Our best tips for renting a room and cleaning your home in preparation to share it come down to the same thing: empathy. Think about what you would like if you were moving into someone else’s existing home, and prepare yours accordingly.
In this article:
- Tips for decluttering the important areas
- Decluttering traps to watch out for
- Three steps to make decluttering and downsizing a little easier
Tips for decluttering the important areas
Remember, homesharing isn’t about perfection. You’re not getting ready for houseguests you need to impress; you’re getting ready to live with someone. Here are our suggestions for tackling the main areas of the house.
The renter’s bedroom and bathroom
Clear everything out of the closet, drawers, under the sink, in the shower or bathtub, in the medicine cabinet, etc. Throw out or donate half-used toiletries. Take expired medications to your local drugstore for proper disposal.
Use a long-handled dusting wand to go over the walls, ceiling fan and any tight corners where cobwebs might lurk. Use a damp rag to wipe down the trim on the ceiling, doorways and baseboards. A surprising amount of dust can build up in these spaces and removing it helps the room feel much cleaner.
Next, remove scuffs and stains from painted walls with a melamine sponge or clean cloth and soapy water. Dust any blinds or shades and wash or dry clean the curtains. Be sure to clean the glass, trim and windowsills on the inside (and outside, if possible). Clean the floors last, so you can take care of any dust or dirt from cleaning the walls, light fixtures, etc.
In the fridge and pantry, discard expired items and food you thought you would or should use. Donate unwanted but still usable items. Then, reorganize the space to allow room for your roommate’s groceries. Consider designating a couple of drawers or shelves in the fridge or pantry for your roommate’s use. Do the same to the counters, cabinets and other kitchen storage. Make room for your roommate to settle in.
👉 Pro tip: Make space on the front of the fridge for your roommate’s magnets, photos, favorite take-out menus, etc. This thoughtful touch is a reminder that it’s their home, too.
By the front door
Everybody needs a drop zone by the main entrance—a place to put keys, hang up a coat or bag, etc. Don’t feel like you need to buy anything to make this area usable for your new roommate—just create some space. Once you and your roommate have been homesharing for a while, you’ll have a better idea if you need anything extra in this area (and, if so, what).
Around the house
If/as you feel comfortable, you might consider moving a portion of your photos, knickknacks and other personal items into your bedroom or other non-shared space of the home and inviting your roommate to place more of their personal items around the house.
Decluttering traps to watch out for
Matt Paxton is one of the country’s top extreme cleaning experts—you might know his name if you watch Legacy List with Matt Paxton on PBS or Hoarders on A&E. His compassionate approach helps overwhelmed people keep the memories and lose the stuff, including (and especially) the stuff that’s hard to part with.
If you feel guilt or anxiety about getting rid of any of the following items, you’re not alone! Here are Matt’s tips for separating the stories from the items so you can free up space to create new memories.
If you no longer use an item you received as a gift or haven’t looked at it in years, remind yourself that the gift was love—not the item. Your loved ones want you to be happy and free, and they will still love you if you decide to let go of that weird ceramic swan they brought you from their summer trip 15 years ago.
Souvenirs and mementos
It’s the experience you had that matters. Are you using the item? If not, take a picture of it and let it go.
On Silvernest's Share Your Story podcast, Matt shared a beautiful and practical suggestion for photos: For each child or grandchild, make a bag containing 20 pictures from your life with the stories behind them. These gifts are family treasures, pared down to their essence and personalized.
Children’s clothes, books and toys
Like photos, these items carry memories. There may be a few you can’t part with, and several items that your kids want for their children. (Ask, don’t assume! Or you may end up unnecessarily hanging on to something a family member doesn't want for years.)
If your family doesn’t want the items you’ve saved, take photos of the ones that are attached to your memories. Then find a local charity that accepts these items for families in need. Picture some sweet parents discovering that old book or perfectly worn-in set of blocks and being so excited to bring them home to their kids. You’ve given them a beautiful gift of love.
Expensive clothing and décor
Let go of the idea that you paid X amount for something so it would be “wasteful” to let it go. Is the item still worth anything? The answer is probably no. If the purchase was a mistake, what you paid was simply the cost of a valuable lesson. If the item is vintage or an antique, it may not be worth as much as you think. Styles change, even among antique buyers.
Your belongings are only worth what an independent third party will pay for them, minus the amount of work you have to put in to sell them. If you aren’t sure, call a local consignment shop and ask about their processes for selling things. You may find it’s not worth it. If the item is still in good shape, someone else would be grateful to have it for free or at a low cost from your local donation shop.
Badges of self-image
Often, we save things like packets of ketchup, paper bags or reusable shopping totes because we like to think of ourselves as thrifty or eco-conscious. We hang onto stuff we bought for a hobby that ultimately didn’t fit our lives or that belong to somebody we wish we were.
If those things are piling up and not getting used, they are no longer of service. Donate or recycle what you can, keeping only what you will realistically use. A few tote bags of different sizes. Three or four ketchup packets. A handful of plastic utensils. The rest can go.
Three steps to make decluttering and downsizing a little easier
Here are Matt Paxton’s tips for making the decluttering process as painless as possible.
1. Capture the special stories
We hang onto many possessions because of the memories attached to them, Matt says, “It’s not the sofa. It’s grandma sitting on that sofa and 35 Christmases on that sofa.” It’s not the shoes, it’s the story that someday you might wear them.
But, he warns, “If you don’t get the stories out, you won’t get the stuff out and your life doesn’t move forward.” Whether you use voice or video recording or simply write things down, the first step is to tell the stories attached to your possessions. Use whatever works best for you, and keep it simple. Just get started, even if it’s only ten minutes at a time.
2. Share the stories
If you just stash the stories in a box or file folder somewhere, you may still feel stuck and unable to let go. Make them easily accessible and shareable. Let’s say you have a large collection of travel souvenirs. Take high-quality photos of everything and make one scrapbook, with stories written alongside the pictures. Now you’ve traded some dusty old boxes in your garage for a small-ish scrapbook you can keep on your coffee table and enjoy any time you like. Like Matt says, “If you’re not showing it, you’re not sharing it.”
As for family photos, Matt has a really beautiful and practical suggestion: Make bags containing 20 pictures and your personal stories about each one. Give one to each grandchild and you’ve passed along a family treasure in a compact, yet personal way.
3. Let the stuff go
Whether you decide to give things to friends and family, donate them to a local charity or sell them in a yard sale or consignment store, move them out of your house as quickly as possible—within 24 hours of deciding to let go of them, ideally. This gives you instant results in the form of reduced clutter and more space, as well as the feeling of accomplishment and lightness that goes along with it. Those positive feelings might even become addictive!
And remember, as Matt says, “You’re not emptying the jar. You’re just creating space to fill the jar with new stories again.”
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