Most people would love to live a simpler life, but chaos prevents us from attaining the order we desire. Chaos comes in many forms, like a hectic work schedule or deciding to remodel your home on a limited budget. But one of the most common forms of chaos is quite simply: too much stuff, not enough space.
Owning too much stuff can make everyday tasks much more stressful. Yet we hang onto the excess, often unsure of whether we’ll need it in the future or not. As this trend continues, our homes (and lives) become overwhelmed by clutter.
Learn how to get rid of too much stuff by using the four-box method. We’ll show you how to muster up the willpower you’ll need to tackle even the most sentimental objects.
Step 1: Gather and label boxes.
First, you’ll need three boxes and a trash bin. You can use plastic totes or cardboard moving boxes since the boxes are only serving as a temporary go-between. We suggest printing off large labels for each box so you don’t accidentally mistake one for the other.
The Keep/Put Away Box
This box should be the smallest in theory. Items that end up in this box are used on a daily or weekly basis and just need to be put away in their proper spot. If a “keep” item belongs in the area you’re decluttering, don’t even put it in this box, 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 as a rag instead.
The Toss Box
This one is pretty self-explanatory. But remember, some people might get in purge mode and just want to toss everything. Consider whether or not the item can or should be donated before adding it to this box. Objects that end up here are in poor condition and will be tossed or recycled. That broken planter you’ve been meaning to glue back together for the last three years? That belongs in this box.
The Storage Box
Beware: if you’re not in the frame of mind to get rid of clutter, this box can fill up very quickly. Ideally, this box should include any items you cannot part with but don’t need on a regular basis. This might include seasonal decor or seasonal clothing you need to store during the offseason.
Step 2: Declutter one area at time.
The key to success with this technique (success = getting rid of too much stuff) is to be in the right frame of mind. Keep your eye on the prize: an organized and efficient home. Remember the following pointers when assessing your clutter.
- Start with one room or small area at a time. If a room is too large or cluttered, focus on one corner. This will help lessen the chances of being overwhelmed.
- Don’t plan to tackle an entire house in a day. Balancing the amount of stuff you have in your limited amount of space is a process. 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 take the time to focus on 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. It could also cause you to inadvertently toss things you may have been able to sell.
Step 3: Ask yourself rational questions about each item.
When looking at the item, ask yourself the following question:
- Do I want to keep, donate, sell, store or toss?
If the answer doesn’t come to you right away, the following series of questions will help you arrive at the right conclusion:
- 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. However, if you’re absolutely unsure, store the item temporarily in a separate “maybe” box. Get rid of the box permanently if you haven’t used anything in it after another few months.
Understanding why you are keeping an item is your first step to letting it go. If you haven’t used or enjoyed the object in the past year, it’s probably safe to say you could do without it.
If your goal is to declutter, each step you take is going to have to be a conscious one. Don’t just keep buying. For every new object you add into your home, make an effort to get rid of or donate three other things.
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 going back 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 the garage for a garage sale or in the office to sell on Ebay or Craigslist. Place the remaining donate items in a box that is in your car and ready to be dropped off.
- Long-term storage items should be sorted by like items and labeled in separate boxes, but 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.
Eventually, you will return to the sell items and storage items to further organize them, but for now, return to the area you are decluttering and start the process again.
Sometimes you can’t permanently get rid of items that you’re not currently using — like a child’s furniture when they’re away at college. And once your storage items are organized by type, you may find you just don’t have enough space. In this case, a self storage unit might be a good option.
We hope you enjoyed learning about this technique for dealing with too much stuff and not enough space. By the end of the process, your home will feel much lighter, and you will too as a result.
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.