Taking Control in Your Home

Dealing with clutter

Clutter in the home can be soul-destroying and a constant source of frustration. Reducing clutter has a positive impact on your health, reducing stress and increasing energy levels simply through making your home look less untidy. Clutter creates a visual distraction and looking at a mess each and every day becomes very wearying.

Printed material
Often, printed material of all types accounts for much of the clutter in a household. There are several ways of coping with paper clutter. If you have a lot of business to deal with, you may need to invest in a filing cabinet. If you only have routine bills and statements, a loose-ring binder, folder or file will keep your paperwork tidy.

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Deal with mail when it arrives if possible. Discard what you don't want. Divide the rest of the mail into bills to be paid, items that need attention, and magazines and reading material to go through at your leisure. Deal with as much of the mail as you can immediately. This saves double handling, saving time as well as clutter.

Maybe place the reading material where it will be handy to peruse when you have a spare moment. Have a place where important paperwork (which needs to be dealt with) can be stored. This may be a paper tray or basket. Keeping important paperwork in one place means less likelihood of losing or overlooking vital documents.

At least once a week go through the pile and attend to any items that need attention. File what needs to be filed, answer invitations and pay bills that need paying. If you have a filing cabinet, go through it periodically and throw out items that are out of date or no longer needed.

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Large-Scale Decluttering
Large-scale 'uncluttering' takes time and energy. If you dread the chaos that may result from de-cluttering your house, just do a room or cupboard at a time. Keep reminding yourself how much better the house will look and how much better you will feel once all the clutter is replaced by order and harmony.

Before you tackle a room or cupboard, find a large cardboard box or two, or use large garbage bags. Think about what you're going to sort and what the boxes will be used for. If you're going through clothes, you might want to identify garments you want to keep, items that need repairs or cleaning, items that need to go to a new home. Generally if you haven't worn a garment for twelve months, it is time to move it on. Work with a positive attitude. Clearing out a wardrobe will result in more space for the clothes you do have.

Items that you don't need do not always need to be thrown out. Perhaps you could run a garage sale, maybe with a neighbour. Goods could be donated to a charitable cause, or given away (perhaps on Freecycle, a free, global network site dedicated to helping people recycle goods by passing them on to others who need them). Many items can be sold online or by advertising on a local notice-board, given to friends or friends' children (eg dress up clothes or unwanted make-up). Antiques and older items that have sentimental value but are of no other interest might be highly desirable and very much coveted by a museum or specialised club. This just might allow you to let go of Uncle Harry's collection of old cameras without feeling that you are letting him down.

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Books seem to accumulate very easily. If you have lots of books that you 'must read one day', set yourself a goal of reading one a month. Once read, decide whether you want to keep it or pass it on. Homeless shelters, women's refuges, retirement homes are all potential homes for magazines and books.

Keepsakes and knick-knacks can be hard to dispose of. If you've outgrown a hobby or pastime eg stamp-collecting or collecting tiny elephants, perhaps your nieces or nephews would like a ready-made start. Again, giving something away to someone who wants it, is often much easier than just bundling it up and dumping it at a charity site.

Unwanted Gifts
Unwanted gifts can be hard to dispose of. Do you have a good friend who would appreciate a certain item? Again, it may be easier to get rid of unwanted gifts if you can give them to a friend or relative who will appreciate them rather than giving them away to a charity.

Photos and Postcards
There must be thousands of people who have assortments of old photos, Christmas cards, and/or postcards. Be ruthless. Or take the time to go through the photos, discarding all but the best. Put these away until you have time to place them in photo albums. The cards that you absolutely can't throw out could be placed in albums too. Some sentimental items could be photographed then discarded – a faded corsage from a high school ball, discoloured ornaments from your wedding cake, or that certificate that threatens to disintegrate if you pick it up just one more time.

Other People's Clutter
If some (or most) of the clutter in your house doesn't actually belong to you, get the owner's permission before throwing things out. Has your child left half his belongings at home although he moved out ten years ago? It may be worth the cost of a padded bag or two to post his/her school reports/journals/school magazines to them. Otherwise store items in clearly labelled boxes, add naphthalene flakes to deter silverfish, seal the boxes and find an out-of-the-way area to place them in. And start encouraging the owners to take responsibility for their own items.

Paying for storage should not be considered an option for 'clutter'. If you're selling a property, short-term storage to empty out your house and make it more attractive to buyers may be a good idea but it is a waste of money to store heaps of clutter just so you don't have to decide what to do with it.

Don't offer or agree to look after someone else's clutter. And if you absolutely must, put a deadline on how long you'll look after it.

Quick Decluttering
Small, quick ways to help keep clutter under control include taking a few minutes at the end of each day to return things to their proper place. Cultivate the habit of glancing round a room as you go through and taking anything that doesn't belong, with you. So – as you go through the living room to the kitchen, take the empty coffee cup and the candy wrapper with you. If going through the living room to the bedroom, take the discarded jacket and shoes with you.

Another good idea is to set a timer for five minutes and tidy one room at a time. It is amazing just how little time it takes to put things away. Keeping a rubbish bin in each room also makes it easier to be tidy.

To help with the big decisions, ask 'why am I keeping this?' and 'will I notice when it isn't there and how will that make me feel?'

Finally, if you love something and can't bear to part with it, then keep it and enjoy it.