July 1, 2012 at 1:54 PM ET
It's not like your living room is an obstacle course of boxes, or that you have a closet full of cats. But even if your home hasn't reached reality-show level of catastrophe, you could be a "clutterer," someone who harbors an irrational attachment to her possessions that makes it hard to part with stuff you don't need. Sound familiar?
For many of us, the accumulated clutter in our homes -- an unruly junk drawer, an overcrowded garage, piles of unopened mail -- is a major source of stress and guilt. And it's more damaging to your mental health than you might think.
"I'm a firm believer that physical clutter creates emotional clutter," says Robin Zasio, PsyD, LCSW, author of The Hoarder In You: How To Live A Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life and therapist on E Network's Hoarders. "Every time you walk into your home, that clutter brings you down. There's this sense of not feeling comfortable and emotionally free in your own house."
The good news is that anyone -- from occasional clutterers to full-on hoarders -- can develop a healthier relationship with her possessions.
Decluttering involves being thoughtful about what you're going to keep and what you're going to get rid of--and that takes time, says Dr. Zasio. Set aside a couple of hours each week to work on specific cluttered areas, and then stick to that schedule.
Confront your emotions.
The guilt we feel over throwing things away can be hard to face--particularly if they're items someone gave to you. But the bottom line? The items we bring into our homes should have a purpose of some kind, says Dr. Zasio. "If that purpose is to bring a pleasurable memory, it needs a place to be looked at and admired--not at the bottom of a pile." Donate items you don't use so someone else can enjoy them.
Start with basic sorting.
Creating piles of like items is often the easiest way to start tackling clutter. "If you have books spread out, put them all in one area," Dr. Zasio says. "Same for bills, newspaper articles, recipes, clothing. Then start sorting through the easiest pile first--it'll build confidence that you can tackle the harder stuff."
If it doesn't have a home, toss it.
"Don't just relocate items," says Dr. Zasio. "It's important you have a plan as to where those items are going to go." And, she says, don't crowd lots of items into one space just because they fit. It's fine to arrange trinkets on the mantle, but choose three that can be displayed artfully, then toss, sell, or donate the rest.
Choose a system that works for you.
Storage containers seem like an obvious way to get organized, but if you're the type of person who likes to see your things, you're never going to use them. Some people are more visual and want to see their different sweaters and shoes laid out, says Dr. Zasio. In that case, opt for open shelves or hanger systems over containers.
Find a decluttering buddy.
Just like having a buddy for the gym, enlisting a friend for mutual decluttering can help you stick to your plans and have more fun with it, says Dr. Zasio. For example, agree to work at your home from 9 to 11 on Saturday, and then tackle her home on Sunday.
Enlist a pro.
You probably don't need a therapist for your cluttering issues, but if you are feeling overwhelmed by all your stuff, there are other trained professionals who can help. Check out the National Association of Professional Organizers.
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