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To successfully declutter our homes, we have to first understand why we bring in clutter and then, why we keep it — in other words, “the psychology of clutter”. Most people have some amount of clutter in their home. We tend to keep things based on how they make us feel, how they help to identify us. or how useful we think they are. For example, you might want to keep an old sewing machine because it belonged to your mother, even though you don’t know how to sew. Or you hang on to an old lamp because you think you might paint it and use it in your living room. In reality, though, you probably didn’t even know that you had these items, so the odds that you will actually use them are very slim.

We often use excuses to prevent us from getting rid of clutter. Thoughts such as “it was a good deal”, “I used it before”, “it was a gift”, “it was free”, “it was sent to me” (such as an email promotion), “I’d feel guilty if I got rid of it” (in the case of an item that you had spent too much money on in the first place), or “I feel obligated to keep it” (such as an inherited item) give us reasons to hang on to clutter and only create barriers between us and the organized life that we want. “I will use it someday” and “I might need it someday” are two excuses that almost never ring true. If you never needed it before, you will likely never need it again.

Clutter often makes us feel irritated, embarrassed, guilty, frustrated, and exhausted. On the other hand, a clutter-free home makes us feel calm, comfortable, and relaxed; it puts the control back in our hands and liberates us from chaos and frustration. You can take pride in your clutter-free home, be a role-model to friends and guests, and have more time to relax and take care of yourself. Also, since you can now navigate rooms and hallways with ease, safety will no longer be an issue.

Check out my book Decluttering Your Home: Tips, Techniques & Trade Secrets for help with learning to conquer clutter. Clutter can be identified as unused, unloved, unwanted, or unfinished. Reference the book’s flowchart when trying to make a decision on any particular item and ask yourself if the item falls into any of the above categories. If the answer is “yes”‘, it is clutter.

When decluttering, use the following questions to determine whether or not you should keep an item:

  • Do I love it?
  • Do I use it?
  • Do I need to keep it for legal or financial reasons?
  • Is it worth the space it occupies?
  • Could I find it on the internet?
  • Could I easily replace or borrow it?

If you answer “yes” to more than one of these questions, you probably need to keep the item. However, if most of your answers are “no”, then you need to get rid of it.

Tips and things to remember:

  • You must start with decluttering when you’re organizing. It gives you more space for the stuff you actually need and frees you from the stuff you don’t.
  • Decluttering is not the same thing as tidying or cleaning. A creative person may have a messy desk, but the items on it are useful and wanted. A person may have a cluttered home, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t clean.
  • Labeling the containers of stuff to get rid of will help you make sure you know where to send the stuff when you’ve completed the decluttering process. Use categories such as: recycle, sell, donate, relocated, trash, and keep.
  • You don’t have to keep something just because it was a gift or an inheritance.
  • Keep surfaces clear and tidy. Always put things back where they belong.
  • Keep a donation box handy.
  • Decide how many of something you really need.

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