How to declutter without throwing things away

10 helpful tips

Person rearranging bookshelf
(Image credit: Olivia Howell)

Whether it’s clothing, accessories, or kitchen gadgets, we all have too much stuff. Yet, decluttering your home can be a challenge, particularly if you live an eco-friendly lifestyle. After all, even if you don’t use an item, it can be uncomfortable to part with something knowing it will go into a landfill. Still, it’s possible to get rid of things and fully declutter without throwing anything away. 

Here are nine ways to approach decluttering without filling up your trash can in minutes, according to professional organizers.

1. Start by decluttering items that need to leave your home

First, consider what your idea of decluttering is. “The definition of declutter is to remove a build-up of stuff from a specified room or area; not to throw your stuff away," says Briana and Erica Spruille, professional organizers and founders of Just BE. "The truth is that you know when it is time to declutter — the telltale sign is when your space has become overwhelming or is no longer able to be used for the intended purpose.”

The organizers recommend starting by sorting out the spaces that are easiest to tackle, suggesting the junk drawer or kitchen counters. Begin by creating two piles for things you want to keep and things you'd rather say goodbye to. Then find a home for what you want to keep. “For example, add a row of hooks at the home’s entry so keys and totes can be placed there upon entry, or place bins in the closet for seasonal swaps to make clothing selection easier.”

2. Group like items together

Leslie Kilgour, organizer and founder of Get It Straight Organizing, says your home will have less surface clutter by storing and grouping like items in the same place. “For example, put all cereal boxes together, put canned food together, put all of the spices together," she says. "If you're organizing a linen closet, make sure that all of the hand towels are folded together, or in your closet, all of the pants are hanging together. This works for pasta, paperwork, sheets, shoes, towels, spices — everything! Things take up less space if things are grouped together!” 

3. Use things you already own as containers

Do you have shoe or hat boxes you just can’t part with? Kilgour advises using them as containers, which removes the need to throw things away and rehomes items that might be floating around your apartment. “Look around your space and see what tins, wooden boxes, fancy shoeboxes, or baskets you already have, and use those to store cables, pens, papers, or mail," she says.

4. Repurpose items as decor

Serving pieces and glasses can easily double as decor. “I love recommending to my clients that they use a pretty platter they already have and store wine glasses or pretty bottles on the platter," says Kilgour. "Not only does it add to the space decor-wise, but it will eliminate the overwhelm of having too many glasses clinking against each other in a cabinet.”

5. Consider under-bed storage

Shantae Duckworth, professional organizer and founder of Shantaeize Your Space says under the bed is the perfect spot to stash footwear and off-season clothing. "Invest in some great containers and bins that you can easily store your items in," says Duckworth. "This also gives you a chance to look at those items when you switch them out to determine what you want to keep around for the following season.” Whether it's special under-bed containers or clothing bags, there are plenty of options for storing items that'll help declutter your bedroom.

6. Donate things you no longer need

Professional organizer Jennifer Jarrett of Jenuinely Contained suggests donating as an alternative to disposing of things you don't want in your home anymore. “All towns and cities have various charitable organizations that you can donate to — Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity are just a few of these."

You can also consider non-profits that help specific groups out. "For example, if you have a bunch of clothes that you are letting go of reach out to your local men's or women's shelter to inquire as to whether they are in need," she adds.

7. Sell your used items

Your old stuff could be worth some serious cash. “If you have items that are still in good shape you can always list them on Facebook Marketplace, Offerup, Craigslist, Poshmark, eBay, or one of the multitudes of resale websites out there,” says Jarett. 

If you have higher-end or designer pieces, she recommends trying specialty sites like ThredUp or The Real Real.  You could even have a sidewalk or garage sale. “Post some signs around your neighborhood and spend a few hours on the weekend selling your goods," says Jarett. "If you don't feel like you have enough to do it on your own, reach out to some friends and neighbors for a joint venture."

8. Upcycle your items

Have old or stained towels or bedding? These items don't need to end up in a landfill. Jarett suggests considering dropping these items off at your local animal shelter. Just make sure to call first to make sure they are accepting donations. 

You can also drop off donations at your local pet store or chain. “Petco stores have a donation bin and they either use or provide the bedding to area shelters.”

9. Post in buy-nothing groups

Whether you’re giving away an old dress, desk, or a flower pot, there’s probably someone who could make use of it. “Buy Nothing groups or communities are forums that promote a global reuse economy," explains Jarrett. "You can join through their app or find a group on Facebook that is in your area. It is a terrific group to post items to that you are parting with. They often get snapped up quickly by someone in your group or area that needs them.”

Amanda Lauren

Hi, I’m Amanda Lauren. I’m a design expert and interior stylist who writes for Real Homes, Forbes, Real Simple among other publications. I live in Los Angeles in the historic neighborhood of Hancock Park with my husband, and two dogs, Lulu and Milo. We also have a baby coming in spring 2023. I’m a big believer in finding beautiful things at all price points. There are so many places to find affordable things, you just have to look for them. If you don't find it at first, look harder!