A mature couple with sitting on a carpet and drinking tea beside a stack of moving boxes

If you're ready to sell your home, here's how to start the decluttering process. 

Stuff accumulates over the years; it is inevitable. Some people are more Spartan than others, but after spending years in a home, especially if you have kids, you’ll find yourself surrounded by your belongings. And there's nothing like an impending move to remind you of just how much you own.

When you are preparing to sell your home, sorting through your belongings is a crucial but laborious process. Your home will need to look clean and organized as your realtor goes through the staging process. Prospective buyers are interested in seeing a blank slate they can imagine making their own, not your comfy clutter.

Moving is an opportunity to get rid of the things you no longer need or want, particularly if you are downsizing. But, we often have emotional attachments to our things, and it takes some willpower and a solid strategy to declutter and organize before you move.

1. Start Early

An older woman sorting clothes in a metal basket as she declutters her home

Start the process of sorting, tossing, and keeping as soon as you know you're planning to sell.

Once your home is on the market, it can sell very quickly. If you haven’t taken the time to organize before that happens, you might be forced to rush the decluttering process. Instead, start the process of sorting, tossing, and keeping as soon as you know you're planning to sell. You'll give yourself some more time to make decisions, and you are less likely to throw something out that you will later regret.

2. Make a Schedule

Close-up on a man's hands writing in a daily planner to make a moving schedule

Talk to your realtor about what to expect in the market and plan accordingly.

What does your moving timeline look like? Are you on a strict schedule, or do you have some breathing room? Talk to your realtor about what to expect in the market and plan accordingly. Give yourself enough time to sort through your belongings in each room of your home, and stick to that schedule.

It can always help to allow yourself a little extra wiggle room if you know you like to procrastinate. Writing down your plan for organization can help keep you accountable to your timetable.

3. Divide and Conquer

You can break your schedule up by room or into even smaller categories.

The process of organizing an entire home can feel like an overwhelming project. Anytime you're faced with a seemingly massive task, it's always helpful to break it down into bite-size chunks. You can break your schedule up by room or into even smaller categories (e.g., your desk one day and the pantry the next). If you live with a partner, the two of you can tackle different rooms and areas.

4. Keep Practicality in Mind

An older couple carrying boxes as they move into their dream home

Are you planning to downsize just a little or by a lot?

Do you know roughly how much space you'll have in your new home? Are you planning to downsize just a little or by a lot? Keeping in mind how much space you will have can help you make decisions on how much needs to be sold or donated.

When it comes to actually making decisions on what stays and what goes, take that practical approach. Ask yourself if you actually need an item. Sort through your closest and discard clothing you haven’t worn in years. Toss expired products from the kitchen and the bathroom. Old camping, fishing, and gardening equipment you have no use for in the garage can go.

5. Sort Through Sentimental Items

Close-up of a senior woman's hand touching an old photo

You'll probably have items of sentimental value that you can’t imagine giving away or selling.

While practicality is a big theme of the decluttering process, that doesn’t mean you have to toss all emotion out the window. You'll probably have items of sentimental value that you can’t imagine giving away or selling. Make a list of those items and consider your next steps.

If you have items you’d like to leave your kids, ask if they're interested in taking them off of your hands now. For example, large heirloom pieces of furniture might not have a place in your new home, but your adult child who's moving into a new home in advance of starting a family of their own might be delighted to take that cavernous armoire.

If you have other sentimental items you’d like to keep, that's totally fine. Maybe take the opportunity to organize and preserve those belongings so they weather the move. For example, take that trunk stuffed full of photos and finally put the pictures into albums for safekeeping.

6. Donate and Sell

Two stacks of old clothes to "donate" or "keep"

If there are items that aren't fit to donate or sell, you know they're ready for the trash.

Once you know definitively which items will be coming with you to your new home and which are destined for relocation, you can make a plan for removal. The must-go items can be sorted into "donate" and "sell" piles.

If you’d like to prioritize salable items, consider your options. You can hold a yard sale, list different items for sale online, take a few trips to your local thrift stores, or do your research on organizations that'll come to your home to buy items like furniture. The proceeds from selling unneeded items can help fund your move.

A number of charitable organizations will also make home visits to pick up items, such as clothing, for donation. You can also find local donation centers.

If there are items that aren't fit to donate or sell, you know they're ready for the trash. Renting a dumpster for a weekend can seem ruthless, but it can be an efficient way to get rid of items you, and no one else, want or need.

7. Take Photos

An active adult couple taking a selfie after packing up to move into their dream home

Taking a picture is a great way to keep a memory while saving on space.

How can you keep track of all the organizing you have done and what remains? Snapping photos on your phone or tablet can help keep everything straight as you wade through the decluttering project.

Take photos of items you plan to throw away, stuff you plan to donate, and everything you want to keep for your new home. Keeping a visual record can help you picture how your belongings will fit in your new home.

 If you do have any sentimental items you know won't fit in your new home, taking a picture is a great way to keep a memory while saving on space.

8. Enlist the Help of Friends and Family

Two older women laughing and talking in a decluttered home

Maybe there are items you no longer want or need that could find a second life with a friend.

Whether you live alone or with a partner, organizing an entire house or condo is a big project that takes time. Any extra pair of hands can be a big help. If you have children, ask them to come to the house to sort through their belongings and make the ultimate decision on what to keep and what not to keep. If you don't have room for their childhood things in your new home, ask them to take what they want for their homes. Or, rent a storage unit for items they would like to save but don’t yet have room for storing.

If you don’t have kids, talk to your friends. Invite them over and ask them to help you through some sorting. Maybe there are items you no longer want or need that could find a second life with a friend. Offer to repay the favor if and when they move, and pair a day of sorting with a meal and drinks.

9. Leave the Heavy Lifting to Professionals

 A man writing on a clipboard near a stack of moving boxes

Keep in mind that you don't have to do everything.

Decluttering can feel like a workout. You're bending over, picking up, moving, tossing, climbing stairs, crawling into attics, and generally exploring every nook and cranny of your home. While breaking a little sweat isn’t a bad thing, keep in mind that you don't have to do everything.

If you're planning to get rid of bulky items, like furniture, consider hiring professionals to do the heavy lifting. The last thing you want to do is throw out your back while you're trying to get the rest of the house cleaned up and ready for your move.

10. Remember the Big Picture

Grandparents cuddling their baby granddaughter at home

Remember why you're planning to move.

Parting with a home and some of your belongings is an emotional experience for a lot of people. You might find yourself tearing up or mentally refusing to toss an outfit you know you'll never wear again. It's ok to take a breather and hit the pause button. Take a break from organizing and allow yourself to reminisce.

Remember why you're planning to move. Maybe you want to be closer to your grandchildren. Maybe you're finally settling down in warmer weather. Whatever the reason, you have plenty of new memories to look forward to once you move. After allowing yourself time to think about the big picture, you can come back with a fresh set of eyes and begin organizing again. 

11. Reward Your Hard Work

A happy senior couple celebrating with wine on kitchen floor

Keep yourself motivated with small treats along the way.

Decluttering is a tough job, mentally and physically. Keep yourself motivated with small treats along the way, and maybe a bigger reward once you get through your entire to-do list. Maybe you pause for a snack after you finish going through a room, or you throw on an episode of your favorite TV show. Once the job is all done, you and your spouse or you and your friends can celebrate with a dinner out or a movie. Moving is tough, and that accomplishment deserves to be celebrated.