'Tis the Season for Decluttering: Why and How To Do It

By G.E. Miller on 24 December 2010 (Updated 16 December 2011) 1 comment
Photo: puuikibeach

You've been putting it off for months, maybe years. But there is no better time of year to get rid of clutter than right at the end of the year. Here are five reasons why.

Time. You have a few days, maybe a week, maybe more to go through everything and take your time while you do it. One of the biggest procrastination reasons to not declutter is that you just don't have the time to do it. Right now is one of the few times you just might!

Weather. If you live in a northern climate (or even California these days), you're stuck in the house to avoid cold and precipitation.

Tax Considerations. You should end up donating a large portion of what you get rid of. And in order for it to count towards your itemized 2010 tax deduction, you'll need to donate and get a receipt before the end of the year. (See also: 16 Great Tax Deductions You May Have Overlooked)

More Stuff. It's the holiday season, after all, so you're likely to end up with a slew of new things around the house that you didn't really need. Out with the old and in with the new.

Start the Year Off Fresh. It's the end of the calendar year, and there is no better way to start 2011 than to eliminate all the physical and psychological mess from your life. Get a head start on your resolutions so that your 2011 can be a healthy one.

Hopefully that is enough motivation for you to get off the couch and put away the egg nog. But now that you're up, where should you focus your efforts? And how?

How to Eliminate Physical Clutter

Go room-by-room and put every item into one of four piles: trash, sell, donate, or keep. If you can't find a compelling reason to keep something or can't see a need for it in the future, force yourself to put it in one of the other three piles. And then do those things immediately — don't hesitate.

If you're having trouble being this methodical, it might be time to go guerrilla with your decluttering techiques. Set arbitrary black/white rules in order to disconnect emotionally with the possession — i.e., if you haven't used the item within the last six months, it's time for it to go (unless it is a seasonal item).

You should also take charge by organizing mail and paperwork into folders.

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How to Eliminate Electronic Clutter

Unfortunately, clutter is no longer of the physical variety anymore — we are also inundated with electronic clutter these days. Here is a checklist of what to attack:

RSS Feed. If you have over 1,000 items in your RSS feed, do yourself a favor and mark them all as read. If you have less and have strategically saved many feeds to read, attack each feed one-by-one versus going through all feeds by delivery date.

Email. GMail's archive feature comes in pretty handy here. There are few things as satisfying as reaching "inbox zero." That is, until the next email arrives.

MP3s. Delete all songs you no longer care for, reorganize into playlists by genre, and sync between all of your devices.

Facebook/Twitter. Get rid of friends and followers who spam or who you don't care for, and update your privacy settings.

Documents. If you haven't uploaded your documents to the cloud, this is a great time to do so. Using Google Docs, you can easily search for content in documents whose names are escaping you.

What tips do you have for getting rid of physical, electronic, or paperwork clutter?

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Debbie M

Unsubscribe from things that aren't working out.

For clothes, I separated them into love, like, and accept. Then I further split each pile into fits perfectly and doesn't. Then I split off things that don't go with anything I have.

First I put things that I love and that fit perfectly into the drawers. Then I added things I like that fit perfectly and go with something. Then I added other things that I wear a lot (that go with something but maybe don't fit perfectly). I boxed up things I love that fit perfectly but don't go with anything and things I love that don't fit but are a size I should be. I got rid of everything too big that I didn't love, plus everything else that didn't fit in my drawers. (Then I learned that I should have either waited to do this until my laundry was caught up or left some extra space!)

Another hint I've liked is to box up things you don't know about. You'll enjoy having the space, but everything's still around in case later you realize, "What was I thinking? How could I have put this in there?" Then after a year you can get rid of the box pretty easily, especially if you don't open it.