Few things are more cathartic than clearing out the old at year’s end. Taking a little time to declutter before the holidays makes a stress-free Christmas so much easier to attain. Whether you’re trying to get ready for Christmas, or just hoping to declutter for the new year, this step-by-step “declutter home checklist” will help you declutter before Christmas, so you’re ready to greet the new year with a fresh start and a tidy house.
“But wait!” I hear some of you saying already. “How can I declutter with kids around?”
Actually, those of us with little (or not-so-little) people at home need to declutter for the holidays most of all. It’s really quite simple:
- To avoid becoming clutter, things need homes.
- If your kid gets new toys for Christmas and the toy storage is already maxed out, there will be toys without homes.
- Likewise, new clothes – whether yours or your child’s – just can’t fit into already-overstuffed drawers and closets.
- And it’s really hard to prep food ahead for Christmas if your freezer is stuffed, or entertain when you can’t find the countertops in your kitchen!
Is decluttering for Christmas doable? Absolutely! This step-by-step guide will walk you through how to declutter for Christmas in easy, bite-sized steps, so your home is ready for holiday gift-giving, holiday entertaining, and ringing in the New Year without some of the old year’s baggage.
Ready to get started?
How to Declutter For Christmas in Ten Easy Steps:
1. Declutter that calendar!
Seriously – there’s no time like December to cut yourself some slack!
Trimming your appointments and to-do’s means you’ll have time to work on the physical clutter around you, while cutting back on the mental overwhelm that can make decluttering your home near-impossible.
Paring down obligations is one of my top tips in my stress-free Christmas morning guide for a reason. There are so many extra things added into the last month of the year to begin with, from holiday travel and get-togethers to school concerts and recitals, that decluttering your calendar is an essential survival tip.
So if you’re already feeling as if decluttering your home is something you don’t have time for, see what “extras” you can trim out of your calendar this month:
- Maybe it’s a regular volunteer commitment; your declining this month means those who volunteer ONLY at the holidays will have the opportunity.
- Kids invited to ten holiday caroling opportunities? Ask them to choose the ONE that will mean the most to them, and politely decline the rest.
- Being asked to “help out” at school, community, or church events left and right? Pick one or two that are most meaningful; let others take on the remaining ones.
2. Declutter as you decorate
As you get out holiday decorations, think of your decorating as a one-two decluttering punch:
Declutter your space BEFORE decorating
- I rarely get to a proper “fall cleaning” at fall cleaning time, but I make up for it with a thorough dusting/vacuuming/decluttering of each room as decorations go up.
- We need to rearrange furniture in order for a tree to fit in our living room. Making room for a tree is a great excuse to tidy tabletops and bookcases before moving furniture, and rethink whether our current storage and seating options still work for us.
Too many Christmas decorations? Declutter those, too
- Have decorations that are broken, missing pieces, or you just don’t like anymore? Donate those that are functional to a thrift store; toss the rest.
- As you put decorations away after the holidays, box and label them by room. This will make storing and getting them out again next year so much easier.
3. How to declutter toys before Christmas
There are several ways you can declutter kids’ toys before Christmas. Which approach you take will depend on how old your kids are, as well as their temperament. Some kids are happy to part with the old in anticipation of shiny new things; others will cling to something forever unless you get it out of their sight.
I’ve used each of these strategies for decluttering kids’ toys at some point over the years; try one or more in the weeks to come.
- During naptime/school/daycare/when they’re at a friend’s, empty the toy cupboard and put back only those your child still plays with.
- When it’s time to clean up toys, tell your kids that any they DON’T put away in a specified amount of time will go “on vacation,” either temporarily or permanently. (This may sound cruel, but I’ve noticed that the toys my kids have outgrown are the ones they still pull out, but quickly abandon for something more current.)
- If your kids can handle this, ask them to go through the toys with you and choose which ones they’re ready to move on to another home where children can enjoy them, so they’ll have room to receive new ones over the holidays. (Some kids will want to keep ALL the toys, so this won’t work with every kid.)
- Still feel guilty about decluttering the toys? Box up things your kids haven’t played with in, say, three months; date the box for next March. By then, it will be 6 months since your kids last touched the contents; if they haven’t missed those items, they’re safe to part with.
4. Declutter bookshelves, too
Likewise, kids who like to read probably have way too many books for the amount of shelf space available. Especially if they have access to a neighborhood Little Free Library. If you’re a grownup who likes to read, you’re probably in the same boat.
Here are some rules we use when decluttering books:
- When was the last time anyone in your household read the book?
- Is it more appropriate for a younger sibling’s or cousin’s collection?
- Does it need returning to a friend, the library, etc.?
- Is it a favorite book the child read over and over, one from a special relative/with a special inscription, or a hard-to-find/out-of-print classic, such that it’s worth saving for posterity?
- (For grownup and older-kid books) Is this something anyone in the family will want to read repeatedly?
- Is the book still in decent shape, with binding intact?
After recycling falling-apart books and separating out a small number for posterity (e.g., future child visitors to the home), decide what to do with the rest: sell the children’s titles at a children’s resale event, organize a book swap with other nearby families, or donate them to a senior’s center, children’s hospital, Little Free Library, or thrift store.
5. Declutter your kitchen counters
If you’re going to have space to bake Christmas cookies and prep holiday meals, you need to be able to find your countertops. But for some families, this is easier said than done.
Staying on top of daily clutter in the kitchen is a chore, but automating certain tasks can make it easier:
- DON’T let mail stay on the counter! Recycle or trash junk mail, catalogs, etc. immediately upon arrival. Deal with any papers from your child’s school as soon as they arrive.
- Eliminate excess paper as much as possible. Switch all magazines/newsletters, bills/statements, etc. to digital, if you haven’t already. When catalogs and flyers arrive, either look through/recycle promptly or just toss – you can always look up what you want online.
- Gather up all those random pens, crayons, hair doodads, toys, paperclips, books, rubber bands, etc. you find and put them away where they belong.
- Any things-awaiting-fixing-or-finishing on your countertops? Fix/finish them or toss them.
- It’s time to recycle last year’s Christmas cards, if they’re still lying around (#guilty). Get a basket to keep this year’s for now, if you like – but no need to keep them forever.
- Get in the habit of dealing with dishes after every meal (wash/dry/put away or load into dishwasher – DON’T let them pile up into the sink).
- Create a catch-all basket for individual family members’ clutter and/or mail as needed. If it doesn’t fit in the basket/bin, it has to go.
- Empty containers, stale half-eaten bags of chips, expired meds, etc? Toss them.
6. Also declutter kitchen storage
Likewise, now is a good time to clean out room inside your refrigerator, freezer, and kitchen cupboards so you have space both to entertain, and to prepare:
- Extra plastic containers missing lids and/or homes? Recycle them.
- Too many mugs, dishes, storage containers, etc. to fit into the cupboard? Time to cull any odd/mismatched pieces, mugs you can’t stand, and duplicate kitchen tools.
- No room for all the appliances/pots/pans? If you haven’t used it in the past year, do you really still need it?
- Now that winter’s upon us, it’s time to get the summer sandals off the shoe racks and clear off the summer/fall accessories from the coat rack.
- Set aside an hour each to go through your refrigerator and the cupboard where you store canned goods/baking supplies/etc. Toss those items that have gone bad or are past their prime; wipe down surfaces before you put the rest back.
- Next, go through your freezer space, especially if you have a stand-alone upright or chest freezer. Make a plan to eat up the meals, side dishes, and ingredients you find there in the next few weeks. This will save you money at the grocery store and time on food prep, and clear out space for your holiday cooking-ahead.
7. Declutter clothes for each family member
While you’re putting away those sandals and beach cover-ups is a good time to assess which things your family will actually use again next season, and which need to go.
- If you’re a shoe-lover who bought yourself several new pairs of sandals over the summer (#guilty), see if there are any older pairs you never wore this year. Put them in a box and date it for next spring, when it will be time to either consign or donate warm-weather attire. Ditto for lighter-weight jackets and other warm-weather accessories.
- Also set aside a basket or bin wherever you fold laundry for items your family has outgrown, then go through the kids’ rooms and drawers for all the random laundry lying around. As those outgrown items make their way through the wash cycle, add them to the “outgrown” basket; periodically box its contents for spring donation or consignment.
- Go through each family member’s closet and drawers. Cycle out any remaining summer gear and any outgrown items. Items that teens (or you) haven’t worn in the past year are good candidates for moving on to consignment or donation. If your drawers don’t close, this is another hint you need to clear out the clutter.
- Items missing buttons, with torn seams, etc.? Mend or repurpose them.
- Things that aren’t fit to pass on (e.g., old T-shirts with stains or holes) can make good cleaning rags, kids’ art smocks, or painting/shop rags, as long as you don’t keep too many for this purpose.
8. Sleeping spaces: Declutter bedroom hacks
For many of us, decluttering excess clothing goes a long way toward clearing out bedroom space, but clothing clutter is often just the start. Fortunately, the rules that work elsewhere in the house work well for many bedroom clutter culprits, too:
- Books need homes. If you’re out of shelf space, see the rules above for right-sizing your book collection.
- Out-of-season things waiting to be put away? Now’s the time.
- Items that need fixing/mending? Fix/mend them or toss them.
- Kids’ rooms often become catchalls for toys, art supplies, and paper clutter. Put toy sets/games/puzzles back together as you find the pieces, and find them a home (preferably outside the bedroom, or else in a designated box/shelf). Put art supplies, homework supplies, etc. away where they belong, whether on a desk or in another room. Cycle out any outgrown toys and books, broken items, school papers your child no longer needs, etc.
- Got a suitcase lying around half-unpacked from your last trip? It’s time to empty it already, so it will be ready to go for holiday travel. Be sure to check and restock your family’s toiletry kits as needed before putting them away.
9. Declutter the office
For many families I know, home office space doubles as guest sleeping quarters for out-of-town family and friends. For others (mine included), it ends up being the place to stash wrapped gifts until it’s time to put them under the tree.
Either way, now’s the perfect time to deal with those things that have piled up over the course of the busy fall.
- Drowning under a deluge of back-to-school clutter? Now’s the time to catch up filing/recycling as appropriate. And with the end of the year approaching, getting caught up on bill-filing and business financials will give you a head start on prepping for tax season in the new year.
- If your home office is like mine, it often ends up as the family dumping ground, too. So clear out those piles, projects, and things-hidden-from-the-kiddos. Then give everything a good vacuuming and dusting so it will be ready for overnight guests.
- As you sort through health-plan-related paperwork, figure out if you need to schedule any family appointments before year’s end (dental, vision, etc.) and/or use up flex account dollars, so you don’t lose them. (Updating glasses prescriptions before the new calendar year is a great way to do this.)
- One of the things that often gets stashed in my home office is gifts I’ve purchased ahead for the girls, so an added benefit of a pre-Christmas cleaning is helping you locate all these “hidden” goodies in time to wrap and gift them!
- Make sure office supplies have a home, and return items to their places. You don’t need more than one stash of sticky notes, paperclips, file folders, etc.
10. And finally, declutter garage tips
Lastly, it’s important to clear out garage space before the holidays. You’ll need the extra space for storing your tree before and after it’s in your home, for keeping extra food and large gifts out of the way til they’re needed, and for keeping extra trash and recycling between Christmas Day and disposal time.
- Still have fall sports equipment lying around? The season’s over, so it’s time to store it.
- Got a pile of recycling, trash, and/or donations you’ve been collecting the past few months? Schedule a date to get them out of the garage in the next few weeks. If you haven’t already boxed up the donations, broken down the cardboard, etc., get those tasks done so they are one less excuse for why you can’t move the things out of your garage already.
- If you use some part of your garage for food storage, go through your stash out there just like you did your kitchen cupboards and fridge/freezer. Make a note of what you have so you don’t buy duplicates, and clear out or use up as much as you can.
- If your garage has a tool bench or tool storage space, clean it off and make sure all the tools are put away, so you’ll be able to find what you need when it comes time to assemble any Christmas gifts.
- What random things collect in your garage besides recycling and donations? For us, it’s gardening supplies (empty pots, fertilizers, etc.) and bicycle parts. Go through those random collections and cull out whatever you can. If you have a compost pile, dump on the remaining fertilizer left over from last season. Donate those excess tools and bits of hardware to your local Habitat ReStore or similar; see where you can donate other “collections” or else toss them. (A few years ago, I found a local bike co-op that helps city youth build their own bicycles from spare parts; they were happy to take our miscellaneous bicycle parts.)
- When you’re done, put everything back where it belongs and give it a good sweeping. Make note of things like outgrown/soon-to-be-replaced bicycles that you can sell come January on a local listserv, or save for a spring consignment sale.
There you have it – ten steps to decluttering before Christmas!
And once you declutter your whole house for the holidays, you’ll have so much less to do come January when it’s time to declutter for the new year!
To make it even easier to get started, I’ve put together a ✅printable declutter home checklist (free download!), which breaks everything above into bite-sized steps.
What did I miss? Let us know in the comments!
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