We Americans are accumulators of stuff. Every day we buy more stuff. On special occasions, we give our loved ones stuff. Sometimes we have to rent storage units to keep stuff from overwhelming us. The start of this New Year could be an opportunity to make a clean break with stuff causing clutter in your house, garage, and life. If you’re game, we suggest setting aside bite-sized two- to three-hour chunks of time. Your basic tools: a roll of garbage bags and a permanent marker. Cue up your iPod with your favorite music, start with the area whose clutter makes you craziest, and decide what to keep, toss, or donate.
Tips to Unclutter your Life
- If it’s hard deciding what to keep, professional organizer Barbara Reich advises asking yourself, “Is it beautiful, useful, or well-loved?” Marie Kondo, best-selling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, says, “Does it spark joy?”
- Use opaque trash bags for items to be donated or discarded. It may seem cruel, but seeing them might tempt you to change your mind.
- If you need to store things you’re keeping, consider see-through boxes, often on sale after Christmas. Write the contents on the box lids—e.g., “Christmas Ornaments” or “Camping Gear.”
- When you organize a drawer, labeling its front using a label maker, (“Utensils” or “Dishcloths,” for example) will make it more likely to stay organized.
- Get file folders if you plan to sort through papers and receipts. Use broad categories when you label the folders, such as “Medical,” “House,” “Car,” “2015 Taxes.” Get rid of documents you can research online.
- Don’t throw away things that have great sentimental value for you. But do explain their significance (either on an attached tag or a separate list), so your family can decide what to do with them after you’re gone.
- If you don’t care for an heirloom and no one else in the family wants it, sell it on eBay or donate it to a charity. Aunt Edna won’t think less of you.
- Get rid of kitchen stuff you never use. The barbecue fork with temperature sensor? The fondue set bought at a yard sale? Recycle them to someone else, if you can.
- We New Englanders often stockpile candles, just in case. But why keep all those burned-down stubs and sickly-scented gift jars you dislike?
- Clothes closets are often full of hopes and dreams, including things you won’t have an occasion to wear or can’t fit into any more. If you haven’t worn an item in a year, take it to a charity or consignment shop.
- Don’t stash household supplies in multiple caches around your home. Store them in a single place so you can easily see if you’re running low.
- Is your medicine cabinet or cosmetics drawer a Valley of the Dead? Ask your pharmacist how to safely dispose of unused prescription meds. As for cosmetics, cull out the old stuff ASAP—especially eye makeup.
- Winnow a few favorite items from the many things you saved when your children were little. If the rest can’t be recycled and the kids don’t want them, incinerate them and scatter the ashes in a meaningful place.
- Getting too many unwanted catalogs? Buy a handful of prepaid postcards at the post office. When you receive an unwanted catalogue, mail a card to the sender requesting to be unsubscribed from their mailing list.
- Sort through the stuff in your storage unit. Have a sale right there of things you don’t want. Get rid of the rest, close the unit, and save money.
- Throw out the product boxes you’ve saved. Even packaging for expensive electronics can be tossed after six months. If you haven’t needed to send the item back by then, the chances are you never will.
- Schedule a separate time, perhaps with an interested grandchild, to organize loose photos into an album. (Write descriptions!) Or your local drugstore may offer a service that will burn them onto a CD.