Clutter expert and bestselling author Peter Walsh has been inside of hundreds of homes in an effort to help people liberate themselves from the oppressive weight of "stuff." And purging all of those excess materials has resulted in all sorts of positive spin-off effects, he says. Many people report losing more weight without even dieting, experiencing re-energized relationships, and even getting in better financial health. Heck, even kids walk into a room he's recently organized and—without exception—they dance!
Walsh shared some of his go-to organizing tips so you can truly create a space that makes you feel better. Don't just clean around your clutter—get things in order once and for all!
How To Deal With Clutter
Walsh says the trick is to stop focusing on the "stuff" and instead lay out your vision for a room. His golden advice? First, sit down with your partner and write down the words that describe the vision you have for each room. How do you want to feel when you enter each room? What's your dream purpose for the room? Common words that come up for Walsh's clients include "welcoming," "calm," and "relaxing."
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All too often, though, cluttered countertops and bedroom dressers littered with clothes that don't fit get in the way of that vision for our homes. Cleaning without decluttering first isn't attacking the root problem—the fact that you've got tons of stuff you probably don't need, use, or even want. "Too much stuff sucks the life out of families," Walsh says.
To re-energize the family unit, Walsh turns to this fundamental question: Does the stuff you own give you joy and pleasure? "Does it help you create the life you want?" If it does, hold on to it, but set some limits—you can't own everything," he says. "It's all about treating your space with honor and respect."
4 Most Common Clutter Culprits
Walsh says a typical person wears 20 percent of their clothing 80 percent of the time. That means there's a whole lot of unused stuff cluttering your closet—one of the most stressful places in your home.
Quick Fix: Try Walsh's reverse clothes hanger trick. Turn all of the clothes hanging in your closet so that the hangers face back-to-front. For the next six months, if you wear an item of clothing, return it to the closet with the hanger
facing the correct way. "No cheating. If you try it on but decide not to wear it, make sure you put it back with the hanger turned backwards," Walsh advises.
After six months, look at which clothes are on hangers that are still facing in reverse—clothes you have not worn—and seriously consider getting rid of them all, Walsh says.
Anyone with kids knows it can take only a matter of months for kid stuff to totally overrun the home. That doesn't have to be the norm, though. And decluttering won't just liberate mom and dad, but will help the kids feel better, too.
Quick Fix: First, agree on a volume of toys that is reasonable to have in the home. Then, set regular calendar reminders to sort through all toys. See which ones will get passed on to another family or donated. Arrange the toys in distinct piles, either toy by toy, by age appropriateness, or by length of time the child has had the toy. Then, team up with the kids to decide what should stay or go.
Schedule a purge right before a birthday or the holidays, too, to clear away unused toys (and outgrown clothes) to make way for a few new items.
It's time to rethink the pickle picker, plastic butter spreading contraptions, and excessive corn-cob holders. You may even need to part with that treasured quesadilla maker.
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Quick Fix: Take Walsh's 1-Month Cardboard Box Test! Empty the contents of your kitchen utensil drawers into a cardboard box. For one month only put a utensil back into the drawer if you take it out of the box to use it. At the end of the month, seriously consider discarding everything that's still in the cardboard box. "Face it. If it's still in the box after four weeks you don’t need it," he says. "Pass it on to charity."
One exception? The turkey baster. Hold on to that one—you'll need it in November!
"Clutter is decisions delayed." That's one of Walsh's favorite sayings. And nowhere is this more apparent than the garage, which is often used for long-term storage of stuff we think we want but don't know what to do with. Broken gadgets waiting for repair, magazines we swear we'll one day read, and things handed down from loved ones. Time to get rid of most of that stuff!
Quick Fixes: Try Walsh's Trash Bag Tango. For 10 minutes a day, set a timer and grab two trash bags. During the 10 minutes, fill one bag with recyclables or things that need to go in the trash, like broken toys. Fill the other bag with things you want to donate. If you and another person do this for a week, you'll have 14 bags of trash/recyclables and 14 bags for Goodwill at the end of the week, Walsh says.
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Labeling is also key for decluttering a garage. Since these spots are often used for seasonal items, sporting equipment, and holiday decorations, be sure to clearly label boxes and containers. Walsh suggests using different colored labels, boxes, or containers to organize. For example, orange for Halloween decorations and white for holiday lights.
For clutter you believe holds nostalgic value, stuff that has a strong emotional or sentimental pull on you, pick two or three treasures that remind you of a particular person or memory and donate the rest.
"Find two items in the stuff that give you huge joy and pleasure and bring them out of the dark, frame them or display them in a way that treats them with honor or respect," Walsh suggests. "You'll be amazed at how it takes the power out of the rest of the stuff."
Once you've decluttered, you'll have more time to actually enjoy life. Keep those positive changes moving.