Starting to help someone Declutter

It’s no secret that I am a full believer in having clutter in your life. The last few times I’ve visited my sister, I’ve been overwhelmed by how much stuff she had. She had recently moved house and I think she was also feeling stressed out by the prospect of organizing her clutter. I offered to help. The process of decluttering is sometimes just as stressful as living with clutter. Since I’ve visited and helped start the process – she’s asked me if I wanted to come back and continue working on making her house more functional for her life.

So where do I start – here are 6 tips that may help to start the process of decluttering a friend or family member’s life. 


  1. Be respectful. This is so important. People have collected these things for years and years. Objects have meaning to people. If you go into the process with respect – the person you help may be more receptive to decluttering.
  2. Ask the tough questions. Start with the basic “wh” questions. What is this? Who gave it to you? When did you get it? Where is it from? This will get your friend or family member thinking about the object. Then you might want to start getting into the more difficult ones like “did you remember you had this?” or “how often do you use it?” These questions will reframe the object in the bigger picture.
  3. Sort things into different categories – by function, by room or by time period. When I was helping my sister out – she had boxes that more or less fit into certain categories. Some things were functionally easy to sort like books and office supplies. She had already unpacked her kitchen so that was all set. When it came to the things I would consider clutter, they normally either came from before or after she moved abroad. I tried to sort by whether they were from her university years, our family or her time abroad. This made it a lot easier to sort out the most important items from each category.
  4. Point out any repetitive items – When I was helping my sister, she had so many packs of post it notes. In her case, they were for her work so they had a very clear function. However, she had something like 7 lighters, 5 nail clippers and many other similar situations. With more organization, a person won’t be constantly going out and buying a new item if they know where to find it.
  5. If someone can’t identify an item – it isn’t worth keeping. The words “I don’t know” should be an immediate trip to goodwill or the recycle. If it doesn’t have an obvious purpose, function or memory attached to it – get rid of it.
  6. Seek out and encourage organizational solutions that the person will not have trouble keeping up. This solutions should be simple, easy to continue and should be reflective of functionally what a person uses the most. I haven’t gotten to this step with my sister yet but it’s definitely in our long term decluttering plan.

I come from a long line of people who tend to hold on to a lot of clutter. My grandmother’s house was a nightmare especially since she had hundreds of disorganized boxes which may just have some money in them. I really recommend to anyone to help people declutter in their life, not only since it will help you and them in the long run but it can also be interesting to hear stories of each item.

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