Declutter One Day at a Time

Why decluttering will make you feel better.

Betty’s New Year, New You Series

One Drawer at a Time

De-cluttering for a better state of mind

-Jane Farrell

Betty’s New Year, New You Series is dedicated to making 2009 your best year ever. Find more articles in the series below.

woman sitting on a bedHow long has it been since you’ve been able to see all the way inside your closet? Does your e-mail inbox have at least 750 messages, with approximately 10 percent unread (though you’re getting to them any day now)? It’s time to face the fact that your clutter is officially out of control. Take heart, though: The New Year is a perfect time to start a decluttering campaign.

And here’s an additional motivator: Having a clutter-free space will improve not only your physical environment but also your state of mind. “Clutter creates confusion and can lead to depression,” says Mary Carlomagno, author of Secrets of Simplicity (Chronicle Books). When you’ve got piles of paper, a stuffed closet and an overflowing e-mail inbox, most people find it hard to focus only on what they need to do. And that, Carlomagno says, causes feelings that are very similar to some classic symptoms of depression: An inability to concentrate and a feeling of hopelessness or being overwhelmed. But, says Carlomagno, all that tends to disappear once your space is clean and clutter-free.

The key to success: Start small but remember you’re in it for the long run. Your aim is not instant success but a long-term change in how you arrange your surroundings. Says Carlomagno, “You didn’t get disorganized in a day, and you certainly won’t get organized over night.” (It’s kind of like dieting, actually.)

Her suggestions for cleaning up:

1. Begin with tasks that won’t intimidate you. Take fifteen minutes a day to organize even one drawer or one file folder. “Take your time,” Carlomagno advises, “and make steady progress.”

2. Get rid of what you don’t need, but keep what you love. The aim isn’t to have a home that looks like a Zen monk’s, but a space where you are comfortable and not overpowered by your surroundings. “You can have your treasures,” Carlomagno says.

3. Acknowledge how hard the task is — and then put your emotions aside. “Focus on your tasks,” Carlomagno says, “instead of how you feel about the tasks.” You’ll progress faster.

4. Get rid of excess stuff permanently rather than just moving it from one room to another. And don’t even think about renting a storage unit. “Clutter is delayed decision,” Carlomagno says, and shuffling what you don’t need is just postponing the choices you need to make.

5. As for “verbal clutter,” rethink your obligations. There’s no reason you have to read every magazine or catalog that comes into your house. If you’re flooded with e-mails from political parties and worthy causes, delete them immediately if you don’t want to respond.

Soon you’ll be able to measure your success in concrete ways. Carlomagno favors the slide test for your closet. If you can slide your clothes back and forth, and can see the front of every piece of clothing in there, you’ve won an important battle.

Now, it’s on to that inbox. Goal: 0 unread.

More in the New Year, New You Series:

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