Kick your clutter habit | Sunday Observer

Kick your clutter habit

“House Beautiful” is an internationally distributed interior decor magazine carrying hundreds of stunning decorating ideas for all your rooms, including bathroom and laundry. After going through its latest edition last week, I realised that most of the people I know simply do not live that way.

Much of the advice given is just not practical for the woman trying to juggle her husband, children and the budget, two fish tanks, the Alsatian and dozens of other “cannot -throw-away” memorabilia. In short, it is extremely difficult to combine decluttered modern style with family living.

These magazines do make great escape reading with all those breath-taking photographs of clean, decluttered, mono-coordinated elegance and dining tables appointed with French crystal. Most of us, though, cannot attain this level of perfection unless we ship the children off to military school or confine them to the garage until dinner.


There are things you can do to satisfy your need for order and style around the house without resorting to those high-flown ideas. Let me tell you how to do it.

Rule 1: Work in reverse: What would you replace if you lost everything?

It’s easy to get attached to things, for a number of reasons. That’s completely normal, but when you’re looking to downsize and declutter, you have to try and separate yourself from those feelings a bit.

First ask yourself three questions:

What does this item do for me that nothing else does?

Do I have anything else that does this better, or at least does something else as well?

Does this item have sentimental meaning to me?”

Apply these three questions to virtually everything you own. Don’t rush for answers. Give yourself reasonable time. Don’t leave any stone unturned-for example, open up that box and look inside. If it’s a box full of old papers, you’ll be happier with them gone than taking up space next to your desk

You’ll have to walk the line between storing only the things you really want to keep that are not useful on a daily basis versus the amount of out-of-sight storage you really have.

Rule No 2: Use the Four-Box Method

The four-box method is just a modified version of keep/donate/toss. Instead of three boxes, you’ll make four: Keep, Sell/Donate, Store, and Trash.

“Keep” boxes are for all items you need or use regularly, and have space for.

“Sell/Donate” will go to your favourite charity, or hopefully make you a little money on classified column.

“Trash” is junk, like papers to be shredded, broken things that you know you’ll never repair.

“Store” is ambiguous. These are items you do not want to throw but do not play a role in your daily life. It is between “keep” and “trash.” Deciding something is needed or not is not difficult. However, parting with it may be hard for a number of reasons. Best solution is to leave it in “store” position and take a decision after 6 months.

Rule No 3: Find new ways to keep the things you love

With your boxes and piles at the ready, go through your rooms, drawers, and closets one by one, and group everything into one of those four categories. While you go through each area, think about some of these ways you can have your cake and eat it too- meaning, keep the item without keeping the clutter:

For example, digitize photos and documents and organize them, and upload them to safe places so they’re backed up. Do the same with semi-important documents, then shred the originals if you don’t need them, or pack the originals away in a safe place, like a fireproof box.

Digitize movies and music. Keeping with the digitize idea, don’t leave your CDs in towers and your old DVDs and game boxes in the bookshelf. Zip those CDs and movies that you really enjoy and know you’ll watch again. Store the originals just in case, and donate or sell the rest in your collection.

Give items to family members or friends who’ll value them. Granted, you may just be offloading your clutter to someone else, but if you have a sweater you love, or an old computer you used to use every day, clean it up and give it to a friend who could use it. You get the satisfaction of knowing it’s not in a landfill and is being used and appreciated, your friend gets a free gift, and you get your space back.

Think about the money you’ll make when you sell that junk. Who doesn’t love some extra money in their wallet? Let cash be your motivator to clean up: the more you sell, the more you’ll make. The sooner you sell it, the sooner you’ll have it. Could that amount buy something better, or something you’ve been wanting? If that item represents your hard-earned money, think about how getting some of that money back will make you feel when it’s in the bank, instead of locked up in an object collecting dust.

Rule No 4: Don’t be seduced by gadgets and containers

After you’ve decluttered, that’s the time to start thinking about what you can get to help you clean up what you have. If you can, limit your purchasing to things that actually improve your clutter condition, like wall-mounted storage to get things off of your floors (think up, not out when it comes to storage) and filing cabinets that’ll replace the boxes of paper you need to keep.

I suggest before you buy organizational gadgets and containers, ask yourself if the item you want to buy is something you’ll actually use, and whether it’ll improve the way you use the things you put in it.

When you reorganize your space, it wouldn’t look like one you see in the magazine. But, it’ll look great and work properly for you.

Most importantly, it is a space that is used by an actual human being, not one that has been carefully staged for a non-existent resident. The goal is to set up a space that works well for your needs.