The other day a friend texted me as she was packing up to move across the country: “HELP! I am overwhelmed because I have so much STUFF. I am feeling buried alive. I know you have figured out how not to hold on to things. Can you give me some perspective? I need some tough love.”
When I got her text I was standing in front of my bookshelf, hyperventilating. I happen to be moving in a few days, too— though just a couple miles away, not out of state—and I was in a state of panic. My shelves were just the tip of the iceberg; I hadn’t even started on the kitchen, bedroom or closets. Here is an (incomplete) inventory of the bookshelf in question:
*Books I love but haven’t touched in years (because I already read them)
*Important papers I need to fax to the IRS (as soon as I find them)
*A stack of old homework and Scholastic book club flyers brought home by my children, dating back to the fall (the IRS papers are in that stack—I HOPE)
*A favorite photo of my grandmother who recently passed away (I always meant to frame it)
*Many, many CDs—from my old Beatles collection to the Taylor Swift album my daughter got for her birthday (we have all of them on iTunes now).
What to pack, what to toss, and how long before the IRS gives up and spends my tax refund on something else? (Can they do that?) I felt guilty for never framing the picture of my grandmother, the idea of throwing away the CDs made me nauseous, and I dreaded hauling a lot of heavy books to my new place—no matter how good they were.
So why was my friend was asking me for advice? Because I’m supposed to be the expert. I moonlight as a personal organizer. People pay me to come to their homes and make them throw things away—even though I still can’t get rid of the Christopher Pike books I was obsessed with in high school.
It’s not news that Americans have a clutter problem. Instead of dealing with our excess stuff, we buy bigger houses, rent storage units, install organizing systems to try to contain it, or pawn it off on others via endless stoop, yard and garage sales.
I tell my clients that the secret to becoming a clutter-busting machine is simple—though not always easy: prioritize people over things. When you value yourself (and your sanity!) more than any material possession, throwing stuff out becomes easy. Don’t just organize your stuff—get rid of it. Be ruthless. If you're hanging on to a lot of stuff you don't use or need, then no amount of bins, shelves or hooks will solve your clutter problems.