8 Exit Strategies for Your Clutter

Alison Hodgson, Houzz Contributor


Many of us have a problem with clutter. It can be so hard to get rid of things. Often the difficulty comes down to deciding whether something really is clutter. The struggle can be internal (“I could use this someday”), or with various family members (“Are you kidding me? That was my Aunt Agatha’s!”)

If you are desperate to clear things out of your house, a good place to start is the stuff everyone can agree needs to go. Some things are easy to eliminate — outgrown clothing, dead batteries, returnable bottles and cans, and books we’ve read but didn’t love — so why can’t we get them out of the house? We need an effective exit strategy — here are some suggestions.

1. Assess successful systems of removal. In our house the only system we have is trash and recycling. One big reason it works is they come to us. If only Goodwill did weekly pickups! But there were other things to notice and replicate: designated containers and a set date of removal.

2. Identify what needs to go. Odds are it will come down to a few broad categories. In our house it’s mainly items for Goodwill, children’s outgrown clothing to go to consignment, books to trade for credit at our local bookstore, things to be returned to the store (for whatever reason!), library books and dead batteries.

3. Designate bags or boxes for removal. We have a bag for library books, but I use paper grocery bags for Goodwill or the bookstore. Only sometimes do I label them, which requires double checking and makes it impossible for my husband to make a run to Goodwill without my oversight.

4. Establish where the designated bags live between returns. Not all of us have roomy pantries, mudrooms or garages. We may need to keep our bags out in the open, which isn’t such a bad thing — because out of sight is often out of mind.

Attractive bags or baskets are nice, but function needs to come before form. Get your system in place first, and cute it up as you go.

5. Create a schedule of purging. It’s natural in fall and spring to go through clothing and decide what no longer fits. Choose a day, bag things up and get the bags out of the house. So easy to type but so many steps — I know!

Short term, it could be designating a day every week or two to run errands, including stops at the library, Goodwill or shops to make returns.

6. Assign a responsible party. Unless you live alone, creating exit strategies needs to be a group effort. One person may be the main curator/gatherer and another can be in charge of removal, but it probably won’t be neatly divided. Trial and error will help you figure out what works (or doesn’t) in your household.

7. Start small. Work on one habit at a time. What’s driving you the most batty is a good place to start.

8. Refine and tighten things as you go. Perhaps you already have some successful systems in place and you just need to work on details. Be patient, keep working on things and watch success build upon itself.