How to get rid of stuff

decluttering tips

It seems like everyone I know – both in the real world and online – is in the midst of a decluttering frenzy. While I one hundred percent support decluttering and simplifying one’s life, allow me to be the voice of reason/party-pooper who says “slow down, tiger, let’s think about this”.

There is an art to decluttering – and 50 million web articles to help you with it – but after visiting our local tip treasure-market on the weekend, I realised we could do all with a refresher.

We scored at the tip. Like, massively. For $20, we got a full kitchen for the cubby house, heaps of Duplo and Lego plates (which are $20 each in the shops), Little People, jewellery, some storage, three busted kids’ bikes (which hubby swears will become one that works… watch this space) and more. Thrifty bargain hunters like us were wheeling out trolley-loads of stuff and they were letting it go for a pittance.

“Luv,” said one of the toothless vollies, when I remarked on our haul, “we’ve gotta get rid of it. This time of year, we can’t keep up with the stuff coming in. People dump Christmas present still in their wrapping, clothes with tags on, almost-new furniture.”

Why the sudden need for decluttering?

Perhaps it’s subconscious guilt for the extravagance of Christmas, perhaps it’s a desire for a simpler, leaner life, maybe it’s because finally us overworked mums have three days to ourselves to get life in order, and the fastest way to feel we’ve done that is by rationalising the linen cupboard. Or maybe it’s just cos the sales are on and you think, bugger it, I want a new sofa. Whatever it is, the post-Christmas clean-out is becoming a great Aussie tradition.

Whatever the cause, decluttering is definitely a good thing. But there are some strategies and rules that must be followed.

The rules of decluttering

  1. Don’t throw out shit you’re going to end up buying again.
  2. Don’t throw out anyone else’s stuff without checking with them first.
  3. Don’t throw anything out unless you’ve tried to find it a home or recycle it first (see below).
  4. Wait a week before you remove anything from your home completely.
  5. Declutter in small, manageable sections.
  6. Don’t start decluttering a section unless you have time to finish the job.
  7. Don’t do it when you’re feeling emotional or nostalgic.
  8. Don’t declutter when you’re feeling ruthless or vengeful.
  9. Do declutter when you’re in a good mood and have no distractions.
  10. Declutter all year round, not just after Christmas.

How to get rid of stuff

Mark A Burch, from the Simplicity Institute, authored a fabulous free resource for anyone wanting to downsize and simplify their life. Within this, he describes the most effective decluttering method, known as the Five Pile method, in which you divide all the stuff in your cupboard, garage, kitchen or whatever, into five piles:
Pile 1 – Keepers.
The Keepers pile includes things of real value, in good repair, or of strong emotional significance that it is inconceivable to discard. These will be restored or retained for later use.
Pile 2 –Re-Usables.
The Re-Usables pile includes things which have value but might need repair, or which you’re sure you don’t need, but that someone else might have a use for. These can be set aside for donation to a used goods store or yard sale.
Pile 3 – Recyclables.
The Recyclables pile includes things that are broken beyond repair or use by anyone but which nevertheless are made of recyclable materials or materials which will not degrade in a landfill. These objects can be placed in the blue box or taken to a recycling centre.
Pile 4 – Tossers.
The Tossers pile should be very small and include only things which cannot be reused or recycled. These things will be sometimes complex in their construction, some made of “composite” materials or non-disassemblable or non-recyclable materials that the only option is disposal in the garbage.
Pile 5 – Doubtfuls.
The Doubtfuls pile includes things that cannot be placed in any of piles 1-4. These will be things that are too good to throw away, recycle or discard right now, but the future need for which remains somewhat uncertain.
Pile 5 items go into the “trial separation” category where we store them for a year or so and then part with them only when we are fairly sure no future need will arise

Source: Dejunking: a Tool for Clutter-Busting, with thanks to Linda for the lead.

Although it may seem cathartic to get in there and simply throw things away, in my experience, if you don’t take a strategic approach to decluttering, you are more than likely to end up breaking rules 1 and 2 above.

What to do with it all?

Below, I have listed some ideas on what to do with common items you might be tempted to put in the Tossers pile. I’d love it if you could help me out by adding to the list in the comments. I’ll update the post with all your brilliant ideas as we go and hopefully this will be the bestest “How do I recycle?” list on the planet. Ever.

  • Furniture: charity shop or donate to someone who can use it.
  • Broken old furniture: disassemble and recycle any parts or use them to make something new (and if you can’t, seek someone who can).
  • Blankets, towels, sheets that are too crappy to donate: your local animal shelter will love them (thanks Suz).
  • Washing machines and appliances: contact a repairs service and donate the machines as parts.
  • Old t-shirts: check out my ideas here.
  • Busted pots and pans: use for playing in the garden, as musical instruments or donate to a kindy.
  • Boring photos you took on an overseas holiday: if they don’t have your drunk mates in them, just monuments and quirky street signs, donate them to a school or teacher.
  • Old medicines: return them to the pharmacy for safe disposal.
  • Ancient barbecues: use as plant pots, my friends Megs and Haydn grew lettuces and herbs in an old barbie!

What else? Share your clever recycling/reusing/upcycling tips!


  1. Linda Vergnani says

    I agree with your point about not throwing away things you will need to buy again. Being an older mother, with now grown up kids, I kept lots of kitchenware, ceramics and linen that I thought would be useful to my daughters when they established their own households. One daughter prefers to buy new things and the other prefers shopping at op shops for recycled goods that she really loves.

    So most of the old kitchenware has gone to Lifeline and other op shops. But I do regret giving away garments that went out of fashion and are now back in fashion 20 years later – like the maxi dress!

    Some suggestions:
    Tattered towels and torn clothing – cut them up and reuse as cleaning cloths.
    Old furniture – give to a charity shop or advertise on freecycle. Don’t leave them out on the streets on rubbish day.
    Used prams, pushchairs and other baby equipment – take them straight to a charity shop.

    I am shocked at the excellent baby equipment that parents discard, especially in wealthier suburbs like Mosman where you could collect most of your baby requirements from the pavement. The problem is that the rain or trash vans often get there before the recyclers do.

  2. Sarah says

    I love freecycle. I’ve got rid of heaps of stuff on freecycle and gumtree, even stuff that was broken, or a half bag of renal cat food!
    A bike that needed fixing for more than the price I paid for it, got taken by a man fixing up old bikes for refugee kids.
    My garden is full of broken and daggy old crockery and cookwear. I can’t wait to use my old boots too, when they are beyond repair.

  3. Diane says

    You could also check with your local school to see if they are having a rummage sale for their next fete and donate anything still in good condition to their fundraising efforts. Any toys in good order could be given to a local play group. Check the web for local chapters. The tip on giving old linens to animal shelters is brilliant. Thanks.

  4. Jonathan says

    There’s something really satisfying about de-cluttering and creating space. I recently dropped off about four bags of clothes, DVDs and books to a local charity shop.

    I think that part of de-cluttering starts with not buying things you don’t really need. This year I didn’t buy anything in the January sales. There are always nice clothes at shops that I like that are reduced in the sales, but I decided that I really have as many clothes as I need right now.
    Jonathan recently posted..10 thoughts from my 10th month as a parentMy Profile


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge