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How to Clear Clutter and Get Organized

Too much clutter is the biggest challenge to staying organized. What is that clutter comprised of? Simply put, too much stuff. But paring down your extra belongings -- many of which we hold on to for sentimental or personal reasons -- can be an emotionally charged process.


For most people, the buildup of stuff happens gradually and naturally over decades. Regardless of the degree of clutter in your home, there are ways to clear it once and for all.

Ask yourself why you still have it

Examine your reasons for keeping an item: “Do you use it or not? If not, is it something of beauty? Or is there another reason you’re holding on to it?” asks Gail Steketee, dean of social work at Boston University. If you find yourself struggling for justifications, or realize you still have an item out of obligation, it may be time to let it go. “An item might be something an aunt bought ages ago for 20 cents, and people think, Oh, I can’t get rid of it. When really your aunt wouldn’t care,” says professional organizer Barbara Reich.

For items that you keep for practical reasons -- a rarely-viewed DVDs, say -- think about what will happen if you get rid of it but wind up needing it later. Is it something you could borrow from the library, a neighbor, or friend?

Find things a good home

Having a friend help you sort through clutter and decide what you need to purge makes the process easier (and more fun). Professional organizer Erin Rooney Doland, editor in chief of says, “Talking about the items helps you make rational decisions.”

Donating objects can also serve as an emotional cushion -- giving that volume of art books to a school library is less wasteful and traumatic than leaving them at the curb. And don’t expect to clear everything out in a weekend: Set manageable goals, like one shelf per weekend.

Save Space for Sentimentality

You can keep sentimental items, but setting physical parameters -- one box per year of your kids’ childhood, for example -- helps you zero in on what matters most. Reich says to save things in a way that honors their importance -- labeled and well-wrapped. Then revisit them periodically to see if you’re ready to let them go.

Find out how to declutter the digital way.