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A woman is sitting in front of her closet, going through clothes and decluttering before she moves. There are piles of clothing all around her

Decluttering Before Moving? 11 Professional Tips


by Alex Keight Posted on October 2, 2023
When’s the last time you did some decluttering? If you’re planning a move, you might want to consider taking the plunge to pare down your belongings. Not only can a large declutter before moving save you time and energy on both ends of your move; it can also help save you money. Why? The more stuff you have, the more it costs to move it. Plus, if you donate or host a garage or estate sale while downsizing, you can even pad your pockets with a little extra cash in the process. 

Looking for top tips on how to declutter before moving? You’ve come to the right place! We’ve teamed up with Maija Diethelm, a professional organizer with more than a decade of experience decluttering spaces, to share our best tips on going through your belongings so you can start fresh in your new place.

11 Pro Tips To Help You Declutter Before Moving

Even with all the benefits, decluttering can feel like a daunting task to undertake, particularly when paired with a move. The good news is it doesn’t have to be! Knowing when, where, and how to go through your things can help streamline the process, make it easier, and, dare we say, make it something you might even find a little fun. Here are our best tips on getting the job done.

1. Get motivated.

Real talk: Decluttering can be very emotional and overwhelming — especially if you’ve never done it before — so there’s no shame in needing a little motivation or inspiration to get prepared. Just remind yourself of how great it’ll feel to trim the fat on your belongings, save money, possibly make some money, and start fresh in your new space. You’ll be surprised how fantastic it will feel to free yourself from things that no longer serve a purpose in your life — or your house. 

2. Don’t procrastinate — start early.

According to Maija, one of the top mistakes people make when decluttering before moving is not starting early enough. “We always have way more stuff than we even imagine,” she says. Depending on the size of your home or apartment, you may want to start at least two, six, or even 12 months before your move. “That just allows the process to be a lot less intense and stressful.”

The before picture of a garage prior to being cleaned and decluttered. There are garbage bags and cardboard boxes on the floor, miscellaneous things are scattered about, and storage cabinet doors are left open.

The after picture of a garage that was recently cleaned and decluttered. The storage cabinets are closed, chairs are neatly stacked against the wall, and everything has a place. The floor is clear of clutter.

Garage organization: before & after
(Source: Maija Diethelm)

3. Start with the rooms and things you use the least. 

Ok, you’re in the right headspace and you’ve given yourself plenty of time to clean out your home. But you may still be a little stuck. If you find yourself asking “How do I start decluttering before moving?,” Maija’s advice is to get your feet wet by starting the decluttering process with rooms and stuff you don’t use that often.
“I highly suggest you do not start with memorabilia,” Maija warns. “If you start with rooms that are less used, you have the time to go through all of those things — and you’ll likely get rid of one-half to three-fourths of it.” 
Starting with your basement, attic, or garage is a great way to train your brain to think about the value and purpose of your belongings. That way, by the time you reach the really important stuff, you’ll be a pro, deliberate less, and have your own process practically perfected. Plus, you can pack the items you’re keeping into boxes or plastic bins as you go, tackling two birds with one stone and with minimal disruption to your daily routines in the rest of the house. 

Q: What is the first rule of decluttering?
A: Know your “why” and maintain a positive mindset. You’re going through your belongings to make your move easier, and when you get rid of an item, it’s not waste. You’re doing something productive and beneficial, so don’t let those invalid thoughts get in the way.

4. Pack with pride. 

This is all for a move, right? So why not pack along the way? Especially those areas with items that you won’t be needing before the big day. But we’re not talking about just dumping your “keep” piles of stuff in big boxes and calling it a day. You’re taking the time to go through each and every item in your home already; you should also take the time to ensure your wanted items are clean, dust-free, and packed neatly and efficiently (bonus points for categorizing them!). The best part about doing this? You’ll cut down on wasteful packing materials, potentially saving you money on the cost of the move. And who knows? You may even look forward to unpacking those boxes, since it’ll be such a cinch!

A box of sentimental items, including letters, postcards, and a cassette tape.

5. Don’t linger on old memories. 

No matter what you do, you’re going to end up sifting through emotional items — it’s unavoidable. Just try to veer back to the present if you suddenly find yourself on a trip down memory lane (trust us, it’s easy to do, especially if you’re doing the decluttering yourself). “I have many clients who were trying to declutter before moving on their own, and they’ve been like ‘I opened this box and I was there for two hours — all I could finish was this box,’” Maija says. “You pull out a picture and all these memories come up and you have to process all of that.” Fight the urge. If there’s really a strong connection, keep the item and dip into the nostalgia at a later date.

A motivated woman is decluttering before moving. She’s sitting on the floor, listening to music on her headphones, and throwing a garment into a box labeled “CHARITY.”

6. Use the power of piles.

As we briefly touched on earlier, one huge decluttering hack Maija uses with her clients is separating sorted items into different piles that determine their fate. Here are a few examples of piles you might want to use to categorize your things as you go through them:

  • Keep
  • Trash
  • Shred (think sensitive documents and personal records)
  • Donate
  • Sell
  • Store
  • Recycle (this can be literal recycling or upcycling an item into a gift)
  • Q: What is the 20 rule for decluttering?
    A: Developed by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists, the 20/20 rule for decluttering states that if you’re thinking about keeping something “just in case” and it costs less than $20 and would take under 20 minutes to replace, then go ahead and let it go.

    7. Involve your kids with their things.

    While it may take a little longer, it’s important to involve your children in the decluttering of their own belongings — if you have the time and patience, that is. But how do you get five year olds to go through their prized possessions and decide what to keep? “Ask them,” says Maija. “Say ‘Hey, do you still play with this toy? Are you ready to let this go and let another kid enjoy this, or do you still want it?,’ and they are pretty honest.” 

    Now, of course we realize it may be a bit of a struggle if you’re going through items that your children haven’t seen in awhile. They suddenly become their absolute favorites, right — even if they’ve been “out of sight, out of mind” for months? Just take a deep breath and remind them that other children would love to get a chance to enjoy some of their lesser-loved items. You may be surprised at how generous your children suddenly become. Bonus? They’ll grow up with the emotional skills and know-how to declutter their own things later in life. 

    More of a visual learner? Check out our favorite videos of insanely clever organization tips and decluttering tricks.

    8. Schedule dedicated time for decluttering. 

    Look, you’re likely not chomping at the bit to sort through all of your things, which is exactly why Maija recommends actually putting it on your schedule. In fact, she lists not scheduling set periods of time to declutter as one of the biggest mistakes people make. She suggests scheduling one to three hours of dedicated decluttering time on a weekly basis, preferably on a specific day of the week, every week, to create a routine. “Tune everything out — no appointments, no schedules, no nothing, and actually set that time,” she says. 

    On crunch time before a move? “You’ll probably want to do it more like three to six hours at a time,” she recommends.

     A PODS portable storage container is sitting in a residential driveway with its door open. It’s already been loaded with many boxes and furniture pieces, but there’s still space for more.

    9. Use a portable moving and storage container.

    Make portable moving and storage containers like PODS your secret weapon when you’re figuring out how to declutter before moving. If you know you have a lot of things to go through, or if you’re downsizing into a smaller space but want to keep heirloom items or furniture for the future, consider having a portable container delivered. Simply load it up with items you want to store — either at your place or at a secure facility, like a PODS Storage Center. Alternatively, you can also use portable containers that stay in your driveway as long as you need them to load packed items for your move at your own pace. 

    Maija says she’s used PODS in the past as a convenient way to temporarily store her clients’ belongings while they searched for a permanent place in a new city. “It’s a great option when you need time to declutter, pack, and then store your items because you’re moving but don’t totally know where you’re going to land,” she says. “I actually did that with a client.” 

    Maija did the decluttering, had local labor providers load her client’s things into a PODS container, and then PODS stored his things for a few months at a nearby PODS Storage Center and delivered his container to him when he landed in his new permanent home. “It turned out to be a great situation and made total sense,” she says. “He was relocating for his career and was living in a new city but not in the official place he was going to live. He didn’t want to get all of his stuff and then unpack and three months later pack and unpack again. Using PODS was a lot less stressful because he had the time to look for a place where he wanted to live.”

    A headshot photograph of professional organizer Maija Diethelm. She’s smiling and wearing colorful jewelry and a scarf.

    Professional organizer Maija Diethelm
    (Source: Maija Diethelm)

    10. Consider hiring professional help.

    If you’re still not sure where to start or just want (or need) some help, it’s probably worth adding a professional organizer to your team. Maija says by the time her clients reach out, they’re “really wanting help,” though she suggests not waiting until you’re at your wit’s end to seek someone’s help. Grab recommendations from family, friends, and neighborhood group sites like Nextdoor, and then do a consultation with the top candidates so you can get to know each other, see if you vibe well (you’ll be working very closely with them, remember), and get a feel for the scope of the project and their fee.

    A kitchen in the middle of being decluttered and organized, with everything pulled out of the cabinets and placed on the countertops.

    (Source: The Maija Method - Your Answer to an Uncluttered Life via Facebook)

    11. Go through everything — and we mean everything.

    Decluttering before moving can be a long process, but it’s worth it. Be sure to go through everything. Hit the cabinets from front to back, go through those junk drawers, reassess all pieces of clothing, gadgets, old boxes — everything. Leave no item unturned, unopened, or unsorted. Motivate yourself by knowing whatever you don’t go through now, you’ll have to move and go through anyway at some point down the road. It might as well be now, right? 
    The payoff? “When you get to your new home, the items you put away are the things you want and need, as well as those that make you happy,” Maija says. “Decluttering ensures you’re only bringing the things you love and need to your new place.”
    Once you know what you’re keeping, check out the PODS Blog, where you’ll find all things moving, packing, and home storage — from life-saving home organization tips to foolproof packing and moving hacks.  

    Alex Keight is a frequent contributor to the PODS Blog who has moved 25+ times because she loves to experience new places.

    #1 moving and storage company of 2024
    No one understands complex moves and home renovation projects like PODS.


    We have a flooded home we've been in for almost 30 yrs. Lots of ;"stuff "" Overwhelmed and our late 60's. With bad hearts & respitory problems. Everything is everywhere. I'm at wits end waiting on insurance of coarse. Please, help! This article has given me some hope? Thank you
    Leave a Reply 1 replies
    Thank you for the tips. I am really stuck with sorting and packing before moving. You have given me motivation to get started.
    Leave a Reply
    Wow, just what I needed to get the ball rolling!!! Thank You
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