I’ve been battling clutter all my life, and trust me, the struggle is real. Whenever I attempt to clean up my act, it’s like there’s a gremlin who comes up behind me and tosses clutter right back. Somehow it feels as if the more stuff I move, the deeper the clutter gets. Frustrated, I reached out to two women from the National Association of Black Professional Organizers, Inc. (NABPO). Members of Ebony & Orderly, an Atlanta-based group that helps sisters break the cycle of yo-yo cluttering and decluttering, they offered five practical strategies guaranteed to clear my mess – and yours!
Find your “why.”
Whether your clutter is the result of bad habits such as not putting things away or it stems from strong emotional attachments to objects, if you don’t understand and change the emotions and behavior behind it, you’ll always be plagued by clutter.
“There are several reasons people become attached to possessions,” says professional organizer and licensed professional counselor Dina Smith, owner of Organized Life Works. “The spectrum ranges from personal trauma and attachment issues to issues of self-worth and obsessive-compulsive disorders.”
After much soul-searching, I realized that after I buy or receive something, a combination of guilt, fear that I’ll need it again one day and the desire to avoid the expense of re-purchasing prevents me from getting rid of it, even if I’ll probably never use it. Taking the time to examine the motivations behind your own buying behavior is a crucial step in the decluttering journey.
I’ll get all revved up for a serious decluttering session. But as soon as I survey the room and see just how far out of hand things have become, I’m suddenly paralyzed and exhausted before the decluttering can even begin. Professional organizing expert and designer Naeemah Ford Goldson of Restore Order Professional Organizing assures me that I’m not alone. “I find that most people try to do too much at once then get discouraged because they failed to get it all done,” she says.
Unless you’re working with a pro, Goldson recommends short clutter-busting sessions of no more than two hours. “Start in a small space like a junk drawer or coat closet, and as you gain momentum, start moving to bigger spaces like a walk-in closet or pantry. Eventually, you’ll be able to tackle a [large] space like a garage.”
Typically, I set out to clean and organize the living room, but on the way there I see the supplements on the kitchen table that need to be put away and the mail in the entryway that needs to be sorted. Before you know it, I’ve spent two hours reading my favorite magazine and the living room is still untouched.
But now I realize that I need to be laser-focused on one particular task. Then, once I’ve zeroed in on the place that needs to be decluttered, I need to methodically sort my items. “Create three piles: keep, donate, and toss,” says Goldson. “Go through every single item and decide which pile they belong in.”
Toss it — now!
The biggest mistake people make, Goldson claims, is not getting discarded items out of the house quickly enough. True dat! If you’re like me and have a hallway full of boxes with stuff to be sold, forget about eBay or other selling sites. “Sometimes the items will stay in the home for several more months or even years,” Goldson says. “I always recommend taking out the trash immediately and dropping off donations within 48 hours. That way you’re not tempted to pull something you already decided to part with out of the donations box.”
Get ahead of the mess.
After things have been sorted, tossed or donated, find a place for everything to be stored. “Make sure every single item has a home, so you’ll know where to find it when you need it,” Goldson recommends. Another clutter-busting tactic: At the end of every day, spend ten minutes going through the house and putting things back where they belong.
Still, the best way to get a handle on future clutter is to stop it before it starts. Smith advises opting for paperless billing and digital magazine subscriptions. I’ve recently installed a wastebasket by my front door and got into the habit of sorting and trashing most of it before it even enters my home.
And I’m definitely down with Smith’s biggest takeaway: Buy only what you love. “Over-consumption is one of the biggest culprits of clutter,” she warns. “If you buy only what you love or need, you can almost cut your clutter in half.”
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