Green Living

Clear the Clutter

Junk happens when we feel stressed, overwhelmed, or guilty. Here's how to overcome those emotions and get organized.
Clear the Clutter
Pin it courtesy of Shutterstock

The clothes stuffed in your closet that no longer fit or are outdated, the catalogs piled on your desk—clutter has a way of creeping into the same areas of our homes over and over again. And trying to clear it often feels like a losing battle. But before you start berating yourself for your lack of housekeeping skills, consider this: Laziness isn't at the root of most clutter issues. "Clutter is stuff we don't need but don't realize we don't need," says Paula Jhung, author of Cleaning and the Meaning of Life. Since possessions are often hardwired with emotional triggers (like the china cabinet you don't like but feel guilty about selling because it belonged to your grandmother), decluttering starts with honest reflection. We've tackled three commonly cluttered spaces—the bedroom closet, home office desk, and junk drawer—and created a plan that will help you banish the mess once and for all.

"If you're like mast people, you never wear half the clothes in your closet," Jhung says. But being honest about why you still have garments that are damaged, out of style, or don't fit isn't easy. "Objects came to represent identity," says psychologist Randy Frost, Ph.D., coauthor of Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding. That's especially true for possessions that remind you of certain times in your life, both good and bad. For example, are those "thin" clothes inspiration for a healthier lifestyle or do they make you feel guilty about your weight? In addition, we may stock up on shoes and purses because shopping can (at least temporarily) give us a feeling of self-worth. Decluttering your closet isn't just about organizing; it also involves soul-searching to make sure you're keeping items because you want them, not because you're compensating for something else.

Purge Mindfully
1. Set aside clothes and accessories you haven't worn in a year. Send ruined pieces that can't be mended to the rag pile and donate what you definitely don't want.

2. Assess your wardrobe. Get an impartial opinion from a trusted friend about clothing that still fits but that you can't decide if you should keep. Don't ask someone who will tell you only what you want to hear.

3. Get rid of clothes that don't fit. If losing weight is a goal, Jhung says, and you have clothes that fit a thinner you, keep only those pieces that will inspire you. Donate the ones that will make you feel sad instead of motivated.

4. Box up accessories and clothing you can't decide on. Give them a detailed label such as "Clothes I Might Wear if l Worked in an Office Again." Store them in the attic or basement. If you never open the box in a year, you can get by without them.

5. Re-evaluate hand-medowns and gifts. If you don't genuinely want old gifts or clothes from friends or siblings, give them away. And don't let guilt paralyze you—your home is your sanctuary, and it should be filled with items that you find meaningful.

Create a System
1. Pay attention to aesthetics. If your closet looks neat, you'll want to keep it that way. A tip: Match hangers (use plastic or wood; avoid wire ones, which tangle) and face them in the same direction, says Kathryn Robyn, coauthor of The Emotional House: How Redesigning Your Home Can Change Your Life.

2. Organize your clothes. Sort hanging items in a way that makes sense for you (e.g., color or type of clothing). Place folded garments like jeans and sweaters in transparent drawers so you can see them. (Use a dresser if your closet doesn't have drawers.) Leave enough space in the drawers to easily remove and return items.

3. Make things visible. Place shoes (out of boxes), handbags, and belts on shelves at eye level so they're easy to reach. Put out-of-season items in a transparent box or wire bin and store overhead or out of the closet entirely.

4. Add to your closet carefully. Get rid of items first before you buy anything new.