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From keeping books you haven’t read (and probably never will) to hanging on to the mountains of art and school papers your child brings home, it’s often the little decisions we make about what to keep (and where it goes) that have the biggest impact on how much clutter we accumulate. But by examining your thought process and putting a few strategies in place, you can outsmart these five common clutter traps.
1. Keeping every book you buy, whether you like it or not
The thought process: I just can’t get into this book, but everyone says it’s really good, so I guess I should keep it — you know, in case I decide to give it another try someday.
The right call: We all have different tastes, and it’s perfectly OK to not love a book that others have raved about. If you didn’t really enjoy a book, or couldn’t get into it, it’s better to give it away or sell it. Plus, by putting it back into circulation, you can give someone else who might actually love it the chance to read it.
The strategy: Keep a bag designated for collecting books to bring to the used-book store or Goodwill, and whenever you finish (or don’t finish, as the case may be) a book you’re not wild about, place it in the bag. When the bag is full, bring it out to your car so it’s ready to drop off when you get a chance — and save that precious space for a book you will actually treasure.
2. Keeping everything your child has ever made
The thought process: My child made this, therefore it’s really important and I should keep it.
The right call: It’s true that if you’re a parent, some of your most treasured possessions are likely to be things your children have made. But that doesn’t mean every single item they bring home must be preserved forever! A funny thing happens when we keep things for a long time: They become harder to let go of. So it’s much easier to be choosy about what to save in the first place than it is to edit later on.
The strategy: One good strategy is to choose a single container for your child’s artwork and school papers. The space limit can help make you choosier about what to keep. Use a bulletin board, art clips or fridge magnets to temporarily display your child’s work first, and then pick the “keepers” from this selection.
3. Pretending you’ll have more time later to put stuff away
The thought process: I’ll just leave this here for now.
The right call: Does the item in question have a place where it clearly belongs? If so, take the extra few seconds to put it there. Dumping things in the wrong place will only make more work for you later, when you eventually gather the energy to tidy things up.
The strategy: Try the 10-second trick: Unless you live in a truly enormous home, there’s a good chance you can put just about anything in its place in 10 seconds. Practice telling yourself it will take only 10 seconds to put the item away, and then count as you complete the task. Ten seconds is nothing!
And if you consistently dump the item in question in the same spot, consider making a place for it there with a hook, shelf or basket.
4. Avoiding paperwork until it threatens to take over the house
The thought process: I don’t feel like dealing with what’s on this paper, so I’ll just toss it in the pile.
The right call: Having a central place to put all incoming mail and paperwork is a wonderful idea. But when it’s time to sort that pile, it’s important to sort the whole thing. Whether it’s a bill, an event invite or information from your child’s school, taking the extra step to handle it — file it, add it to your calendar, recycle it — will keep your paper pile under control and ensure you don’t miss anything important, such as a bill that’s due or the school play.
The strategy: If you find yourself putting off sorting and filing paperwork indefinitely, that’s a good sign it’s time to reassess your filing system. To file quickly and easily, be sure your files have simple, clear labels for categories that make sense to you, and that they’re located in an accessible spot. You may even want to consider relocating some of your most frequently used files to a drawer near the entry (or wherever you keep incoming paper).
5. Overstuffing your cupboards with extras, ‘just in case’
The thought process: These extras might come in handy, so I’ll just stash them in the back of the cupboard.
The right call: A certain amount of extra supplies (extra TP, a set of extra towels for guests) is truly helpful. But past a certain point, “extra” just means clutter. Use the physical limits of your storage area as a guide to let you know when you are keeping too much stuff. If it fits easily in the space you have available and you will truly use it, keep it. If not, give it away.
The strategy: Think one in, one out. Whenever you buy something new, whether it’s towels or running shoes, peek into your closets and cupboards and see if you can remove something similar.