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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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« Decisions, Clutter & Tag Sales | 5 Quick Decluttering Tips »

9 Clutter Management Tips

9 Clutter Management TipsWhat is your favorite clutter management strategy? I asked several of my wonderful colleagues (Ellen Delap, Janice Simon, Jackie Hollywood Brown, Aby Garvey, Peggy Pardo, Ramona Creel, Janine Sarna-Jones, Sue West, Helena Alkhas ), many of which I recently had the pleasure of hanging out with at the NAPO conference in New Orleans, to share their best ideas with us. Their responses are creative, practical, and doable. My gratitude goes to each of them for taking the time to reflect, and give us their proven clutter management strategies. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by clutter, I encourage you to keep reading and try one of their fabulous ideas.


What is your favorite clutter management strategy? . . .

1. Shift Perspective

“My favorite clutter management strategy is to view decluttering work as a treasure hunt. Rather than sifting through, I help my clients prioritize and find what is most valuable first in their clutter. This focus helps them move forward and look toward what will be most useful, functional and beautiful to them as they create their vision of organization. ”

Ellen Delap, CPO® – Certified Professional Organizer & Family Manager Coach


2. Decide Now

“Make a decision. Whether it's paper, emails or anything else, it's important to make a decision about what you want to keep in your office and life and what you need to let go. When you put off making a decision, things pile up, and it takes more of your time to clear the decks to move forward.”

Janice Marie Simon, MA, CPO® – Professional Organizer


3. Evaluate Costs

“Although moving from one city to another isn't my favourite clutter management strategy, it is certainly effective. When the price to pack/load/move/unload/unpack an item costs somewhere between $3-$8 per pound, it is a little easier to make decisions about what to keep and what to toss! Anything that costs less to re-purchase than it does to move, doesn't get moved. Often when you get to your new home, you find out you really didn't need all the stuff you left behind after all.”

Jackie Hollywood Brown, M.Sc.  – Organizing & Productivity Consultant


4. Organize Thoughts

“We often associate clutter with the visible and tangible, however the most paralyzing form of clutter is the mental one. When we feel stuck and overwhelmed mentally, we allow clutter to accumulate in our spaces. To find relief, I practice both for myself and with my clients, what I call ‘mental dump’ time. I use a notepad to write down everything that's on my mind. After writing everything from the multiple ‘mental to-do lists,’ I categorize them into personal, professional, and family. My clients and I love clearing the ‘floor’ with this process. We feel great and are able to re-focus on getting organized.”

Helena Alkhas – Professional Organizer & Virtual Assistant


5. Be Proactive

“To help manage clutter, I like to attack it before it gets out of hand. For example, stacks of incoming mail could easily take over our house. When I bring the mail in, I sort through it right away. That which isn't shredded or recycled goes into the appropriate family member’s ‘in-box’. Taking a few minutes each day to handle small tasks like this helps keep the clutter under control.”

Peggy Pardo  – Interior Decorator, Professional Organizer, Author, & Blogger


6. Clarify Purpose

“What do you stand for? What gives you daily purpose? If we can tie motivation, reasons for managing clutter, and practical strategies to who the person IS, there’s greater chance for continued success. It’s the minister who elects to donate his things because this IS ministering; the mother who values making her mark and so passes along traditions, photos and heirlooms to family; and the business leader who listens to TED talks to improve his skills, while he manages paper and emails.“

Sue West, COC®, CPO-CD® – Organizing Coach & ADHD Specialist


7. Delegate Responsibilities

“A strategy that has worked great in my home has been to assign each family member a container called a clutter bin, which is stored in a centrally located area of the home, such as the laundry room, mudroom or family room. When you find small toys or other clutter strewn about, it gets tossed it into the appropriate person’s container. Then, once a week each family member is responsible for emptying their clutter bin by putting items away where they belong.”

Aby Garvey – Professional Organizer, Author, & Online Class Instructor 


8. Activate Plan

“When a client feels like they are drowning in clutter, I encourage them to think of using ‘buckets’ to bale themselves out—essentially, containing items in macro categories to clear some space and avoid getting bogged down in minutiae. When a client is frustrated by clutter, but not overwhelmed, I encourage them to create a set of criteria to manage clutter, e.g. recycle all reading materials ‘x’number of months old.  But my all time favorite clutter management strategy is helping clients identify the dynamics in their relationship with clutter.”

Janine Sarna-Jones, CPO ® – Certified Professional Organizer, Blogger, & Change Agent


9. Increase Attention

“Clutter creeps up on you and takes over your space when you aren't paying attention to your stuff – so the trick to taming clutter is to pay better (and more frequent) attention! Every time you walk through a room and see something out of place, take a second to put it where it belongs. And if that item no longer seems to serve a purpose in your life, drop it in the ‘to donate,’ ‘to sell,’ ‘to give away’ (or otherwise ‘to get rid of’) bin – rather than sticking it back into storage.”

Ramona Creel – Professional Organizer, Simplicity Coach, Author, & Blogger


Do you have a favorite clutter management strategy? I love the variety in these fabulous responses, which include shifting perspectives, not delaying decisions, evaluating costs, and organizing mind clutter. I’d love to hear from you. Come join the conversation and share your thoughts about your favorite clutter strategies, success stories, or challenges. What are your thoughts?

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    " can accelerate your clutter-casting results by getting some accountability and assistance, but do not fail to bring joy and even fun into your ongoing efforts to stay on course by celebrating your clutter as a sign of life!"

Reader Comments (21)

Thanks Linda and collaborators for sharing these clutter strategies. Having many different ways to find a new perspective on clutter makes a difference. I am grateful to read all these ideas.

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

@Ellen- Sharing, trying on different perspectives, and brainstorming alternative solutions to managing clutter is what makes these collaborative posts so much fun! I love reading all the creative ideas from you guys. Thank you for adding your contribution to the mix.

May 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

LOVE these different perspectives. Linda, I've used the reference creation tool to link to an article with my take on clutter. Thanks for getting everybody to share their insight!

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShelley

@Shelley- I'm so happy you joined us and that you liked reading about the various perspectives on clutter. Thank you also for sharing the link to your post, "Find New Meaning in the Clutter." It's a wonderful piece and I hope others will take the time to read about your unique ways of viewing clutter.

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

How fun to read everyone's favorite clutter control strategies! Great ideas and perspectives here, Linda. Thanks for inviting me to share. :)
~ Aby

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAby Garvey

I don't even know where to begin. what an awesome post with insightful responses. So intuitive and so personal. Loved all of them.

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie Josel

Linda, it was so wonderful to contribute, but the highlight is reading everyone's contributions! So much variety and I can "hear" their unique voices! Thank you!

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanine Sarna-Jones

Great to have you here with us!

@Aby- Love your contribution about setting up "clutter bins" for each family member and engaging them in clutter management.

@Leslie- Great to know you loved all of the strategies. Isn't it interesting how a single question generated such a variety of responses? So fun!

@Janine- I enjoyed "hearing" YOUR unique voice too. I like the buckets analogy. It's so graphic.

May 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Fascinating - What a neat question and we answered it in so many different ways. Clutter - by our own words, it creeps up, takes over, drowns us, gets transformed into treasures, written about, cleared, is visual, tangible, is paralyzing, and costs us. It gets emptied, trashed, recycled and tossed. When you read all these words/phrases together, it tells a story of how draining and negative clutter can be, once you decide what IS clutter in your life. Great great question!

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue West

I love to see in how many ways we can tackle such a current problem not only in our own lives, but also when helping clients. Aby's solution is great for me as a mom and I should try that. I currently have ONE bin that I take care, but will be great to start sharing the job and not only getting help but also getting the boys more involved. Great post Linda!

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHelena Alkhas

@Sue- What a wonderful "collection" of words you gleaned from all the input. When you view them from this perspective they do indeed paint a powerful picture of what clutter is. Thank you for your contribution to the post and also to the conversation.

@Helena- It's great how we can learn from one another, isn't it? You were able to take something you already practice and expand that idea based on what Aby shared. These are the treasures of these conversations. Ideas get shared, more ideas get sparked, and we go forward with some new tools or concepts. Great, as always, to have you with us.

May 9, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

A good way to manage clutter is to have a place for EVERYTHING that gets brought into the house. I can walk into a room and know immediately if something is out of place or not put away. When I don't have to think of where to put the clutter away, and that includes the garbage, it's quick and easy to de-clutter a space, a drawer, a desktop, etc.

May 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie D.

Annie- That's a great clutter management strategy that can work for many. Once "homes" are established, it makes it easier to get things back to square one, when things get out of place. It's especially good for those that are strong visual processors...people that notice the visual cues. Wonderful to have you join the conversation.

May 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I found the best way to get rid of all my clutter! I had to fit everything my spouse and I own in a 1997 Honda Odyssey and move it 4,700 km (about 3,000 miles) across country with six weeks notice.

You make hard choices when it comes to a move like that. But the entire time I just kept in mind the two things that I learned when I first started organizing.

"Do not keep anything you do not absolutely love."
"Do not keep anything that does not serve a purpose."

"Purpose" is a subjective term, so that can include "It makes me happy!" That's a purpose!

May 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLori Kidwell

Wow, Lori! How inspiring! I can only begin to imagine the adventures that you encountered on your road trip and move. Your two clarifying thoughts of, "Do not keep anything..." are very helpful. And I also like how you've qualified the word "purpose." How long ago did you move? How has life changed with owning less things?

May 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Hi Linda, was reading this latest post and loved hearing all the different strategies, especially Helena's reference to mind clutter. De-cluttering is part of my life now and I definitely use it as a way to manage my mental well being. However I started to notice that my De-cluttering was never ending, because I was also constantly buying new things to fill the space. So one of my tips would be to be more aware of what you are buying and enjoy the space. Dx

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

Deborah- So wonderful to "hear" your voice. You make such a valuable point about being aware of the things you are bringing into your space as a way of managing clutter. I can see that in your decluttering process you had that "ah-ha" moment when you came to that realization. Great self-observing.

It's true that we often don't think about mind clutter. Like you, I also really appreciated Helena's addition to the clutter conversation. If you'd like to read more about that particular topic, you might enjoy this post, "Release Mind Clutter."

May 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

LOVE this post. Makes me happy knowing I have been recently doing some of these suggestions as a way to getting myself organized. It's good to know I am on the right track, and may be able to tame the clutter and disorganization, if not a little at a time. It also feels good to know others are taking the same steps, and I'm not alone in my mission. :)

Again, great article!

May 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKara Kelso

Kara- So great to have you with us! One of the things I love most about our blog community is the sharing and support. I'm thrilled to hear that the ideas in this post make you feel even more positive about the steps you've been taking. You are definitely NOT alone. Hope you'll stop back to share with us. Tomorrow will be a new post about how certain events can motivate you to declutter. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

May 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

We moved a month ago! We just celebrated three weeks in our new apartment.

It's funny, but you really find out what you really *need* when you start with basically nothing.

Our first purchases were a microwave (because our stove was broken and it was going to take 3 or 4 days for our landlord to get a new one), a kettle, and a toaster.

Our second purchase was three lawn chairs and a couple of small tables at a yard sale.

We just bought a futon after sleeping on an inflatable mattress for two weeks. We'll upgrade to a real bed next year when we don't have to haul it up three flights of stairs in our next apartment.

Our clothes are hung up or still in boxes, but we're super organized and know where everything is!

May 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLori Kidwell

Lori- It IS amazing how little we actually need. Your description is a testament to that. Congratulations on your new apartment, on staying organized, and adding those essentials slowly and purposefully.

May 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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