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7 Ways to Prevent Clutter

Cut Your Clutter Calories!

Just like cutting down on your candy consumption, preventing clutter from being created is the first step toward reducing your organizational “weight gain.” Here are a few tips to help you cut those clutter calories:

1. Control your “clutter cravings.” People often seem to have an appetite for purchasing certain things, but just like food cravings, you really can overcome your urge to collect. Get comfortable with the concept of “enough.” Avoid the places that encourage your particular collecting behavior, and if you must go, have a targeted approach to something you’ve planned ahead to buy. You may even need to bring a friend to “talk you down.” Here are some examples of places that are the clutter calorie equivalent of going to Krispy Kreme:

  • Garage sales
  • Flea markets
  • Souvenir shops
  • Discount stores
  • Used bookstores
  • Shoe stores

2. Deal with things as they come. Mail, dishes, and laundry are continuous sources of clutter. You can probably think of a few more examples of “continuous clutter” yourself. These processes are not going to stop, and accepting that is the first step in dealing with the problem.

To battle clutter, you must have systems and routines for dealing with it, usually on a daily basis. Can you imagine if the post office let letters and packages stack up, and at the end of the week the workers acted really surprised and panicked about delivering all of it? Of course not! They know it’s their business to deliver mail, and they have systems and routines in place to make that happen--daily. Our homes are no different. We need to accept the fact that we are also in the business of processing mail--and laundry and dishes-- and deal with these things as they come each day. No more ignoring these items and acting surprised when they have stacked up!

3. Stop extra postal mail, unsolicited phone calls, and junk e-mails. Junk communications are clutter too, and they cost you time and energy. Each communication represents little decisions you have to make every day. Should I talk to this salesperson? Should I read this catalog? Should I open this junk mail?

First, do not make it easy for them! Do not provide your personal contact information without asking yourself if it’s really necessary, and always be clear on the privacy policies of the company who is receiving this information. Sending in sweepstakes applications and warranty cards often put you on mailing lists, and these activities should be avoided.

Any time you receive an unsolicited sales call, have a response ready to end the call quickly. It’s very effective to say that you simply “have a policy” against purchasing from telemarketers. Always make sure you ask to be removed from their list so you won’t receive any future calls.

Ask your e-mail hosting provider or your IT service person to help you reduce your spam problem. There are many tools and services available to filter your mail, and they will be able to tell you the right tool for your particular configuration.

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4. Plan before you buy. People create a lot of clutter by simply buying the wrong thing and not returning it. Take measurements, bring color swatches, and know sizes and quantities before you go out. Also, make a list of exactly what you need before you shop. If you are buying many things for your home, you can create a shopping notebook for your car that contains swatches of fabric, paint, and wallpaper, along with measurements of your rooms and furniture. Planning your purchases will help you save money, too!

5. Think before you buy. When you are about to buy something impulsively, ask yourself these crucial purchasing questions:

  • Who can I borrow this from or share this with?
  • What do I already have that is like this item?
  • Where will I store this item?
  • When will I have time to use it and maintain it?
  • Why do I need this item?

Before you purchase something, mentally decide exactly where you are going to store this item when you get it home, and consider the time the item requires to maintain or use. If you are considering subscribing to a magazine or newspaper, ask yourself if you truly have time to read it each time it arrives. Are there already stacks of other magazines you are not reading? It may be better to buy a copy as a treat at the newsstand rather than subscribe and get into a clutter trap.

6. Don't always accept freebies. What a nifty glow-in-the-dark golf visor! But after the novelty wears off, what is going to happen to it? Don't take home everything you are offered from a party, a trade show or a conference, and don't bring home hotel soaps, samples, or other things you won’t use. When you are traveling, take five minutes while you are packing to leave to throw away anything that doesn’t truly belong in your home. And if a friend offers to give you something she doesn't use, don't accept it if you won't use it.

7. Ask for the gifts you want. It doesn't always come up, but if it does, be ready to tell people some great gift ideas for you. Otherwise you risk getting things you don't want and won’t use, which means clutter! And if you are truly the “person who has everything,” let everyone know you no longer want gifts but would rather have a donation in your name to a favorite charity.

Like dieters always say, “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” Preventing the clutter from entering your home in the first place means that you’ll have less of it to “work off” later!


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