Decluttering? Start Big

We’ve been selling and giving away our things for over a year now, and we’re almost done. The renters for our now too-big house will be here soon, and the few possessions we have left will fit into a small storage container. 

There’s not much left in this house.

As we worked, I frequently pulled up articles and videos from decluttering and minimalist experts. Their ideas helped me enormously, and their company cheered me through the tedium of touching every object in my house and finding a new home for all but a very few things. 

A few methods I discovered for letting go of possessions turned out to diverge from standard advice out there, such as the often-heard suggestion to start gently. Experts will often advise to discarding duplicates, for example, before tackling emotion-laden keepsakes. That’s good advice, of course, but there is also something to be said for scoring a big win early on. My best tip for successfully downsizing a houseful of things? Give away the best treasure first.

This pattern is nice, but I liked mine even better. It was really pretty.

When my husband and I first talked about going minimalist, my mind would flash to one particular thing: a beloved set of inherited china. How could I ever let it go? Over a year ago when we began decluttering in earnest, I forced myself to take a hard look at those dishes. I took them out once a year. While they weren’t a huge treasure in the monetary sense, they were an intact place setting for twelve without even a single chip in the whole set. Just looking at them reminded me of happy past Thanksgivings. They had become, I realized, the emblem for all the outsized meaning I had invested in stuff. If I could manage to let these dishes go, I could manage the rest. And I wasn’t anywhere near feeling sure that I could.

On the morning of my neighborhood’s community yard sale, I set up a table and displayed each dish, pretty sure I was about to take it right back into the house, back to the pretty cabinet that had held these pretty dishes for so many years. Then I set a high, I-dare-you-to-buy-this-from-me price in my head. 

A man asked me if he could take a photo of the dishes. “I want to see what my wife thinks,” he told me.

“Sure,” I said, and I realized I knew him, the hard-working father of a former student, a man with a big family to provide for. 

He picked up a dish, gingerly set it down, then picked up another. He liked them. He looked at his phone. 

“What did she say?” I asked. 

“She loves them,” he said, “but she thinks they would be too much.” He ran his finger lightly along the rim of a bowl, then began to turn away. 

I halved the figure in my head, halved it again, then gave him the price. 

“That would work,” he grinned, and I went inside for a good box and packing paper to get those dishes safely to her. 

When I think of those china dishes now, I have no complicated emotions about them. While I had them, I loved them. Now, a busy mom loves and uses them. As I packed those pretty dishes in a box for an absurdly low price, I liked the person I felt myself to be: a person who doesn’t hoard nice things. I let them go. They set the tone for the rest of my decluttering journey. By tackling the hardest thing first, lots of other treasures followed more easily out the door. Now we’re about to begin–next month–the minimalist, traveling life we’ve dreamed of.

Thanks for reading, and by the way, I love comments. Bookmark for more on travel, minimalism, books, public transportation, and hikes. For daily postcards from, well, wherever we are, subscribe to

6 thoughts on “Decluttering? Start Big”

  1. I have china we have hardly ever used, and 30 years later, I wonder how I picked that pattern.

    I need to start doing this as well. Not for such a drastic move, but I know one is in our future.

    Thanks for the encouragement. You are a great writer.

    1. Hi, Alane, thanks for your kind words! And yeah, not easy to do, but I have to tell you–it feels great to be without all those things, even beautiful things I loved. 100% worth it. Thanks for reading–hope you are well.

  2. Hi, Launa,
    I’ve just read your “no sidebar” piece on transforming stuff into a counting number. I love the idea (of course that’s just the first step!). That led me to your notebook here and I know I’m using all this great reading as procrastination but I can justify it all as being motivation.
    I love your attitude and your writing style. It all makes sense – and best of all, I can identify. Perhaps because I am also a teacher (retired now ten years after teaching for 39) and my husband and I have been doing the National Parks vacations since about 2011.
    So I’ve bookmarked this site as well as the counting article. Fingers crossed I can lose the literal paralysis each attempt brings on.
    I have to add that your entry about the fine china warmed my heart and had me thinking about advice my older brother gave me about a bedroom set made for me by my grandfather: best to err on the side of kindness. And that’s exactly how I see what you did and of course learned that it wasn’t an error at all!
    Thank you, Thank you!

    1. Hello, Marcia, oh I can completely relate to reading as a form of procrastination, lol. Your national parks adventures sound so good–we really have amazing treasures here in the US with our national parks system. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, and also for your kind words! <3

  3. Such a good blog post. You’re writing is good and I’m a little jealous. My blog is more of a stream of consciousness of thoughts. Well I write about fugal things, minimalism, cancer, simplicity , travel and more.
    I’ve done the same thing but actually didnt sell but took an entire set of Fiesta Ware in red to the local thrift store. It was a little hard but not too hard. Over the years I’ve given away amazing treasures and have not regretted one thing.

    1. I love that, Christina. Oh, red Fiesta ware would be hard to give away. But you managed it, and I bet someone is using and loving it. I don’t have any regrets about my decluttering, either–except wishing I’d done it sooner. Thanks for your kind words about my writing. <3

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