Clutter control

We all think of spring cleaning as a common phenomenon, with even the most clutter-hoarding folks wanting to throw open their windows, get some fresh air, and perhaps throw out a few things through them before they bring more inside. Why not think now about an autumn-clutter-clearing program? It’s the right time for making your house or office or even one room into more of a sanctuary than a storing house for unused, unneeded things.

Here are my top ten tips to getting rid of clutter, assembled with the assistance of Rosalyn Cherry, a New Paltz resident who has been a professional organizer for 18 years and has published a book on freeing oneself from clutter. These are my rules of thumb on deciding whether to get rid of things, culled from the books and articles my mother has given me regarding clearing clutter:

Do you love it? Do you use it? If the answer to either of those is yes, move on to another item. If the answer to both is no, then get rid of it.


One in, one out: This is the easiest technique if you’re overwhelmed by clutter. Every time you bring something in (new clothes, dishes, a newspaper, a toy) make sure you get rid of another thing. That way, you stop clutter from getting worse.

Start small: Pick half-a-drawer, a shelf, a corner. Try and get rid of anything you don’t love or use. Once that’s done, stick with more of that same drawer, or corner, or shelf. Organize it in a way that makes it accessible, and pleasing to the eye and the spirit.

Time yourself: Most of us are busy. Take the type of advice any exercise guru would give people just getting started. Walk five minutes, swim a few laps, do some crunches, rather than signing up for a half-marathon when the only exercise you’ve done is walking to the refrigerator and back. Similarly, take one minute to try to throw out as many things as you see that you don’t need. Then move to five minutes, then 15. The energy you’ll get from seeing even small results like an organized silverware drawer or a clean coffee table will inspire you to keep going — a little bit at a time.

Donate often: Keep a bag in every closet or every room to put things in it that you may no longer need but would benefit someone else. Once the bag is full, take it to a local thrift store or charity organization. Someone’s junk is someone else’s treasure!

Go paperless: The less paper you create or come in contact with every day, the less clutter you’ll have and the more trees you will save. Try to avoid paper. Once you’re through using them, promptly recycle the newspapers, mail, advertisements, and all of those flyers and paper sent home from your children’s school.

Sell it! Take the things you don’t need and sell them at a local pawn shop or a used bookstore, on ebay, at neighborhood garage sales or via a classified in your local paper. It feels good to get rid of things that someone else wants or needs. The extra cash in your pocket helps as well.

If you’re sentimental and hate to get rid of cards, drawings, photos, and gifts given to you by someone, Cherry suggests to put them in a marked box and revisit it in six months. You’ll see what you’re ready to let go of. Whenever you let something out of your life that might be old or stagnant, you just might attract something fresh and new that reflects who you are today.

Get inspired: This article is a start, but there are dozens of books on clearing clutter, getting organized, and living simpler as well as (paperless) websites on recycling and re-using.

Positive self-talk: As Cherry said, “Attitude is everything, be kind to yourself.” No one can decide for you. No one but you knows what an item means to you. As you move forward, be gentle with yourself. “Remember,” said Cherry, “whenever you let go of an item you are flexing and strengthening your de-clutter muscle! Give away, toss, sell, donate, repair and recycle.”