Conquer Clutter With the 4-Container Method

Organizing clutter into 4 containers

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

We all aspire to live a more streamlined life, but getting rid of the clutter in your home is not as easy as it sounds. Even things we might use only once or twice seem to call out to us once faced with the trash can. With this simple-to-follow method and a little willpower, it is possible to give clutter a life far away from yours.

The Categories for Conquering Clutter

Find four boxes and label them with these categories:

  1. Trash: This box includes any items that you do not need or want, but is not worth donating or selling. Damaged and broken items should be included in the trash if they are not worth someone buying it and repairing it.
  2. Give away/sell: Here is your chance to be generous. Think about the uses someone else might get out of the items vs. the use it gets in your home buried in cabinets or closets. Also, consider the financial benefits of selling your stuff at a garage sale.
  3. Storage: Put items in this box that you cannot part with but do not need on a regular basis. Make an inventory of the items as you box them. Group similar items together. Remember, one good way to clean out closets is to store out of season clothing.
  4. Put away: This should be your smallest category. These are items that you use on a regular basis. Monitor yourself by determining if you have a place for each item. If the items in this box will not fit into your home without cluttering an area up, reassess if you really need them. If you do need these essentials, try to come up with a storage solution that fits into your home.
Organized clothing containers
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

The Four-Container Method

Working room by room, sort items into the appropriate boxes. Work with one item at a time determining its proper place in your newly organized life. Do not forget to go through closets, cabinets, and storage spaces. While removing clutter from rooms like the kitchen and bathroom may be easy, rooms with storage containers and closets may take a lot more time.

Work on one room at a time to provide yourself with an easy stopping point for interruptions. When you come to a stopping point, dispose of the trash immediately. Box up the storage box. Place the giveaway/sell box in the garage or out of sight. If you allow yourself to contemplate the decisions you have made, your brain can trick you into rescuing the clutter. 

Things To Remember

  • Items aren't memories: While you know that items are not equivalent to memories of the person who gave them to you, pruning items with an emotional attachment can be difficult. Consider carefully if you need the item to have the memory or emotional attachment. If you simply aren't sure, consider storing items on a trial basis, or giving them to another family member for safekeeping. Think about taking photos of the item that will store more readily, but give you tangible proof of the memory. If you really feel the need to keep items of this nature, don't fight it, but instead try to incorporate these memories into decorative displays or organized storage.
  • Don't keep clothes that don't fit: Get rid of old clothing even if it's the size you used to be and hope to return to. It's tempting to keep them for when you reach your goal but consider rewarding yourself with a new wardrobe instead.
  • Purge items you don't use: Don't force yourself to keep sets such as dishware, glasses, or even sweater sets or other clothing if you only use part of the set. If you cannot bear to break up a set, at least store the portions you do not use.
  • Organization trumps "someday": Keeping things just because you might need them someday may seem like a good reason for clogging your closets, but remind yourself that what you really need is space and organization.