5 Boxes, a Bag and a List

By Janet Nusbaum

As a Professional Organizer, the most common challenge I hear from clients that deters them from tackling an organizing project is “where do I start?” Most get overwhelmed at this stage, feel defeated, and don’t ever get started.

With any large project, it is most effective to break it down into manageable steps, and then focus on just one step at a time. The formula below provides a step-by-step process for tackling any decluttering project.

Five Boxes, a Bag and a List is all you need to organize your home or office, one room or area at a time! Let’s get started.


1.) Gather your supplies:

  • 5 large, easy to store cardboard boxes or plastic bins. These boxes will become your decluttering tools for rooms to come!
  • A large trash bag
  • A couple of Sharpie markers
  • A pad of paper
  • A timer

2.) Commit the time – from 30 to 60 minutes – schedule it on your calendar

3.) Assign a purpose to each box- write on a piece of tape or tape a piece of paper on each box with these words (1 per box):


Choose an area to start:

4.) Choose the space to declutter and set your timer for at least 30 to 60 minutes. Allow for an additional 10 minutes for final clean up and routing misplaced items. If time is up before the room is finished, mark where you stopped.

5.) Line up your labeled boxes, trash bag, and keep the pad of paper close by. Start sorting items beginning on the left side of the room and work left to right (just like you were writing on a piece of paper from left to right). Here’s what goes in each box:

  • KEEP IT – place in this box only those items that you love or can identify a specific purpose for current use.
  • ROUTE IT – collect items that you will be keeping, but do not belong in this space. The goal is for you to stay focused on the room you have committed to for this session. This box will be dealt with later.
  • GIVE IT – collect treasures that are no longer needed or wanted, but are still in good condition. This box can be donated to your favorite organization. There are many worthy organizations welcome your discarded treasures.
  • SELL IT – with the popularity of auction sites like eBay, you can easily make money on the treasures that you uncover. If you have no interest in selling your items, eliminate this box.
  • STORE IT – collect items you are unsure of (keep or purge), close up the box at the end of this decluttering session, and place a scheduled toss/donate date on the box. If items in this box are not referenced by that date, you have proven to yourself that the items were not needed or missed. After the dispose of date, deliver the box unopened to the charity of your choice.
  • TOSS IT – use the trash bag to collect trash, items that are in poor repair, non-sellable/givable items, or you have no idea what it is.
  • THE LIST – collect To-Dos or reminders. While decluttering, you may remember tasks you haven’t completed, but don’t be tempted to act on them now. Add each ‘To do’ to your list and forget it for now. Stay focused on the current project of decluttering your space.

When the timer goes off, it’s time to clean up:

  • Empty the KEEP IT box in the space where they go
  • Empty the ROUTE IT box – take items in this box out of the space you were just working in and put them away in their correct home
  • Throw out the items in the TOSS IT bag – get the TOSS IT stuff out of your space immediately
  • Store the STORE IT box in a place where you have access if needed. If applicable, write a “toss by” date on the front of the box.
  • Schedule a time to donate the GIVE IT box and decide the best venue for selling your SELL IT items (i.e., consignment store, auction, garage sale)
  • Schedule the To-Do’s on your list.

Continue this process consistently in at least 30 to 60-minute time blocks and you’ll soon have a newly decluttered space that you can enjoy again.

Janet Nusbaum, AKA The Organizing Genie, an Organizing Consultant, Speaker, Coach and author of ‘Mom, Can I Help Around the House?’ helps individuals, families and businesses organize life and navigate transitions. Grab a copy of Janet’s FREE special report “Shelf Life of 75 Common Household Products” here, [http://www.TheSimplifiedHome.net] Get even more home and office organization help by visiting her blog – http://www.TheOrganizingGenie.com

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