The Home Seller’s Guide to Decluttering Your House

How to Declutter Your Home

You’ve heard this advice over and over: you must declutter before trying to sell your house. And you might think of clutter as a subjective concept: as long as you can see the floor, you’re fine. But when discussing how to get your house ready to sell, any agent will tell you, there actually is a correct way to declutter if you want to attract the most prospective buyers.

If you’re living in the house you’re trying to sell, you probably want to know how to declutter your home fast. The first step might be to get a storage unit. As you’ll learn in this article, a big part of decluttering is removing items from the home that you don’t use on a daily basis and a storage unit is a cost-efficient way to store them. Once that stuff has a home, it’s time to get started!

How to Declutter The Kitchen

The kitchen is one of two rooms that really sell a home (the other is the master bath), so start your decluttering project here. You want buyers to appreciate the craftsmanship of your finishes and the amount of storage your home offers — and you don’t want them distracted by all of your stuff. At your open house, they will also open cabinets, closets, and drawers so you can’t just shove everything in there.

The goal is to have mostly bare cabinets, organized drawers, and countertops clear of everything except for a coffee maker and perhaps a large fancy mixer (but only if you actually use it).

First, take everything out of the cabinets. You’re going to sort these items into these four categories:

  • Donate: extra sets of plates, bowls, and glasses (you need a maximum of 12), appliances and cookware that have a duplicate function to something else in your kitchen, and anything you haven’t used in a year.
  • Dispose of: anything that is broken or chipped, food storage without matching lids and vice versa.
  • Keep onsite: only what you need on a daily basis. That means if you are a family of four, you need four dinner plates, four salad plates, four bowls and four glasses. Try to pare down your cookware and appliances as well. Do you really need three different sized sauté pans? Probably not. You shouldn’t be cooking elaborate and potentially messy meals in a kitchen you’re trying to sell.
  • Keep in storage: everything else.

Paring down the items in your kitchen will benefit you in two ways: 1) it will make it much easier to deep clean and 2) it will force you to wash dishes as you go, making the preparation for an open house much less work.

How to Declutter The Bathrooms

Don’t be fooled by the size of the room. It’s amazing how much stuff can accumulate in those bathroom cabinets, so be sure to have a trash bag ready. Again, the goal here is to have clean, sparsely populated cabinets, organized drawers, and a countertop with only a faucet and soap dispenser. Why? Because it is the room the buyers will use to get themselves cleaned up. And it’s hard to feel clean if all you see is someone else’s clutter.

Apartment Therapy recommends starting with the cabinets. Empty all the contents onto the floor or countertop and begin sorting into the above-four piles:

  1. Donate: any appliance you haven’t used in 12 months but is still functionally useful.
  2. Dispose of: any product you haven’t used in the last 12 months, broken appliances, any product or medication that’s expired, any product that is empty or nearly there, anything you no longer need, anything no longer functionally useful.
  3. Keep onsite: Only what you need on a daily basis. If you use a variety of products and hair appliances depending on the occasion, pick one set (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hair product, hair appliance) to use for the next 30 days. If that sounds undoable, buy a clear plastic bin you can carry and store what you need in there. Then when it comes time to show your house, it’s easy to remove the clutter and put it in your car.
  4. Keep in storage: everything else.

Repeat the above process for your drawers. But instead of throwing small items haphazardly back into the drawers, organize them with clear, plastic drawer inserts. That way if a prospective buyer opens one it will look staged and they will be able to visualize themselves in the space.

How to Declutter The Bedrooms

When decluttering the bedrooms, HGTV recommends starting with the area around the bed.  Pull everything out from underneath and behind the beds and then empty out the side table drawers. Sort the items into the following piles:

  • Donate
  • Dispose of
  • Keep in storage

The above categories assume that there’s nothing underneath or behind your bed that you need on a daily basis. The drawers in your bedside table should include only a few items you absolutely need before going to bed: reading glasses (if you wear them), a book, hand lotion.

  • Donate: anything you haven’t used in the last 12 months but is still in good shape.
  • Dispose of: anything broken.
  • Keep in storage: everything else.

Next on the chopping block is your closet and chest of drawers. Be ruthless.

  • Donate: anything in good shape that you haven’t worn in 12 months.
  • Dispose of: anything with holes, rips or stains.
  • Keep onsite: a season-specific capsule wardrobe: five bottoms and tops that span casual to professional, one outerwear piece, one special occasion dress or suit, three pairs of shoes, and a week’s worth of undergarments and workout clothes (if applicable).
  • Keep in storage: everything else.

How to Declutter The Living Room

The goal of the living room is to create a clean, aesthetically pleasing and comfortable space that potential buyers want to relax in.

Start with the bookshelf. Despite the name, this piece of furniture should be more of a decorative display than a chronicle of every book you’ve ever read. Keep the books that you and your significant other are likely to read (or reread) in the future and donate everything else. That way when you go to stage the house later, you’ll have room to add decorative elements to the shelves.

Next, empty all of the bins and drawers in the room, even that secret storage is hidden in the ottoman. We’re going to repeat the same process for these items as we did in the bedroom.

  • Donate: anything you haven’t used in the last 12 months, any toys the kids have outgrown or no longer play with, and anything that no longer matches your décor.
  • Dispose of: any electronics, remote controls, or toys that are broken. Shred any personal documents you no longer need.
  • Keep onsite: one plastic bin full of toys that are easily removed when it comes time to show the house, a throw blanket or two, any still-functional large electronics like a stereo system or television.
  • Keep in storage: the remaining toys and a file cabinet containing important personal documents.

If you have multiple throw blankets, pick two that both match your décor and are in the best shape.  Placing them over an armchair and couch will add a nice decorative touch and warmth to the room.

How to Declutter The Garage

Potential buyers will want to see your garage, especially if you’ve added any built-in cabinets or a workspace. Which means you can’t forgo a storage unit in favor of shoving your clutter in there. Additionally, if you’re like the 57% of Americans who can’t fit two cars in their two-car garage because it’s filled with so much stuff, you will need to allocate at least a weekend to decluttering this space.

The goal for the garage is that nothing is touching the ground other than the four tires of each car and any built-in cabinets or storage. Start with the items closest to the garage door, pulling what you can into the driveway and sort based on the following categories.

  • Donate: anything you haven’t used in the last 12 months.
  • Dispose of: anything broken, rusted, or outdated.
  • Keep onsite: any gardening equipment you need to keep your landscaping looking nice, and any sporting equipment you use regularly.
  • Keep in storage: anything of sentimental value that you can’t bear to part with, and any furniture you might need in your new home.

Repeat the process for any storage you have in the garage. And then once you have pared down the items you’ll keep onsite, try to organize them in the existing cabinetry you have. If there are large pieces of sporting equipment like bikes or surfboards, get creative with the storage options: use hanging hooks from the ceiling or install racks on the walls.

Regardless of whether you’ve lived in your home for a few years or decades, decluttering is a project best tackled over a period of weeks, not days. If you have time before putting your house on the market, schedule one room per weekend. That way you can approach the process thoughtfully and save yourself a mountain of stress.