3 Steps to Take Before You Declutter

Decluttering an entire home can be incredibly scary and overwhelming. Learn the 3 steps to take before you declutter to make decluttering easier.

When you can learn to make decluttering easier it really does help you make amazing progress in your how to declutter journey.

3 steps to take before you begin to declutter and organize any room in your home.

“What on earth is that smell?”

Hubby and I were sitting in the family room watching TV, and I can remember it like it was yesterday. This odor, like burning sugar and plastic, was drifting in. We sat there and just made this awful face and stared at each other. Do you know that deer in the headlights look? Yes, that was us. Both of us.

Finally, I got up to investigate when we both decided there was no way to write it off as a neighbor burning outside.

Off to the kitchen I went only to be greeted by smoke coming out of the oven.

I ran over to shut it off, yelling at the guilty party who had to still be in the house somewhere.

“Who on earth turned the oven on!”

Out my 17-year-old came running with his friend, patting the air with his hands in a “calm down, mother…you are scaring my friend” manner.

“We were just going to make a pizza,” he said.

The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.

“You know we never EVER turn on the oven without emptying it first!”

Let’s back up for just a minute. This flashback is from my clutter-bug heyday when it was just easier to hide dirty dishes in the oven so I didn’t have to look at them. On this occasion, there were more than just a few dirty dishes. There was also a leftover birthday cake still in its plastic container that I had hidden inside my oven. I can’t even begin to tell you what a mess that was to clean up.

Not a proud moment and, unfortunately, not a rock bottom moment either.

I was a closet clutter bug.

It looked like my house was neat and tidy on the outside but behind the closet doors, under the beds, and yes, inside of my oven was a hidden world. My “hide it so I don’t have to ever deal with it” clutter problem.

It’s not that I was okay with the mess; I wasn’t. The problem was I had no idea how to deal with it. To me, there was so much stuff, so many piles of things and junk that I couldn’t get even find the energy or the motivation to mentally deal with it let alone physically take care of it.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I learned the secret of clutter. A secret that gave me a new outlook and changed everything for me.

What you think is clutter isn’t always clutter.

Let me explain.

More often than not, the clutter you need to deal with is buried. Hiding under things that are not clutter. Things like trash, recyclables, or items that need to be put away. And if you would just take the time to uncover the actual clutter there may be only a fraction of what you originally thought.

Vase with blue flowers on a white kitchen counter top in front of a window

Before you get ready to clean out a drawer, cabinet, or an entire room, do these 3 steps first and remove the overwhelm while you do. Then you might see yourself making progress with your home like never before. 

3 Steps to Take Before You Declutter

Just because these steps are super easy does not mean they won’t be incredibly effective. Turn these steps into a clutter-stopping habit, and you might see big changes happen in your home!

First, Gather up the Trash

I am sure you have heard this before, but starting with the trash in a cluttered area is by far the best way to get rid of the stuff. But have you ever actually been told why?

The reason is simple.

Trash can do a lot to camouflage the clutter, so much so that we are paralyzed by the size of what we have to go through. By removing the trash, we can begin to uncover what is our actual clutter, and we just might find our problem isn’t quite as intimidating as we thought.

woman gathering up trash and clutter copy

To remove the trash, we will break things down even further into super-simple steps.

1. Arm yourself with a large trash bag. 

2. Take a walk around your home. Gather up anything obvious that you can throw away. Empty food containers, napkins, crumpled tissues, bags, junk mail, and newspapers. Look at this as if you are taking a stroll and casually walking in and out of every room, filling up your bag with trash.

3. If your house is in really bad shape, you may need to do this a few times. Remember, the more you remove today, the less you will have to deal with later.

4. Be relentless here. Collecting trash is simple and easy, so don’t make it any harder than it needs to be. If it’s trash, pick it up, put it into one of your bags, and move on.

Second, gather up any recyclables.

1. As you did in the previous step, arm yourself with a bag.

2. Take a stroll around your home. This time you are looking for any materials that can be recycled. Newspapers, plastic bottles, magazines, cardboard, glass, etc. Be sure to follow your county guidelines and bundle up items appropriately. 

3. Don’t be tempted to keep it “just in case.” You are in full clutter jumpstart mode, and for that reason, you need to be hyperfocused. If it’s trash and recyclable, get it out of your home. End of story. 

Gather up Anything that Needs to Be Put Away.

When our rooms are cluttered, more often than not, mixed in with that clutter are things that simply need to be put away. And sometimes, it can be hard to see those things when there is chaos scattered about. Unless you are specifically looking for it, you might mistake your things for clutter and lump that into the insurmountable task you believe you are faced with.

We are going to take another clutter walk, but this time instead of being armed with a set of trash bags, you are going to use a laundry basket. I love to use these clothes baskets because they are not only easy to carry but can hold a surprising amount of misshapen items.

A basket labeled put away full of random things.

Put Away Items to Look For

Clothes – Put dirty items in the laundry room and clean items in the rooms where they belong.

Dishes – Gather up any dishes you find and put them into the sink or dishwasher.

Shoes – Put shoes where you usually keep them. This can be in a bedroom, closet, mudroom, or entryway.

Bills and Papers– Gather up any papers that need your attention. Bills, statements, receipts. Etc. Put them all into one location to go through later when you have time. If you have an office, I will put a clothes basket or other large container into which you can put papers as you come across them. Make a date to sit on the couch or at the table and deal with each paper one at a time.

Office supplies – If you have a desk or other area where you keep office supplies, set up a box or basket for these items. As you come across any office supplies, take them to this box and add them to your collection. When you are finished, keep the best and donate or toss the rest.

Books – If you are a reader and have a bookcase or other area dedicated to your books, then this is where you will want to put any that you find scattered around your home. If you, as you are doing this, notice a title or two you no longer want, put them into a donation bag. When this bag is full, take it to a nursing home, school, or library to donate for others to enjoy.

If you love to read, keep things organized by setting up a reading bag to hold your current reads!

Toys – For this task, I would enlist the kids to help. Give them a small basket and have them collect any of their toys. Take them to where your family keeps toys in a playroom or a toy box.

Organizers that are great for containing toys:

Tools – It always amazes me how my Husband’s tools end up all over the house. If your home is anything like mine, you will want to take a tool walk. Look for not only tools but other items such as paint, hardware, tape, gloves, string, batteries, and zip ties.

Take these items to where you keep tools, such as a workshop or garage.

putting things away into a cabinet from a white basket copy

Keep going!

Just because my list ends with tools does not mean yours must as, well. Remember, no two homes are exactly alike, and the items you have in your home will be different than what is found in mine. Keep going until everything that has a home is in its home.

D/M Pro Tip: When you finish with this step, do another trash walk. The more you remove, the more you will uncover more items that can be thrown away!

What if I don’t know if it’s clutter?

I get it; this is a unique and new approach to decluttering.

A brand new approach to how you view your things and the purpose of your home. And maybe as you are going through these steps, you are just a little unsure as to what is trash, what is recyclable, and what are things that need to be put away.

girl with question marks over her head thinking..trash? Recycle? Put Away?

Just remember, if it is clutter, it is something that does not have a home. A place where we keep it.

This means the overall purpose here is to find a home for our things. And once we designate a home for our clutter, we can then put it away. And, once it’s away, it’s no longer clutter.

Yes, it’s like a tongue twister and a nursery rhyme all rolled into one!

So, how do we designate a home? What if we have no idea where to PUT something?

You will need to ask yourself a simple question. If I was to look for this item, where would that be? And whatever the answer is, that is the new home.

Yes, it is that simple. 

Let’s put this into an example and see if this helps.

You are in the family room; you remove the trash and the recyclables and put away all the items that have specific homes.

What you are left with is a small pile of random items. Most of these things you can tell right off you no longer need and that means that they can go right into a donation box. (Which, by the way, is the new “home” for those items!)

donation box in the family room copy

But other things in that pile. The items you DO want to keep. That is where you are going to focus.

Maybe you are looking at a large and somewhat intimidating pile of stuff, and suddenly, you see in that pile a packet of scrapbooking stamps and card stock that you bought for making cards. You can’t think of a home because you do not have a designated place to make cards.

Then, you remember the plastic basket with handles you found yesterday buried under some old newspapers. You grab that basket and fill it with the stickers, card stock, and markers you just found.

You then set that basket next to your rocking chair in the family room, and just like that, you have a home for all your card-making supplies.

Simple when you see it in action, right?

Bottom Line: Find the things you want to keep and designate a home for those things or CREATE one. Either way, your goal is to put away everything you want to keep and donate all the things you do not.

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Now that you’ve learned the 3 steps to take before you declutter, what’s next?

It’s time to dive into your first decluttering project. Take it slowly, yet be determined, and remember to celebrate your progress.

Even the smallest step is still a step in the right direction, so be sure to acknowledge all of your wins.

If you are stuck, please leave a comment below, and I will do my best to help.

More Clutter Resources:


  1. Hi, first I just want to say that I appreciate the time and effort that you put in to getting all of this information out. The average person just doesn’t realize how hard it is for some people.
    My problem or well my excuses I guess; I’m 60, work full time and have moderate health issues (not light but thank goodness not severe) so I’m often in pain and exhausted. Some week day mornings I can “pick up” some. Nearly every Saturday I have a “plan” in mind, then, end up sleeping the day away. Which just makes me depressed. I have accomplished some and watch it get covered up again. ?
    However, your continued emails, which I read, FB which I have set up to show first, I think I found you on Pinterest and now this new blog…? you’re really busy. So, I read it all and it helps, I gather information and it gives me inspiration.
    So, THANK YOU for your time, your virtual support and relentless “pushing”, without this it would continue to just get pushed to the back of my mind. If you ever wonder if it’s worth it, if you’re really reaching anyone. Well, your reaching at least one someone. ???

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Leila!
      I am so glad you are finding help and inspiration with my words and support. Decluttering and organizing is hard and you are doing it with so much more added to your plate. Give yourself some credit, what you are doing is impressive and admirable!! Listen to your body, do what you can when you can and celebrate every single win. Remember each step, no matter how small, is still a step in the right direction.
      Good luck!
      Tracy Lynn

    2. I have learned, something is better than nothing! If you implement these words into your everyday you will learn it applies to every aspect of life and is very empowering. Best wishes to you and I hope you can be blessed by this little golden nugget 🙂

  2. Your 3-step method seems like it should be called Declutter 101 (it could be the prep mode for Declutter 201, and so on). It feels achievable and easy … and an antidote to the overwhelm my cluttering has created. I will give this a try. Thank you!

      1. Don’t be ashamed for using a stove for “storage,” which to me is slang for “clutter holder” in my house!! We all do it! You have a lot of smart, practical ideas that are easy to follow. I’m on here because I am always learning about decluttering; I need lots of input. You’re ideas are easy to follow, concise, and appreciated.

        Incidentally, my nephew has a friend who is married with 2 children. His wife puts DIRTY CLOTHES in the oven to hide them AND dirty dishes in the shower to hide them, too. So, you’re doing great if you’re not doing that!

  3. Basic tips for those who are not in B I G trouble (e.g. me!) I seldom have trash or recyclables around because they definitely have someplace they belong. It’s all that stuff that I want/need/use/ like/ that is cluttering up my house!

  4. Tracy Lynn, I have a small bedroom that is a combination computer room, TV room, sewing room and craft room. Very messy. Mostly it is my crafts that are the problem. I have an old pine dresser that was mine when I was in middle school. Full of sewing and craft supplies. At this point I have bags hanging on the knobs of the dresser, hanging on the back of the door and also hanging on the knobs of my sewing machine cabinet. What ideas do you have for me?

    1. When I was a heavy crafter and short on space, I had to get super creative. I would use 2 totes and fill them with my extra supplies. Once filled I stacked them one on top of the other. I then took a pretty table cloth and cover the totes, put a lamp on it, and set it next to my chair to use as a table. A large tote held my most current project with all the supplies needed for it and hung on the back of my rocking chair.
      I hope that helps!
      Tracy Lynn

  5. While I have never hidden items in the oven, I do stuff things in drawers and closets to quickly tidy up. Then wonder why I can’t find these items the next time I need them! LOL Thanks for sharing these great tips and I have selected this post as a feature this week. #HomeMattersParty

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