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Clutter Control Checklist

Some folks treat decluttering like the organizational equivalent of having a root canal, behaving as if the sheer act of making decisions about their stuff is causing them physical pain — but clearing the decks doesn’t have to be that damn hard! Anyone can do it — with a little patience, a little stamina, a WHOLE lot of coffee, and a logically-devised plan of attack. Here are some tips for creating a well-defined set of guidelines for what to keep/toss, as well as a more efficient way of storing everything that’s left:

Making Progress, Avoiding Overwhelm

Checkmark-Iconstart with the issue that causes you the greatest pain — what annoys you most every day?

Xmark-Iconcreate a list of areas you want to declutter in order of priority, with a deadline for completing each

Checkmark-Iconfind the organizing style and pace that suit you — there is no “right” or “wrong” way to declutter

Xmark-Icontry to tackle one small area at a time (a drawer, a cabinet, a shelf, a section of a closet)

Checkmark-Iconset aside time each week to work on a different task — even a few minutes can make a difference

Xmark-Iconmove systematically from space to space — completely finish one before beginning another

Checkmark-Iconrecruit some free organizing “assistants” (friends, family, neighbors who’ll work for pizza and beer)

Xmark-Iconconsider hiring an organizer if you get stuck or are having trouble choosing the right systems

It’s Time For A Serious Reality Check

Checkmark-Iconwhen was the last time you used it? — think of a recent instance where you pulled this item out

Xmark-Iconwhen will you (realistically) use it again? — why would you need it? for what purpose?

Checkmark-Iconwho might request it? — imagine a specific situation where someone would ask you for this thing

Xmark-Iconis it easily replaceable? — if the answer is “yes,” does that make it easier to let it go?

Checkmark-Iconwhat’s the worst thing that would happen if you got rid of it? — let your imagination run wild

Xmark-Iconis it beautiful, useful, or loved? — and if not, why are you keeping it?

Get Organized Before You Get Organized

Checkmark-Iconstart with the end in mind — know what you want from your storage from the very beginning

Xmark-Iconis your goal to maximize space? see everything you own? cut down on cleaning?

Checkmark-Iconmake sure each storage decision meets these goals

Xmark-Iconcollect up everything (EVERYTHING) that needs to live together before you sort/purge

Checkmark-Iconinventory your space so you understand exactly how much room you have available

Xmark-Iconmake decluttering easier by doing a quick sweep of your spaces, discarding obvious trash first

Stop Deluding Yourself

Checkmark-Iconexcuse — “It was expensive.”

Xmark-Iconreality — keeping it isn’t going to get your money back (the only thing that will do that is selling it)

Checkmark-Iconexcuse — “I might need it someday.”

Xmark-Iconreality — if you haven’t used it in the past year, what makes you think you’ll use it in the next?

Checkmark-Iconexcuse — “It was a gift.”

Xmark-Iconreality — once you receive a present from someone else, it’s yours to do with as you see fit

Boxes Boxes Everywhere

Checkmark-Iconset up several cardboard boxes or trash bags as you go through each storage area

Xmark-Iconlabel the first box “keep” — for those things that you love and use all the time

Checkmark-Iconsort your “keeps” into different boxes for each area, so you can get them back where they belong

Xmark-Iconlabel the second box “get rid of” — for stuff you don’t use, don’t care about, and no longer want

Checkmark-Iconthrow anything that can’t be repaired or salvaged by others in the trash or recycle bin

Xmark-Iconput mean-nothing-to-me-but-someone-else-could-use-them items in a “donate” or “give away” box

Checkmark-Icontoss valuable discards into a “sell” box to consign, put in a yard sale, or list online

Xmark-Iconlabel another box “not sure” — for stuff you don’t know if you want but aren’t ready to let go of

Checkmark-Icontape up the “not sure” box, label with the date and contents, and put in the garage/basement

Xmark-Iconmake a note in your calendar to check back in 6-12 months — if the box is unopened, get rid of it

Xmark-Iconlabel a box “need to buy” — for belongings you would use if not for their missing parts

Checkmark-Iconlabel a box “need to repair” — for items that require some work before they can serve a purpose

Xmark-Iconlabel a box “to return” — for stuff that isn’t yours, and should go back to its rightful owner

Getting Things Back Where They Belong

Checkmark-Iconcreate a set home for everything you own — no halfway spots or “I’ll just put it here for now”

Xmark-Iconstore like items together according to purpose — sporting goods, office supplies, cookware, etc.

Checkmark-Icondon’t forget related accessories (travel alarm, A/C adapter, and toiletry bag with your luggage)

Xmark-Iconkeep things nearest the point of use — consider owning multiples if you use it in several places

Checkmark-Iconput stuff you get at regularly in accessible spaces — what you need less in harder-to-reach areas

Xmark-Iconpay attention to climate (heat, cold, moisture, and insects)

Checkmark-Icondon’t store things in an attic or garage if they stand any risk of becoming damaged

Xmark-Iconleave 15% of your space free for future additions — when you bring more home, clean some out

Checkmark-Iconplan to go through your storage to “purge” once a year

Xmark-Iconhave a good reason for locating an item in a certain place — your system should make sense

Stuff For Your Stuff

Checkmark-Iconstick with see-through containers whenever possible — unless you’re specifically hiding your stuff

Xmark-Iconlabel every enclosed receptacle so you know what’s in it without opening the lid

Checkmark-Iconuse drawer trays, racks, baskets, and shelves to subdivide larger storage areas

Xmark-Iconreclaim wasted hanging space on walls and doors with hooks, pegs, and racks

Checkmark-Iconmake use of low space beneath furniture and on the floor of closets with under-bed boxes

Xmark-Iconchoose modular components that can expand/adjust as your needs change

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    Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and

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    2 Responses

    1. terri says:

      thanks for many great tips and inspiration

    2. Rose says:

      Thank-you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge with the world. You are so correct in every insecurity and reasons I have a messy basement. The past won’t come back, why hold myself back by keeping EVERYTHING…I have some hope now..Thanks!

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