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Get your house in order

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Shelly Tucker, For the Denton Record-Chronicle

You can defeat the clutter beast -- without the monkish minimalism

We are bombarded with articles, online and in print, telling us how to declutter, organize and minimize our possessions.

If you live surrounded by clutter and enjoy it, don't let the media make you feel guilty about it. Live the way that makes you feel comfortable.

However, if you find yourself wallowing in chaos, unable to find items you know that you have somewhere in all that mess, and want to make a change? Know that it is possible to make a change.

I did it, and so can you.

Take your time

It took me two years of baby steps, but now the part of the house (over which I have control -- more on this later) is peaceful and clutter-free.

Getting rid of clutter is not about getting rid of the things you actually use or ditching the things you love. It's about finding a balance in your space that pleases you and makes you feel at peace. I am not a minimalist, and I have a lot of stuff, but it all has a place in my home and I like it all.

My definition of clutter is:

- anything that is scattered around and not put where it belongs;

- things I don't enjoy or no longer use; and

- things I don't love well enough to dust.

- All those knickknacks and heirlooms that were stuffed in boxes in the closet were things I didn't like well enough to display. Eventually they had to go, but I started with the low-hanging fruit.

I had clutter because I didn't have a "home" for everything. The old saw about "A place for everything and everything in its place" is true. You can't put things away if you don't know where they should go.

Keep the process simple

When I decide to tackle decluttering an area, I go in with a trash can, a large box for donations, a laundry basket for items that belong elsewhere in the house, a very small box for any items I think I want to keep, and a timer. I set that timer for 20 or 30 minutes, and charge right in putting things to right.

I try not to spend much time deciding on each item about whether it stays or goes. I ask myself questions: Do I use it? Do I love it? Would I buy it again?

If I'm dealing with collections (books, T-shirts, elephants, you name it), I figure out a ratio. For every four items that I keep, I remove one item.

After the timer dings, I take a break for 10 minutes to go play on Facebook. It's important to take breaks so that I don't burn out. Then I spend another 20 minutes putting away the contents of the laundry basket and taking donations to the car so I won't be tempted to reclaim them.

Be realistic, even ruthless

Some people put items aside to sell them. I don't, because: Garage sales are rarely worth the trouble; I've seen the low prices on eBay (my stuff is not as valuable as I think), and I'm not going to invest that kind of time, and the point of this is to make the clutter go away, not to save it for another day.

We have some excellent places in Denton for giving our donations. My personal favorites are Ruth's Room, Denton County Friends of the Family and SCRAP Denton.

A word about those donations: Make sure it is something the recipient can use. Visit the group's website, or call and find out what they need before you donate. Volunteers spend hours sorting through donations, and often have to throw away useless items that somebody donated. If an item is worn out, stained or broken, then just go ahead and toss it in the trash.

Clutter stole my time (spent cleaning, maintaining and searching), money (spent storing and buying it in the first place), energy and peace of mind. It wasn't necessarily easy, but I conquered that clutter. You can, too. Make it so.

Ready to get started?

A primer for simplifying your life and space

1) Before you begin, decide what function each room, or space, in your house is supposed to serve. That will help you determine what items should be in that area. If it doesn't belong there, you need to find it a home elsewhere -- or decide that you no longer need it.

2) Remember this very important commandment: "Thou shalt not throw away anyone else's stuff." You can try to rally the other people in your household to go along with your process, but you don't get to decide to pitch anything but your own clutter.

3) Don't go buy fancy storage boxes and units until after you have reduced your clutter. You'll keep more than you need or even want, and if you have any success, then those containers just become more clutter.

4) Start small. Take baby steps, and give yourself a chance for success. Divide large areas into smaller portions and take a bite out of it everyday. Never start on a huge space that you don't have time to finish that day. You will have your space even more cluttered.

5) No matter what the books say (sorry, Marie Kondo), don't start your journey by trying to clean out your clothes closet. That sent me into a two-month depression!

  • Shelly Tucker

Daily practices to keep clutter away

1) My motto is: Don't put things down. Put them up! You've finished reading the newspaper? Don't put it down on the coffee table -- "put it up" in the recycle bin. Don't take off your coat and throw it on a chair. Hang it up. It takes only seconds longer to hang an item in the closet. When you kick off your shoes, don't leave them in the middle of the floor.

When the family finishes a meal, wash the dishes and put them away, because the meal isn't over until the dishes are done. If you train yourself to put things away as you finish with them, your decluttering will be drastically reduced.

2) Rule of 10: Sometimes, I pick up 10 things and put them away. Other times, I spend 10 minutes on a task (depending on how industrious I am). If you put away 10 things every time you wander through the house (or during every TV commercial), you can put away a lot of the clutter in a day.

3) At the end of each day, I spend 10 to 20 minutes putting away anything I used that day (and didn't already "put up") and generally straightening up so that I wake up in the morning to a peaceful space.

- Shelly Tucker

Shelley Tucker is a professional storyteller who hosts Ghosts of Denton tours downtown.