How to Conquer Your Clutter

We’ve all been staring at the same 4 walls for many months now. And staring daily at 4 walls is one thing; staring at those 4 walls and your clutter every day is quite another. 

Unopened boxes filled with memorabilia stacked in the back of your basement. Mystery bins in the pantry. A coat closet with a black hole that swallows mitts, gloves and the occasional boot. A guest room that has become the family dumping zone for all-things-with-no-home. A garage that is more of an additional storage shed than a place to park your car. And kitchen cupboards that repeatedly defy your organizational attempts. Sound familiar? You are not alone. 

Many people think that the issue is that they don’t have enough storage space. Interestingly enough, the problem is rarely about the amount of storage space and more about the amount of stuff. Whether you live in an apartment, a condo or a 3 storey home, the problem of clutter is the same – people think about it, worry about it, move it around and repeatedly try to organize it. In short, clutter causes stress. 

And it turns out clutter is not only stressful, it’s also costly. Think about all the storage bins, containers and shelving you’ve bought over time. What about the duplicates you’ve had to purchase when you couldn’t find the original? And think about the money made by storage companies every month. (There’s a very good business reason why these companies are popping up on every corner). 

Clutter is also costly in terms of time. Time wasted to be exact. Time spent looking for the library book you wanted to return, the shoes you wanted to reheel, the stamps you bought last week and the tupperware you borrowed. According to R. Eisenberg and Kate Kelly in their book, Organize Your Life, “Clutter is the number one impediment to having more free time. We are drowning in our possessions”. 

So if clutter is so stressful, time-consuming and costly why can’t we get a handle on it? Two reasons: over-purchasing and the lack of maintainable systems that work with our busy lives. 

Here are a few tips and tricks that might help you conquer your clutter: 

One in, one out. For every item you purchase, make a pact with yourself that you’ll discard or donate another item that you no longer need or want. 

Would you move with it? If you were to move right now would it be worth packing up and unpacking that box, bag or bin again? Similar to Marie Kondo’s question “does it spark joy”, this question about moving also tries to get to the root of the reason. Why are you hanging on to items that you’ve not looked at in years? The answer will help you discover those items that are truly meaningful and those that you can take a photo of and let go. 

Donations that do good. It’s difficult to let some items go because of our sentimental attachment to them. By donating them though you avoid them going into a landfill while giving them a second life with someone less fortunate in our community who really needs those items. With the colder season upon us, coats, scarves, mitts, boots, blankets, and sleeping bags are just some of the items desperately required. You can also sell your items on the GIVESHOP app, receive a tax receipt and have all the proceeds directed to local charities. 

The Sunday Sweep. Each Sunday take a bin and walk through each room picking up items that belong somewhere else and then distribute those items accordingly. This 15 minute exercise will not only save you time regarding clean up in general but it will also save your sanity when you are trying to locate an item in the future. 

While we are all staring at the same four walls of our homes it’s a great time to take stock of the stuff we have. Perhaps try and declutter one room at a time. Or if you are finding the thought of conquering your clutter too overwhelming, reach out to a professional organizer and declutterer. In a surprisingly short period of time, they will help you determine what to keep and what to let go of. Best of all they’ll create order, give you back functional space and you’ll be able to take big, deep breaths again in those rooms. 

You can’t get there from here but if you prepare the here, there comes here.” (Abraham Hicks)

Ellen’s dream of a basement meditation space and workout room had been on hold for years because of all the dusty boxes that occupied that space. The boxes contained family heirlooms that she had inherited after her parents died. The seemingly monumental task of tackling these ancestral treasures weighed her down and made her dream impossible.
Ellen’s story is not unique. As it turns out, inherited items are one of the biggest culprits of clutter in our homes. There are a few reasons for this: -we are loath to part with items that were beloved by someone who has passed away.
even though other family members don’t want these items, we don’t want to break the generational chain and discard them.
-the time and effort required to determine if we should sell, donate, recycle or trash these items overwhelms us.
Here are a few tips and tricks that might help:
#1. Put aside at least double the time you think it’s going to take. Sorting through inherited items is emotional and takes longer than expected.
#2. Have boxes and bags ready for labelling with these categories: SELL, DONATE, RECYCLE, TRASH, SOMEWHERE ELSE and TO SOMEONE ELSE. Also have a box for PHOTOS and another for DOCUMENTS.
#3. Gather all the inherited items (or any items you’ve chosen to declutter) in one space. Start to sort ‘like with like’. All china, silverware, serving sets and glassware together. Furniture together. Clothing, bedding, and towels together. Tools together. Photos (slides, greeting cards, etc) together. Documents together, etc.
#4. Review each item and decide which category it falls into (i.e. to sell, to donate, recycle, etc. as per #2). Remember that an item that was once important to someone else does not determine its importance to you. Getting rid of these items is not a sign that you loved that person any less. In fact, keeping only a few cherished items will make those treasures more meaningful and you’ll be able to display them (vs. in boxes in your basement). NOTE: save photos, slides, cards and documents till last (see #7).
#5. Take the filled boxes and/or bags labelled for DONATION and TO SOMEONE ELSE directly to the trunk of your car. Drop those off respectively as soon as possible. Take bags for RECYCLE and TRASH to their locations outside your home. Getting all of the filled bags outside your home is key. For items that are going SOMEWHERE ELSE in your home, take these items to those specific places and find them a place to live (i.e. put up that painting, display that figurine on a shelf).
#6. For those items or collections that you want TO SELL, take photos and measurements. Do not rely on family lore regarding their value but rather research these items to determine what others would currently pay. TV programs like Antiques Roadshow have convinced us that our treasures are worth a great deal but often the final negotiated price is substantially less. If the time and energy it takes to sell the item is equal or greater to the price you may receive, consider donating the item and know someone else will love it.
#7. Regarding photos, slides, cards and documents, without spending time doing any review now, sort these items into their respective boxes (see #2). Put these boxes beside your favourite chair. In the next few weeks every time you sit down, commit to reviewing their contents. For any photos, slides or cards only keep those that truly remind you of the best days that they represent and place those in a labelled box. Regarding the documents, only keep what you need for tax purposes, file those and shred the rest.
Congratulations. You did it! Decluttering our homes involves more than just freeing ourselves from those things that are holding us back and weighing us down; decluttering is about transformation and renewal. As Tracy McCubbin writes in Making Space Clutter Free, “making more room for what we want to do in life – and freeing up time and space to actually accomplish those things – always has a positive and inspiring outcome even if the process of letting go can feel overwhelming and daunting.”
Creating a home where you can more fully live and be the best version of yourself, is just one way of creating your ‘here’ so that you can realize your dreams. And if like Ellen, your dream is a workout room and meditation space, they are now possible.

Room2Breathe is a local company and we’re happy to answer any questions you might have. Call 613 868-5197 or email me at

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