De-cluttering is common sense, really

Most people have difficulty removing the emotional component from the de-cluttering process.

Kathleen Hatley is a de-cluttering coach.

Kathleen Hatley is a de-cluttering coach.

Are you emotionally attached to your ‘stuff?’ Do you have trouble letting go of material possessions? If you do, you’re not alone.

Everyone accumulates stuff. It’s what humans do. Rare is the house that doesn’t have more stuff in it than the owners truly need, and some, of course, take it to extremes.

According to one American study, up to five per cent of that country’s citizens can be classified as “hoarders,” or extreme collectors of stuff – and what happens in the United States tends to happen in Canada.

Kathleen Hatley knows all about “too much stuff.” As a de-clutterer  – formerly amateur and now professional, for the past two years – she has helped dozens of people deal with their stuff in an effort to help them regain a measure of control over their lives.

As the owner of My Clutter Coach, a business that specializes in helping people de-clutter, Hatley says she’s pretty much seen it all when it comes to people being swamped by their possessions. She’s seen the hoarders, but she deals primarily with ordinary people who are fed up with the chaos in which they live as a result of having too much stuff; people who want to get rid of things so they can regain some order in their personal space.

That said, it’s not always as easy as it might sound because a major part of the de-cluttering process is emotional.

The clutter coach says people with too much stuff endure certain hardships. They’re often embarrassed by the disorder in their homes. They’re concerned they can’t find anything, and that everything is a much bigger chore than it should be because there is no order. They also don’t like that they can’t clean properly because there’s too much stuff.

“There comes a point in a person’s life when this kind of disorder means the home isn’t functioning well. That’s when they call me.”

In most instances the ultimate goal is to get rid of stuff and organize the space better. But the decision-making process can be tricky because most people have difficulty removing the emotional component from the process, thereby making it difficult to let go.

“Some people just can’t make decisions when it comes to their stuff,” says Hatley. “They’re overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task, they don’t know where to start, there’s too much sentiment involved, and sometimes they just need someone to hold them to account.”

Her role, “is often as simple as giving people permission to let go of their things, and people need to understand that it’s all right to let the material things go. You need to give yourself permission.”

Once the emotional side of things is resolved, Hatley says the next big task is to create a strategy for getting organized.

“A lot of people think they’ll tackle a room or two in a few hours. Then they get started and realize the job is huge, so they quit.”

Bite-sized chunks are the way to tackle de-cluttering, says the coach. Hatley’s top tip is to start with one part of one room, like a closet, a very small room or part of the garage. Get used to making the decisions; get comfortable with the process. Don’t bite off more than you can chew or you’ll get discouraged and put it off to another day, which basically means never.

The second tip is to organize using a “box” system. Basically, get five boxes and label them: keep; donate; toss; memorabilia; and ‘not sure.’

Then start sorting accordingly. The labels are self-explanatory, and Hatley says it’s okay to put off some decisions via the ‘not sure’ box, as long as you don’t put everything in that box.

The coach’s third tip is to put like with like when organizing so that everything is easy to find later. Having all your camping gear in one place when you’re finished, for instance, just makes common sense. And that’s really all the organizing part is – common sense.

A few other tips:

1. Cut your losses and move on. Just because you paid a lot for something doesn’t mean you should keep it. Sell it or give it away, and stop torturing yourself about a bad buy.

2. Enlist someone to be accountable to – someone who isn’t emotionally attached who can ask the pointed questions about whether you actually need to keep certain items. Just make sure it’s someone who understands some things have real sentimental value.

3. Store stuff where you actually use it. If you always pay the bills on the kitchen table, no point in stashing the stuff in the rarely-used office.

4. Don’t let your home be a storage depot. Tell your adult kids they need to remove their things if they want them, otherwise they’re gone.

5. Finally, create a storage system for yourself; you’ll get the job done and avoid backsliding afterwards.

“Once you’ve done all that work, you certainly don’t want to be go back to old habits,” says Coach Hatley.

So if your stuff is driving you crazy or making life difficult, consider de-cluttering using these tips.

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