How to Declutter Your Home Before Selling and How to Purge Stuff Efficiently

Declutter Purge

The first thing to remember when you are preparing your home for sale is that your buyer is buying space. Not your things. Your first job is to show how much space it has.

Decluttering is hard and is one of the most important things you can do to showcase your space. How to declutter years of accumulated stuff is not easy. If you have been in your home more than a few years, you have no doubt acquired a lot of stuff which has filled your closets, your basement, your garage and the tops of tables all over the house.

How to purge your belongings and lifelong acquisitions is still harder. Follow along with us as we visit each space in your home and show you how to declutter as you purge items you no longer need or use.

(Note: Staging the home will come after the decluttering, repairing and cleaning phases.  It is easier to see what you will need to stage a room once it is cleared out and we have a blank slate to work with.)

living room that has been decluttered and staged

Declutter the Foyer, Living Room and Dining Room

If the home has been lived in for quite some time, there is a good chance there is just too much furniture in these rooms. A good rule of thumb is that for every year you’ve lived in the home after 5 years, remove one piece of furniture in each room. This isn’t an exact science, but you get the idea.

We start our decluttering projects at the front of the house.

Begin the decluttering process with the foyer. You’ll want to make sure that it looks spacious and organized and there is room to move into the other spaces in the home. There should be a table or console, perhaps a chair if there is room, and nothing else in the room. Remove all shoes, boots and clothing items that may be lying around. The tabletop should be completely empty. Remove rugs and boot trays. Remove anything hanging on the walls such as photos, paintings, coat hooks.

In the living room, start decluttering by packing up any photos, knick-knacks and decorative objects that are on top of the furniture. Remove the artwork from the walls. When you are done, the room should have a sofa, a side table, a coffee table, and one side chair. (Two loveseats can substitute for a sofa and chair.) If the room is especially large, you can keep an additional chair in the room.

As for large pieces such as pianos and big screen TVs, it would be best if you can store these items until you move. Remove existing window treatments if they are not newer  and generic such as duette shades or blinds.

In the dining room, completely clear off the top of the table and all flat surfaces and pack these items away. If there is a china cabinet (breakfront), take this opportunity to pack away all the china and crystal in there.  When you are finished decluttering, there should be a table with chairs (either 4 or 6 depending on the size of the room) and one other piece of furniture if the room size allows it.

You should be able to walk all the way around the table without bumping into anything and you should be able to walk through the room if there is another doorway leading into the kitchen or other room. Like the living room, remove window treatments and pack them up for your next home.

Purge your house or throw away anything that is broken, worn or items you haven’t used in the past five years.¬† When these items are removed from the spots they’ve been sitting in for years, it is easier to part with them.

kitchen with all clutter removed from countertops

Declutter Your Kitchen

As you declutter the kitchen, think about what it is that you are trying to sell. You are not selling your dishes or any of your 150 kitchen implements. You are selling the fixtures,cabinetry, appliances, floors, walls, mechanicals and the ceiling — but most of all you are selling kitchen space.

Taking out the excess stuff in your kitchen – on the shelves, in the drawers, inside the cabinets – will show you have lots of space. That space needs to impress the buyer who will want lots of space for their own 250 kitchen implements, their 5 sets of dishes and the scores of other small appliances and gadgets that they own.

We advise that you remove two-thirds of the items in your kitchen drawers and cupboards. Leave only what you absolutely will use from day-to-day while your home is on the market. Usually we will keep one set of dishes, eight placesettings of flatware, a few glasses and one or two favorite coffee mugs. As for utensils, pack away everything that you don’t use everyday — and just keep one of each of these utensils. If you don’t have built in drawer dividers, get a few drawer organizers¬†for your utensil drawers.

People will open your kitchen drawers. They want to see how big they are and how the cabinet drawers are constructed (did someone say dovetail joints?)

Pots and pans and bakeware also use up lots of valuable kitchen real estate. Again, keep just what you need to get through a few weeks and pack everything else away.

Kitchen counter tops are prime real estate in the kitchen. Our rule is to clear everything off the counter tops except for one small appliance. We usually choose the coffeemaker as most people use this small appliance everyday.

One of the number one complaints about kitchens is that there isn’t enough counter space. Make sure you offer every single square inch of counter top as usuable space by clearing them completely.

Home buyers will almost certainly look inside your refrigerator/freezer.  You will need to declutter your refrigerator just as if it were cabinet storage. Remove two-thirds of the foodstuffs on the shelves, door racks and the drawers so that the refrigerator/freezer appears to be one-third full. If you have a built-in ice maker, empty the ice basket so that fresh ice cubes replace any old ones. You want potential buyers to see that your refrigerator/freezer is spacious, works properly and is clean.Task done.

Pantries also need to be cleared of excess inventory. Keep the pantry shelves one-third full and pack away the rest for future consumption — at your next house.¬† This is a good time to check the expiration dates on food items in your pantry and to purge them if they’re past their due date.

Make sure you are not using your dishwasher or oven to store extra cooking implements or dishware. You don’t want to leave the impression that there isn’t enough room in the kitchen to store these items properly.

Paper towels. Find a place to stash away the paper towel holder. It should not be visible during showings.

Ditto for any evidence of pets. Bowls, beds, 40 lb. bags of kibbles — these should be out of sight.

If you’ve managed to add additional furnishings to the kitchen, now’s a good time to store them away for your next home. The kitchen should only have the built-in cabinetry and appliances, a breakfast table and chairs and 2 or 3 counter stools in it. Everything else (such as rolling carts, extra stand-alone shelving, high chairs, changing tables, etc. need to be cleared out. Leave as much free floor space as you can and the kitchen will read “spacious” and “uncluttered”.

a neat method of decluttering the bathroom

Declutter the Bathroom

In order to get the baths in stage-ready shape, it’s best to start by getting rid¬†of everything in the bathroom until you cannot take anything else out that isn’t attached.¬†

Since you will be using your bathroom until you move, here’s a decluttering tip¬†we use ourselves.¬† Any item you use in your bathroom every day, put in a plastic bucket.¬† That bucket can be stored in your bathroom vanity out of sight.¬† If someone should look in the vanity, they will see empty, clean drawers and a bucket underneath the sink.¬† You also eliminate the need for organizing your bathroom.¬† There’s nothing left to organize. Maximizing space¬†is easy at this point.¬† The bath looks as big as it can possibly look.¬†

neat bedroom with all clutter purged

Bedroom Decluttering

Bedrooms should have a bed, at least one nightstand, and a chest of drawers. Choose the best pieces you have in the bedroom and remove everything else. Storing items from the bedroom in closet suitcases keeps them near but invisible.

Pay attention to the size of the bed and choose the most appropriate size for the room. You may love your king-sized bed, but in a small room, it may be overpowering. Scale matters and the room should look like it has room to spare.

Master bedrooms (if they are quite large) can have a seating area so you can add a chair or two, but again, don’t over furnish the room.

There should be a clear walking path from the entrance to the bedroom to the closet (if it doesn’t have a closet, it’s not a legal bedroom), to the bed, and to the connected bath if there is one.

Remove everything from on top of the chest and the nightstand. An alarm clock is OK to keep visible, but everything else should be taken out, packed up for your move and stored away somewhere out of sight.

Items you need everyday (but that will just clutter up the bedroom) should be put in under-bed storage boxes so that these items are accessible but out of sight.

Window coverings should be removed unless they are new or generic such as blinds.

If you have a pet, and their bed and toys are in the master bedroom or another bedroom, then they need to find a new home until you move. There should be no evidence that a pet lives in the home if it is being shown for sale.

Childrens’ bedrooms usually always need a lot of decluttering and organization. Toys, clothing and games are the usual culprits. As with closets, try and pack away at least 2/3 of the toys and clothes. The other third should be stored in boxes that will fit easily under a bed — hidden out of sight. In a perfect world, people would understand the state of your child’s room (or teenager for that matter). But we all know better and to sell your home, it has to be head and shoulders above the rest in every category.¬†

Remove all paintings, posters, photos from the walls. 

We never stage with fake flowers or plants, so if any these are in your bedrooms, you can pack them up or selectively “prune” your selection. Fake or dried flowers/plants don’t add energy to a space, they usually only drain energy. And they definitely don’t say “fresh!” to prospective home buyers.

t shirts in closet

Declutter  Closets

This part is easy. Take everything out of the closet.

Your end-game is to have the closet one-third full when it’s staged, so we start by removing everything and moving it all to a nearby bed or large open floor space so you can go through each item.¬† An easy way to organize clothing is to keep only this season’s clothing.¬† Out of season clothing should be packed up for the move and stored in neat boxes in the garage or a storage facility for a month or two.

A closet organization system will add more linear hanging space if you have small closets.  

Each linen closet should also be cleared out.  Take your nicest towels and sheets, fold them neatly and stack them so each shelf is no more than 1/3 full.  

Declutter the Basement or Bonus Room

The space should first be defined as a play space, TV watching space, game playing space or storage space. Pick one use and try and stick to it so you don’t confuse buyers.

Remove and pack away anything that doesn’t fit in with the specified purpose of the space. This will give you an opportunity to get ahead on packing to move and make the items that are left in the room much more manageable.

If you have an unfinished basement and you have decided to use it as storage, you will need to pack away two-thirds of the stored items already in the basement that are worth keeping. Move these boxes to a temporary, off-site storage facility so that the basement looks about one-third full. Potential buyers want to see that there is a lot of storage and vertical space  for their things. Also, it will help buyers envision how much space is in the basement should they want to finish it at some later date.

Less is definitely more in a basement or bonus room space. Old furniture or half-finished projects should be stored somewhere else or donated.

You want the space to look fresh, clean and updated….not like a relic from the past.

Now’s the time to hire a pest control¬†service if you find evidence of unwelcome visitors in your basement.

Declutter the Garage

How much stuff have you crammed into your garage? The answer is probably “everything that I wanted to get out of the rest of the house”. Did you declutter your house¬†by cluttering your garage?¬† A lot of people do just that.

The only way to really declutter and clean a garage is to remove everything that isn’t nailed down and start from scratch. This allows you to paint (if necessary) and see what exactly you have in the garage that needs to be packed up or organized.

Start by stacking similar items in piles in the driveway. For organizing ideas, you can have one pile for garden items, one for car maintenance items, one for sports equipment, etc.

When you are finished removing everything from the garage and all items are stacked in categories, you can then cull out items you won’t be using for the next month or so and pack these away for your move. If you can find off-site storage for these items, that’s preferable. This gives you a head start on packing for your move and makes it easier to find things later because everything is organized by type.¬†Organization systems can help you claim more space in your garage for storage just like they do for closets.

The same rules that apply to indoor kitchens and bars apply to outdoor kitchens and bars.  All items should be removed from flat surfaces and the drawers should be cleared out.  Use drawer dividers or drawer organizers to keep your barbeque utensils orderly.


Decluttering Your Outdoor Spaces

Just as inside the home, outdoor spaces can accumulate unnecessary clutter.

Children’s toys and games should be stored away in the garage. If you don’t have a garage, then think about getting a small storage shed to shield these items from buyers’ eyes.

If you have a swing set, then take a good look at its condition. If it is in new or nearly new condition, then you can probably keep it in the yard. If it is older than 5 years and is badly weathered, you should disassemble it and dispose of it. No one will want your tired, old play set and they might worry that it isn’t in sound shape if it’s older. Don’t let worry about anything enter buyers’ minds. Eliminate the object entirely.

Any evidence that you own pets should be removed from the property….daily. Enough said.

Have a boat, RV, snowmobile? If these are in your yard or garage, they need to be stored off-site.

Keep a table and chairs for the patio or deck, keep a few occasional chairs if you have them. Other furnishings might tend to clutter the space. Again, a good idea is to send these to storage for your next home.

Portable storage containers should never be on your property when your home is being shown. Fill these up and call the moving company for a pick up.

Eliminate all statues, figurines, flags, sun catchers, windsocks, flags, etc. from the property. These should be packed up for your move to your next home.

The same rules that apply to indoor kitchens and bars apply to outdoor kitchens and bars.  All items should be removed from flat surfaces and the drawers should be cleared out.  Use drawer dividers or drawer organizers to keep your barbeque utensils orderly.


If all this sounds like a lot of work, it is.  Decluttering is hard.  But only you are capable of knowing what is worth keeping, which items add value to your life, which item sparks joy, which items (when discarded) will simplify your life.   An organization expert can be hired to do all this work. A professional organizer, however, will still need your input as to what stays and what goes. 

Organizing your home is not possible without decluttering.  And selling a home without decluttering is very difficult.