Declutter or Organize: Which comes first? (And can you do them at the same time?)

September 6, 2021

"You cannot organize your way out of clutter." - Sarah Mueller

It's true that you might free up a tiny bit of space and sanity by organizing a lot of stuff (aka clutter). However, you probably won't see great results if you're not tackling the decluttering part of this particular equation first.

But is it always that way? Should you declutter first before organizing your home, or is there a better way?

When to Declutter and When to Organize

Decluttering and organizing are very different tasks, but they go hand-in-hand when creating a home that feels good and serves your family in the best possible way.

Before we go further, we must clarify exactly what each task entails.

Decluttering is the act of letting something go and removing it from the home. This can be through donating, selling clutter online, trashing, or recycling the items.

The goal here is to take control of your precious space and use it efficiently. When it comes to decluttering, Sarah recommends learning to value your space as much as your belongings.

It's a mindset shift that can make it easier to let go.

Organizing, on the other hand, is sorting and storing your belongings so that you can find the things you want to use in an efficient manner. And it helps it to look nicer and tidier, too!

Declutter First

  1. When you have more stuff than space. That's pretty self-explanatory. When there is no more room in your life physically for more things, it's time to focus the majority of your attention on decluttering first.
  2. When you know most of the items are going. Decluttering becomes a priority when doing massive cleanouts of a living space, such as when a loved one passes or preparing for an estate sale. If the majority of belongings won't be staying, there is no real need to think about organizing.

Related: How to start decluttering after a long break

Organize First

  1. When you've already decluttered. Easy! If you've already done a decluttering session at some point, it's time to address organizing what remains in a way that serves your lifestyle. Bonus: Organizing is now so much easier with less stuff!
  2. When you don't know what you have in a space. You might not be able to declutter without an initial organizing session where you take stock of what you own and put like items into a better system.

When you've done a decluttering session in the past, you might only need to think about organization.

Can you declutter and organize at the same time?

Believe it or not, you can actually do these tasks at the same time. It's a great option for when you want to make more progress and clean up as you go.

In order to achieve that, you need to do the following:

  1. Pick a space and focus on just that area/task. Try not to do anything too intense or overwhelming.
  2. Learn some good decluttering and organizing techniques. We can help with that - keep reading!
  3. Be willing to make some tough decluttering decisions. It's not always easy, but we can help with that, too.

Join the OLAB Challenge!

The Organize Like a Boss Challenge is one of our most popular events.

In this 5-day challenge, we break down the process of organizing specific areas of your home into simple, bite-sized lessons.

Learn the organizing concepts that will help you organize 5 cluttered hotspots in just 5 days.


Want to hear Sarah explain this in her own words?

Listen to Sarah explain her advice for when to declutter and when to organize in one of her live videos. Also catch a great Q&A section that mentions tips for:

  • artists who find potential in everything.
  • overflowing closets when you have fluctuating dress sizes.
  • using storage containers in the decluttering process and not letting them turn into clutter coffins.

Click over to watch the video now >>

What task are you prioritizing in your home right now: decluttering or organizing?

About the author 


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A Brain-Friendly Tutorial to Clearing Your Clutter

The free tutorial is for you if:

  • Your clutter feels overwhelming
  • You have 1 or more rooms that need significant work
  • You've been trying to declutter for 6 months or longer