Learn the helpful habit of decluttering

By Tom Phelan - Staff Writer
Feature Article - posted Fri., Mar. 18, 2011
- Contributed Photo

No doubt you have seen TV shows about people who live in squalor, because they can’t, or won’t, throw anything away. That’s obsessive behavior. But short of that, many people have a problem that we can simply call “clutter.”

If that’s what your home suffers from, and you want to take a shot at cutting the cluttering, implement some or all of these ideas.

Decluttering doesn’t just mean getting organized. You can organize your junk drawer, clothes closet, garage, or kitchen cabinets, but still not truly declutter. That type of organization, while well-meaning and surely satisfying, is only temporary.

If you organize all or part of your home without changing your habits and patterns of behavior, it’s all for naught. You can only declutter your life by changing the way you think. Start small and select something simple.

Mail is a good example. In many families, more than one person may go to the mailbox. Finding the mail after that may be a daily treasure hunt. It may end up on the kitchen table, in the laundry room, or lost forever.

Make a change here. Designate only one person to get the mail. Don’t get the mail on your way out of the house. It will likely end up in the car. You will eventually take it inside at some point and toss it on a table somewhere, thus repeating a bad habit.

Only go to the mailbox when you can deal with the mail, but deal with the mail when you get it. Don’t even open junk or advertising mail. Throw it in a box, and send it out with your recycle bin. Get or make an ‘outgoing’ mailbox. Don’t even bring it in the house. Keep it outside, and get rid of it on trash day.

Open anything that really looks important, and deal with it appropriately right then. Keep a folder for bills that require mailing a check. If you still write checks, decide to deal with them periodically – once per week or perhaps on paydays. At worst, stick all bills or business response mail in a manila folder – one for each month – and when everything in that folder is dealt with, shred all the paper, and begin to fill up next month’s.

You can ease this burden further by using your bank’s automatic bill-pay service, in which case you will only need to file your paper bills until they are totally useless. If you feel comfortable with letting go of the paper trail, choose the paper-less billing option from your utility company, credit card, bank, etc., and use your computer to keep track of things.

For record-keeping purposes, you can usually download digital copies of bills, statements and bank accounts transactions. If you have no choice but to get paper bills, your option should be to scan them into your computer, and store them as though they came to you in digital format. Then shred the paper.

Deal with other paper in your house in a similar way. Have a place for the newspaper to go. It may lie on a coffee table until it has been read, but then it should go into a basket, box or a recycling bin.

If you have to separate different types of recyclable materials, get different colored receptacles for other types of paper. Make yourself adopt this rule: If you pick it up, deal with it – don’t just move it. Use paper shredders responsibly, or box sensitive material to be shredded. Deal with that box when it gets full.

File as little hardcopy documentation as possible. Instead, scan it into a digital file-keeping system when you receive it. Then trash it. It’s easier to store, requires a lot less space, and it’s easier to throw out when you don’t need it anymore.

So there it is. You have decluttered one aspect of your household. Celebrate that success by applying the same principles to other things that get cluttered, such as clothing, shoes, kitchenware, keepsakes, and even furniture. What’s even more important, involve and help other members of your household to learn clutter-free living.

Remember that whenever something comes into the house, it replaces something else that gets tossed.

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