Reducing clutter takes a time and effort. It requires making decisions, some of which can be difficult and mentally exhausting. Breaking the task down into small pieces can help to reduce overwhelm. These tips followed by the quick reference questions, can help you moving forward.

Clearly identify your goal(s): Perhaps your goal is to have friends or family over without embarrassment, to reclaim living areas or to stage your home for sale. When you get stuck, remembering your goal can help guide you to the right decision.

Start with categories that are easiest for you: We all have strong attachments to different items. If you are invested in your collection of shopping bags, empty boxes, paper, books, dishes, memorabilia, your kids’ old toys or clothing, by all means, start with your sock drawer! Work up to more difficult items once you get your feet wet and have some success with easier items.

Sort like items together: Once you categorize and segregate all your black pants, you may discover you can outfit a small army of varying sized people, headed for a funeral. Seeing what you have of 1 particular item in one place can be a great starting point.

Limit the area allotted for a particular item: Tell yourself, I will only keep 1 drawer of utensils, 1 drawer of scarves, 1 shelf of magazines, 1 large tub of memorabilia, etc. Then purge as necessary what doesn’t fit in the allotted space, eliminating the least functional, beautiful or meaningful.

Fix a number: Decide on a reasonable amount. Decide to limit yourself to 10 coats, 12 mugs, 8 pocketbooks, etc. and donate, sell or gift the rest. You have more than enough. Share the wealth!

Keep the best: You deserve the cream of the crop, so retain only the best research papers, the softest towels, the most beautiful pictures, accessories that match your décor, etc. You are better than the ugly plate your mother-in-law gave you or the giant with screaming colors plaque with a cute saying your friend gave you (possibly because she couldn’t bear to hang it in her own home).

Dispose of gifts you DON’T like: So many clients feel that holding onto this thing they don’t like and probably never liked is an obligation just because someone gave it to them. Would the gift giver really have wanted to give you a life sentence of housing something you don’t want and have no use for? After all, isn’t it the gesture and not the thing that is important. Get rid of it!

One in, one out: You got new shoes? Toss one pair. This is a great way to prevent overwhelming and huge clean outs in the future. It’s not difficult merely to decide on 1 pair to get rid of.  It’s probably the pair you always regret wearing because they are NOT comfortable or the ones that whenever you catch a glimpse of, make you feel lousy because you made a bad purchase.  We all do, it’s fine, move on…

Focus on what will be gained by shedding something: Shift the focus from what you are losing, to what you are getting. Is it valuable space, sanity, mental clarity…

Avoid saving large items for “someday” or “in case someone needs it”: Is it really worth keeping for a contingency that may never occur? Remember, there is a cost to keeping lots of things for someday. It takes up valuable and limited space, creates clutter and stress, not to mention the time, energy and money wasted to keep it clean and take it with you each time you move. Applying this rationale, I just tossed the clunky humidifier I’ve been dragging around with me since 1987 and a huge wagon, great for toting toddlers, which I no longer have!

Consider the worst thing that will happen if you need something in the future that’s gone: Particularly for common inexpensive items, if they are easily replaced, perhaps you can part with it. In the unlikely case you need it down the road, will buying it again be such a big deal? Chances are that most of the things you purge you will never need again.

Can’t decide? Put it in a box for 2 months: Whatever is still in the box in 2 months you can now toss, without regret.

Set a due date: For broken items you intend to fix or items you plan to give away, if you don’t complete the task by the due date (put it in your calendar), trash it and cross it off your to do list. This is not a priority. It’s not important enough. Let it go and move on, it’s ok.  It doesn’t make you a bad person.

Define the purpose of each area and room: Move out what doesn’t serve those purposes. Let the structure you decide set the rules, not the clutter! If your family room is for relaxing, watching tv, playing games and reading, get the pile of ironing you never get to out of the room. If the living room is for entertaining, its floor may not be the best place to lay out your 2500 piece puzzle.

Give yourself freedom of choice: Instead of allowing clutter to preclude having company over, commit to do the necessary work to address the exposed and embarrassing clutter. Voila, now it’s YOUR choice to spend a quiet night alone or invite a friends over for dinner.

Assess the importance of your things: As time passes, things that were once very important may be no longer carry significant meaning. The relevance and importance attached to items often changes over time as we change and grow. Do the things your holding onto bear any resemblance to the person you are today or will likely be in the future? Open those boxes of memorabilia, old work product, old reference books, etc. I recently did just that and finally tossed ALL my law school textbooks, a once white high school graduation cap and some dated suits I’m thrilled I’ll likely never need for work again. Without incident or regret, I tossed things that 5 years ago may have given me pause.

Take a break from recycling: In the interest of maximizing progress, trash everything that can’t be donated at the conclusion of each organizing session. Resume efforts to save the planet tomorrow.

Take a photo and toss it: Try this with large memorabilia, your child’s oak tag project deteriorating paintings, furniture, trophies or anything else you want to remember.

Donate to a good cause: Let someone else enjoy NOW what you might, but probably won’t use someday.

Quick reference questions to help you decide:
Is it useful, beautiful or do you love it?
If it were broken, would you prioritize and actually fix it?
Have you used it in the last 2 years?
If someone offered you $5, would you sell it? $10? $50?
Does anyone else use it?
Why are you keeping it?
What are you really holding onto?
Do you have duplicates?
Is it in the way?
Will getting rid of it move you toward your goal?

Your comments and/or questions are welcome.
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