Homefront Purge: Why We Have So Much Clutter & What To Do About It

The recent success of the Netflix series, “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” has inspired millions of people to evaluate their belongings, deciding what among them sparks joy enough to keep and what to let go of.

But while TV shows can make getting organized seem easy, knowing where to start can be overwhelming.

A good place to begin is by understanding how we ended up with too much stuff in the first place.

“It all starts with wanting something,” says Rick Woods, professional organizer and owner of The Functional Organizer in Enfield.

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“We have that desire to own something or have something in our possession, so we either go to the store and buy it or get it on Amazon. We can get something so quickly; 24 hours a day.”

The problem is that while it’s easier than ever to get what we want, we aren’t shedding at an equal rate, and that leads to clutter and over-accumulation.

We find it hard to part with our stuff for any number of reasons, including fear that we may need it at some point, emotional attachment or guilt over having spent hard-earned money to buy it.

But, says Woods, the reason to keep any item is because it’s useful. “The goal is to use it. If we’re using it, great. If not, we’re just keeping it around.”

If we’re not going to use something, he says, we should return it to the store, donate it, give it away or, if something’s wrong with it, discard it.

A good way to consider an item’s usefulness is to ask yourself this: Given the option, would you buy that exact item again?

“A lot of times we wouldn’t,” Woods says. “The color might be weird, you try it on and it might not fit right … if you wouldn’t buy it today, then it’s OK to get rid of it.”

And if you’re hanging onto clothes that no longer fit, in hopes of one day wearing them again, it’s time to let them go.

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“Don’t keep stuff in case you gain weight or lose weight,” says Leslie Raycraft, owner of POSH (Personal Organization Solutions for the Home) in West Hartford.

“When you lose the weight that you want to lose, congratulate yourself and go out and buy a new pair of jeans.

The ‘what ifs’ take up so much space in our life… what if my kid needs it, what if I lose the weight, what if I gain the weight.”

Keeping a few irreplaceable items (like those awesome jeans you’ll never find again) isn’t a problem, but holding onto an entire wardrobe of ill-fitting clothes, or anything else you’re not wearing or using, takes up valuable real estate in your home and, according to Raycraft, you need to clear it out.

“Yes, you spent a lot of money, but let’s learn from this mistake, give yourself permission to let it go and then find something that you do love,” she said. “But don’t keep it just because ‘I spent so much money, I can’t let it go.’”

In addition to feeling guilty over money spent, a common problem is that a lot of us hang onto clothes and other items for sentimental reasons.

“That’s why we’re having trouble purging,” says Woods.

When that’s the case, Raycraft recommends shifting the focus to the memory or event associated with an item, as opposed to the item itself.

“We associate memories with things,” she says, “[but] our memories are not living in these items, they are in our heads. But so often people think, ‘If I get rid of this I’m going to lose the memory.’”

The Paper Chase

In addition to stuff we’ve purchased or collected along the way, clutter also finds its way into our homes through the mail and other paperwork.

“Many people are uncomfortable with paperwork and the mail,” said Faith Manierre, owner of Busy Bees Professional Organizing in Glastonbury. “Maybe it’s because they don’t have a good system, maybe they don’t have the money to pay the bills, maybe they don’t know where it belongs, so they leave it in the mailbox or they don’t deal with it.”

And what starts as a small pile eventually turns into a big one, making it seem too overwhelming to tackle.

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One way to stay on top of mail and paperwork is to implement a system.

When the mail comes in, instead of setting it aside to look at later, take a few minutes to sort through it, separating out bills and other important mail from the junk mail (which should be tossed or recycled), along with making a pile for the shredder that includes things like credit card offers.

Once complete, Manierre says, you can determine where items you need to keep should be filed.

“Your tax return is a good gauge in helping decide what you need to save,” and for how long. She suggests talking with your tax preparer to identify what you need to keep on hand.

She also recommends keeping important paperwork in a single location, like a file cabinet. “You need to have a place designated for your paperwork so that when you’ve completed your bill-paying, where do your bills go now? A lot of people don’t have that set up.”

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Before embarking on an organizing project, ask yourself why you’re doing it and what the ultimate goal is, Raycraft says.

“Is it that you just feel overwhelmed, you’re anxious or stressed when you walk into a room? Are you tired of looking for things? Is it that you want a certain room to be something?”

If you don’t have a goal, she says, you might get frustrated and exhausted and decide it’s just not worth it to finish.

Keep What You Love

Finally, while sorting through your things, deciding what to jettison and what to keep, it’s not a bad idea to question which items bring you joy, because in the end, that’s really what it’s all about.

“When we make room for clarity in our closet or our dresser drawer, we have the things that we use and love and can find them quickly and easily,” Woods says. “If you have too much stuff, it’s too hard to organize.

“Keep what you love. Because if you love everything that’s in your house that you’ve kept, then you can honestly have a nice, organized house.”

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