How to De-Clutter Your Home

Spring may have the reputation, but autumn is arguably the best time of year to tidy-up and reorganize. Fall cleaning is a fantastic opportunity to take stock and start fresh before hurtling into the insanity of the holiday season, and one of the key components of preparing the home for entertaining is discarding items that contribute to clutter.

For some, the process of purging is joyful and freeing; it offers an opportunity to physically and emotionally clear the cobwebs. For others it creates anxiety triggered by a fear of loss, guilt about being wasteful or an aversion to disposing items purchased by hard-earned money. Unfortunately, when one member of a partnership is a purger and the other is a saver, the stress mounts, resulting in a stalemate or job half-done.

There is no question that a tidier environment is associated with health. Clutter makes it difficult to find things and the process of always searching drains emotional resources. Simply looking at disorder day after day is mentally taxing. Even though it can be difficult, letting go of the past to make space for the future is an important part of a healthy life and home.

The first step is overcoming anxiety to achieve organization. Begin the process gradually by choosing one area of one room to clean out. For example pick a closet in the bedroom or a shelf in the garage and commit to finishing that area in a suitable block of time. For each item, including clothing and furniture, ask the following questions: Has this been used in the past three years? Is there a realistic chance it will be used in the next three years? If the answer to both these questions is “no,” it is time to let go. Six years of non-use is enough time to warrant the enjoyment of a space with less clutter—without guilt, worry or fear. Once a decision is made to dispose of an item it is helpful to remove it from the home as quickly as possible to avoid purger remorse.

If a “saving sense” is sparked by guilt about waste, don’t simply throw things away; pick a charitable organization and donate the clothing and other acceptable items. The organization will sell these items through thrift shops, which gives others the opportunity to purchase necessities at a reduced cost. For more costly objects, consider selling them online or at a consignment shop. If panic ensues when it comes to releasing particularly sentimental keepsakes, give yourself permission to keep these. Box them up, label clearly and store in an attic, basement or commercial storage space—but be judicious, reserving this space for truly irreplaceable memories. As difficult as it may feel to reduce clutter, it ultimately creates a better environment for everyone at home.

dr. susan bartell

dr. susan bartell

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally-recognized psychologist and author practicing in Port Washington. She also speaks throughout the country on a wide range of topics to help individuals and groups improve emotional and physical health and life balance.