Eleven Myths of De-Cluttering.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day (or Quiz Day or List Day).
This Wednesday: Eleven myths of de-cluttering.

One of my great realizations about happiness (and a point oddly under-emphasized by positive psychologists) is that outer order contributes to inner calm.

But as much as most of us want to keep our home, office, car, etc. in reasonable order, it’s tough. Here’s a list of some myths of de-cluttering that make it harder to get rid of stuff.

Myths of Cluttering:
1. “I need to get organized.” No! Don’t get organized is your first step.

2. “I need to be hyper-organized.” I fully appreciate the pleasure of having a place for everything, and perhaps counter-intuitively, I believe it’s easier to put things away in an exact place, rather than a general place (“the third shelf of the coat closet,” not “a closet.”) However, this impulse can become destructive: if you’re spending a lot of time alphabetizing your spices, organizing your shoes according to heel height, creating eighty categories for your home files, etc., consider whether you need to be quite so precisely organized. I find this particularly true with toys – I’ve spent hours sorting pretend food, Polly Pockets pieces, and tea sets, only to find everything a jumble the next day.

3. “I need some more inventive storage containers.” See #1. If you get rid of everything you don’t need, you may not need any fancy containers.

4. “I need to find the perfect recipient for everything I’m getting rid of.” It’s easier to get rid of things when you know that you’ll be giving them to someone who can use them, but don’t let this kind intention become a source of clutter, itself. I have a friend who has multiple piles all over her house, each lovingly destined for a particular recipient. This is generous and thoughtful, but it contributes mightily to clutter. Try to find one or two good recipients, or if you really want to move your ex-stuff in multiple directions, create some kind of rigid system for moving it along quickly.

5. “I can’t get rid of anything that I might possibly need one day.” How terrible would it be if you needed a glass jar and didn’t have one? Do you have gigantic stores of things like rubber bands or ketchup packets? How many coffee mugs does one family use?

6. “I might get that gizmo fixed.” Face it. If you’ve had something for more than six months, and it’s still not repaired, it’s clutter.

7. “I might learn how to use that gizmo.” Again, face it. If you’ve had a gizmo on the shelf for a year, and you’ve never used it to make gelato or label a sugar jar, it’s clutter.

8. “I might lose a ton of weight and then I’d fit into these clothes again.” If you lose a bunch of weight, you’ll want to buy a new pair of jeans, not a pair you bought seven years ago.

9. “I need to keep this as a memento of a happy time.” I’m a huge believer in mementos; remembering happy times in the past gives you a big happiness boost in the present. But ask yourself: do I need to keep all these t-shirts to remind me of college, or can I keep a few? Do I need to keep an enormous desk to remind me of my grandfather, or can I use a photograph? Do I need fifty finger-painted pictures by my toddler, or is one enough to capture this time of life? Mementos work best when they’re carefully chosen – and when they don’t take up much room!

10. “I need to keep this, because the person who gave it to me might visit my house and be hurt when it’s not on display.” Is that person really likely to visit? Is that person really likely to remember the gift? Will the person really be upset by the lack of viewing of the gift?

11. “If I have any available space, I should fill it up with something.” No! One of my Secrets of Adulthood is Somewhere, keep an empty shelf. I know where my empty shelf is, and I treasure it.

* Today I had coffee with the fabulous Pamela Redmond Satran, author of many books, including the recent New York Times bestseller How Not To Act Old and the absolutely hilarious blog of the same name. Enter at your own risk — dangerously addictive, book and blog both.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Wednesday! This is the day when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter
Pre-order the book for a friend
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.
(Note that various links in the comment box, just below, make some of these steps easier.)

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • http://twitter.com/jameswest James West

    I know so many people who should read this.

  • http://DeadAmericanDream.blogspot.com AngryBroomstick

    I also like to recycle or donate many junk to shelters that I no longer need. There are some people who need this or that more than I do…

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, it’s wonderful to donate or freecycle. Give things to people who need
      them!

      Just make sure you do it FAST and don’t leave a big heap of stuff by the
      front door for three months before you get it where it’s going (this is my
      problem…)

  • Phoebe

    A really good tip is to take digital photos of any sentimental/dust-collector/etc objects, and then sell/donate/toss them. You can go back and look at the photos anytime to have the memories return.

    Consider that some objects may actually be holding bad memories. If you feel obligated to keep something (ex-wedding gift!), or have crappy childhood memories (but still retain stuff from then), don’t underestimate how good it feels to chop that crap right out of your life. It feels great.

    I used to have a ton of books (love to read!), but I pruned 4 bookcases down to one by eliminating all but the out-of-print or unique books. The library system can provide most of them again within a day of reserving them; why keep dusting them off?!

    • Constance Reader

      Taking digital photos of objects, then donating them — excellent suggestion, wish I’d thought of that…

    • http://richk.net/ RichK

      I also second the “take a photo” approach. I started doing this a few years ago myself and knowing I’ll always have a visual memory of something (like that old t-shirt I wore through college), has enabled me to part with many things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

  • http://positivelypresent.com Positively Present

    What a great post! Such excellent advice here. Thanks for the tips, Gretchen!

  • Marcy

    I’m a huge fan of taking photos of things that have sentimental value, and getting rid of the thing itself. The (digital) photo takes up NO space, I can still go browse through the photos to stir those memories, and the thing itself is being used by someone who will USE it.

    (Incidentally, I do the same thing with things I want to buy – I save the picture, and if I keep going back to look at it, I buy the thing. If I forget about it after a week or two, I just delete the picture and have saved myself a few dollars.)

  • karljones

    “Do you have gigantic stores of things like rubber bands …”

    If you do, I’ll bet those rubber bands will never be used. Why? Rubber bands deteriorate with time — a matter of several years, in my experience. They get brittle; they snap.

    Keep four or five rubber bands if you must, but don’t keep “gigantic stores” unless you actually use them (e.g. you’re running a busy office).

    – Karl

  • Heather

    My aunt had the wonderful idea of making a blanket out of tshirts from her daughters t-shirts from their year in Europe, it’ll be a wonderful reminder as they warm up under it on the couch.

    I read somewhere of a family scanning or taking pictures of most of the childhood art and storing it on a CD, so that they could look at it later, but not have it take up lots of room. Then the clutter was reduced to just the current favourites on the fridge.

    Love your blog! Looking forward to reading the book!

  • allwomenstalker

    Oh god, I needed this. I pride myself on loving domestic organization but de-cluttering is so hard for me.

    -meream

  • http://18263dayslater.blogspot.com/ Bill Barry

    All great ideas. I especially like, “I need some more inventive storage containers.” This, it seems to me is the antithesis of de-cluttering – ‘let me buy some more stuff and see if that solves my too-much-stuff problem.’

    Also, regarding ‘do I need to keep all these t-shirts to remind me of college, or can I keep a few?’ – there is a cool solution for those of your readers who may say ‘no, I have to have them all.”

    T-shirt quilts. I believe there are several companies to whom you can ship off all your tees, and have them returned as a cool quilt. I suppose one quilt (even if it is largely decorative) is better than 50 t-shirts that don’t get worn.

    Thanks for the post. Keep the Happiness coming!

  • balunstormhands

    What do you do about those things that you have been keeping for months/years because you might need them and then you finally toss them and within 72 hours, I’m at the store buying a new one just like it, because now I need it?

    That’s happened to me more often them I care to remember.

    • gretchenrubin

      Aaargh, I know what you mean.

      This is the reason NOT to hang on to that stuff in the first place! Years
      may go by without needing it, so why keep a cluttered house in the meantime,
      for something that you may or may not ever end up using?

      A friend of mine did a GIGANTIC de-cluttering and kept track of how many
      things she gave away/threw away by mistake. Turns out she made 6 mistakes,
      none major. Worth it.

      • balunstormhands

        Good to hear that they generally aren’t big mistakes.What are your thoughts on emergency preparedness supplies: extra food, water and things like plywood to cover broken windows and the like?

    • iffydiffy

      You just let go. When you purge your house, you accept the reality that you will surely throw out some things that you will regret, that you will need, and that you will have to re-buy. In exchange for that expense, you gain a clutter-free home that stops being a prison and is instead, a soothing, relaxing place to live.

      Everything has a price. Keeping your home free of clutter has a price, as you note. But that price is far far less than living in a warehouse full of things you “might need one day.”

  • http://whynotstartnow.wordpress.com/ Patty @ Why Not Start Now?

    Hi Gretchen – This is a good one for me today, because my husband and I were just having another conversation about simplifying our lives. And we realized there’s another myth we subscribe to: “I must do it all at once.” It trips us up all the time, and then we don’t do anything, decluttering-wise. And for us de-cluttering spans physical space as well as those things that drain our time and energy. Kind of like internal decluttering. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/VeneNadia28 Nadia Perez

    Gretchen, you always have such great tips! Thanks for being you! :-) Can’t wait to get a copy of the book!

  • http://zomb1etron.wordpress.com/ Tash

    Awesome post…I used to do freecycling to get rid of my junk, but then I moved to another area and haven’t started up again. Looking around my house, I REALLY need to.

  • http://www.balanceinme.com Anastasiya

    Thank you Gretchen for this article. A few tips were just what I needed to hear today.
    I have twin girls who are 20 months old now and I constantly find myself covered in some “baby-clutter.” Toys that they do not play with, clothes that they have outgrown and some other stuff that just pops up in the most inconvenient moment and clutters the whole house. The process of decluttering is something that i have to go through on a monthly basis and I am actually getting a little bit tired of it. As soon as I get rid of one portion of clutter I find myself covered in the next one (gifts and presents from relatives and friends are the ones to blame most of the time :-))
    Regarding myself, I am happy to say that I have lost some weight recently (that definitely contributed to the feeling of happiness :-)) so now I am getting rid of my entire closet. It’s nice to declutter your life when you have reached your goal:-) I think that it is important to do something in life and not to hold on to our past (souvenirs, mementos) or to the dreams that we will never have enough courage to pursue.

  • http://www.seekingmylife.com/ Jomama

    I so need this advice. Could you keep reposting this one every month, please?

    • gretchenrubin

      If you have a long way to go, START SMALL. Do one kitchen drawer! Tackling
      too much can be so discouraging and leave everything messier than before.
      I’ve made this mistake countless times. One medicine cabinet, one sock
      drawer…

      • CC

        I did this…last year, Christmas week. It felt so great, i moved to the next cabinet, and the next, and the next, and the next!!! I removed 4 full-size pickup TRUCK loads of stuff!! Three to Goodwill (sheets for twin beds I hadn’t had in the house since my son was 4 (he’s 23!!!), dishes, towels, knick-knacks, books, kitchen appliances for this & that, mismatched glassware, etc.) I have never felt so great. I went back to work in the new year, feeling refreshed and so organized. If you are reading this and think, “wow, too much work!” do what Gretchen says!!! One little drawer or cabinet at a time. It will become infectious and you will enjoy it – I PROMISE!

  • http://twitter.com/MicheleConnolly Michele Connolly

    I love being organized (I even create organizing programs for a living) – and I agree completely with your myth-busting.

    Well said! :-)

  • Marcus

    Point 1 is absolutely right – at a time when I was depressed and under a lot of pressure at work I started to organize my flat. All went well until I decided to try to sort my books (several thousand of them) into alphabetical order while doing it, lost a huge amount of momentum, and ended up with piles of books and other junk everywhere. It took me FOUR YEARS to finally get the place cleared up, and the reason I got it done was that I completely gave up on sorting the books and shoved them on the shelf pretty much randomly – that gave me room to get the rest of the clearing up done and throw a lot of stuff away / give it to charity / sell it / etc. Now I may start to look at alphabeticising them, but I’ll do it in a way that only moves a few books at a time.

    • gretchenrubin

      I really struggle with books too. First, the shelf space. Second, where to
      put them? Fiction by alphabet is easier, but non-fiction is tough for me. I
      have weird categories like “Unusual and interesting formats” “mind-blowing
      books” “books not directly related to a book topic but nevertheless informed
      my thinking at the time for reasons I don’t know recall.” It can make you
      crazy!

      • Duendecilla999

        LOL gretchen.
        I have 3 rooms
        One: spiritual,yoga,meditation
        Two: work clothes, work related books, and also Garfield books and Asterix as in “read to get rid of WORK-RELATED stress”
        Three: hippy clothes, art
        In each one I got books related to what I do in each room.
        Works so far.

    • http://shivian.com/ Shivian Balaris

      I find a good way to organize books (if at all) is as loosely as needed. Any categories I try to create I make sure that they have at least 10% of my total books in them. If they don’t, the category is too specific. Next I look and make sure that I’m “OKAY” with a book that could go into both the “greek” and “cooking” sections, goes into only ONE. Since we live in a analog world it’s hard / impossible to multi-file books, and I found that a huge hurdle I had was overcoming the “but the book can go into these three areas” problem. Put it into one, and be okay with that.

      I’ve also seen books organized by color (which can be pretty, but hard depending on how often you need to look for a book) or (as you say) alphabetical (much easier to find).

      In the end, one of the best ways to sort books (I find) is via how they fit in your mind. When you pick up book X do you think “hardcover” first? Or do you think “cookbook” or “green” or “flowers”? Looking at books that way might help, since you’ll later think “hardcover” when you’re hunting for book X, and have organized your shelves that way.

      Just some thoughts from another organizer who had a similar problem before.

    • TracyW

      I have a deliberate policy that I picked up from my mother of not organising bookshelves, except for cooking books which are kept nearest to the kitchen. Books go on shelves as determined by height, and surprisingly rapidly the books I refer to a lot migrate to the centre of the bookshelf. I share eclectic tastes in reading with my mother so any bookshelf ordered by topic would require frequent restacking as new topics and authors were collected.

      My father meanwhile does organise his books and mum always lets him have a bookshelf to do so.

  • Sandrah Wilson

    Im one of those people that needs to use this stradegy thankyou

  • http://twitter.com/DAllisonLee Deb Lee, CPO®

    These myths are all true! I often help clients work through the need to hold on to things for any or all of the reasons you mentioned. It can be difficult to let go, but when you do, there is such a sense of freedom. Start small, perhaps choose the myth you’re most attached to, and work to turn it around. It is definitely a process and every step in the right direction should be celebrated. Thanks for a great post.Deb Lee, CPO®

  • http://randymurrayonline.com/ Randy Murray

    Some great tips – could be re-titled on “How Not To Be Featured On The TV Show ‘Hoarders'”

  • http://www.edenjournal.com Eric | Eden Journal

    Good timing. We were just decluttering over the weekend. I try to go by the rule that “if I haven’t used it in the last year, then I don’t need it.” That usually gets me started, although I do still struggle with “I might need that one day.”

  • Marie Miller

    A comment on:
    “I need to keep this, because the person who gave it to me ….”

    A big thing to remember:

    If someone gives you a gift,

    and you don’t have the power to do whatever you want with it, including throwing it away….

    … then it’s not really a gift

    … you don’t really own it

    …. it’s not really yours.

    So in reality it belongs to the gift giver, who is in charge of it. You are just storing it for them in the way they would like.

    If so, then you don’t actually have power or control over things in your own environment. Someone else is in charge of that thing.

    Everything around you gives you a zing of energy or doesnt.

    If you can’t get rid of something because of someone else’s opinion, then every time you look at it, you have a slight let down of energy.

    And you only have limited space around you to fill with things that give you energy.

    So you are allowing others to dictate that you have something in your world that slightly depletes energy

    and also allowing others to dictate that space in your environment will not be filled with something that gives you energy.

    There is so little that we get to be in charge of in this world.

    Why not at least assert our right to be in charge of our own possessions?

    – Marie

    So you are allowing someone else to control your environment and

    The only things in your environment

    • Sally K

      That was absolutely brilliant. A great read, thanks!

    • http://www.idahospud.wordpress.com/ ldahospud

      Thank you, thank you, for this. Now I’m off to declutter those “gifts” that, you have taught me, don’t really belong to me. A huge burden lifted–thank you again.

    • iffydiffy

      Yay! YES. If someone gives you a gift, it is YOURS. That includes, “yours to throw out if you don’t want it anymore.” If you hang on to things because someone gave them to you and they might be offended by you throwing them out, then that person, and those things, are holding you hostage and making you a prisoner in your own home.

  • JennyBerry

    I love this post, as I am preparing to move in the next few months, I need to box and organize everything, but I find myself getting to distracted with over organizing that I eventually don’t want to do it at all. So much to say.. I haven’t filed all year.. which makes tax time a pain!

    After College, I moved in with my fiance and I moved most childhood things out. I’ve had a six month rule for clothes. I’ve had that since I was in High School. If I don’t wear it in 6 months, out it goes. Since I gained weight over the past few years, I now just box them up instead of donating them. I had my sister go through my smaller clothes and I eventually went through the rest only to keep basics or non-aging clothes. Lets face it, what I wore in High school/College, isn’t what I’m going to wear 5 years later, let alone if I ever fit into them.

    Being in sports has a kid with trophies and shirts, Like you noted, I took pictures of things and then gave them away. If you really want to remember it you can look at the picture. Funny part it I don’t miss not having that stuff. Though being the creative type, I kept the old t-shirts thinking I would make some type of quilt out of them, but then when will I get the time.. But it’s just a bag of shirt right? Wrong it led to the above boxed clothes in my basement…

    I’m just glad I’m not the only one that has though of these simple and creative ideas to declutter!

    P.S. We never have rubber bands in our house and I found I needed some pretty often.. I was in the store and saw a rubber band ball… I love it. No loose rubber bands!

  • alexfayle

    Those are the principles I used when I had my organizing business – get rid of things so that you don’t have to worry about being hyper organized. I love being chaotic, but it takes me 10 minutes to get organized because I have so little.

  • bethdargis

    These are so helpful, Gretchen!

    And don’t forget the myth, “I can’t let that go, I paid too much for it.” As if having it as clutter makes it more valuable. When really it’s taking up valuable space.

    Claiming it as a mistake, may help us avoid buying that type of clutter next time.

    • http://shivian.com/ Shivian Balaris

      I would deeply agree to this. Ditching something I paid good money for kinda hurts (sometimes REALLY hurts) but it helps me strongly the next time I try to go buy new stuff to think “wait… I remember that last time…”

  • http://www.sabreean.com/ Constance Reader

    “o I need to keep all these t-shirts to remind me of college, or can I keep a few? ”

    There is a fantastic solution to this: a t-shirt quilt. I have found several seamstresses that make them (thank you Google!), and the prices vary depending on how many squares you want. That way I keep the shirts I love, they aren’t cluttering up my closet anymore, and I have an extra blanket.

    • http://shivian.com/ Shivian Balaris

      So long as when the seasons turn cold you actually USE that extra blanket, and it’s net one of the others cluttering up your closet. I agree with another poster on here: DIGITAL PHOTOS can work great to capture / store memories, but not create more clutter.

  • http://www.uncertainchange.com/blog/ Tomas Stonkus

    I love these! These are all of the excuses that people use to keep stuff around them that they don’t need. I know that the best way is to just toss it away if you don’t need it.

    Keeping that that you think you might need one day will cause a lot of clutter and mess in your house and life.

  • jillmarie

    Great tips. Often times it can be helpful to find a charity that supports a cause you’re passionate about (animals, domestic violence victims, etc.) and donate unused items to their thrift stores.

  • http://shivian.com/ Shivian Balaris

    So GLORIOUS! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love this stuff! I already live by all of it, and continue to try to explain it to people when they ask. I often find the most difficult hurdle is not the steps, but is people agreeing that they are WILLING and WANT to change… which often is only lip service. Chance often scares most people so much (even changing how they “cling” to stuff) that they refuse it on fear of ruin, chaos, disorder, and other such similar disasters.

    Thanks for writing such a great post!

  • pamwalter

    Am in the midst of de-cluttering and am making great progress. Am giing #8 a real workout!

  • John Q Public

    OK! Throwing things out now!

  • Erica

    It sucks being an environmentalist with pack rat tendencies! I tend to hang onto things, not for sentimental reasons, but because I cringe envisioning them taking up space in the landfill. So of course I have all these great plans to find the perfect place to donate “stuff” and never get around to it. (I lack the patience for the endless rounds of email tag/waiting around for no-shows that freecycle entails.)

    I keep hoping I’ll find an anti-littering project or a program to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that I can donate to in compensation to assuage my guilty conscience a little. A sort of “garbage offset.” No luck so far though.

    • Anne-Marie

      I too wanted a really good home for the things that were cluttering up my life and draining my energy. I started going through my drawers, cabinets and closets when I got a spare 10 minutes and filling a bag with things I no longer used or liked. I made a holding site in a corner of the garage and when I had 6 or 7 bags full I would take them to a Charity (usually faith based) store in a really blighted part of town. I felt like I was doing a little part in helping this area come along.

  • katterine_at_dental_cool

    For tax purposes, if you were going to donate, it is good to donate in one big chunk in one year. Rather than splitting donations in two years.

  • pivoine66

    I think there is an important difference between organizing and hyperorganizing — i.e., the spices are on that shelf (you know in general where to look if you need a spice and you don’t have to remember specifics about where you first put it away) vs. the spices need to be put back into alphabetical order on that shelf (crazy maintenance!!). And if you put the spices on a shelf over the drawer where your baking utensils live, you just have to get into the proper area of the kitchen to find what you want.

  • sanm

    I came over from Lee’s “Chrysalis Dreams.” I love your “empty shelf” Secret of Adulthood. Don’t leave home without one.

  • http://www.bridgetable.net/ maggy

    Well! I found during first pass of reading this communication wording that hit home for me — something about keeping things because they represent a lifestyle [that no longer pertains] — now I can’t find it to write as a maxim as I go thru major decluttering this month. You know how that is when certain WORDING seems revelatory? Where the devil is it???

  • Amanda D

    a lot of this applies to me. I found Freecycle.com this helps with making sure some one who could “use” my items may get it. I cant be sure but….more then likely and that is going to have to be good enough because this “mess” is effecting the value of my life and making me terribly unhappy.

    Freecycle.com….it seems MOST people have one in your area. You do need to request to join and wait to be accepted so it does take a few days BUT…it is SOOO liberating!!

    GOOD LUCK DE-CLUTTERING TO ALL!

  • janetpo

    My Mother is unhappy – has always been unhappy – will always be unhappy. While this is a nice concept for a blog – your next should be how to be unhappy – I am sure more people can relate.

  • Roger Baggs

    This was an insightful read, and it made me laugh. I have to get rid of, recycle a lot of things. Thanks for the tips and the inspiration! Roger

  • Patty

    My yoga instructor teaches classes at the Women’s Prison in my city. One day in our class (out of prison!) she mentioned that the women need craft items, such as yarn and fabric, to complete projects. She mentioned that one “lifer” has nothing better to do than create her own “ministry” in which she teaches her fellow inmates crafts that are now being shipped around the world. So, today, in order to help these women and to de-clutter my sewing room, I boxed up all the spare yarn, quilt pieces, old patterns, and notions to be delivered on delivery day to the prison.

  • Patty

    I cleared out several drawers in my sewing room today by boxing up yarn, quilt fabric, and notions to take to the woment’s prison, where the women are in serious need of materials to create crafts.

  • pushymama

    These tips are great! Saw your book in the NY Times today and decided to visit. Now I have to go clean my house and de-clutter

  • sherry

    love it all. it is most liberating to get rid of things, less to clean, less to clean around, less to move when it is time for Christmas decor. I like Christmas clutter, but then aahhhhh how nice when it all put away again. THe more I get rid of, the easier it is!!! Happy decluttering.

  • http://www.virtuousconsumer.com Leslie Garrett

    I sheepishly see myself in every point. Though I hide behind being green (title of my book is The Virtuous Consumer, after all). Can’t throw away something that can be fixed. Can’t toss something that can be given away. Can’t buy storage containers when I can fashion some out of old paint cans and a staple gun. Etc. Etc.
    Thanks for the gentle nudge in the right direction! Love your blog.

  • Serena

    i feel like i am on Candid Camera! so me…

  • KenN

    Simple suggestion to deal with mementos (#9): Find a few mementos that you might part with, and photograph them before getting rid of them. Someday you’ll find the photo and remember it all (and remember the day you took the photo). But until then, a photo is a lot smaller than the stuff!

  • jilloffbroadway

    We have a large, lumbering bookcase in our small living room that served as the principal depository of cds, dvds, 20 yr. old video tapes, books, odd boxes of paper clips, small fragile figurines brought home from art class by my beautiful children, pictures of said beautiful children in dusty, handpainted, glitter-strewn popsicle frames made by prolifically creative children, flashlights, candlestick holders and on and on. My husband was so sick of the sight of the thing that he insisted the bookcase be banished entirely from our little house and that its contents would miraculously find other places to live. (Uh… NOT.) It’s an attractive piece of furniture (when you can see it) and so instead I spent several hours removing everything from it and then designating a specific spot on the bookcase for each item iteam that absolutely had to be there. For purely aesthetic purposes, entire shelves are devoted to a pretty vase or large, coffeetable books arranged just so. And one shelf even has a couple of deep, decorative boxes to hold all those little things that find their way into your life like nail clippers, pennies, random keys to homes we’ll never live in again and cars we’ve sold long ago. It’s been almost a year, and the bookcase is still well-organized and quite pleasant to look at. We know exactly what’s on it, and can access anything we need at a moment’s notice. Strangely enough, the whole exercise and its positive outcome has made me much happier. So there you go…

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    I loved the article. It is very exciting. Thank you for the information. I will be back.

  • Cuckookazoo

    I loved this article! I printed it out to take home to put in the pile of articles I want to keep and re-read and put in binders…. oh, dang. :)

  • dan rapson

    this is great information for those of us who have tools and can use them. I have some I bought to build a house with in 2003 and still haven’t taken them out of the box.

    When I built the house for my mother I told her all the living area was going to be on one floor. she would have liked a basement. I told her I could build her another shed 24×32 ft and she would have all that room to fill and not cost as much as a trip to hospital from a fall down the stairs to the basement.

    thanks for this and of course

    be well; peace…
    dan

  • JST Books

    clutter clearing There has to be a place for everything you possess. It may seem daunting though it’s not that difficult really, but you must have a mental picture of where and how all your things will be. This makes it easier to put it back in its place.

  • Mannersclass

    Every time I clean my closets and donate the clothes , a friend stops by with a new item they can’t wear or something gently worn to give to me. This also happens when I clean our children’s closets and donate the clothes-They will be given clothes from a friend with older kids who cleaned their closets.:0)

  • http://profiles.google.com/jaqstone Jacqueline Stone

    De-cluttering has always been an effective way for me to clear my mind, too. I just think better in a clear space.
    We go through our closets, cabinets, and toy boxes frequently and donate everything we haven’t used for a while.

    • gretchenrubin

      I so agree. It gives me clarity and calm.

  • lisastef

    yes; love it. i recently went through and “purged” my room of everything i didn’t want/need/use. i gave stuff away; i threw stuff away. and after the tornado of anti-clutter was gone, (and after i dusted/cleaned the spots where “stuff” had taken over) i felt awesome. i felt light & free & unencumbered. like a blank slate with a whole lot more space to breathe (and do yoga).

    but you’re right about avoiding the “hyper-organized” trap — that just leads to unnecessary neurosis & anxiety. organization does not equal perfection — something i constantly have to remind myself.

    thanks for another awesome post ;)

  • http://www.colleensetchell.blogspot.com Wobblything

    I am currently trying to sell everything in my flat in order to partly fund travelling around the world.  I was getting stressed because I wasn’t able to get rid of things as quickly as I wanted to.  This article really spoke to me, ESPECIALLY point 4….  Thanks, sometimes it helps just to hear it spoken or see it read :-)

  • Siewping Wong

    “If I were to sell these items, I may need/want to package the items into its original boxes.”

  • Mom2Luke

    I have only cleaned 2 drawers and it is only because I was procrastinating the task of cleaning the entire basement. 2 kitchen drawers were random, but way easier… came here looking for more inspiration! (by the way, my cleared shelf I created next to the computer which was a source of great happiness, inner calm, is now cluttered again. :( I’m pretty hopeless at this. Wish you were my real life BFF and would come over to help . People energize me. Clutter, the opposite! (well, certain people anyway)

  • caso6439

    What does one do when it is their spouse who cannot let go of anything? Overwhelmed by his STUFF. :( 

    • gretchenrubin

      This is a very tough, and very common, situation. I’m lucky, because I don’t have this problem. How about other folks? Any suggestions? A friend of mine limits her husband to one room. That wouldn’t work in New York City, though – not enough rooms!

      _____

  • http://www.facebook.com/pauline.richter.5 Pauline Richter

    Just what I needed today – these are fabulous ideas! Thanks so much for posting them – I’m going to put them into use right away!

  • iffydiffy

    I love the “empty shelf” thing, but I’d take it even a step further. Every closet, every shelf, every storage area should be 50% empty. Look at your cupboards and your closets and shelves. The truth is, when they are neat and organized, but 100% full, you cannot really get anything out, or put anything back, without moving stuff around, pulling stuff out to get to other stuff, and so on. That situation breeds clutter because you will pull stuff out and not put it back, or put it back in a less organized way (so the closet now appears to be 110% full… uh oh, “I thought all this stuff fit in here.”).

    We really have a lot less storage space in our homes than we think. Don’t waste it, and don’t make it hard to use. If you have a pile of board games on a shelf in the closet, but there are boxes and blankets on top of them, how much “fun” is it really to have to move that stuff every time you want to play a game?

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