A cluttered house can be daunting, but start the editing process
Don't throw out perfectly good items. Houses of worship usually know places in need of donated clothes, furniture and household goods.
To keep your magazines from piling up, put them in a basket or bowl. When it's overflowing, it's time to purge.
It's easy to procrastinate on decluttering. Sorting and organizing may ease the mess, but a color-coordinated bookshelf of junk is still a bookshelf of junk.
The decluttering process forces people to edit down their possessions, choose what's really necessary and get rid of the rest.
•Whatever your system is for organizing belongings and keeping clutter at bay, make sure your family or roommate understands the system and is on board with it. Otherwise, you won't be able to maintain it, and there will be unnecessary strife in the household.
It sounds daunting, but don't get overwhelmed, says Jeffrey Phillip, New York City organizer and designer.
"Even if it's a ton of stuff, you can work through it if you break it down into smaller pieces," says Phillip, who appears on nationally syndicated "Better TV."
"Just make up your mind that 'I'm going to start here.' Here might be just one table. I'm going to clear off this table," he says. "But that's a start."
Stick to a three-pronged approach to tackle clutter from every angle.
Stopping stuff at the door
Don't beat yourself up about impulse purchases. Stores are designed to lure customers into such buys.
With that said, there are strategies for stopping the accumulation of junk before it starts.
When shopping for specific items, make a list and stick to it, Phillip says. For even better control, bring only enough money for the items on the shopping list.
Before buying something, consider why the purchase is necessary, says Joshua Zerkel, San Francisco-based certified professional organizer and owner of Custom Living Solutions.
"Are you putting too much value on it because you need it for self-esteem?" he asks. "Or are you getting it because you're bored or in a bad mood and you're shopping just to shop? Is it really, truly something you don't already have, something you need?"
Also, set up "road blocks" at home so it's obvious when things get out of hand. For instance, to keep magazines from piling up, put them in a basket or bowl. When it's overflowing, it's time to purge, says Christopher Lowell, a designer, author and television personality.
Making a plan
Zerkel suggests beginning "with the place that's driving you the most crazy," and then rotating around the room clockwise.
"If you say you're going to do the whole house, it's hard to see progress at first, and you might get discouraged and give up. If you focus on one place, there's immediate gratification. You feel better, and you keep going," he says.
For larger projects, divide everything into piles, Zerkel says. One pile each for things to keep, things to throw away, things to recycle and another for things to donate.
Do research ahead of time on the ultimate destination for everything, Zerkel adds. Otherwise, it's easy to get stuck midway through the process, unsure where to take unwanted things. That also deters last-minute surprises and getting stuck with a pile that was supposed to be banished from the house.
It'd be a shame to do all the sorting and then discover, too late, that the landfill won't accept toxic chemicals — or that the dog-chewed chair won't be gone from the curb for weeks because the monthly heavy trash pick-up day already passed.
Research the pick-up schedules and rules for trash disposal from the local solid waste management division. Environmental groups are usually well-versed on who will take items for recycling and how much can be diverted from landfills. Metal recyclers often will take large appliances and even cars for free or a nominal fee, for instance.
Social service organizations and houses of worship usually know places in need of donated clothes, furniture and household goods.
Resist the trap of buying bins for junk that really ought to go, Lowell says. "That's what people want to do, hide it all in decorative containers and create your own landfill."
Better to face the music and make tough choices.
"Do I really need seven spatulas when I only use two, and am I ever going to wake up with the body of a 12-year-old and fit in these clothes again?" Lowell says.
Decide what to pitch and what to keep by "ransacking" the house mentally, he says. Go through it with a fresh eye and realistically assess what is used and what isn't.
Then ransack the place again, for real this time.
Be merciless with anything that's damaged. "If it's chipped or broken, throw it away. Thanks to the global economy, you can usually get a brand new set of something you really love for a fourth of the price of fixing it," Lowell says.
Think of storage areas and the rooms of the home like real estate, he added. Your most expensive real estate — eye-level cabinets and drawers that are easy to reach — should be reserved for daily-use items. Higher cabinets and places that are harder to get to should contain things used only occasionally.
Seasonal items should go in remote locations such as basements, attics and garages.
If it's never used, it needs to go.
"Be honest with yourself," Lowell says. "If you can't remember the last time you needed it, you probably won't need it again."
The willpower, research and physical task of moving it all will take time and energy, but in the end it is well worth the effort, Phillip says.
"I really think that people want to pare down right now," he says. "We're constantly inundated with so much information and so much stuff that we're yearning for simplicity. And once you clear out your physical space, your mind clears, too.
"It really lifts your spirits and relieves a lot of stress when you're not overwhelmed and having to step over things to get anywhere."
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