3 Key Strategies for a Clutter-Free New Year

Tap into that new year/new you feeling, and start giving yourself the gift of a less-cluttered decade.

December 29, 2009

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A cluttered state of living isn't just a nuisance when you need to find the car keys. It can translate into impaired mental health, leading to feelings of anxiety and even depression—not to mention tripping hazards. Conversely, controlling clutter not only helps your mood, it can be a step toward keeping a healthier home. If kicking the clutter is one of your resolutions for 2012, here are three projects to tackle first.

# 1: Start with the entryway. Whether it's a porch, hallway, or foyer, seeing a cluttered mess as soon as you get in the door isn't very welcoming. Entryways set the mood of the house, so if yours is bogged down with strewn-about sneakers, umbrellas, jackets, and other random items, try these fixes:

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Set up a post office. To keep mail from piling up and important bills from being lost, place a mail holder with separate sections for incoming and outgoing mail as close to the door as you can get it. That way, mail can be sorted as soon as it comes into the house. For added efficiency, choose a mail sorter with separate slots for bills and correspondence, or with separate areas for each household member. Place a bin nearby so unwanted mail can go right into the recycling stream, and include stamps and blank envelopes so they'll be easy to find. To cut down on unwanted mail and catalogs to begin with, visit CatalogChoice.org. You'll save hundreds of trees by reducing paper use.

Create a return bin. Designate a box, bin, or shelf for borrowed items that need to be returned, such as DVDs, library books, and toys left behind by visiting kids. You'll never pay a late fee again!

Set up a shoebox. Nothing screams disorganization than muddy shoes tossed around a room. Use an old chest, a wash basket, or a shoe organizer, and instruct the household to toss their dirty shoes into it as soon as they enter the home. You'll avoid tracking dust and chemicals into the house, and keep the entryway clear, to boot.

# 2: Undo under-sink clutter. Pediatrician like Alan Greene, MD, author of Raising Baby Green, has found that one of the most toxic places in the house is under the kitchen sink. It's also one of the most cluttered. Instead of housing 10 different half-full specialty cleaners under there—most of which contain carcinogens or other harmful chemicals—mix your own general cleaning solution of 9 parts water, 1 part white vinegar in a spray bottle. For particularly dirty areas, wipe with soapy water first, and then use the vinegar solution. You'll save loads of money, keep nasty chemicals out of your air and water, and clear clutter at the same time.

# 3: Combat clothing-closet clutter. For various reasons, we all tend to hold on to clothing that makes us look fat, isn't our color, doesn't match anything else in our wardrobe, or is just plain ugly. Here are some guidelines to help you shed the garments that you don't ever wear but can't seem to give up.

1. Assemble a pen or marker, some Post-It notes, large garbage bags, and cardboard storage cartons. If your closet's not totally jammed, it's best to work through the contents while they're hanging up; surrounding yourself with piles of clothes can make the job seem even harder than it is. First pick out the stuff you know you know you want to keep, such as work clothing, and outfits you need to have for specific occasions like weddings, funerals, formal parties, or church events. Push those to one side of the closet.

2. Next, pull what you know you want to get rid of, the stuff you can toss without even thinking about it. This should include items that are way out of style, stained, torn, or hopelessly shrunk. (You may want to cut some of these up to use as rags or for sewing projects. You can turn shrunken wool sweaters into gifts.) Toss the rejects into the trash bags or boxes, but don't throw them out (more on that later).

3. Now the hard part: those maybes that you feel you should dump but, for whatever reason, you can't let go of. Take the Post-Its and, for each item, write down the problem with the piece ("It's hideous and it makes my wrists look huge.") and the reason you want to keep it ("Could be a great Halloween costume."). Once you're finished tagging, leave the clothing alone for a few hours, or even a few days. When you return and review your notes, you'll have better perspective regarding what to keep and what to get rid of. If you're still struggling, ask a friend to help you make choices.

4. For vintage pieces or family heirlooms that you don't wear but can't bear to lose, consider putting them on display in a frame or shadowbox, perhaps with a photo of the person it once belonged to. Regifting may also be a solution, if you know someone close to you who would enjoy the piece. If you love something but will never wear it again, take a photo of it and write what it meant to you, and add the photo and notes to a wardrobe journal.

5. Important: Avoid throwing out your wardrobe rejects whenever possible, to keep trash out of the landfills. If you can't repurpose the clothes as described above, give them a chance at a second life: Donate them to Goodwill, sell them on Ebay or through a local consignment shop, give them away on Freecycle.org.

For more help decluttering and organizing your home, check out these books:

Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Space (Rodale, 2005)

Kick the Clutter: Clear Out Excess Stuff Without Losing What You Love (Rodale, 2008).