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How to Get Rid of Clutter

Ways to Declutter

Oh, gods of organization. We bow down to you every January in honor of National Organizing Month, in hopes that we can streamline and control our homes in the wake of the maddening tornado of clutter that swept through over the past year. (Or, for some of us, years.) We call upon you to help us organize our papers. To make sense of our junk drawer. To straighten up our shoe pile. To find a home for those tiny toy pieces that mysteriously end up all over the house.

Here, two professional organizers, Barbara Reich and Melissa Picheny, show us the way to a more organized existence.

Start Small And Don’t Overcomplicate It

Don’t look at your whole house and say, “Everything’s a mess” — even if it is. “The most overwhelming part of de-cluttering is not knowing where to begin,” notes Picheny. “That being said, the best way to confront the task at hand is to break down the larger goal into steps.” In other words, tackle one room at a time. If the room is too overwhelming, tackle one area. If the area’s too overwhelming, tackle one surface. The dining table. The top of your desk. Your bedside table.

Toss For At Least 15 Minutes

Now that you’ve chosen your target, it’s time to focus. Set a timer (phone alarm; egg timer) and see what you can get rid of in 15 minutes. (You’ll be surprised to see how much you can get rid of in 15 minutes — and your enthusiasm will encourage you to continue.)

If you hit upon an object you’re not sure about, Reich suggests you ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I use the item on a daily basis?
  • Would I miss it if it were gone?
  • Can it be replaced if I miss it later on?

And don’t waffle. If you don’t use it every day, it’s highly likely that you don’t need it. “If you have a hard time throwing things out, enlist a friend to help you,” says Reich. “Sometimes that objective second pair of eyes can help you see just how silly it is to keep certain things.”

Create A Daily Decluttering Routine

The best way to tackle clutter is to stop it from piling up in the first place. Oh, de-clutter gods, you make this sound so easy. How can we mere mortals accomplish such a challenging feat? The key is to hear one word echo throughout your home: Routines. Routines. Routines. Put your stuff in the same place every day — your kids’ backpacks; your shoes; your cellphones and gadgets; your mail. “That way, you won’t be running around looking for things,” says Reich.

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Designing a system based on your specific needs is key, Picheny agrees. So: What are your big issues? Shoes in the mudroom? Never being able to find your keys? Clothes piled on the floor? Use your magical 15 minutes to tackle those issues every day. “Once you’ve completed the process, you’ll not only know where to find things, you’ll know where to put things,” Picheny observes. “The latter is often the biggest relief.”

One last thing: Don’t buy things that claim to help you organize your clutter; they’ll most likely just end up becoming part of the clutter themselves. “The only way to handle the problem is to do the work,” says Picheny. “You have to de-clutter first. There’s no magic product that will organize your papers or your things. It has to come from you.”

Frances Masters

Frances Masters is a BACP accredited psychotherapist with over 30,000 client hours of experience. Follow her @fusioncoachuk, or visit The Integrated Coaching Academy for details about up coming training.

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