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Clutter Free Living!

By Misty McNallyNatural Home MagazineJanuary 2007

I was interviewed and quoted extensively in this article.


We don’t need to tell you that Americans have a lot of clutter. It fills our closets, our basements, our desks. In addition to the stress that can cause, our overstuffed lives present environmental dilemmas. We need bigger homes than our parents and grandparents did, even though our families are smaller. And when we can’t find that seldom-used punch bowl amid the mess, we run out and buy another one—not exactly the most prudent use of our world’s resources.

For a clutter-free house, we need to let go of our “stuff,” organize what remains and avoid acquiring more stuff to take the place of the old. Seems so simple. Why is it so difficult?


Step 1: Lighten Up (Purge)

  • Get rid of things you no longer need or want. Sort these items into boxes labeled Recycling, Thrift Store, Friends, Garage Sale. Finding new homes for your items means putting resources in the hands of those who truly need or want them.
  • Ariane Benefit, a professional organizer from New Jersey, says many people don’t realize how much they really own. “I’ve seen people who have 7 coffee makers, 43 pairs of jeans or 12 opened bottles of cinnamon,” she says. In such cases, it’s easy to get rid of the excess. Benefit also says to eliminate:
    • Things that don’t work
    • Things that annoy you (e.g., a rickety old file cabinet with a stubborn drawer)
    • Things you’re keeping because someone gave them to you
    • Things that bring up negative thoughts such as I was so stupid to buy it, but I paid a lot for it, so I’m keeping it. “This is a terrible thing to do to yourself because it brings you down every time you look at it!” Benefit says.
    • Excessive amounts of freebies, such as all those pens you’ve collected.
  • Before you keep something that might not be worthwhile, Benefit recommends you ask yourself:
    • Do I really love this?
    • How does this item make my life better or easier?
    • Have I used it in the past year?
    • Will I really ever use this again?
  • If parting with particular items is stressful, Benefit suggests putting them in a closed box for a trial separation. “A year from now, if you haven’t used anything in the box, donate it without even opening it,” she advises.

Step 2: Sort It Out (Organize)

  • Once you’ve eliminated the excess, sort items into laundry baskets or large boxes labeled by purpose: Craft Supplies, Toys, Garden. Employ smaller baskets, hampers and boxes to organize the little stuff.
  • Store things you use daily or weekly in the most accessible spaces, such as on the middle shelves of your closet or pantry, in the front. Seasonal and holiday items that come out once a year can go in the harder-to-reach attic or top shelves.

Step 3: Keep It Up (Maintain)

  • Maintaining a clutter-free life gets easier as you establish new habits. Avoid the urge to buy more stuff; as time goes on, you’ll find it’s second nature to ask, “Do I really need this?” Try these ideas for cutting back on purchases:
    • Have your children give a toy away to a charity each time they get a new one.
    • Set an example: For every new piece of clothing you buy, donate a gently used one to charity.
    • Whenever possible, fix things instead of tossing them. Look on the Internet to find parts (even eBay is a resource).


Storage That Protects Your Belongings and the Earth

Plastics, including polystyrene (Styrofoam), bubble wrap, and PVC or vinyl tubs and bins, are made from nonrenewable petroleum, which can outgas harmful odors and chemicals into the environment—and onto the stuff you store in it. This could discolor linens and clothing or damage photos and documents.

The best way to keep your keepsakes? Avoid storing them in basements or crawl spaces where they might get wet or damp. Steer clear of plastic containers and wraps altogether—especially those made of PVC. Always use acid-free, dye-free papers and boxes if you’re protecting valuables, such as antiques, or packing away household items made from porous materials, such as cloth, paper or wood.

Instead of: Bubble wrap, packing “peanuts” or Styrofoam, Use this: Tissue paper, recycled newspaper, old towels, worn-out T-shirts; Storage tips: Wrap fragile holiday table settings and décor in holiday linens.

Instead of: Large plastic or PVC storage bins and tubs, Use this: Cardboard boxes (especially those with recycled content); Storage tips: Used computer or copy-paper boxes are sturdy and often have handles.

Instead of: Plastic crates or modular pieces, Use this: Metal modular furnishings, or those made from wood or other fibers; Storage tips: Steel or aluminum modular furnishings or stackable storage bins are sturdy and ultimately recyclable. Or look for modulars made from either Forest Stewardship Council–certified wood or wood substitutes, including bamboo, wheatboard (made from wheat stalks) or Kirei board (constructed from sorghum stalks).

Instead of: Plastic zip bags, Use this: Cloth bags or canvas bins; Storage tips:Tote bags, cloth laundry bags or canvas bins are ideal for storing clothing, towels, linens and craft supplies.

Instead of: Plastic laundry hampers, Use this: Baskets; Storage tips: Look for fair trade baskets made from all-natural or recycled materials.





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