Don’t know what stuff to keep? Have a packing party!

Don't know what stuff to keep? Have a packing party!

After almost 4 years of simplifying, decluttering and paring back, I honestly thought I’d tried it all. When it came to getting rid of excess stuff, there wasn’t a hack, tip, trick or idea I hadn’t experimented with.

Or so I thought.

I was proven wrong when I had the opportunity to see the boys from The Minimalists take the stage in Sydney, and I am so happy about it.

You see, they introduced me to the idea of a packing party, which sounds both fun and productive. (Turns out only one of those is true, but that’s OK.)

Essentially, the idea is to pack every single item in your home (or, in my case, chosen room/shelf/drawer) and box it up as though you’re moving house. Then, over the next few weeks, pull items out only as needed or requested. After a certain period has passed you sell, donate, recycle or toss the unused items.

While Ryan from The Minimalists held a packing party to box up the entire contents of his home when he first adopted minimalism (you can read more about it here), that idea wasn’t really practical for my family. Plus, we’ve been simplifying for a long time, and most of what we own is stuff we now use regularly.

One of the remaining areas of relative excess though, is toys.

I was sorely tempted to stick to the packing party guidelines and pack every single toy away, but the reality is that if I did that my kids would become acutely aware of what they didn’t have and therefore want everything back.

So instead, I quickly worked through all toy storage areas and bookshelves, removing any toys, books or games that hadn’t played with over the past month. (To be fair, we’ve worked to cull the number they have to a manageable level already so the things I removed were mostly toys they had outgrown, rather than toys that were neglected due to excess.)

I pulled out 40+ books, some bulky toys, dolls that were hardly ever used and games with missing pieces. All of these were then packed into two boxes and put away in the linen cupboard.

That was four weeks ago and as of right now, my daughter has asked about two dolls which I’d packed away. I happily retuned them to her, glad that I chose the packing party route rather than the straight-out clutter assault. But aside from that one request? Nothing.

This exercise wasn’t about tricking my kids or even about decluttering. It was more an experiment in what is needed, what is wanted, and what is missed.

And the answer to all three of those questions is a lot less than you’d imagine.

If you’re struggling with the idea of letting go, or the ever-present issue of keeping things “just in case”, you could try holding a packing party. Try packing away your:

  • kitchen drawers
  • bookshelves
  • toys and games
  • hobby equipment
  • makeup and toiletries
  • decor
  • seasonal clothes (try this just before the beginning of a season and see how many of your clothes stay in the box until season’s end)
  • living room (leaving just enough furniture for sitting)
  • DVD or CD collection

How to hold a packing party

Despite the name, you don’t actually need a party of people to complete this exercise. All that’s required is a little time, a little bravery (but not nearly as much as if you were getting rid of this stuff immediately), some boxes and a healthy sense of experimentation.

1. Choose the area you want to pack up.

A few brave souls in our Facebook community have packed up entire rooms (typically bedrooms or living rooms) and only unpacked the essentials as needed. If this is too overwhelming, then start by packing up a small area. Try one shelf, one drawer or one corner of a bench.

2. Deal with items individually.

Pick up each item individually and place those you wish to keep (for now) in a box. As you pack items away, feel free to create additional piles – one for donations of items you definitely do not want to keep, one for items you want to recycle and one for items that can go in the garbage. Use this as an opportunity to declutter, as there will almost certainly be things you already know you don’t want to keep.

Also, if there are items you know you will need immediately (one set of cutlery per person, for example) then keep those out.

3. Pack items up and set a reminder

Pack the items away and label each box with the date and contents. It’s a good idea to keep these boxes in a place where you can easily access them, as the whole idea behind the packing party is pulling out the items as needed, rather than putting them away in order to forget them.

Once packed up, put a reminder on your calendar, phone or computer for 1-3 months time. When that time comes, look at how many items have been taken out of the box, and feel free to donate what remains.


Now, in the lead-up to the busy Christmas holiday season (and the influx of gifts many of us experience) might be a good time to hold your own packing party. Try it in your guest room, toy boxes or kitchen counter, or combine it with the Annual Pre-Holiday Declutter for maximum impact.


11 Responses to Don’t know what stuff to keep? Have a packing party!

  1. I did the same thing with toys a few weeks ago. I took an empty tote and went through my girls’ room and took all the toys I never see them play with. I explained to them my method, that I wasn’t getting rid of them, just making it easier for them to pick up, and that if they thought of something they wanted back in their room, I’d grab it for them. Same result as you: we pulled one play dress and one doll out within a day or two, and that’s been it. The room stays much neater and they are having more fun playing with what’s left.

    I’ve always liked Ryan’s Packing Party idea, but found impractical with kids. Until you wrote this post it hadn’t dawned on me I was just modifying the concept to fit our family. Now I want to move on to other rooms! Kitchen, here I come!

    • Yes! The kitchen is such a good space to pack up. So many things we keep ‘just in case’ only to never actually use them. Also loved my kids non-reaction to packing up their things. It puts into perspective just how much less we need and how much easier life is without the excess. But the whole ‘store for a while and see if they want it’ step is so good when it comes to toys. Because the wrath of a small child whose favourite toy is missing is not something to be taken lightly. ;)

  2. I’ve experienced this unwittingly with a few boxes of kitchen things that we have boxed up that won’t fit in our tiny kitchen. There have been a few items I wish I had (a mid sized saucepan and pudding steamer for example!) but otherwise, we’ve gotten along just fine without them. I’m so looking forward to the day we move into a bigger space, I can open them up and promptly remove most of it to the charity shop!

    • Oh, yes! The good old move-induced packing party!

      The last time we moved I remember decluttering quite a lot of stuff before we packed up the old apartment, thinking everything that remained was all so important and necessary. Three years later when I finally got around to unpacking the extra kitchen stuff and random crappy decor I wondered why I had kept it in the first place. Something about not seeing this stuff makes it so much easier to let it go. But there is also a fine line between having just enough and missing something on a regular basis. Our coffee plunger broke a few months back and I thought I’d embrace my minimalist roots and go without. I managed to do that for about 3 months but missed it every day. Finally got hands on a new one! Some things (coffee) are just too important… ;)

    • I kinda wish we were moving too, simply because it would give us the opportunity to embrace the packing party idea in full. Sounds like you’re super prepared though, decluttering already. Nothing more annoying than realising you’ve moved house and carted around boxes worth of stuff you don’t even want.

      Exciting times ahead for you guys!

  3. I interestingly – My husband suggested this approach to me last week when I was whining about being overwhelmed by my office/craft space. He said I should put everything in the guest room and pull out stuff as I need it. But…I say interestingly, since he could live in a hoarder house and not notice. But he knows what would work for me.

  4. I have had my own version of this method for several years. I call it the “Use It Or Lose It” Box. It started when i noticed i could barely get in the shower for all the shampoo & conditioner bottles. I’d buy a new brand, try it a few times, not like it, then buy a new one and repeating the process over and over till i realized i had a fortune invested in there. So i stopped buying anymore and started using just one bottle till it was gone. The stuff i wasn’t crazy about i put in a box and called it my “Use it or Lose it” box. When i had used up one bottle and needed to buy more, i’d look in my box to see if anything in there deserved a second chance instead of spending more $ on a new bottle. Some of them came back into use until empty and the one’s that didn’t i donated to my cousins who have a houseful of young girls. This worked out so well, i extended it to everything in my house. Now when i have any excess of anything i put the overage in my box and if it’s needed then i pull it back out and use it. If not then the box gets donated (i don’t have time for having a yard sale).

    I tried the guest room idea with my clothes, but found that my good clothes were getting buried under all kinds of other clutter, and it made the process a total mess.

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