Cheryl Richardson: De-Clutter Plan

Choose one or more areas that need to be cleaned and organized, then dedicate the next four weeks to making space using this three-phase plan. If you're still having problems, see Common Obstacles to Clearing Your Clutter, below.

Phase 1: Stop, Look, Listen
Resist your impulse to dive right in; first, take a deeper look at your clutter and listen to what it's telling you.

1. Answer this question in a journal or notebook: If my environment were a reflection of what's going on in my head and in my life, what would it be saying? Write down everything that occurs to you, no matter how crazy it seems. The answers may point you in the direction of positive life changes.

2. Next, review the items in one small, cluttered area of your home (a desk, a nightstand, a corner in the living room) for 15 minutes. Using a pad of paper, rate each item on a scale from 1 to 3:

I love it and/or absolutely need it.

I'm not sure if I love it or need it.

I don't love it or need it anymore.

This will help you get a more objective perspective on your stuff and give you an idea of what will need to go.

3. Finally, write a wish list of three new things (possessions, opportunities, or experiences) you'd like to bring into your life using this question as your guide: If eliminating things from my life would make the space for something more important, what would I want? Hang your list near the bathroom mirror so you have a daily reminder of what you want to make space for.

Phase 2: Make a Plan
Before you start cleaning house, you'll need a plan to prevent future clutter and a plan for moving out existing clutter.

First, to eliminate clutter at its source, take a hard look at where it's coming from. If you have a tendency to buy too many clothes or knickknacks, say, you'll need to rethink those purchases. You might use the following question as a guide: Is this item worthy of taking up precious space in my life? To buy the item, the answer needs to be a resounding "Yes!"

Next, find a new home for categories of valuable items that you know you'll be getting rid of. For example, before you start going through closets, locate a nearby consignment shop or homeless shelter. Or find a health club, nursing home, or hair salon for those stacks of magazines.

Phase 3: Clear It Out
Now you're ready to act. Choose one area and schedule 30 minutes a day to sort through the stuff.

When going through items, keep the mantra "when in doubt, throw it out" at the forefront of your mind. Challenge yourself to keep only the items you absolutely love or need (remember the rating system).

When you feel stuck about whether or not to keep something, ask yourself the "Is this item worthy of taking up precious space in my life?" question. Unless the answer is an absolute "Yes!" let it go.

Common Obstacles to Clearing Your Clutter
Here is advice on handling three common obstacles you may encounter while clearing out your clutter.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the task at hand. When you find yourself tempted to slip into procrastination mode, try taking tiny steps -- five minutes or less -- that will move you toward completing your project. Want to clean out a file drawer? Start with three folders. Anxious to tackle that chaotic cabinet? Focus on one shelf.

The Paper Trail
Other than certain financial and legal documents (rules vary by state), there are very few papers we need to hang onto. Yet most of us become overly attached to all kinds of information -- unused recipes stuck in a file, old magazine articles. With access to just about anything on the web, challenge yourself to let go of questionable papers.

The Past
Often people avoid going through their stuff out of a fear of reliving emotional pain. There are the notes that represent dreams gone by, or the divorce papers that conjure up old wounds. But hanging onto these items keeps us attached to the past. Ask yourself, what do I need to do to complete the past and let go? Maybe it's burning old letters from a painful relationship or making a list of lessons learned from a lost job.

Get more great tips for clearing out your clutter.

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