Tips for decluttering abroad

I’ve moved to new countries many times. With each move, and each corresponding house move clear out, you’d think I’d have all the decluttering tips. But all I seem to do is ship my junk from one place to the next.

I did a thorough decluttering of my home a few years back, but I’ve since lost the momentum. Now I’m off to Uruguay, I got in touch with Inés at Minimalista Moving to get back into the groove.

Inés is a true Expater. Hailing Argentina, she has lived in the UK, the US, Switzerland and Spain before moving to Sweden. As founder of Minimalista Moving, she help expats to pack intentionally for their new home, so that they can simplify their life and get more out of it.

In this post she tells me how to embrace the lifestyle you want through decluttering, and shares her top decluttering tips.

decluttering tips

What’s the best way to start decluttering?

There is a huge difference between decluttering and a full home decluttering process. While decluttering here and there can have an immediate result of lifting your spirit, it is only when you are confronted with every single item in your home that you understand the reasons of the disorder in your home and how you can do something about it.

The way to start decluttering you home is by making a plan and starting with the first step. You divide your home by room, by categories (such as clothes, books) or a mix as I do. And…. start!

How can I declutter my house quickly? 

I don’t think this is something that you can do quickly if you want long lasting results. But that doesn’t mean that you have to stress about it. Divide and conquer!

If you have an hour to spare with a plan in hand, you can see improvements over time.

However, without a plan, it can be an hour wasted as the chaos may return.

A plan helps you advance and, soon, you realise that you’ve been through everything. When this happens, there is no chaos in the house and you will not start to clutter over and over again.

You may find temporary disorder caused by lack of time, for example. However you won’t have the chaos where you don’t know how things got there or where they should go.

Now, if you have a deadline, this helps you see results faster and not get lost in transition. I’ve seen that for expats, the moving deadline works very well to invest time in the process.

What not to do when decluttering? 

Please don’t buy storage until you’ve finished decluttering your entire home. This will not help you organise your home quicker but to declutter only superficially.

Also, I do not suggest to try doing it all in one go. You’ll get tired and resentful about it. As said before, divide your home and advance little by little. Enjoy each step!

Any tips for hoarders?

If they want to live clutter free but can’t do it on their own, they may need help from a professional organiser.

There is nothing wrong with liking things and wanting to keep them but they can really only pay attention to a limited amount of their belongings. Anything that they cannot pay attention to (care for, enjoy, use,…) will cause chaos and disorder in their homes.

I’d recommend starting with the easier things and building up a muscle to confront the things that they are most attached to at the end of the process.

Ines’ decluttering for expats checklist:

I use the following division. This works both for decluttering and also when faced with the joint task of decluttering and packing for a move abroad.

It usually adds up at around 13 stations, cumulating in what I call a home wheel.

  • Each room in the home counts as one step
    • Then you add the following:
      • Clothes
      • Books
      • Papers
      • Memorabilia

decluttering checklist

New decluttering hacks for 2021

During the pandemic most of us had to work from home and use the space we had in the best possible way. My husband got the office and I got the kitchen. Something that worked for me to keep it all tidy, was my office basket (kind of a briefcase).

I have everything work related in its place in the office, but I picked the projects I’m currently working on and then I took everything that I needed on a daily basis.

Those are the things I put inside my “office basket” and its what I carry with me to the kitchen, living room or outside table.

When I finish everything goes in there again, and the baskets goes back to the office.

I even have my books for my Swedish class in there.

Its like going to work but in my own home!

How to declutter with kids around? How to get kids to declutter and stay organised?

Well, a way to declutter with kids is to include them in the process.

Even if this may seem inconvenient, it can become a great opportunity to grow together in the organisation process.

If you are organising the kitchen and they seem to want to participate, you can assign a task to them (fold napkins, clean shelves, find Tupperware lids, etc. …).

When they see us tidying up it is VERY common that want to join. I’ve experienced that they behave differently when we want to work on a laptop with them around and when we do housework. In general, they accept active work more than when we are seating still. And if they then see us taking out stuff and moving them around, making piles… this can actually be fun for them.

Decluttering with kids is a great opportunity for them to participate. They learn for themselves how to continue with the process of decluttering with their clothes, toys, etc.

I do not recommend decluttering their things for them when they are 3+ years old or they will miss the opportunity to understand and learn what they like and what they don’t. Even if we don’t agree with their choices!

Getting children to declutter and stay organised should be the same as getting us to declutter and stay organised. Same rules for everyone in the house.

What about when your partner isn’t into decluttering?

Usually the idea of decluttering comes from one of the two in the couple. This does not mean that the other person has to immediately agree to it. It is a big task and we need to respect that they may not be ready for it.

It is recommended, however, to initiate the conversation about your plans (with your own things). You need to share what you plan to do and how you plan to do it. Otherwise they may get annoyed when they will start seeing piles of stuff everywhere!

When your partner isn’t into decluttering, focus on your own things. However, believe me – when there is no pressure, magic happens. They may get curious about it and even ask you where they could start themselves.

What advice do you have for expats looking to declutter?

As crazy as it sounds, I’ve always enjoyed the moving process. There’s something about the opportunity to start fresh that kept me positive during the otherwise hard work of packing and unpacking.

Decluttering is powerful – not only it creates a tidy environment where we can relax, but it also confronts us with our stuff in a way that can bring us a lot of clarity to our lives.

An intentional full-home declutter before moving is the best moment to start living more purposefully.

A few things:
The idea of decluttering is that you do it well only once. You will not need to do it every time you move. Once you have decluttered intentionally and found the balance of things that works for you and experienced living with less, you won’t start accumulating again. You just won’t want to.

I think that once you find that balance, it will be easier for you to define the stuff that you will be carrying around with you and the ones that you need to acquire temporarily.

The fact that you love stuff, doesn’t mean that you cannot live simple. In fact, I think that those who live with less really cherish what they own and do care more for their stuff because they don’t have other things competing for their attention. But also, through the process of decluttering you learn to focus more on people rather than things in the home.

In regards to space, it is very useful to remember that we don’t need to fill every space in the home just because we can.

As for souvenirs, once we go through an intentional decluttering process, we understand that things are not our memories. So we tend to not need to buy souvenirs in the first place.

A big tip that I can share when packing is to focus in creating “open me first” boxes. These contain the basics for the first day to rest, eat and clean ourselves. So we then don’t need to rush to open every single box.

decluttering tips

Here are my best tips for decluttering:
• Have a plan
• Organise your own things and not those of others
• Finish what you started
• Plan ahead. Don’t try to do it all in a hurry before a move
• Once you’ve gone through an intentional decluttering process, I recommend placing a donation basket near the home entrance. The entire family should know that that’s where the things that we don’t serves us anymore go. Once full, we sell, donate, gift or recycle the items.

The New Home, More Life programme teaches the skill of decluttering and packing for expats. For more on this, or general decluttering tips visit or follow Ines on Instagram @minimalistamoving


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