Nine Foolproof Ways to Declutter

We got this question from a woman who says she cannot part with her things. So, in honor of Pack Rat Day, we’re posting her question and BR’s answer.


Hi, Belleruth,

I’m a 56-year-old woman who cannot part with my things – old papers, my kids’ baby clothes, their old school projects, yellowed, ratty music programs, and even letters from people I barely remember.  I listen to your tapes nightly in the tub and love them. Got any advice for me? Thank you, Ellie.


Dear Ellie, 

Sure I do!  Now, there’s hoarding and there’s cluttering.  I’m not sure from what you wrote, where you fit.

Serious hoarding is when you can no longer use the rooms of your house for their original, intended purpose; or when your social life is compromised, because you (or your kids) are too embarrassed to have people over; or when your bank balance is decimated from buying things you don’t need. 

Hoarding is usually associated with anxiety, indecisiveness, perfectionism, various avoidance behaviors, and difficulty organizing tasks.  

Does any of this apply to you?  

If it does, a combination of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and medication can help.  

But most of us have some experience with stuff getting out of control at one time or another. And excessive clutter is known to create subcontextual stress, even when we’re not conscious of it.

Here are some things we can do to either prevent clutter or get rid of it once it’s piled up. The trick is to go at this in small, steady bites, so as not to get overwhelmed. If you stay at it, you can’t help but make a dent.  Read on!

  1. Make immediate decisions about mail and newspapers, right as they come in. I actually toss unwanted mail in a paper bag in my garage, before I even enter my house – it’s a trick I learned from a friend.  Leaving it for later can be a trap. 
  2. Think twice about what you buy. Wait a couple of days after seeing a new item. Sometimes it just magically stops being the urgent must-have it was.  Very mysterious how that happens. 
  3. Switch out the new items for the old. When you do buy something new, toss one item you already have but don’t use to make room for it.
  4. Set aside 15 minutes each day to declutter. Remember that any removal of junk or returning of things to their rightful place, no matter how small, is a win. 
  5. If you start to feel anxious about the idea of de-cluttering, take a few deep breaths, listen to some guided imagery, and bravely return to the task at hand.   
  6. Identify an area in your home, office or car that you want to clear, and work on it consistently, a little bit each day.  Stay at it – it gets easier!
  7. Try to make a decision within 10-20 seconds about whether or not to keep, gift or toss an item.  Looking at it, touching it and thinking about it is likely to increase your attachment to it, and result in your hanging on to it. 
  8. Track your progress by noticing the amount of trash going out. Sometimes a room will first get messier before it gets tidier, and that can be discouraging. If you track the trash, however, you have visible signs of progress.
  9. Resist temptation by staying aware of situations when you might be tempted to acquire more unnecessary stuff, like at a sale or from a tree lawn full of discards, or in a particular shop – remain firm!

All best,

br signature


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