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How to Clean a Cluttered House: Clutter Cleaning Tips for Pack Rats

I'm a pack rat. I collect things, I store things, and above all, I save things. What if I need that for a costume one day? What if I want to give that to my kid (who isn't born) one day? I can't give that away; there are so many memories attached to it!

Sound familiar?

If you're a pack rat like me, the chances are that your house is filled with clutter. Whether it's in storage or splayed out all over the basement, eventually you are going to run out of room. You'll have to move out of your house because there won't be room for YOU anymore.

Well, it's time to de-clutter-ify. Here are some tips to help you come up for air in your ocean of clutter.

Drowning in a cluttered home (Image source: www.apartmenttherapy.com)

Drowning in a cluttered home (Image source: www.apartmenttherapy.com)

Storage options for clutter

Clutter, Clutter Everywhere

Tip Number 1: One room at a time

If you look at your whole house or apartment as one big clutter pile, you will never begin to clean because the task will seem utterly unsurmountable. When you get into a cleaning mood, pick one room to clean. It doesn't have to be the worst room; in fact, it's probably better if you pick a less cluttered room so that the task is easier to complete. You are more likely to succeed in cleaning a room with a medium amount of clutter, and your success will give you a proud sense of accomplishment, leading you to feel more optimistic about the possibility of de-cluttering the house.

If you finish de-cluttering that one room in less time than you thought, you can move on to another room if you want, but don't feel obligated to do so. You've accomplished enough for one day.

Tip Number 2: Make new piles--piles with a purpose

If you're a pack rat, you're probably no stranger to piles. Piles of paper, piles of clothes, piles of toys: everything just piles up. To cut the clutter, you need to make some new piles. Get some boxes or big plastic bags. Give each of them one of the following labels:

  • Give Away
  • Sell
  • Throw Away
  • Display
  • Store

This is a variation on what some "organizational experts" call the Four-Box Method. Everything MUST go in one of these boxes. Do not let yourself be indecisive with even one item. Be ruthless. If you feel the pack rat instinct kicking in, fight it!

Once the boxes are filled, follow through with what you've promised in the labels. Take the Throw Away box and put it outside. Figure out where you are going to store and display the items in those boxes and then DO IT.

The Give Away and Sell boxes are a little harder. Since those two actions depend on another party to be completed, you may have to wait a little while before actually giving things away or selling them. If that's the case, put those boxes in very visible places so that you are forced to remember them often. Find a charity or store such as Goodwill or Salvation Army for your Give Aways. If you have a Sell box, you have to figure out where and how you will sell these items. Yard sale? Craigslist? eBay? (If you choose eBay, get started on researching at my eBay Encyclopedia Hub.)

Tip Number 3: Set a date for a yard sale

There's nothing better than a deadline to get your butt in gear. Unless, of course, it's the promise of money. Just by writing a date on the calendar, you give yourself 2 strong motivations to get rid of the clutter. See if family members or neighbors also have clutter that they want to unload for a joint yard sale, which always draws bigger crowds than single yard sales.

Box Labels: Give away, Sell, Storage, Display, Throw Away (Image source: http://fototiller.com)

Box Labels: Give away, Sell, Storage, Display, Throw Away (Image source: http://fototiller.com)

Organize Your Space

Sage Advice on De-Cluttering

Tip Number 4: Give yourself the organizational tools to succeed

If you simply cannot bring yourself to get rid of a large portion of your clutter, then you need to invest in storage units to at least better organize that clutter. Book shelves, display cases, stackable crates, desk organizers, file cabinets, shoe racks, DVD towers, photo albums, chests of drawers, whatever can best organize the particular type of items that are crowding your house. If the clutter is going to reside in your home, you may as well give it a top floor apartment.

Tip Number 5: You don't need four of everything

Eliminate duplicates. Another tendency of pack rats is to buy in duplicate and even triplicate, "just in case." What if I run out? What if one breaks? What if I lose one? You have to silence those nagging thoughts and get rid of the unnecessary copies of the clutter.

Tip Number 6: Appearances DO matter

This is a similar thought process to the way you cleaned up when you were eight years old---stuff everything under the bed so Mom thinks you cleaned up. However, this is for YOUR peace of mind, not Mom's. When things LOOK cluttered, you feel cluttered. Work especially diligently on surfaces and parts of the room that are readily visible. When your room looks less cluttered, your mind will become more relaxed.

Tip Number 7: Commence a clothing interrogation

Excess clothing can be a huge source of clutter and one of the most difficult to eliminate. You have to be especially ruthless if you're drowning in clothing clutter. If you need to get rid of clothes, ask yourself these three questions.

  1. Does it fit?
  2. Does it look good on my body shape?
  3. Have I worn it in the past year?

If you answer no to any of these three questions, you need to think long and hard about why you're keeping it. If the answer is that you might one day fit in it if you lose/gain weight, keep it only if the weight change is a realistic goal. If you can't come up with a GOOD reason for keeping an article of clothing, donate or sell it.

A full-fledged pack rat! (Image source: http://users.netmcr.com)

A full-fledged pack rat! (Image source: http://users.netmcr.com)

It's a HubMob on HubPages!

It's a HubMob on HubPages!


Nina L James from chicago, Illinois on September 11, 2012:

This is a great hub. I too am guilty of being a clutter bug!!!!!! I don't know how it started. But it seems as if my kitchen table has become a magnet for my daily newspapers, incoming mail and magazines. I have found that this pile has begun to spread into other areas of my home. For example, my living room table, my bedroom chest and night stand have all become clutter magnets. Every now and then, I do take the time to go through each pile and it gets somewhat overwhelming. I find myself procrastinating in cleaning up all this mess. I'm starting to feel like a hoarder. Any suggestions before it gets out of control?

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on July 07, 2012:

Good ideas. My wife , and I are chunking a lot of junk into a very large dumpster. We got more junk that we ever needed. GBY.

Laura Brown from Barrie, Ontario, Canada on February 26, 2012:

Good advice/ tips. I'm working on uncluttering my life, starting with the physical clutter in the house. Each time I start an area I'm amazed at how much stuff I had forgotten about.

Rastamermaid from Universe on February 18, 2012:

Awesome hub!

Thanks for sharing!

ChristinCordle12 on October 25, 2011:

Very interesting things, very useful article. Great work :)

Pack Rat Moving to Oz on September 05, 2011:

I appreciated the comments by Chris Grasse, very true. I do not suffer any of the claimed delusions as stated in other comments. In fact, I am a very balanced person. My 'stuff' is who I am, where I have been, what I have done and who I have affected. Everything is a part of my history. I am now going to relocate to Oz and need to clean out my very very large house, garden cottages, workshop, entertainment area, store room, and garages. It has taken me a very long time and I went through agony upon agony. I have been in my home for 40 years. I built it and I made it our home. I now realise that I cannot support all of this on my own any more and I have to move on to the next page in my book. I know I am going to be very sad when 'getting rid of my stuff', but I am ready. Pse wish me luck. To all packrats out there : don't let anybody put you down, we are different and we are great people with probably a much richer and interesting life than most.

Salutations !

Camaron Elliott from San Diego on May 27, 2011:

Thanks for this hub! I'm in a mode (finally) to de-clutter my space and make it more livable. My mother passed away about a year ago. I had inherited a number of collectibles from her and my grandmother that are sitting in my living room. It has been too emotionally painful to tackle the task of "letting go"-- so I've been using the living room as a virtual storage unit. It is now time to "let go"-- and move things that I want to keep to a storage unit, outside my home.

Thanks for the inspiration- and the message to tackle one room at a time!

oldbooklover on April 03, 2011:

Great practical advice, ProfoundPuns.

Another rule I have developed: important stuff has, or at least deserves, a place in some furniture. If keeping it means it will have to live in its box on the floor, I probably am not that attached to it.

This is also a good rule for deciding whether to buy something. It is related to 'One in one out'. This means that if I buy one more pair of jeans I have to throw away, or give away, one pair.

Chris Grasse on January 28, 2011:

The Why of Letting Go

Let getting free of your unused items be your way of expressing your gratitude to a Power greater than yourself for all the blessings in your life, the gifts and advantages you have had which others have not had. Let putting your unused items that are sitting in storage be your way of helping others who can really use them to enhance and lift their own standard of living and lead a better life. It would appear when we get our attitude right, letting go becomes a whole lot easier. If I have something just "sitting" and I know someone else can really use it, I have no trouble letting go of it. "You gotta find your gratitude," and the motivation to let go of your inert possessions starts with realizing how well off you are. You know all this, and I am just reminding you. Start helping others today. Be as generous as it has always been given to you. Submitted by Chris Grasse, South Portland, Maine, U.S.A. on January 28, 2011. Happy New Year, 2011, Everyone - !

ClutterHelp on January 18, 2011:

I found it really, really hard to part with anything for a long time. My best friend is an organizer and literally traumatized me years ago by coming into my house and getting rid of stuff while I was away at work. That did NOT help, in fact, I think I started hoarding more than ever. I had to be physically, mentally and spiritually ready to let go. Now I live a pretty organized, somewhat minimalist lifestyle. Well maybe not minimalist, but definitely not 'maximum-ist' like I used to! Really, who needs 4 potato peelers anyway?

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on September 18, 2010:

What are you doing tuesday? :-) I am trying so darn hard to organize my house and de-clutter. It is sooooooo hard. However, after making even a little progress in my quest to bring peace to my home, it feels so good. Thank you for your much needed hub. I am a fan forever. Rated up.

mythbuster from Utopia, Oz, You Decide on September 07, 2010:

I have actually gotten a special worker to come in and help me declutter. My pack-rat habits developed intensely in the last decade but I was assessed and found to be minimally hoarding for a valid reason, so I'm not actually considered a problem hoarder. I am recovering from homelessness - about 5 times in the past decade - so I see uses in things that others don't see and am learning to stop collecting things, anyway, now that my housing appears like it will be secure for the next 6mo or so.

Some suggestions on your hub might be helpful for me and I will try to follow instructions as I truly don't have a psychological attachment to the many things I let pile up... Apparently those with the label of "hoarder" actually cannot part with things without help or they suffer psychological pain. I just got very disorganized 'cos I have collected things I deem to be useful - in case of future homeless situations. When my worker visits and helps me sort stuff out, I am sooooooooo relieved at the garbage bags going out to the trash receptacle that I could just dance! lol

Suzanne Sheffield from Mid-Atlantic on September 03, 2010:

I enjoyed the Hub. I too am a packrat, but it is organized. I have a darker reason for not throwing anything away: I'm afraid we are all going to wake up and the lights are gonna be OUT. I even keep the little plastic things that you close the bread with! If disaster strikes, there ain't gonna be anymore little plastic thingies, cause there ain't gonna be any electricity (so no refrigeration, gasoline pump won't pump), tv, cell phones...so I save all my clothing, magazines, books, glass jars, and other items that won't EVER be available again! When I shared this nutty compulsion to save those little plastic thingies, the person I shared it with said they were doing the same thing! Anyone else? I'm keeping my stuff...I'm not joining the "throw it away" society.

lb on September 02, 2010:

This article was very helpful. I'm currently in the process of cleaning up my ill mother's cluttered home and I have felt helpless about the daunting task. Thank you for this article.

Wayne Tilden from Roseville, California on July 12, 2010:

Omigosh!! We're retiring and moving from a 3-bedroom house to a 1-bedroom apartment. This is a really scary hub. The harder we try to downsize for the move, the more "mementoes" and "heirlooms" we discover. So now WE need to figure out how to thin it all down.

Some good advice here, but we're moving in 5 days, so it's really a little late for us.

Maybe next time - but there IS NOT going to be a next move!

Chris Grasse on May 21, 2010:

And the clutter clearing goes on. One of the reasons we hold on to our stuff is because we haven't found a good, new owner. We are ready to let go of certain items, but we want to make sure they go to a place where they will be appreciated. This I call "caretaking" our stuff. We are the caretakers of everything we have in storage around our homes. You know, sometimes, it really doesn't matter who gets your stuff. It isn't that important. Other times, you just feel better if you have made the effort to find the right new owner. If you will keep at it, little by little the clutter pile starts to go down. Try not to bring new stuff in. (lol) Sometimes, you will find a super-good outlet for something you want to free up. I had one woman drop by my home and I asked her if she could use some fabric, spooled macrame cord, thread, yarn, corduroy patches, iron-ons &c., and she said that is what she does for a hobby and yes, she would love ALL it. That's all it took. We grabbed three large cardboard boxes and "unloaded" an entire large bureau in the dining room, emptying it of all the related items. I had finally found the right destination for this particular clutter. It was a treasure to her; a major resource, for sure. Out it went, on the spot! She was so happy, and I no longer had to "caretake" it. I also get all that space in the bureau back again. Another technique I use all the time to spot clutter is I will go and just sit quietly in a room for about twenty minutes or so, just looking around at the stuff in it. I have come with three or four empty boxes, so as I spot items (they "stand out" to me) I drop them into the boxes. I seal the boxes when full: no peeking; there is no backsliding that way. In the space of about an hour, all four boxes were completely full. One more step for a clutter-free home. Hope this helps someone. Thanks for reading this. Submitted by: Chris Grasse, South Portland, Maine ~ 21 May 2010.

Chris Grasse on March 04, 2010:

I am at the point of feeling liberated when you finally let go of something. I have pruned out over a hundred old vinyl recordings and found them a new owner; easily over three hundred older VHS movies and found someone who is having fun with them now; gleaned a load of old computer books and brought them to Goodwill - you get the idea. There is this feeling that something bad will happen to you if you let go of something. I actually waited for it when I did my last clutter clearing session. Well, the only thing that happened was that I felt lighter than air! Free at last. And then it dawned on me that I was the one in charge after all, and I could accelerate or slow down this clutter clearing task as much as I wanted to. Just knowing someone else is going to enjoy this stuff instead of it being stuck any longer in storage in our basement or attic is liberating. I am one of those pack rats who needs to know the next owner will enjoy or take care of the stuff before I can be okay enough to really let go of it forever. This hub is such a fine website. Thank you for reading my post. Submitted by Chris Grasse, South Portland, Maine, U.S.A. on 4 March 2010.

Dark Empress on December 18, 2009:

OMG...thank you so much for this...I just brought in a shopping cart full of junk from the trunk of my car (my ceramics and art supplies plus some) to clean up as well as clean up our apartment...but i just took one look at everything and felt so overwhelmed...and this helps to put things away so I don't feel so....well...blah...thx

Barbara C from Andalucia, Spain on October 25, 2009:

Great hub with some good motivational info - now I've just got to put into practice!

Ann Coltin on September 25, 2009:

Great tips. I just finished working with a customer that was an executor for her dad's estate, and part of her job was to sell his home. He had lived there for over 50 years, and was a pack rat. It was a huge undertaking put upon her.

Something to think about, if your a pack rat, somebody in the end gets stuck with the job. Do your family a favor and get it under control now. Grieving is hardship enough.

themovingdiva from Chicago, IL on April 14, 2009:

Thanks for the great tips! I just moved and in hindsight really wish I had done all of the steps you list above prior to my move. I now know that cleaning out my house annually will prevent stress during my next move.

FrankRod on December 11, 2008:

Great tips, profound. I have a few friends and associates that are pack rats, I'll be sure to forward this on to them. Though, I don't think they apprecaite my opinion on this subject. ; )

tourmaline2777 from Chicago on November 14, 2008:

Great tips! My parents are major packrats but they are slowly trying to de-clutter. I've got my stash of clutter too, but I am trying to decrease it.

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 14, 2008:

I'm reading an old sci-fi novel about cubicles everywhere that are called Beeblocks. Work, living quarters, all looking the same. Kind of oppressing type of life there. Clutter can be a type of décor, I think.

ProfoundPuns (author) from Maryland, USA on November 14, 2008:

That's an interesting analysis of why people accumulate so many material "things." My office (okay my cubicle) is also filled with "things," but not because I feel more secure (unless it's subconscious). I just hated looking at the drab gray walls of the cube!

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 14, 2008:

Humans can certainly be tied down by things. really, they flow through our lives regularly in this country, so we do not need to amass so much. I think people fear a Depression, or some feel secure with objects and clutter. I knew a gentleman that said as long as his office was completely full of things, he could not be fired. He was fired.

Thanks for the Hub.

TeriB from Jeffersonville Indiana on November 12, 2008:

I, too, save things--I just KNOW that the day after I throw something out or give it away, I will figure out a use for that I simply MUST have it, then go buy it again! Every once in a while, I get sick of the clutter and get is a pitch and clean mood---wish it happened more often though---great advice, if we can organize what we do keep, it won't look so out of control. Thanks

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