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Do you have too much stuff? If so, implement this straight-forward decluttering technique. All you need are four boxes and a little motivation to get started.


Updated on 6/7/17 from an article originally published on 11/16/12.

Get rid of too much stuff

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 having too much stuff.

Owning excess can make everyday tasks much more stressful. Yet we hang onto this stuff, 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 manifest 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 a Time

Get rid of too much stuff

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. Also, don’t plan to tackle an entire house in a day. This is a process.

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 Questions About the Item

Get rid of too much stuff with four-box method of decluttering

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, ask the following series of questions:

  • 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 Mari 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. Likely if you haven’t used or enjoyed the object in the past year, it’s 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 Boxes and Repeat

What to do when you have too much stuff

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.
  • 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 your storage needs fall short. In this case, a self storage unit might be a good option.

We hope you enjoyed learning about this technique. By the end of the process, your home will feel much lighter, and you will too as a result. What are some other ways you get rid of excess stuff? Let us know in the comments below!

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About the Author

Lauren Thomann

Lauren Thomann is a contributing writer covering home, moving and storage topics for the Life Storage blog.

  • C.J. Sauerbrei

    I’ll try a declutter method.

  • Irene

    Why store something you can’t use???? WHY? In rural Mississippi where people live in little clusters and far apart, people just put any item they do not want outside their house or by the road coming into their house with “free” stuck on it. Item usually gone in 30 minutes by people who obviously can use it. GIVE your stuff away to anyone who might need it. You will be glad you did.

    • Carol

      I can’t be bothered selling stuff or having tag sales. I figure I got my money’s worth from the stuff so I give it away. It’s a great feeling, when you know the person really needs it.

  • Cube

    We’ve gotten rid of many items by placing them by the road in front of our house. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

  • D Cook

    When the cost of storage exceeds the value of your “stuff”, it’s time to stop storing it.

  • Ann

    Freecycle your clutter.

  • Johanna

    Clear directives for some of us who have bought clutter & organization books. The books are clutter.

  • sharon kell

    Lot’s of cities now have for stuff you can’t leave at the curb, like electronics, clothes, books.

    • sharon kell

      oops. freecycle.ORG

  • laura m.

    I have done the same thing especially with larger items..even an old water heater and bookcase was hauled. Anything on the “right away” which is usually ten feet from the curb, is up for grabs in most subdivisions and elsewhere and most everyone knows that it’s theirs for the taking. When my father in law died, I put things out at the curb and donated some to charities. If I have too much stuff stored/piled up at home, I know it’s time to purge and donate.

  • Katherine

    I had a “clutter” problem. I realized I was dangerously close to a “hoarding problem”. I bought a load of 20 gallon plastic storage containers for $6 each at a local discount store. I sorted stuff, threw away stuff, shredded lots of old papers (if I’ve shredded anything I might need later, bet I can get a copy from my bank or credit card company!), and I was able to build a “wall” of stacked storage boxes in a large, unused room. It looks great, and can easily be reconfigured if I need something different from that space! I was also able to construct a “window seat” of storage containers with bright cushions on top. And a luncheon cloth covered plastic container became a “lamp table”. Now I am about 80% on my way AWAY from “too much clutter to make sense”. I also made the decision to purchase another gently-used china cabinet. I have lots of lovely old glassware and crystal stored in boxes- and it isn’t very pretty there! I want all that stuff visible so I can drag it out and use it! (Otherwise, what’s the point of keeping it?) If I break something, I can buy another one! There’s something very sad about hiding lovely things, rather than taking a chance at life and using them! I dedicated one plastic storage container of “weird old stuff” for my grandchildren to play with when they visit- and they love it! Got rid of all my “just-in-case fat clothes”, too! That’s incentive to watch my diet and exercise! I feel much better, now! Happier, calmer, and more in control. Don’t let “stuff” control your life!

  • Carole B

    Hi, all,

    As useful as the free ‘curb service’ mentioned above can be, I tend to rely more on my local branch of FREECYCLE, a nationwide recycling network that keeps stuff out of the landfill by letting those who can use it know where they can pick it up.

    The email group is free to use. It’s got some rules, like “avoid obscenity, no illegal substances,” etc. It’s all grassroots, volunteer-run.

    Email subject lines contain either “OFFER,” “WANTED” or “TAKEN.” .

    To join, goto FREECYCLE.ORG and type your city and state in the search box on that page. Once you’ve joined and start reading the emails, you’ll see how smoothly it works. And yes, it’s entirely free.

    Your trash –even that shattered mirror– can be a treasure for artists and craftspeople, people moving from one part of town to another, single moms with toddlers outgrowing their shoes so fast that there’s no money even for crayons and paper, folks whose pots and pans were lost to fire or flood, etc.

    But I’ve also seen offers for newly-replaced microwaves, dishwashers, clothes dryers, house plants needing TLC, and the leash that scared someone’s brand new puppy …as well as big bags of metal bottle caps, leftover pieces of fabric, leftover carpeting, paint, paper, etc.

    A toddler’s mom might bag and leave her son’s outgrown toys on her front deck with the pickup person’s name on it while she goes to someone else’s place to get another child’s outgrown toys more suited to the age her child is now.

    Hope this helps.

  • I_Rate

    Never purchase a storage bin that would weigh too much for you to carry if fully loaded.
    A lot of people throw away durable plastic open mesh ‘milk’crates. Even if you don’t want anything in the crate, empty it into a nearby receptacle, then take it home to steam clean there, or to a car wash. They’re small, but they can be stacked, and can hold a lot of weight. That’s great if you store anything heavy, like vinyl records, car parts, or books.
    WARNING: rubberized plastic crates cannot hold anything heavy, and unless filled with pillows cannot be stacked.

  • doc maverick

    What about cities in southern California where it’s against code enforcement’s rules to set disgarded items @ the curb?

    • Irene

      We lived in CA for 40 years before we moved to MS. We didn’t have Freecycle then but sounds like a great idea! Back then, I had a garage sale once a year with the intent of getting rid of stuff. I gave most of it away. Where there’s a will…there’s a way! Storage facilities are great for preparing for deference to the nice people who are allowing us to voice our opinion on their storage site! 🙂

      • Uncle Bob’s

        Thanks Irene for the shout-out! 🙂 Storage facilities are definitely a useful tool when preparing for a move. Also, anything that you’ll want to use later on but don’t use regularly (items you are saving for children as they grow up, or seasonal equipment décor for example) can also be stored in a storage unit to free up your living space. But we’re big fans of keeping your home decluttered and giving/selling/throwing away items you’ll never need again! Decluttering your home makes your life more enjoyable and your home more hospitable.

  • mjg

    I’ve even dismantled an old washer to make it easier to get out of the house and people pick it up to sell as scrap metal.

  • Hello. The article is full of useful information. For people who do like to use containers to keep their rooms, closets, offices, and gardens organized, and provide more storage space in garages, basements, attics, and sheds, consider visiting my website for more ideas. In the catalog and monthly flyer section you can find top quality high-end containers for those in upscale residential areas. If you’re just starting out in a first-time home or condo, check out the Longaberger at Home section, where you will find containers on sale and considerably discounted.
    This is just another venue to gather more ideas to help keep spaces organized on a long-term instead of short-term. Creating a fun, easy living in your space is your ultimate goal to achieving a long-lasting, stress-free environment. I agree containers can be fun and trendy in the future, if properly used for the correct function, and the size of the container is used properly for the big or small project. People tend to think a heavy load can be held by a big container for a long time. This is only true if the quality of the container’s material is long-lasting. Then there’s meldow issues that most people don’t give a second thought about. There’s more about a container product than just thinking about how is it going to look in my room, how functional is it, and what type of container do I really want? Once you have the container, did you decide to store on the floor, on a table, on a counter, or on a shelf before you bought the container? So there’s some planning involved even before thinking about what container is needed. These are things that I think people would be more benefited by before rushing out to get a container that may not be functional in the long run. This will also help to save lots of money instead of buying multiple containers that either didn’t last over time or didn’t provide the best function for the project.
    Thank you for your time in reading this comment. Take good care. Happy New Year! Rosella Young, AA-1 Designs, 2012 BPW/NTTF Entrepreneur of the Year Award

  • As a real estate agent I often have to gently nudge people to de-clutter when they list thier home for sale. Often I get the response, ‘Well this is my house and I live here’ and I respond, ‘you are correct, but right now you want someone else to live here’.

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