Clutter not only junks up your space, it also seriously messes with your health, happiness and productivity. According to studies from Princeton University’s Neuroscience Institute and UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families, our overstuffed homes rob us of focus, drain our energy, spike stress levels, invite depression and leave us perpetually searching for our keys. But take heart. You can outwit clutter in less time than you’d think. Start with small steps to embrace the things that uplift you and dispense with those that get in the way.
End the Paper Chase
Find a basket, bowl or tray large enough to corral all incoming paper—mail, catalogs, school forms, coupons, receipts, invitations and warranties. Then marvel as your counters and tabletops magically resurface, and you can instantly find any paper you need. Go through the contents once a week with shredder, recycling bin and folders close at hand. Scan any info you don’t need in hard copy form, sign up for paperless billing and automatic payments and ditch manuals that can be found online. Edit mail preferences at directmail.com (free) and dmachoice.org ($2 fee).
Choose a space you can clear in one short burst—a single shelf, a drawer, a section of a counter, a dresser top, even a laundry-burdened chair. Once done, declare that area strictly off limits to future clutter. Continue with a new spot each day. (Note: Moving the clutter to another space is cheating.)
Lose the Baggage
Give yourself permission to let go of incomplete art or craft projects lying around in varied states of disarray. Ditto for workout equipment, supplies from past careers or musical instruments you don’t use. You won’t miss their constant nagging. Trust us.
Find a Good Home
Shoes will pile by the front door until the end of time if you don’t add a rack, basket or other storage solution. Likewise, perpetually lost items— keys, eyeglasses, phones and wallets—also need a place to go. The National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals reports the average American loses a year of his or her life searching for things. We know you have better things to do.
You can’t work efficiently if folders, files and icons look like a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle dumped onto your computer screen. Neither can your computer. Dedicate 15 minutes a day for a week to reorganize, delete old downloads, archive folders, clean out your inbox and uninstall and delete apps you don’t use.
Trim the Excess
Most cooks utilize the same pots, pans and bakeware repeatedly, so edit to your chosen few. Place utensils and small gadgets in a container. If you pull an item out for use, wash it and return it to its original kitchen spot. With the exception of annual helpers like a candy thermometer or turkey baster, anything unused after a month can go.
Box It Up
Indecision is clutter’s best friend. Whenever you catch yourself saying, “I’ll deal with it later,” place the item in question in a maybe box that you seal and tuck out of sight for six months. (Put a note on your calendar when to check back in.) If you didn’t need or miss anything in the box in that time frame, take it unopened to charity that day. And on that note, if you stumble across a box of things you forgot you had, consider that donation decision already made.
Gather all your pens, pencils and markers alongside a paper pad to test with scribbles. Select 20 winners, then donate the rest.
Buy from Home
“Shop” your own wardrobe as though you’re in a boutique seeing each item for the first time. Select only those items that you’d buy today. When finished, hang your “purchases” back in the closet; bag unselected items for consignment or charity. Don’t panic if your closet looks spare. You’ve just done yourself the favor of identifying your core style—a feat comparable to upgrading from a department store’s jam-packed clearance rack to the must-have apparel on the mannequins at your favorite boutique.
Live with your capsule wardrobe before filling in the gaps. And look for a common thread among your rejects to avoid future error.
Clear the Calendar
Unnecessary appointments or meetings count as clutter, too. Only spend time on things that matter to you.
After each holiday, cull decor that didn’t make it to this year’s party, whether ornaments, an inflatable yard witch or that whimsical set of Easter Bunny plates. What you do with the surprise discovery of any chocolate treats is up to you.
Supply Only the Demand
Save time and money by gathering duplicates, such as batteries, sticky notes, lightbulbs and rolls of tape. Keep what you’ll realistically need in the next year and donate the rest.
Got 5 Minutes?
- Nab empty cardboard boxes and grocery bags for recycling.
- Unsubscribe from three email newsletters (of course you’ll want to keep Live Happy’s).
- Toss expired products and empty containers from the medicine cabinet.
- Recycle mismatched plastic containers and lids.
- Clean the car using one bag for trash and another for items to relocate.
Outwit Common Clutter Cons
I might need that. If you haven’t used it in a year, it’s not serving your needs. Hypothetical uses infringe on how you really live.
It’s an heirloom. You can love Grandma without loving her crystal. Realize the tug is about the memory, not the thing. Take a photo or keep just one goblet, then pass the rest along.
I paid a lot for that! Maybe so, but now it’s costing your peace of mind, too.
I don’t want to waste. Donating extras is sharing the wealth.
I could give that to so and so. With few exceptions, don’t get bogged down in a Plan B.
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 edition of Live Happy magazine.