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LifeBalance Blog

Peel Back the Layers of Household Clutter

After winter, we are ready to feel lighter, but we feel pulled down by layers of clutter in our homes, storage areas, and even cars. Clutter is the home issue that people who attend my seminars have the most trouble resolving. Is clutter simply a natural part of the human condition? Maybe not! The pervasive feeling around household clutter seems to be guilt. We struggle with our clutter, and then we feel bad about our struggle.

First, give up the guilt. Recognize that clutter sometimes comes off in layers. Though it would be nice if clutter all came off in a weekend cleanout in one giant purge, in real life, it often doesn't work that way.

My college textbooks and paperwork are a great example of why clutter sometimes will come off in gently peeled layers. Since I had invested a lot of time and energy in studying, I initially felt my college books and notes somehow represented who I was. I couldn't purge this clutter at all years ago. It would have felt like throwing away my education! After a few years, however, I was able to toss the notes and textbooks for subjects that weren't critical to my majors. Later, I recognized that I wouldn’t really go back to all the notes I had taken, even in my professional field, so I recycled that box too.

Finally, I realized the textbooks were dated and it was time to let go of them too. Today all that remains are a few papers I wrote and kept because I got a kick out of them, and, I hang onto the illusion that my kids might get a kick out of them some day--as though they are going to be interested reading Mom's old papers (yeah, right).

I could beat myself up over the fact that it took me years to get rid of my college clutter, or I could accept it and get on with it. I learned that I can make it a habit to regularly address clutter, just like teeth brushing or laundry. I decided to drop the guilt over the fact that I often can’t toss my clutter all at once. You can toss that clutter guilt too!

Try these clutter-fighting ways to peel back household clutter and to reduce the guilt:

-Make it a habit to regularly "sweep" through a room, or even just a drawer. Cull out items that haven't been used in a reasonable period of time. Keep in mind that our sense of time can become distorted. If I think I haven't used that salad mold for a year or two, but that I might still use it again "someday," the reality probably is that I haven't used it in over three years and that I won't use it in the future either.

-Pretend to move across the country. As I look at each item in a room, I ask myself if I would be willing to pack it up and move it across the country. If I would not take it to a new home, why would I let it hang around here in my present day home?

-Ask yourself what your grown children will do with an item you are reluctant to toss. What will they do when they find it in the bottom of a closet someday? Will they know what it is? Will they know the family history behind this treasure? Will they recognize its value? If they will see no value in it, why hang onto it? If it has value, make sure your kids know the value (sentimental, historical, or financial) now.

-Recognize evolution. Styles, colors, and technology constantly change for almost everything. Think about stereo equipment, deep entertainment centers for deep televisions, records, old vacuum cleaners, microwavable dishes, and baby clothes, to name just a few. Ask yourself if the item you cling to will stand the test of time. If not, send it on its way now.

-Schedule regular clutter clearing. It could be scheduled on your calendar on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual basis. Whatever works best for you!

It is perfectly fine for clutter to come off in layers, especially if we are willing to make it a habit to address our clutter regularly. People constantly change. Our lives constantly change. That means that the stuff that is important to our daily life changes too. Our definition of clutter today isn't the same as how we will define it tomorrow. Clutter is kind of like an onion. We get to peel it off in layers and we can manage it!

Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of

, a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips readers may pick and choose from to fit their personal style. She is also a breast cancer and melanoma survivor who wrote Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We’ll get you through this. Her website is

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