One of the very best aspects of moving so frequently as a military family is the opportunity to go through 100% of our belongings every few years. (Yes, I use the word “opportunity” quite intentionally here!) While decluttering isn’t a “required” aspect of moving, it’s no doubt one of the very best ways to make your move easier, improve your new living space, and even save some money along the way. But going through your entire home and all your belongings can indeed be an overwhelming endeavor. Since we’re currently embarking on our 10th pre-move purge, let me break down our entire home decluttering process and share the pretty printables I use to make the job a little easier!

Moving box shown with sorting signs and trash bags

Why Declutter Before a Move?

Here’s a little secret: whether you’re moving yourself or relying on professional movers (or a combination of the two), a pre-move purge is not a requirement. At the end of the day, 100% of your belongings will ultimately be loaded onto a truck and moved to your new home. (So if you really don’t have time to go through every last closet, don’t sweat it!)

That said, we always make the time to declutter our entire home before each move because there is real payoff in time, money, and a “fresh” new home.

Save Time

When it comes to moving, every single item you own can be translated into time:

  • Time disassembling/prepping it for moving
  • Time wrapping it up
  • Time boxing it
  • Time loading it on the truck
  • Time unloading it from the truck
  • Time unpacking it
  • Time reassembling/setting it up in your new home

As such, the more items you have, the longer your move will take and the more energy it will require. So if you own items that you no longer love or need, toss them before your move so you don’t spend more time than necessary.

Save (Or Make!) Money

Likewise, all of your items can be translated into a dollar value. For every item you own, you will pay (in one way or another) for:

  • Boxes
  • Wrapping materials
  • Labor hours
  • Truck size
  • Gas
  • Storage

Simply by having less stuff to move into your new space, you can create a significant cost savings across the entire duration of your move. Further, if you choose to sell a lot of the items you no longer want/need, you can generate a good bit of extra money that it and of itself can offset some of your moving costs.


Last but not least, the most exciting thing about moving is the new-to-you space you’re moving into. In so many ways, a new house is a fresh start, but filling that space with broken, dated, unused, or unnecessary possessions can rob you of the opportunity to improve your surroundings.

Going through every closet and every drawer before your move can feel like a chore you don’t have time for, but the lightness and freshness you will feel in your new home will be well worth your efforts!

Stacks of moving boxes with color coded labels

How to Declutter Your Entire Home Before a Move

1. Start Early

When it comes to moving, so much happens in the final few weeks and days. As such, I always recommend starting your pre-move decluttering 1-3 months beforehand. In fact, decluttering is one of the few things you can do way in advance, so it’s a great task to keep you “busy” during the waiting period.

While there will always be things to get rid of at the last minute (and even after you move into your new place), try off loading as much as you can well before you need to start ordering supplies or packing boxes.

Master Moving Timeline Checklist

All printables shown are from the Smooth Move Printable Pack.

2. Get Organized

One of the worst parts of decluttering…at any time…is the mess that it makes. Pulling everything out of closets, drawers, attics, basements (and everywhere else!) can quickly grow out of control, which can then lengthen the chaos and unsettledness that already comes with moving.

To keep the disorder at bay, get yourself organized with some essentials before you start:

  1. Identify (or clear) a location to be your sorting zones for Trash, Donate, and Sell. This can be a spare bedroom, an un-used hallway, guest bathroom, part of your garage, etc. The goal is to give yourself a place for items to go as you sort.
  2. Stock up on large trash bags and cardboard boxes. Instead of making piles all over the floor, save a step by loading discarded items directly into bags and boxes that can then go right into the car.
  3. Identify your closest trash dump, electronics recycling centers, and donation stores, and note their open hours, drop off times, and rules.
Moving box shown with sorting signs and trash bags

3. Pick a Decluttering Method: Location vs. Category

There are primarily two different ways to work through all your belongings before a move: by location or by category.

Declutter before a move printable checklist in blue and white

All printables shown are from the Smooth Move Printable Pack.

By Location

My personal recommendation is to declutter by location, no matter what items are there. The easiest way to break down a home is by room: kitchen, family room, playroom, bedroom 1, bedroom 2, home office, linen closet, etc.

However, entire rooms can often feel overwhelming. As such, I like to break our homes down into smaller (still identifiable) areas. As an example, I break our kitchen down as follows:

  • Kitchen Cabinets – uppers
  • Kitchen Cabinets – lowers
  • Kitchen Drawers
  • Pantry
  • Counters
  • Fridge & Freezer
  • Coffee Station

I break down our bedroom like this:

  • Large dresser
  • Small dresser
  • Closet – Megan
  • Closet – Greg
  • Desk
  • Under Bed
Declutter before a move printable checklist in blue and white

I can’t provide an exhaustive room-by-room checklist because everyone’s home is so very different. But to make your own, I recommend walking your home and breaking down each room into smaller, identifiable “chunks” as shown above. (The fillable checklists shown above are included in the Smooth Move Printable Pack).

TIP! Try to identify “chunks” that would each take about 15 minutes to declutter. That way, even if you are short on time, you can make clear progress working a little bit every day.

This by-location approach allows you to systematically work through every last inch of your home. However, depending on where and how you store items, you may come across certain categories (e.g., toys, kids clothes) over and over again, which can make it difficult to assess how much you really own. Additionally, when working by location, you may find yourself not ready to tackle “in depth” things like photos, memorabilia, etc that you come across.

By Category

The alternative is to instead tackle one category at a time, but across the entire home. As an example, you’d declutter all the clothes (no matter where they are located), then all the coats, then all the cooking gear, then all the craft supplies, then all the toys, etc.

To ensure you work through each category systematically, think of broad items you own like books, clothes, toys, sports equipment, pots/pans, toiletries, etc. Then identify all the various areas where they are stored. Work through all the spots before moving onto the next category.

Declutter before a move printable checklist in blue and white

Working this way allows you to better see and understand everything you own of a particular category, which can make it easier to identify excess, duplicates, etc. It also allows you to dive deep into categories like photos, sentimental items, baby clothes, paperwork, holiday decorations, and home improvement supplies that may or may not be isolated in one specific spot.

Conversely, combing through your entire home over and over (as you tackle each category) can feel chaotic and unproductive since it can be harder to visually see clear progress.

4. Set a Schedule

Once you decide how best to work through your particular home, identify a schedule that works for you, your family, and your overall moving timeline.

Here are a few sample decluttering timelines:

  • If you begin decluttering months in advanced, you can tackle a few locations/categories every weekend.
  • If you begin decluttering one month in advanced, you can tackle 1-2 locations/categories every 1-3 days.
  • If you begin decluttering one week before the moving truck arrives, (quickly) move through your entire checklist in a single weekend.

TIP! Work backwards. Once you identify how many locations/categories you need to declutter and how long you’ll need to work through each one, count backwards from your moving day to figure out when you need to start.

TIP! Take into account seasons, neighborhood yard sale dates, etc so that you are decluttered in time to easily offload what you no longer want.

No matter what schedule you settle on, put it in your planner/calendar or Moving Binder, get your family on board, and commit to it!

5. Make Forward-Thinking Decisions

As you declutter, you of course should get rid of trash, items past the expiration date, and any unwanted items.

Colorful decluttering printables inside a moving binder

All printables shown are from the Smooth Move Printable Pack.

But you also need to heavily consider life your new home.

Start by identifying your new home’s layout like I show here: How (& Why) to Plan Your Furniture Layout Before Moving Into a New Home. This will help you figure out what furniture will fit and what wont. If furniture doesn’t fit in your new home, save yourself the time, cost, and trouble of moving it by offloading it ahead of time.

Room layout planning printables

Beyond just furniture though, also think about your lifestyle in the new home:

  • Are you upsizing into a bigger home or downsizing to a smaller space?
  • Are you losing/gaining outdoor space?
  • What ages/stages are your children going to be in?
  • What kind of spaces do you need or no longer need? (e.g., craft space, playroom, nursery, etc)

These kinds of questions can help you identify items (or groups of items) that you may or may not need in your new life!

Declutter before a move printables on a blue clipboard

All printables shown are from the Smooth Move Printable Pack.

6. Make a Plan for Discarding

I wish I could say that establishing a decluttering schedule and actually working through each location/category is the easy part of a pre-move purge. But in reality, actually getting the items out of your home can be where you get stuck because selling, trashing, and donating takes time and effort.

As such, I recommend setting up a plan for getting rid of your no-longer-needed items.

  • Circle trash days on your calendar so you can use each one as a short-term decluttering deadline.
  • Pick a day of the week to do a regular run to the donation center (e.g., declutter Monday-Thursday then do a drop off every Friday)
  • Identify and sign-up for upcoming community garage sales.
  • Establish a system for listing/tracking items you want to sell online (see my tracker below).
  • Identify a “cut off” date when all sales need to be complete (then take leftovers to the donation center).
Printable online selling tracker inside a moving binder

7. Stay Motivated

Depending on how large (and full) your home is, your decluttering process might feel especially daunting. If this is you, I recommend finding fun ways to keep yourself motivated and on track.

Moving binder with printable decluttering coloring page on display

All printables shown are from the Smooth Move Printable Pack.

A basic checklist can often be sufficient but here are some other ideas:

  • Use coloring trackers by location, categories, items sold, etc.
  • A certain number of days of decluttering results in a reward (e.g., dinner out, manicure/pedicure, etc)
  • A certain number of trips to the donation store results in a reward
  • Sell enough items to pay for something in the new home (e.g., renovation, new rugs/furniture/artwork, etc)
Moving binder with printable selling tracker coloring page on display

Of everything you need to do during the moving process, you may be excited about the opportunity to purge your belongings OR dreading the work involved with touching and assessing every last item you own.

No matter where you fall on that spectrum, I hope the ideas, recommendations, and process I outline here give you the confidence, know-how, and motivation to go for it.

Because I can assure you, decluttering really is one of the most worthwhile tasks you can undertake as you transition from one home to the next!

Moving binder with printable decluttering coloring page on display

All printables shown are from the Smooth Move Printable Pack.

See You Soon!