how to use it to declutter your space in no time.
Step 1: Gather and label boxes.
If you find yourself thinking, “I have too much stuff and not enough space,” the first step is preparing your home for the decluttering process. To begin, you’ll need your “four boxes,” which will actually be three declutter boxes plus a trash can.
Since the three boxes only serve as temporary sorting storage, almost any type of box will work. You can use plastic bins, cardboard moving boxes, or anything else you have on hand. Once you have your boxes, we recommend labeling them to simplify your sorting process.
Here are the four labels you’ll need:
The Keep/Put Away Box
In theory, this box should be the smallest. Items that end up in this box should be used regularly. They likely just need to be put away in their proper spot. If a “keep” item belongs in your current decluttering area, don’t put it in this box. Instead, just put it away where it belongs immediately.
The Donate/Sell Box
This box will be filled with valuable items that you no longer use. It’s tempting to want to donate everything you don’t need, regardless of its condition. Be considerate of what others will be able to use when adding objects to this box. If a shirt is ripped or heavily stained, consider tossing or recycling it as a rag instead.
The Toss Box
This box is pretty self-explanatory, but it’ll require the same consideration as the donate box. If you tend to get into “purge” mode and toss everything, ask yourself if an item might be useful to someone else before you toss it. If so, it should go in the donate box instead.
Objects that end up here should be in poor condition. That broken planter you’ve been meaning to glue back together for the last three years? Perfect for the trash can.
The Storage Box
The fourth and final box is the storage box. Be aware that if you’re not in the right frame of mind to get rid of clutter, this box can fill up quickly. It tends to become another “junk” area that needs to be decluttered down the line.
Ideally, this box should only include items you can’t part with but don’t need on a regular basis. For example, you might include seasonal decor or seasonal clothing you need to store during the offseason. Everything else should go in one of the other three boxes!
Step 2: Declutter one area at time.
The key to success with this technique is to be in the right mindset when you start. Keep your eye on the prize: your goal is an organized and efficient home. Keep these tips in mind as you get started:
- Start with one room or small area at a time. If a room is too large or cluttered, focus on one corner. Going one section at a time will lower your chances of overwhelm.
- Don’t plan to tackle an entire house in a day. Getting rid of your clutter is a process. Remember that it took you time to accumulate your stuff, so it’s going to take time to get rid of it, too! Give the process the time it needs to be successful.
- Evaluate each item individually. For this method, it’s absolutely necessary to pick up each item individually and evaluate its purpose in your life. Trying to sort too fast or process too many items at once will result in a very full “storage” or “keep” box. Take it one thing at a time, and pause longer on items that need a bit more reflection.
Step 3: Ask yourself rational questions about each item.
Speaking of reflection, here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re unsure where an item belongs.
Start with the obvious question: Do I want to keep, donate, sell, store, or toss?
If the answer doesn’t come to you right away, move on to these questions to get more clarity:
- How often do I use this item? Does it have a designated place in my home?
- If I didn’t own this item already, would I buy it again?
- Do I have a sentimental attachment to this item?
- If I didn’t own this item, would I miss it? How much could I sell this for?
- As Marie Kondo would ask, does the object spark joy?
Hopefully, these questions will get you on the right track. But if not, remember that it’s not easy to get rid of clutter, especially if you have an emotional attachment to the item. If sentiment is an issue, consider taking a photo that is easier to store and get rid of the larger item.
If you’re truly unsure, store the item (temporarily!) in a separate “maybe” box. Then, make a plan to revisit the box in a few days. If you’re still not ready to address your maybes, tell yourself that anything you haven’t needed from the box in a few months will be donated.
Understanding why you’re keeping an item is your first step to letting it go. If you haven’t used or enjoyed the object recently, it’s probably safe to assume you could do without it.If your goal is to declutter, each step you take has to be a conscious one. Don’t just keep buying and storing new stuff. For every new object you add to your home, try to get rid of or donate at least one thing in its place.
Read Also: Letting Go of Things You Love
Step 4: Empty the four boxes and repeat.
Once one of the boxes is full, take the time to empty all the boxes before returning to the decluttering area.
- Trash should immediately go outside to the trash can.
- Sell items should be put in their own box and stored temporarily in your home or garage. Then, place the remaining donate items in a box in your car, ready to be dropped off.
- Long-term storage items should ultimately be sorted by like items and labeled in separate boxes. For now, you can put these items close to their ending location, like in a basement or garage. (Check out our storage guides to learn how to keep your belongings pristine in a basement or storage unit.)
- Empty your keep box and immediately put these items away in their designated locations. Don’t skip out on this step or you’ll just start creating piles of clutter in other areas of your home.
If you come across large items you can’t permanently get rid of that aren’t in use, like a child’s furniture while they’re away at college, you may need even more space to work with. In those cases, a self storage unit is a great option to explore!
When you’re done emptying all your boxes, return to the decluttering area and start the process again. When you finish the entire decluttering process, you can return to your sell items and storage items for additional sorting and organization.
We hope you enjoyed learning about this technique for dealing with too much stuff and not enough space. When you’re done with the four-box process, your home will feel much lighter—and you will too!
Need More Guidance on Home Organization? You May Like:
- The Ultimate Guide to Home Organization
- How to Declutter Your Life – Creating a Game Plan
- How to Keep Your House Organized All Week Long
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 16, 2012, and was revised on March 3, 2020 & July, 19 2023.