cleaning up/sorting stuff

I’m not a very organized person and my home shows it. With a recent home renovation project completed, we have an opportunity to shape up. So, where do we (my wife and I, that is) start?

We have several years of kids’ toys scattered (some of it is at least in its original packaging) and/or stacked up. We have old mail in stacks, some of it is statements, stuff we should file away, some of it is not, for instance, notices from insurance companies or changes in a credit card agreement. Clutter like that is a big thing. We bought some bookshelves from IKEA (Billy!) and now they are full to bursting with books! So, instead of looking organized, it looks messy.

Is it really just a matter of having a place for everything? And throwing things out right then? I’m lazy, I guess, but I just don’t know what to do with things.

What do I do first?

Start by throwing away what is obviously trash. Basically sort into “definitely not important/useful” and “possibly important/useful” stacks. Don’t spend too much time thinking about it – you want to get all the broken toys and months-old grocery circulars OUT.

Donate outgrown toys still in packaging to Toys for Tots.

Do first? Make space for things you need to keep. Buying shelves helps, but unless you start tossing, there’ll never be enough shelves and you won’t be able to find stuff when you need it.

I spent a couple weeks this summer helping my son declutter and organize. Small house, with a living room and kitchen that you could barely walk through.

It might not make sense to some, but we started with the kitchen drawers and cabinets and a couple of closets. Getting those organized meant that we had space for stuff that was cluttering up other areas.

It was tempting to start with the clutter that people could see, but there wouldn’t have been any place to store it. With empty drawers and cabinets, we had space for stuff that was covering the kitchen counters and table and desk.

He already had a file box with labeled folders for paystubs, bank statements, various legal documents. He was uncomfortable getting rid of anything, but I did convince him that he didn’t need to keep bulk mail (anything addressed to Occupant or Customer) or the envelopes that crap comes in. :slight_smile:

On some of the declutter shows on TV, I’ve seen them use big plastic tubs labeled Keep, Donate, and Trash. That’d be a good start, I think.

have a system for how you want to be. couple file drawers for bills and financials as they have been paid or done with. a pigeon hole or letter rack to keep things to pay or needed to be tended to. new mail starts with this new procedure today, open all new mail each day.

get to the old stuff in 15 or 30 minute chunks as they become available. do some every day unless sick in bed or out of town.

sort your books in whatever fashion makes them easiest to use for the types of books you have.

Good advice on the paperwork. In terms of other clutter, the advice I followed was to look at each individual thing and think, “what’s the worst that could happen if I get rid of this?”. If you can live with the worst thing that could happen, then get rid of it. I’d been living in a two-bedroom flat that was totally full. By the time I’d finished, everything I owned fitted in my car (a Skoda Felicia hatchback!). I kind of wish I hadn’t thrown away some things, like every love letter I ever received, but I can live with it and there’s a lot less crap in my life. It’s coming up to time to do it all again, mind you. I suffer from that winning combination of indecision, laziness and sentimentality which causes my world to be constantly filled with stuff I don’t need.

I keep a paperbag for paper recycling right next to the table where the mail goes. I do a preliminary sort of things I don’t even need to open (ads, begging letters) before the mail even gets to the table.

For stuff you’re on the fence about keeping or not–here’s what I do. Every 6 months or so I go through my house and fill a big black garbage bag with stuff–clutter, doo-dads, toy parts–things I don’t think I need but am anxious about tossing in case I might. I then place this bag in the corner in the basement and forget about it. When the next six month cycle comes up, that bag goes in the trash and a new one takes its place. This way, I have a little grace period where something I’ve hastily tossed can be retrieved but I’m still cycling random crap out of my house semi-regularly.

It seems silly, but it’s really helped me let go of stuff I might have needlessly held onto otherwise. Usually, when it comes time to throw a bag out I can’t even remember what’s in it. That makes it easier to admit I don’t need it.

For bills and things: Once you get next month’s phone bill and you see they’ve credited your last payment, there is ZERO reason to keep the old one. Doesnt’ matter which it is; credit cards, utilities, rent, car payments, etc.

Things like checking account statements & any savings / investment account statements must be kept for a the whole year since they are often needed for tax preparation.

Then when you do you taxes, pack up all of that year’s stuff *that you actually copied a number from onto your tax return * along with your copy of the return & file that away. I have a pretty complex tax life & the whole annual shebang fits in a thick manila envelope. Even 20 years of those are tiny to store.

And any other financial records you’d saved which you didn’t end up entering on the return? Trash or shred depending on your paranoia level.

Be ruthless with catalogs, junk mail, & magazines. Recycle unwanted stuff the day it comes in. You are under no obligation to read what Lillian Vernon or Bass Pro send you. Go to to turn off about 90% of your junk mail. It only takes a few minutes & the difference is staggering. It takes a month or two to really kick in, but your mailman will thank you.

If you have a magazine from a 2 months ago you’re saving to get around to reading, well guess what: You won’t be any less busy next month than you were in the last two. It isn’t going to get read, and niehter will the one coming next week.

So pitch 100% of magazines & newspapers older than yesterday. If you get one later & haven’t read the previous edition yet, pitch the old one right then.

If you find you keep pitching magazines or newspapers, that’s a clue to get a refund by calling their 800# and cancelling. Free money and less crap in the house; what’s not to like? They weren’t giving you any entertainment or educational value sitting around unread.
Switching to hard goods …

Lots of people have a hard time getting rid of stuff because they’re worried about giving it a proper home: what can I recycle vs sell vs give away vs donate vs trash? Worrying about that is a nice idea in the abstract; it shows you aren’t wasteful. But that same attitude is a lot of why you have so much crap now. You need to break that cycle.

My answer: If you would buy it at a garage sale, put it in one pile and plan to eventually take the pile to Goodwill or the local equivalent. Eveyrthing else goes in the trash. Period, no exceptions. You’re managing a crisis here, not performing brain surgery. Once you have the entrire house howed out, and all the trash & donate stuff gone, then you can *consider *being more discriminating when getting rid of routine stuff. But not now.

If you get done with the entire house & 2 weeks later the donate pile is still in the garage or wherever: trash time. Pitch the lot. It’s far more important to empty your house & your burden than it is to provide another 500 lbs of stuff for Goodwill or whoever. They have plenty, trust me.

The last thing to do is stop buying crap. If it isn’t groceries, dont’ buy it, period.

If you have to buy something, say new shoes becasue the old ones have unfixable holes, the rule is the bag it came home in must be filled just as full and put in the trash that very day. Doesn’t really matter what yuo pitch, but it’s gotta be as bulky as whatever you bought.

Force this down the kids throats too. One new toy coming home is one old one going to the trash. Let up for Christmas & birthdays, but the overall message si the same for them as for yuo: yuo already have *enough *stuff. Maybe not the *exact right *stuff, but that’s what the buy and pitch enables you to do: move towards having what you really want / need, without drowning in what you don’t want/need.

This also has a really neat impact on your finances. As my brother likes to say: “The best investment is not spending. Pays 100% right now with no risk.”

One weird thing that I find very satisfying is to count the number of things I’m getting rid of. I dunno why. But it feels good to say “I chucked 250 things!” Doesn’t matter if the things are large or small. It also lets me set goals, like “go through these papers until you’ve gotten rid of 100 of them.” Yeah, the goal is totally arbitrary, but it actually works for me as a motivator.

I think a good approach is to divide everything into 3 groups–keep, get rid of, and maybe. If you’re trying to get through a lot of stuff, you can get really distracted every time you come across something you’re not sure about. So just toss that stuff in the “maybe” pile and move on. Then go through the maybes later. It’s easier to get rid of something when it’s already in the “maybe” pile. You can also incorporate belladonna’s technique to figure out the things you’re really not sure about.

It’s easy enough to divvy up the “get rid of” pile into “trash” and “donate.”

Better yet, switch all that you can to online bill pay and statements. If you feel a need to keep something then download onto your drive.

Toys, if in good shape, get given to Goodwill (or whatever a different local version is called) during their Christmas campaign. If in bad shape, thrown away.

Same for any clothes which haven’t been worn in one year. Stuff that’s “weddings only” may be saved, but normal clothing that’s not worn goes out, out, out!

I agree that most people keep way, way too much paper around. If it isn’t completely current, almost any statement is useless unless it is some type of legal document. You can just throw almost all of them out without any worry. In the very rare event that you did need some of that info later, you can just call the company and ask for it again. All you ever had was a printout of what is in their system after all and they can give it to you again.

I am about the opposite of a hoarder. I like to play judge, jury and executioner when I clean out the house. I make every single item make its case about why it still exists with swift and harsh penalties if it fails. An amazing amount of them can’t come up with any convincing argument at all so they get executed and hidden forever in a shallow grave somewhere by my partners, the waste disposal company.

If you really want to motivate yourself, rent a moderate sized dumpster for a weekend and try to fill it. They aren’t that expensive and it is kind of fun to do and a lot more efficient than trash bags.

My mom was a hoarder. We didn’t know it, had never heard the term. But by gods, she had a 3 bedroom house to herself and barely had room in 1 bed to sleep. She kept papers and stuff. Nothing that could attract pests, but her kitchen counter was always covered and her fridge was packed. I vowed never to do that to my home.

So, I have one box of my gramma’s china and one box of special keepsakes. Other than that, if it isn’t needed/used, it’s gone. My kitchen counters are as clear as possible (yeah, coffee pot, toaster oven are out) and my dishes are done daily.

I detest filing, so that’s one area where I slip, but not terribly. I have 1 pile that needs going through and I regularly get rid of medical statements. Those are something one doesn’t get to do online, unfortunately. I just don’t keep anything once I know the payment has gone through.

It’s quite freeing to get rid of stuff that isn’t needed. Just do one room (or area if the room is too large) at a time and focus on just that space until it’s done. Then, pick the next area. Thinking about an entire household can be overwhelming, so smaller chunks helps.

I live in a 500-square-foot condo and it’s a mess. I really need to just shovel it out, but I don’t have the heart.

I’d just like to second the recommendation for some things to be shredded. When I’m sorting through the paper part of the mess, I always have 3 piles – keep, recycle without shredding, and shred. I don’t own a shredder, I just shred the stuff by hand. With credit card offers, you only have to shred the part that has your personal data on it – not the return envelope or the brochure, etc.

I love the replies on this thread! And people who do not allow clutter to build up, thanks for the inspiration!

Books: If you’ve read it, give it away, unless there’s a good reason to keep it.

Magazines: If you’ve read it, pitch it. If you haven’t, and it’s three months old, pitch it.

Mail is an extra headache at this time of year. Keep a list of donations next to the phone and/or computer. With each new call or letter, you’ll know if you’re up to date. If you’ve had a catalog more than a week, and you haven’t read it, pitch it. Maybe you can ease that rule after Jan. 1.

Kitchen: Dump out the catch-all drawer. Things you use all the time go back in. Things you can’t remember using in the last 2 years, give away. Everything else goes in a tub. If you use it in the next 6 mos, back in the drawer. Give away what’s still in the tub after 6 mos. You don’t need all those pans. What other pan can do that job? What’s with all those storage containers? Get them all out, and cull half of them.