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Clear the Clutter

Getting rid of your clutter means throwing it away, recycling it, donating it, or selling it. Try this strategy to tackle a junky room, garage, attic, closet, or basement and sort its contents into four boxes for disposal.

Arm yourself with four large containers (boxes or large garbage bags) - plus one laundry basket.

Have one bag or box to hold items for:

  • Garbage
  • Recycling
  • Give-aways or donations
  • Yard sale or resale/consignment shop (If you’re not planning to sell anything, you’ll only need three containers.)

laundry basket
Items that you intend to keep but need to return to their correct places in other rooms should go in the laundry basket. It’s easy to carry, and you can easily see the things in it.

Choose your point of attack—the first item to your left as you enter the room, one corner of the basement, or the floor of a closet, for example. As quickly as possible, pick up items one by one and decide which container they go in.

Give yourself a time limit before you start. When your time is up, pat yourself on the back, toss out the garbage, and make one tour around the house with the laundry basket to return misplaced items to their proper homes. Plan when you will stage your next attack on the clutter in that area, or another one.

Tips for making this approach more effective:

  • timer
    Use a timer. If you have only a little time to work, setting a timer will help you keep focused and working efficiently. Don’t leave the room at all during that time, especially not to return an item to another room.
  • Use the Clutter Emergency Card. When you’re having difficulty deciding what to get rid of, ask yourself the questions on the Clutter Emergency Card.
Clutter Emergency Card
  • How long has it been since I used this?
  • Do I like it?
  • Does it work properly? - Is it broken?
  • Do I have more of this kind of thing? How many do I need?
  • If I keep this, what will I get rid of to make room for it?
  • Can I locate this information somewhere else (probably on the Internet) if I need it?
  • repairing broken items
    Be realistic about repairing broken items. Many items cost more to repair than to replace; some items cannot be repaired. If you’ve already replaced the item, it’s unlikely you’ll ever repair the old one.

  • Have a buddy. This is especially helpful if you’re planning to work for a lengthy period of time at one stretch. You will probably run into items that are difficult for you to decide what to do with. And you may reach a point where you feel you can’t make decisions any more. Have a good friend, sibling, or your spouse with you. It will make the task less burdensome, and they may help you decide what to do with the tougher items.
  • repairing broken items
    Shred or tear up documents you intend to toss that contain personal information.



Recycle it.

  • If you have curbside recycling, find out exactly what items are accepted and which are not.
  • Check to see if there are drop-off locations for other recyclable items.
  • hazardous
    Look for hazardous waste pickup locations or events in your area. Items that are typically accepted include mercury thermometers, oil-based paints, tires, pesticides, used motor oil, and used batteries.
  • Search online for special programs to recycle computers or other items that you can’t recycle locally.

Recycle unused gifts

  • Think about the groups that you belong to that exchange gifts at the holidays or other occasions (clubs, colleagues at work, family groups). Propose that no one can buy a gift for the next exchange, but that everyone must give something they received as a gift and never used.
  • wrapped gift
    Keep unused gifts with your “gift inventory”—those things that you purchase ahead of time for gifts. Use them when you need a gift on a moments’ notice, or when you know the item is a good choice for a recipient.

Donate it.

You can multiply the benefits of getting organized by donating your unneeded items to help others, and maybe get a tax break at the same time.

  • Identify organizations in your neighborhood that accept donations of clothing and household items. Some charities may only accept certain types of items; call ahead to find out. Some organizations may pick up large items, such as furniture. Other groups, such as Friends of the Library, deal with only one type of item—in this case, used books.
  • wrapped gift
    If you itemize deductions on your income taxes, you will want to drop off your donations where you can get a receipt. For more information about deducting donations, visit the IRS web site http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/ formspubs/ and download IRS publication 526, Charitable Donations.
  • Search online for special programs that accept computers or other items for donation to deserving organizations.

Sell it.

Turn some of that former clutter into cash! This can be a great way to motivate yourself and your children to sort through belongings.

  • wrapped gift
    Yard sale, swap meet, or flea marketWhether you have a yard sale on your own property, or rent a space at a swap meet or flea market, you will not sell everything. Plan ahead how you will handle the items that are left.
    • Have ample garbage cans or garbage bags on hand. Much of what is left will truly be trash.
    • Don’t bring unsold items back into your house! Or, set a strict rule for deciding what items can be kept. One mom and two adult daughters did a yard sale together. Their rule was that all three had to agree before an item could go back into the house.
    • Identify a place to donate those items that are usable. If you need a receipt for tax purposes, end your yard sale in time to load and deliver your leftovers before they close.
  • Resale or consignment shop:
    If there is a shop in your community, call to find out their rules and determine if it’s worth your time. Check into clothing resale shops, antique malls, and used bookstores.
  • Internet
    Investigate auction sites or others where you can register and sell used items. Check to see how you are assured of receiving payment and how shipping costs are handled.