Ask the Expert: 5 Tips to Help De-Clutter Your Home

Time to de-clutter. Woman standing on stack of books.

Photo: Tim Macpherson/Getty Images

On The Big Downsize, host and certified professional organizer Jane Veldhoven helps two families de-clutter to downsize.


The five-part series was filmed in Halifax, where Veldhoven lives and operates her firm Get Organized by Design. “I have been organized all my life and when I found out that I could run a business helping others become more organized, I was thrilled,” Veldhoven says about her inspiration to get into the organizing game 16 years ago.

She has a passion for helping clients de-clutter and simplify their lives. But it’s not for the faint of heart, as people purge their possessions or those of a loved one.

Tara Losinski: On the The Big Downsize you worked with a foursome of siblings to de-clutter and downsize their family home, and speaking from experience that can be difficult emotionally.

Jane Veldhoven: Part of my process is to try to help my clients realize that stuff is not important, people are important. Holding onto stuff isn’t going to stop life from changing nor is it going to bring back a loved one you have lost. Taking pictures of special items before letting them go is a wonderful way to hold onto the memories without actually keeping things.

Many of the items in the MacNeil home had wonderful stories that went along with them and the telling of the story was a way for the siblings to say goodbye while respecting each other’s wishes to keep certain things that were important to them. I am not a huge fan of rushing the downsizing process as it can lead to regret.

I have had the privilege of working with clients who are clearing their home long before they need to so they can take their time and so that family are not burdened with a huge clear out to meet a deadline. They also then have the opportunity to give things to people now so they can enjoy it with you.

TL:  De-cluttering is certainly having a moment but some people may balk at Marie Kondo‘s “spark joy” principal for purging. How do you help people decide what to keep and what to toss?

JV: Marie Kondo and I are on the same page when it comes to encouraging people to value and take care of their possessions. But I am not sure that a criteria as simple as “does this spark joy?” is meaningful and realistic for people who are completely overwhelmed by how much they own and the ensuing chaos.

I always work towards my client’s goals: Sometimes they simply want to be able to use a room for its intended purpose. Most of the time they feel completely out of control and just want their home to be organized and have proper storage solutions so they can spend less time taking care of their “stuff” and more time enjoying life.

Unlike Marie, I work side-by-side with my clients through the purging process. That gives me the opportunity to help them truly evaluate what they are keeping and often let go of significantly more than they would if left to their own devices.

TL: So, enlist the help a professional, if you can, or a friend who can provide some objectivity. I notice, looking through the “before and afters” on your site, that sometimes you add storage to a cluttered space, but sometimes not.

JV: In my opinion no matter how hard you try to keep things organized, if you don’t have the proper storage solutions in the right location it is never going to work.

I combine professional organizing and interior decorating services so, yes, I often add storage solutions or sometimes completely renovate a space to ensure it functions more effectively. There have been cases where clients were thinking of putting an addition on their home to hold more stuff but I have been able to convince them not to do that but instead to change their existing space and consider owning less stuff.

TL: I think people want to see their stuff go to good use, what’s the most responsible way to do that?

JV: After 16 years of helping people de-clutter, I hate to see anything go to the landfill. However, finding ways to donate, recycle and sell unwanted items is becoming more and more difficult. That is one of the reasons that people hire a professional organizer to work with them through the process. We have a huge contingent of resources for responsibly disposing of stuff as much as possible. There are online auction services such as Maxsold, for selling items. And a good junk removal company is worth every cent you pay them. The one we used in The Big Downsize sends less than 20 per cent of what they take to the landfill.

In my own downsizing experience, I’ve found Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace were lifesavers and I met so many nice people who really wanted my stuff.

TL: What’s one easy de-clutter trick that people can do every day?

JV: Stop bringing more stuff into their house. I know it sounds very simple but it’s not easy to stop buying and collecting.

And then consider letting go of just one thing every day. In most cases one thing a day becomes two things and so on. And constantly remind yourself that there is freedom in living with less.

The Big Downsize airs on Monday’s at 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT March 11 through April 8 on VisionTV.