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The LQ Guide for Cleaning Out Your Cluttered Apartment

“I should really get rid of some of this stuff.” Pretty much every human being in history has had this thought! It’s basically a true fact of life that we never have quite enough space for our personal possessions. This is super apparent here in Portland (and across the US), as new self-storage businesses seem to be popping up on every block.

The best way to tackle this issue is with a good old-fashioned decluttering. It makes your space feel so much more clean and opens up lots of design opportunities. We can dream up a fresh new aesthetic for your home, but it’s never going to look its best in the middle of a mess. So we created this guide to help you cut back the clutter and create the apartment that you really want.

First, a Pep Talk

Decluttering is hard work! It takes time, and parting with your things can be seriously emotionally draining. So let’s go over why this is important:

  • Mess causes stress. According to Psychology Today and Web MD, people are more likely to feel that life is out of control when they have more stuff than they can manage.

  • Clean is empowering. The process of cleaning out your space is majorly cathartic, and it provides a huge sense of productivity and accomplishment.

  • More space = more possibilities. Decluttering creates space in your home that you can fill however you like. There’s room for more stuff, yes, but also more socializing, more relaxation, etc.

The Decluttering Process

This is our favorite method for cleaning out an apartment. Of course, feel free to personalize it to your needs!

1. Set Goals

Before you get started, make a plan and set a clear intention for what you want to achieve. We recommend creating very specific goals here. It’s totally fine to start small – one room, one closet, or even just that one junk drawer. You can always take on more!

  • List out your “clutter hot spots” and prioritize which ones to tackle. If you’re new to this, start with an easy win!

  • Only do one room or space at a time. Each finished room will encourage you to keep going.

  • Set a target for completing this phase of your cleanup. This can be hours or even days, whatever’s realistic. If you want to really challenge yourself, you can even set a timer.

2. Create a Sorting System

Set up a process that will make it easy to go through all your stuff. If you have room to dump all your items into a pile and sort through that, go for it! If you’d rather just handle one thing at a time, that’s fine too.

We really like the “Three Box Method” of organization. Grab three boxes or bins and label them as To Keep, To Go, and To Store. This helps you make a clear decision for each item and keep your momentum going.

3. Say Goodbye to Clutter

Things in the “To Go” bin have got to go! They can be sold, donated, or just tossed.

This is the easy part, practically speaking, but don’t feel bad if you find it emotionally difficult! We believe that life is better with a smaller number of things if you can really use and enjoy them to the fullest. Give this approach a try, and we think you’ll agree!

Know When to Let Go

There is a huge psychological component to being able to part with your personal items. Here are a few tips if you’re reluctant to give things up:

  • Be honest: when was the last time you used this? It’s hard to get rid of something that might be useful at some point in the future. But if you haven’t used it in several months, there is a VERY high chance that you won’t use it again

  • Does it even work? If the “treasure” you want to keep isn’t fully functional right now, you should get rid of it. That dress that doesn’t even fit but that you might someday get tailored… yeah, you don’t need that.

  • The 80/20 rule: We typically wear 20 percent of our clothes 80 percent of the time. This rule usually applies to games, tech gear, etc. too! Remember: if that 20 percent was all you had, your life would go on with very little disruption.

  • Beware of sunk costs. Our brains have a really hard time ditching something when we’ve spent a lot of money on it. But in 99% of cases, that money is long gone and we can’t get it back, so try not to let this affect your decision making.

  • Follow your heart. It’s totally fine to keep something if you truly love it. I hang on to my grandmother’s old fur coat despite having no plans to wear it. Just take a moment to challenge yourself and ask “Do I still really love this?” You might find that one day your answer has changed.

  • You can always sleep on it. If you’re on the fence about a specific item, try putting it in the “To Go” bin and letting a night go by. You can always take it back out tomorrow!

  • Keep your space in mind. The harsh reality is that if you live in a small apartment, you need to have a smaller collection of stuff. Even if you’d keep something under normal circumstances, it may be worth tossing it to be able to open the closet door without stuff falling out onto your head.

If you’re having a hard time, just keep at it! Completing one round of clean-up, even if you end up keeping nearly everything, will still feel great. You may feel like getting rid of more things next time.

Four Classic Mistakes

Finally, these are some common missteps we’ve witnessed with our clients. Look out for these traps!

  • Don’t start organizing by buying stuff. We know, there are some really great storage solutions at The Container Store… but buying one will NOT magically declutter your space! You’ve got to put in the work first before you’ll know which drawer organizer is right for you.

  • Don't bite off more than you can chew. Think you can reorganize your entire home in one day? I love the confidence, but please don’t. Even an experienced declutterer will struggle with eight straight hours of cleanup work. If you end the day with a disaster zone of piles everywhere, you’ll feel pretty terrible.

  • Don’t move on until the task is completely complete. It’s surprisingly easy to keep a Goodwill box in the back of your closet for five to ten years. Avoid this by going right away! It’s better to have a small portion of the project 100% done before you move on to the next part.

  • Don’t strive for perfection. There’s a reason that the closets and drawers in catalogs look so amazingly perfect. Because nobody lives in those spaces. If decluttering makes your space more effective for your lifestyle, you’ve succeeded!

Once You’re Done

Completed your decluttering and still want more? We’ve got you! Check out our guide on organizing your space to see what to do with your newly downsized collection of possessions.

And of course, if you’re looking for design assistance, we can help with that too. Contact us for a free consultation to chat about your needs for your space and to learn about the solutions we can create for you.


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