Develop a system to manage paper. Paper is the number ONE item when it comes to clutter. Newspapers, magazines, and junk mail all add to the mountain of paper in our homes. The first step in organizing paper is to develop a system to manage it. Think in terms of time. Papers such as the titles to your home and car you’ll likely keep until you sell them. Other items, such as a daily newspaper, you’ll keep until you recycle them: usually once each week. Some pieces of paper you can toss when you receive them, such as junk mail or an ATM receipt. So, create files and boxes organized by how long it makes sense to keep a piece of paper. For example, a “Until Sold” box or file might hold the title to your car. You might create a “One Year” box or folder to keep your home and car insurance policies (which is the usual renewal period).


Sort first. Once you’ve created systems to store paper and other possessions, the next step is to sort your possessions into categories. It’s impossible to declutter your living space if you can’t sort your possessions into categories, Now, this might sound easy, but for people with a serious collecting and cluttering problem, this process can be quite stressful. Often, it’s because they’re worried that they might make a mistake and put something in the wrong category. Also, because everything is of equal importance when you have a serious collecting and cluttering problem, sorting forces you to decide what is important and less important. This is new territory for some people. To sort, label three boxes Very Important, Important, and Not at All Important. Now, sort possessions into one of those three boxes. Set aside the idea that you must discard an item. This isn’t about discarding. It’s about placing your possessions into categories.


Focus on one small spot at a time. If you have a serious collecting and cluttering problem, you likely have a lot of stuff. Typically, people declutter here and there, moving from one pile to the next. This means that you could work all, look at your living room, and think that you’ve accomplished nothing. This is demoralizing. Instead, focus on one small spot and stay on that spot for as long as you plan to declutter. If you have a Hula Hoop, place it over the area you wish to focus on and only deal with the items in the hoop.


Manage distraction. Decluttering isn’t a lot of fun. In fact, it’s boring. If you’re easily bored then you can expect to get distracted when you declutter. To manage distraction, try a couple of things. First, use a timer on a lanyard that you can wear around your neck. Wearing the timer around your neck prevents you from wandering away from the timer as you declutter an area. When you begin to declutter, set the timer for 10 minutes. When the timer sounds, ask yourself, “Am I working on what I decided to work on when I set the timer?” If the answer is yes, reset the timer for another 10 minutes and get back to work. If the answer is no, go back to the spot and try again. Another way to manage distraction is to work for sort periods and then take attention breaks. Sorting and decluttering takes a lot of mental effort (not to mention physical effort). Work for a short period, say 20 minutes, and then give yourself a short break, say 5 minutes. Remember to set the timer for 5 minutes when you start your break. This will help you keep to short breaks. Last, if you’re decluttering an area – your sofa, for example – try covering with a bedsheet or drop cloth everything on the sofa, except the area on which you’re working. If you use the Hula Hoop idea, cover everything on the sofa but the Hula Hoop


Develop decision rules. Decluttering involves many, many decisions. Not just deciding what to keep and what to discard, but deciding where and how you’ll store the things you decide to keep. Because it can be difficult for people with a serious collecting and cluttering problem to make decisions, decision rules can help. For example, consider these rules:


  • “If it’s broken, then I’ll discard it.”
  • “If I haven’t worn the item in a year, then I’ll give it away.”
  • “If I don’t have enough space to store it, then I’ll give it away.”
  • “If it’s dirty, I’ll either clean it today, or discard it today.”


Write these rules on a big piece of butcher paper and tape it on the wall across from the area your clearing. When you have some trouble deciding what to do with an item, look at the decision rules and go through the questions. Decision rules can really help move along the decluttering process and save you time.