The Basics of Clutter

Some common questions I get about the business of Organizing from both clients and reporters: 

  • What’s the difference between “Collecting” and being a Hoarder?

The people I see do less “collecting” and more impulsive shopping. Sometimes that shopping is for products called organizers in an effort to get them organized. In reality a product can’t get you organized but can help maintain your system. That is if you have one. I think the abundance of stuff that we Americans have in our lives is a result of megastores, easy credit cards and an overload of advertising from many sources. So we see the ads, we decide we want something (although we don’t always need it) then those things are easy to purchase and because of credit cards we don’t even feel the pain of parting with our money! It’s instant gratification with a delayed consequence. Unfortunately sometimes that consequence is a loss of living space. So we get depressed or stressed out about that and we want to de-clutter. If our efforts are unsuccessful and shopping makes us feel better, the cycle continues. One client I work with who is a hoarder calls it retail therapy. But I contend that is not therapy if it ultimately robs us of a nice place to live and alienates us from friends and family coming over.

  • What are the pitfalls you see when people try to de-clutter themselves?

Biggest pitfalls I see in de-cluttering efforts are first buying bins, baskets and organizers without really knowing what you need to keep and how big a container is necessary. I also ask my clients before starting any project, “What is the function of this room?” Then everything in there should serve that function.   I recommend a process called “CPR.” It works whether you are organizing a junk drawer, a closet or an entire room.  First categorize everything in that space and keep the categories big, like paperwork, office supplies, toys, clothes. You can break them down into more specifics later.  Second, Purge. This does not necessarily mean throw it in the trash. I usually have a recycle pile, a donation pile and a move to another room pile when working with clients. You can even purge as you categorize but it’s helpful once you see how large each category is to pare down to what your really use, need and love.  The last step is Re-Arrange. This is when you put the pieces of the puzzle together. You decide where you want to keep each category and then what container or organizer would be helpful to keep it neat. Before you buy anything, measure the space and decide the look you want. Organizing products come in all shapes and sizes now so you can find one that matches your style.

The hardest part is then maintaining what you have done to organize. For this, you need routines! I recommend straightening daily, cleaning weekly and cleaning out seasonally.  In my home I clean out my garage twice a year at the change of seasons. I also clean out clothes closets and toys about the same time of year; this keeps the clutter down and gets things back to normal.


  • If there were three things you can recommend that we do to prevent cluttering our lives, what would they be?


  1. Throw out the junk mail/sales circulars as soon as they come in. Better yet – get your name off of mailing lists by going to
  2. Always shop with a list and buy what you need whether that’s clothing, food, or items for your home.
  3. Find a charity or donation bin that is convenient to you. Put donations in the car and drop them off as you go to school, work or the supermarket. Make it easy to purge!

What questions or suggestions do you have about de-cluttering our lives?

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