Don't Be a Basket Case: Removing Your Life's Clutter

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No More Excuses!

Most of us have elaborate justifications for the clutter that clogs our household and our brain. We invited some experts to poke holes in our usual alibis.

What you tell yourself: "But it's still perfectly good."
Reality check: Take a cold, hard look at that green suit with shoulder pads, circa 1992. "Just because something is good doesn't mean it's good for you anymore," says Felton. Learn to distinguish between functional and useful.

What you tell yourself: "It was on sale."
Reality check: A tag saying "50 percent off" trumps all for many women: So what if you don't have anything that goes with it or any place to wear it? Then you feel guilty every time you see the item in your closet with tags intact. Learning to set boundaries can help you stop clutter before it starts. Ask yourself whether that sale item will increase your serenity -- and then walk out of the store.

What you tell yourself: "I'll wear it when I lose weight."
Reality check: This is a catchall justification for a closet so stuffed even the moths can't breathe. If you've been saying this for years, chances are you're harboring unreal expectations about your body -- a category of clutter as real as the clothing itself. Follow Schlenger's rule: If it's been a year since you wore the item, dump it.

What you tell yourself:"It was a gift."
Reality check: Feeling chained to that hideous vase your great-aunt gave you? You might want to consider what this drive to please others is doing to you. Returning or passing along a gift does not mean you don't love the giver or appreciate her thoughtfulness.

What you tell yourself: "I can't dump a collection."
Reality check: Sometimes what starts out as a collection ends up as a bad habit. "I started collecting rabbits 30 years ago and it just got out of control," says Joan Sharpes, of Hoodsport, Washington. "They took over the house." Donating most of the collection (except for a few favorites) gave her a sense of relief, not to mention a break from dusting.

What you tell yourself: "I might need it one day."
Reality check: Life can take scary turns, and it never hurts to save one or two things that have a reasonable chance for a future life. Unfortunately, says Walsh, many people have stowed away enough to furnish an alternate universe.

What you tell yourself: "I'm going to get it fixed."
Reality check: The cost of repairing an item is, sadly, often greater than the cost of a new one. If you've stowed that broken TV for a year or more, you clearly don't need it. And maybe it's time to give up the Ms. Fixit fantasy altogether and concentrate on more important priorities.

What you tell yourself: "It holds so many memories."
Reality check: Baby clothes, old love's hard to accept that an era of your life has ended. When Bev Simpson's husband died two years ago, she was devastated. "At first I attached great meaning to all his stuff," says Simpson, of Canby, Oregon. "But clinging to these objects kept me stuck in my grief, unable to move on." She held on to a few key things and gave the rest to charity.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, June 2010.


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