Don’t let your clutter boss you around

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Fiona Morrissey

Clutter has many faces. It’s not always something obvious like a box of antique bank statements, a pile of yellowing newspapers or a bucket with holes.

It can be a warm winter coat, a great book or a crystal vase. Each may seem harmless in itself, but if your house is crammed with excess clothing, reading matter and bric-a-brac, then it’s clutter and you need to take action.

As a professional organizer I’ve found that a lot of people with clutter issues are intimidated by what they own. This is particularly true of my older clients, many of whom grew up in the Depression.

They often allow a perfectly useless piece of junk to bully them into keeping it: How dare you say I’m only a jar of rusty nails? You might need me one fine day. So don’t even think of throwing me out!

The first thing I do is remind my clients that possessions make good servants but bad masters. If you let your clutter boss you around, then you’ll always have a home that you’re ashamed of and keep apologizing for.

Interrogate your clutter

The trick is to stand up to what you own. If you suspect a particular item of being clutter — interrogate it! Ask it the following questions:

  • When was the last time I used you?
  • When will I use you again?
  • Who might ask for you?
  • Are you easily replaceable?
  • What’s the worst that would happen if I gave you away?
  • Are you helping to make my home difficult to clean?
  • Do you make it harder for me to find things I need?
  • What have you done for me lately?

Once you decide that something deserves to be kept, it has to have a fixed address. Homelessness is a concern in many households, with things drifting aimlessly from place to place. A quick cross examination should find the right spot for any item.

  • Do you belong in this room?
  • How accessible are you now?
  • How accessible should you be?

Get it out of the house

The next step is to dispense with all those rogue articles that fared badly under interrogation.

Anything cracked, chipped, soiled, ripped, or with missing parts should go into the garbage.

Larger pieces that you believe are so broken or decrepit that no one will want them can be put out at your curb for a special trash pick-up. Call your jurisdiction’s solid waste department to arrange for one.

As for any usable items, load them up in your car, drive to your nearest thrift store and be done with it. Some thrift organizations will even pick your stuff up. Call one of these numbers:

  • Goodwill: 1-888-817-4323
  • Purple Heart: 1- 877-851-8111
  • Salvation Army: 1-800-728-7825
  • Amvets: 1-800-526-8387
  • Central Union Mission: 202-745-7118

Goodwill, Salvation Army and Central Union Mission will even accept big pieces of furniture, such as sofas, if clean and in good condition. Amvets also picks up sofas and the like, but only from the curb and not from inside your house.

Don’t put it off

It is important to be aware that clutter is sly and unscrupulous. You want your home up and running — your clutter does not. So it employs delaying tactics to slow you down.

What? Give me away for nothing? But we’ve been together for so long! The least you can do is get money for me. Aren’t I worth it?

This is why I do not recommend consignment stores for those with major clutter issues. Consignment stores are picky. There is no guarantee they will take anything, and even what they do accept may not sell.

Yard sales don’t work for most people, either. Haggling with your neighbors to get the best price for your junk uses up time and energy. Chances are you’ll sell only a small fraction. Then you’ll have to bag it all up again and bring it to the thrift shop where it should have gone in the first place.

Once you are no longer at the mercy of what you own, life can only get better. One of my clients put it this way: “I love having my house back. Now I can find things and it’s fun being able to entertain family and friends. Best of all, my grown children have stopped nagging me to declutter. It’s all done and I feel great!”

Fiona Morrissey is a professional organizer in Silver Spring, Md. For more information, see or call (301) 593-4026.

Also see: Ways recycle practically anything all