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6 Tips for Decluttering Now

Expert Advice on Dumping All That Stuff

Farrah Lamoreaux Jan 9, 2019

As 2019 begins, New Year’s resolutions abound. “Out with the old, in with the new” is top of mind. And while that sounds great in theory, the reality is more often, “In with the new and the old stays too.” Tackling clutter can be a major chore — time-consuming, overwhelming and emotionally draining.

Buying and reading a book on decluttering just adds another item to your to-do list and your bookshelf, so we’ve compiled the top six tips from two popular books on the topic.

Magic of Tidying

When author and decluttering expert Marie Kondo published “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” it took the world by storm. While not all of the concepts she shares resonate with everyone, the book contains key principles that provide focus and clarity about where to start and how to utilize Kondo’s now famous Kon-Mari method.

  • Tidy by category, not location. To eliminate getting sucked into a vortex of nostalgia, Kondo suggests tidying by categories in the following order: clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany) and finally, sentimental items. Her rationale for tidying by category, not location, is that people often have objects in the same category scattered around the house. Gathering every book, office supply, article of clothing, household linen, etc., into one spot and looking at it together makes it much easier to grasp the sheer volume of how much you have and discard appropriately.
  • Don’t let paper get the best of you. Because organizing paperwork can be difficult, Kondo recommends disposing of anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use (this month’s bills), needed for a limited period of time (a party invitation) or must be kept indefinitely (contractual documents). Discard everything else immediately.
  • Keep only what you love. Kondo refers to such things as items that “spark joy.” It’s become somewhat of a joke among readers of her book to hold a banal but necessary item, like a bottle of ibuprofen, and ask Kondo’s key question, “Does this spark joy?” Although the query may feel a bit silly in some circumstances, there is merit to the idea that the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to ask yourself if it sparks joy. If it doesn’t, dispose of it. It’s a concept that works particularly well for books, wardrobe, household and personal care items.

Death Cleaning

The second method of decluttering and organizing comes from Swedish author Margareta Magnusson and is called döstädning, which means “death cleaning.” Though the name sounds off-putting, Magnusson’s book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter,” clarifies that this approach — specifically aimed at those age 50 and up — is an act of kindness for loved ones. Minimizing possessions and purging meaningless clutter will help family members who are too often burdened with the task of sorting through decades worth of belongings after a loved one passes.

  • Ask yourself, “Will anyone be happier if I save this?” This is the most central question Magnusson poses in her book and it applies to objects across every category. As parents of adult children begin to downsize, it’s important to realize grown children most likely do not want the majority of their stuff. As such, death cleaning is a great impetus to talk with family about which items they do or don’t want.
  • Leave a note. Don’t force family to guess about what should be done with certain items or their value. Magnusson’s own mother left notes attached to clothes and other belongings, expressly stating what to do with them after her passing. Simply putting a Post-it under items indicating if they should be sold, donated or gifted to a certain person is an easy way to begin “death cleaning.” 
  • Magnusson suggests keeping a book of log-ins and passwords for family so they can access online data. This is a simple and critically important step at any age given that so much of our lives, memories and important data now exist and are accessed only digitally. If relatives cannot obtain this key information online, it creates significant difficulties for them.

If all of this still feels overwhelming, the best course of action may be to hire a professional. Utah-based organizer Crystal Anderson, of Crystal C Design at 801-889-6700, assists clients with projects as small as organizing file cabinets and as large as paring back an entire house for a move to an assisted living facility. She says, “When you’re struggling to find things or feeling hopeless about the task, it’s a signal that you need help. Just having a fresh pair of eyes and an experienced helper can make things easier.” 

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