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Decluttering for the New Year

The holiday season has drawn to a close, and 
if your family is anything like mine, you’re 
staring at a heap of generously given gifts 
and decorations to put away. And you’re probably thinking: ‘Wow, that’s a lot of stuff!’ That huge influx of new stuff can make a home feel cluttered instantly. Working with my frequently overwhelmed clients to maximize and redesign their spaces, I’ve come up with a simple decluttering method that will help calm any space down quickly, and works perfectly for that pile under the tree. 

The 4-bin method

Set up one bin each for Keep, Donate, Recycle, and Toss. Choose one area to start with and pick up one item at a time. If you’re in the room where the item belongs, put it away immediately. If it belongs in another room, place it in the Keep bin.

As you pick up each item, ask yourself:

Do I need this?
When was the last time I used it? Do I like it?
  • Can it be replaced, if needed?
  • Does owning this drain my energy?

If it doesn’t serve you or add value, let it go. If you haven’t used it in six to 12 months or if you have too many of the same item, let it go. If you don’t like it or need it, let it go.

Don’t keep things out of obligation. This is especially hard right after the holidays when you may have received a very nice gift that you know you won’t use. Keeping an item you don’t use does cost you something: storage space, dusting, and managing... it’s an energy drain. Is expending that energy worth it for an item you don’t like or want?

Once you’ve placed your items in the bins, immediately take out the garbage bin (toss) and the recycling bin, and put the donations bin by the front door so you remember to drop them off. It’s easy to lose momentum after the sorting, so I often ask my kids to take things out for me while I head to the next step: the Keep bin.

Your new motto is everything in its place and a place for everything. Create ‘homes’ for your newfound treasures. Where will the item be used? Do you have like items you can place it with? If you have a new game to put in the game cabinet, but it’s already full, look through and remove anything you haven’t used (ask yourself the questions listed again) and place in the donate pile to create space for the new game.

Decluttering with children

I involve my children (ages four to 10) in the decluttering and organizing process as often as I can. Our rule of thumb is ‘one out, one in’ and I constantly ask them, “Do we have the space for this?” As we sort through each gift, we check in about how many similar items they already have, where it might belong, and whether it’s something we want to keep. We find homes for new items together, so the kids know how to find things and where to put them back.

They know that we can be grateful and polite when receiving a gift, and make a decision about what to do with it apart from that gratitude. They know that an unneeded toy or book is an opportunity to give it to someone else, and to say things like, “It was a very cool gift, thank you!” and to change the topic if they’re asked about a gift that they’ve chosen to pay forward rather than keep.

Some people are more sentimental and reluctant to purge than others, children included! My tenderhearted four-year-old gets easily attached to all kinds of ‘treasures,’ so we’ve created a treasure box in the form of an underbed storage box. He is in charge of what goes in. When it’s full, he has to make choices about what stays and what goes. Giving him this power seems to take the sting out of letting go. In short, being self-aware and mindful as you sort through your holiday piles goes a long way. 

Happy New Year, and happy decluttering!

Freya is an Interior Decorator and Real Estate Stager at Home Interiors by Freya MacLean. She specializes in working with families on any budget to transform their space, and offers accessible, published rates. Learn more at or



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