Navigating 2024 with Less Clutter

As featured in Senior Advocate Magazine, January-June 2024.

Have you ever felt as if your possessions multiply year after year? Well, it most likely does! We tend to bring more into our households than we release, and years of doing so leave us feeling overwhelmed and surrounded by items we don’t need, use, or love.

I know this is true because most people I talk with immediately have “the look” the second I tell them I am a professional organizer, specializing in decluttering. I hear countless stories from the “want-to- be declutterers”, of how they don’t know where to start, or have started a hundred times and don’t seem to get anywhere. I recommend following a straightforward decluttering plan that will declare you the “Master of Decluttering.”

How do I start decluttering when I’ve accumulated a lifetime of possessions?

Embarking on the journey of decluttering or downsizing after decades of accumulation can be daunting. It’s unrealistic to expect the process to unfold overnight, and following a gradual, thoughtful approach will help you succeed.

Start by focusing on the areas that are the easiest to declutter – those with the least sentimental value. Consider beginning with spaces like kitchen drawers, the hall closet, or specific categories such as magazines or books. This method will allow you to build momentum gradually. By beginning with less emotionally charged areas, you pave the way for more comfortable decision-making as you progress.

The theory guiding this approach is simple, yet powerful. As you see the impact your efforts have made, you’re likely to feel inspired to continue with your decluttering journey. If you were to begin with the spare room housing family heirlooms, photos, and everything else that had no other home, you could end up overwhelmed and struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Remember, the key is to start small, gain confidence, and gradually work your way through the more sentimental and challenging areas. To help keep overwhelm at bay, consider setting a timer and working in 15-20-minute sessions; you’ll be surprised how much you can get done when you stay focused.

How do I decide what to keep, and what to let go?

Now you’re faced with some decisions. Here are key questions to ask yourself to guide you through the process.

  • Do I need it?
  • Do I use it?
  • Do I love it?
  • Do I have room for it?


If you answer ‘yes’ to needing it, then the next logical step is a ‘yes’ to whether you use it. If not, reconsider the necessity. Items you don’t need, or use, may find a better home elsewhere.

Now, if you don’t necessarily need it, but you love it, consider this: Keep it if you have room for it and can display it to enjoy. Loved items deserve a place outside of boxes, cupboards, or closets. However, if you’re holding onto something merely for sentimental reasons or with the hope of passing it on someday, yet lack the space, consider the joy of gifting it now to someone who can appreciate and enjoy it.

For those on a decluttering journey that involves downsizing to a small home, space planning becomes crucial.  Ensure that what you decide to keep fits comfortably within your new space. It’s about making intentional choices that align with the lifestyle you envision.

What do I do with the things I let go of?

The answer to this question depends on factors such as the nature of the items, the time and energy you can invest, and the support and resources available to you.

Let’s explore some avenues for handling the items you choose to part with.


If you are moving and have a considerable amount of furniture, household décor, or antiques, consider contracting with an Estate Sale Company. If feasible, move what you want to keep to your new location first, allowing the company to handle staging, pricing, marketing, and conducting a sale over a weekend. Unsold items can often be boxed and donated.

If the quantity of items doesn’t warrant an Estate Sale, consider hosting a yard or moving sale. Alternatively, explore online marketplace platforms, like Facebook. Be cautious online due to potential scams.

Another method of selling is consignment. Several consignment shops accept items and sell them on your behalf, providing you with a percentage of the sale price.

Depending on the nature of the items, you could consider an auctioneer, including those who conduct online auctions, offering a percentage of the sale.

It’s important to be realistic about what you’re selling – assess the item’s value and consider the effort involved in selling it.  Remember the saying: “An item is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.”


My preferred method is donating to a cause meaningful to my clients.

When I personally faced clearing out my parent’s home after my father’s passing, I chose to donate most of his belongings to the Vietnam Veterans of America, honoring his service as a Marine in the Vietnam War.  Additionally, I identified a local organization to donate medical equipment, ensuring it reached those in need.

Consider the specific needs of charities, such as pet shelters, who greatly appreciate blankets, towels, and other linens.

Many charitable organizations in Hampton Roads offer free pick-up services directly from your home. Keep in mind that charities typically accept only items in good condition and that are resalable. Furniture with significant damage like scratches, dents, tears, and rips will usually not be accepted.

If you have a particular charity close to your heart, inquire if they offer pick- up services. When you’re decluttering over a long period, consider scheduling occasional pick-ups throughout your journey, to free up space as you go.


There’s a special joy in gifting items to those who will love and appreciate them just as much as you did. I’ve heard some wonderful stories of people who have set up a room in their home with items they don’t want, then invited friends and family over to “shop” from within the treasures. If you’re aware of a specific item that a friend or family member has admired, seize the opportunity to gift it to them. It could be the crystal bowl tucked away in the back of your cupboard that you know your sister has always admired.

How should I tackle the filing cabinets full of paper, and the stacks of paper throughout my home?

Dealing with paper clutter in our homes is a persistent challenge. It often accumulates more rapidly than we can effectively manage. The influx of paper from the mailbox alone can be overwhelming, and you also have important documents, utility bills, receipts, sentimental papers, letters & cards, coupons, magazines, and more. Surprisingly, studies show that 85 percent of the paper in our lives can be tossed

But how do you decide what to keep, shred, or recycle?

As a Certified Paper Solution Organizer, we advocate for a simplified process that works for anyone. Begin by setting explicit rules for what papers to keep, shred, or recycle.  Take a moment to sit down and determine categories such as banking, insurance, utility bills, medical records, coupons, manuals, etc. For each category, decide if you want to keep the paper, for how long, and whether it should be recycled or shredded.

Taking the time to set the rules first will streamline the sorting process as you only need to make the decision once. When you’ve set the rules, it’s time to begin sorting. The simplest way to start is to gather all your paper, and set up three empty Banker’s Boxes, with labels “Save,” “Shred,” and “Recycle or Toss.” Conduct an initial sort by placing each paper into the respective box, based on the rules set up earlier. At this stage do not worry about detailed sorting; the goal is to decide if each paper is a keeper or ready for purging.

We have recommended guidelines to follow for paper retention timelines, but it’s always a good idea to ask your legal, financial, and insurance advisors. It’s important to shred any documents with sensitive personal information such as your social security number, date of birth, account numbers, etc. If you have a large amount of shredding, it’s worthwhile to pay a professional shredding company for drop-off or on-site service. You can also take advantage of a free shred event being held in your community.

Once this sorting is finished, you’ve probably reduced your paper by at least 50%!

How do I organize the papers I keep?

After the initial sort, it’s time for a more detailed sort for papers earmarked as “Save.” We recommend sorting into these categories: Action (current papers requiring immediate attention), Financial, Legal, Medical, Household, and Sentimental. After you’ve sorted by category, craft a filing system that suits your style. Utilize folders, binders (my favorite because they are portable!), bins, or digital solutions to keep documents organized. Ensure your vital documents, such as birth certificates, passports, car titles, etc. are securely stored in a fireproof file or safe for added protection.

It’s important to set a process and routine for your daily papers. Set up a designated spot in your home for incoming papers. Use a bin or folder to corral these papers until you’ve taken necessary actions, such as paying bills, or scheduling appointments. Establish a weekly routine to process this Action/Mail bin ensuring that important deadlines are not overlooked.

Tackling the paper aspect of decluttering requires a thoughtful and methodical approach. If the paper organization becomes overwhelming, seek the assistance of a professional organizer, specializing in paper management.

Embracing a clutter-free lifestyle in 2024 is an achievable goal with the right mindset and approach. Remember, the journey of decluttering is a personal and gradual one. Celebrate the small victories, remain dedicated to your decluttering plan, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your friends, family, or professionals. Whether you’re parting with possessions, organizing papers, or contemplating downsizing, each step brings you closer to a serene and clutter-free lifestyle.

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