Decluttering 101

Someone recently asked me about the biggest challenge I face when helping clients organize their homes and offices. A couple answers are always way up there, but I have to say the one that consistently tops the list is the same old friend:


Here’s the thing about clutter: It spares no one. Yes, even someone with almost ten years in the Professional Organizing business can look over at her desk or kitchen counter to find a pop-up clutter convention taking place that no one invited her to. (Let me quickly add that it takes me minimal time to restore order and send that clutter packing. But still!)

I think of clutter as visual chaos. Like any kind of chaos, it stresses us out and doesn’t allow us to relax. The strange thing is that, even if we can’t see it, it still affects us. The “out of sight, out of mind” rule doesn’t apply when you stuff things in a drawer and jam it shut or stack a bunch of boxes full of who knows what in your garage. It just becomes energy that gets stuck and starts to stagnate. Yuck.

I tell my clients that decluttering is a beautiful thing because of the way it makes room for the things that really matter in our lives. In addition, it makes our lives more peaceful, joyful, and serene.

Here are five ways you can show the clutter in your life who’s really in charge.

1.  Just get rid of these things--I mean, seriously: why are you keeping them?

  • Trash

  • Broken stuff

  • Duplicates

  • Things you hate

  • Gifts you never bonded with (just because Aunt Gert gave you her gravy boat doesn’t mean you have to keep it)

  • Any gadget unused for a year

2.  If you’re so overwhelmed that you don’t know where to begin, try starting with one small area that haunts you the most--a section of kitchen counter, a small table top. Organizational guru Peter Walsh advises that you spend ten minutes a day decluttering--once you start seeing the difference that even a baby step like that makes, you may spin it out to twenty minutes.


3.  Pick up five things, and return them to their proper location. These should be items you’re used to seeing deposited on counters or floors; mail, the dog’s leash, a newspaper section, your daughter’s hair clip, random sport socks. If you don’t have a designated place for them, think about one that would suit, and start using it all the time. Make sure the kids know where things belong, and get them on board with putting things away (labels can really help with this). Try to make it a habit for everyone to put things in their place.

4.  Give yourself the gift of a “Maybe” box that you can put things in for now. Sometimes, even though we know we should get rid of something, we can’t quite let it go. Look at the random selection you’ve kept a few months down the road--chances are it will all go straight to donation.

5.  Be a more conscious shopper so that you’re not filling your decluttered home with more clutter. Whenever you see something you want, add it to an ongoing list with the date you first saw it, and then revisit the list 30 days later. You may find when you check back that the urge to purchase it has gone. And if you do decide to get it, at least you’ve given the item the time and consideration it deserves. Make sure to shop in your own home first, however. That way you won’t buy a repeat package of sponges when you already have two others under the sink.


Living in a cluttered home or trying to work in a cluttered office is an exercise in frustration. Car keys get swallowed up, you can’t locate your important report in time for your meeting, or you replace something you can’t find only to have the original turn up shortly after. Isn’t that the worst? Make sure that never happens again by getting clutter under control... one random sport sock at a time.

Happy Organizing!