Clutter left unchecked can pile up all around you, causing an avalanche of stress—and a waste of time and money.
So, SpareFoot chatted with professional organizer Lorie Marrero of Austin, TX, to get some advice on de-cluttering. She’s the creator of the Clutter Diet online organizing program and the author of “The Clutter Diet: The Skinny on Organizing Your Home and Taking Control of Your Life.”
Is all clutter created equal or are certain types worse than others?
There are certain things we call high-calorie clutter—items that just seem to multiply in your house. For example, things people collect like books, craft supplies, videos and photographs. People sometimes just can’t seem to get enough of these things.
When you’re tackling a clutter problem, how much of the solution is organizing versus getting rid of things?
I would say it’s usually half and half. Organizing and purging go hand in hand. But the goal isn’t always to get rid of things—it’s to make your space functional so you can do what you want to do and save time. People with plenty of storage can put items away. But if you don’t have enough space, you’ll have to make some decisions.
How often should you go through your things to keep clutter from getting out of hand?
It depends on the area of the house. In general, going through everything once a year is a good rule of thumb. But there are some spaces that need attention more often. In your home office, for example, you need to go through your papers every week. But when you live in once place for a long time, you just accumulate stuff. You have to make systems to go through it or otherwise you end up 30 years later with garages full of extra stuff that your kids have to go through.
Is moving a good time to de-clutter?
Absolutely. Moving is a huge opportunity because you touch everything you own. When you’re going to put something in a box, you have to decide if you want it to end up in the new house. It’s a great exercise to go through, and that’s why when people move frequently they don’t usually have a lot of clutter.
What role does self-storage play in de-cluttering? Can it be a good tool and, if so, when?
When you’re in transition, that is the very best time to use self-storage. What we don’t want is for people to create an annex full of belongings they don’t need. But there are all kinds of changes in people’s lives where self-storage can make sense—for example, if you’re moving or if you’ve inherited a lot of stuff and need a place to put it before you can go through it.
Do you have any tips on making decisions about what to store and what not to put in self-storage?
You want to think about the replacement cost of the items compared to the rent you’re paying for the space. You also want to ask yourself all the usual questions—do I use this, when was the last time I used it, and in what scenario can I imagine using it again?
What about sentimental items—like old high school yearbooks or letters or photos? How you do you make decisions about those?
They’re certainly worth keeping. But the question is, is there too much? Sometimes we have people give themselves a quota of space to use for keepsakes because some people have trouble prioritizing. So, you can have maybe one bin for your children’s drawings. And when that’s full, you can’t put anything else in it until you get rid of something. But really, if something is very, very important to you, then you absolutely should keep it. I think ideally you want to find a place in your primary residence rather than trying to store a lot of those items.
Do you have any final advice for people who feel overwhelmed by clutter and don’t know where to start?
Take it a piece at a time; you don’t have to do it all in one day. And you should get help from a friend. We always tell people to trade favors with a friend because it’s really hard to face a giant project alone. You can agree to help a friend clean out her garage, and she could clean out your closet with you. The friend can help keep you from getting bogged down by going down memory lane, going through pictures one by one, for example. They can keep you going and give you some objectivity on your project.