6 Ways to Tame Paper Clutter

Turn those mountains of paper into manageable molehills and learn how to cut the paper trail off at the source with these tips from Linda Cobb, author of The Queen of Clean Conquers Clutter.

It seems that the farther we advance with technology, the more we are inundated with paper. Remember when computer gurus told us we would soon be living in a paperless society? Well, guess what — it seems that the technical revolution has generated a whole new spawn of paperwork.

The vast majority of waste in recycling sites is nothing more than ordinary paper — everything from junk mail, newspapers, magazines, and phone books to the flotsam-and-jetsam paperwork of everyday life. Controlling this particular area of clutter is key to living a less stressful and simpler life. Let’s tackle the paper chase together, shall we?

You’ve Got Mail

When you pick up your mail every day, bring it in the house to the same spot. It can be a basket in the entryway, a designated spot on the kitchen counter, or a space at your desk in the home office. Then take a few moments to go through your mail, and remember the rule to handle each piece of paper only once. Newspapers, catalogs, and magazines go to the magazine rack or a basket, where you can find them and read them at your leisure. Toss out the old catalog as you replace it with the new issue, and make sure to sort through this storage bin regularly (weekly is great) to keep it up-to-date. Toss the water, electric, or car payment into a manila folder or large envelope marked “Bills” for payment. Read personal mail, such as wedding or shower invitations, birthday cards, and the like, and enter information on your family calendar. Scan through junk mail, then toss. The big temptation here is to set down a letter, bill, or “interesting idea” from the junk mail for “later.” However, later usually doesn’t come! Teach yourself to clear out your mail daily, and clutter has that much less of a chance to congregate.

Consider how many charge accounts you have. Do you really need four major credit cards, a gasoline card, and a card for every department store in your nearby mall? Remember that all of these cards generate reams of mail in your direction from these retailers. Simplify your life by cutting down your credit cards to just a few you can use everywhere.

Chances are you’re on some mailing lists for items that no longer interest you. Take 15 minutes today to stop the accumulation of unwanted offers in the mail. You’ll need to make one phone call and write a single letter to do this. To stop unwanted credit offers, dial 1–888–5–OPT–OUT at any time of day or night. Then, write to the following: DMA Mail Preference Service, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512. Include your complete name, address, zip code, and a request to “activate the preference service.” The Direct Marketing Association estimates that this one step will stop 75 percent of junk mail from reaching you for up to five years. Keep in mind this option may stop catalogs and promotions you would have liked to receive.

The Paper Tiger
And some ways to tame it:

  • Think twice before you copy that e-mail or print that delicious recipe you want to try “someday.” The great temptation of the Internet is that it makes so much information available so easily. How may times have you printed out a couple of pages to read later, and later has never come? And how many times have you printed out one page only to be flooded with six or seven? Remember: You don’t have to print everything. The information will be there, on line, the next time you need it.
  • Reuse paper in your printer to copy items for personal use; save the clean copy paper for items you need to send out or keep as a personal record.
  • Consider using electronic or on-line banking — it cuts down dramatically on paperwork.
  • Recycle or toss newspapers and magazines at least weekly. Piles of old newspapers are untidy, and a fire hazard as well.
  • Store important personal papers such as your will, birth certificate, social security card, and passport in a safe place at home (a fireproof box is best) or a safe deposit box at the bank. If you store these papers at the bank, keep a list of what is in the safe deposit box on your computer or in your home files. Go through these papers twice a year to make sure they’re in order. Keep a separate folder for each child in your family. In each, place their immunization record, report cards, birth certificates, social security card, and any other important information, such as allergies, doctors’ names and phone numbers. This will be invaluable, especially at the beginning of each school year.
  • A family calendar is a great idea. Purchase a large one and post it in an obvious place such as the kitchen. Mark down birthday parties, weddings, family parties, as invitations arrive. Keep a clothespin attached to the calendar, where you can hang the invitation or pertinent information. When the event is over, just toss.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Previously the owner of a cleaning and disaster-restoration business in Michigan, dealing with the aftermath of fires and floods, Linda Cobb, author of The Queen of Clean Conquers Clutter (Copyright © 2002 by Linda Cobb), started sharing her cleaning tips in a local newspaper column. After moving to Phoenix she became a weekly guest on Good Morning Arizona — then the product endorsements and requests for appearances started rolling in. A featured guest on radio and television shows across the country, Linda Cobb lives in Phoenix with her husband.

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4 Steps to an Uncluttered Desk

If office space detritus is weighing you down, then it’s time for a clean sweep. Follow this four-step clutter cleanup strategy from Enough Already!, by Peter Walsh, to free up physical and psychological space for more creative and productive work flow.

Improving your work life isn’t as simple as having a clean desk. But what can I say? I do this for a living — it’s a good place to start. There’s no faster way to inspire an immediate change in attitude than with an uncluttered, clear, pristine desk. It’s a little like making your bed. A made bed anchors a room, sets the tone for the day, says, “I respect my space,” and shows a commitment to routines and organization. So you are your desk. If it’s cluttered, how are you supposed to prioritize? How can you be efficient? Think of your desk as a reflection of your head. No matter how creative and brilliant you are, I can assure you that you’ll perform better with an organized desk. Now let’s get to it. Here’s how.

Activity
Quick Desk Purge

  1. File. You shouldn’t have anything on your desk that isn’t “active,” meaning it still needs to be dealt with. Filing isn’t complex, and it isn’t high priority, which is why a “to file” pile tends to grow high. Get rid of those piles immediately, even if it takes you an hour. If you take ten minutes to file at the end of the day, you’ll always be able to keep your desk clean. Filing and tidying up at the end of the day is a good way to decompress before you go home, as well as a way to clarify and reinforce what you did today and what you need to do tomorrow.
  2. Get rid of the miniature Zen garden. After you’ve filed, clear your workspace of anything that you don’t use regularly. If you must have sentimental items and toys (really, must you?), pare them down to a bare minimum. This isn’t a high school locker. You’re a grown up and a professional. Your desk should reflect that. The same goes for the stuffed animals, Vegan souvenirs, and collectible action figures!
  3. Use a vertical file organizer for “active” files. Reserve your inbox for items that need to be dealt with pronto. For ongoing projects, create files and store them in an easily accessible desktop file organizer or a rolling file cart that slips easily under your desk and can be accessed quickly and efficiently.
  4. Create systems that work. No matter if you’re a shoe salesman, a full-time dad, or a rock star, you’ll do your job better if you have fool-proof systems in place.
  • When you listen to your phone messages, the calls you need to return should always be written down in the same place.
  • When you plan a meeting, a playdate, or a concert in Madison Square Garden, the event goes immediately into a calendar.
  • When you pay a bill, complete a sale, or finish an album, all documentation should immediately be filed away.
  • Keep a running to-do list on a notepad or electronically. Start a new page every day, copying outstanding to-dos onto the new page. When you complete a task, check it off and note the date. You’ll always know when you got something done and have a clear record in case you need to refer back to it.

And so on. Take notes. Keep a calendar. Return calls. Log important addresses and phone numbers. Be accountable. You know how there are some ultra-reliable people you trust to do what they said they’d do, when they said they’d do it? You can be one of those people. Your organized desk is the first step and says “I mean business” to everyone who sees it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Walsh is a clutter expert and organizational consultant who characterizes himself as part-contractor and part-therapist. He is the bestselling author of Enough Already! Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You (Copyright © 2009 by Peter Walsh Design, Inc.), It’s All Too Much, and Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? He can also be heard weekly on The Peter Walsh Show on the Oprah and Friends XM radio network, is a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and was also the host of the hit TLC show Clean Sweep. Peter holds a master’s degree with a specialty in educational psychology. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.

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Does Your Home Stress You Out? Why Less Is More

Don’t let your stuff define you. Embrace a new mind-set of consuming less and living with less, and you’ll find more peace and happiness at home, says expert organizer Peter Walsh in Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less.

IT STARTS WITH A VISION
If I had to give you one word that lies at the root of most people’s emotional pain and anguish today, you’d probably be surprised it’s not “money” (or the lack thereof). It’s “stuff.” Stuff keeps us from having the rich, full life we deserve. More stuff doesn’t equate to a better life. Stuff has a way of creeping into and overtaking our homes. It also has a way of defining us, when we should be defining ourselves from a much deeper, intangible perspective. And when our stuff begins to define who we are, we become incapable of defin­ing ourselves outside of what we own and what we can buy. This, as many of you may know by now, is a setup for utter unhappiness. One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie Fight Club: “The things you own end up owning you.” It’s a great quote, one that I use often and one that’s really worth pondering. I can also extend that quote: “The things you own end up owning your identity.

It’s time to seriously examine ourselves and our relationships with the money, people, and things in our lives — and the lack thereof. No one should feel stressed out when she opens the door to her own home or buys staples for living. No one has to. No one should feel like he has “nothing” when he can count on his loved ones, even when there’s a lack of material possessions and money. Your home and your financial stability are within your control. Con­sider this: if your home is not providing you with a place of peace and calm, of focus and motivation; if your home is instead a major source of stress and anxiety in your life, then isn’t it obvious that things are seriously out of balance? If your own home does not offer you some measure of nourishment and calm, where are you finding that peace? Chances are, nowhere! Your home should be the place where you escape all negative forces in the world. How you live in that home — eat, breathe, sleep, play, and connect with loved ones — should be the antidote to stress, not the cause.

To get to the heart of our financial problems, we have to reframe how we view what we own, what we buy, how we pay, what we can af­ford, and what will help us create the life we want for ourselves. This is about living mindfully within our means and it begins with a new perspective and a new mind-set about consuming less, living with less, and being happy with less — a mind-set that embraces the idea that happiness doesn’t automatically come with more. This process must start with a clear vision of the life you want — not a debt num­ber or credit score. Just a vision — your vision — and a big one at that.

LESS IS MORE
Let’s be honest, the concept of less is far less attractive than the con­cept of more. Just that word “less” carries a boatload of negative con­notations. Less drums up thoughts of not having enough, being a few dollars short, getting the short end of the stick, not functioning at 100 percent, missing something, lacking something, and so on. It implies hardship, deprivation, destitution, and poverty. But does it have to be a negative term? What does less mean to you?

Complete the following statements:

With less, I am afraid that:

With less, I won’t be able to:

With less, my happiness is:

Think for a moment about what automatically comes to mind when you think of you with less. Are you afraid that life won’t be as plea­surable or rewarding? Does less mean you can’t be happy? Does the very idea of less threaten your happiness? Will having less and living on less income mean you won’t be living the life of your dreams? Why do you think this way? How is this so? What preconceived no­tions about “more” are clouding your definition of “less”?

Now let’s turn this table around. Our cynical relationship with this word “less” is completely arbitrary. What if we chose to look at it from a different perspective? What if, for example, we couch “less” in terms that relate to abundance? Having less doesn’t have to equate with being less, or missing anything. It can, in fact, result in the opposite effect of being more and having more — less of the things that cripple us or trip us up and more happiness, more simplicity, more relaxation, more satisfaction, more energy, more time, more joy, more order, more freedom, more flexibility, more opportunities, more of the things we truly value and need to live the life we want. This concept of “less” that will change our lives is less stress, less worry, less anxiety, less debt, less dissatisfaction, less frustration, less failure, less chaos, less dependence, less dysfunction in our relation­ships, and less feeling trapped in our financial instability and clutter-filled homes. When you look at it this way, less really can be more.

The shift from seeing less as a negative to less as a positive hap­pens when we embrace the concept of less as an opportunity to be re­sponsible and to be mindful consumers. It’s about filling our souls rather than our physical space. It’s about peace of mind rather than just more, more, more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Walsh
, author of Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less (Copyright © 2011 by Peter Walsh Design, Inc.), is a clutter expert and organizational consultant who characterizes himself as part contractor and part therapist. He is a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and hosts Enough Already! with Peter Walsh on The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Peter holds a master’s degree with a specialty in educational psychology. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.

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The Surprising Cost of Clutter in Your Home

Not only does clutter burden you emotionally — it’s costing you financially. Expert organizer Peter Walsh shows you how to calculate the value of unused space in your home due to clutter. From Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less

That Clutter Is Costing Real Dollars
It’s easy to put a dollar figure on the cost of professionally stored clutter, but what about the clutter you keep at home? How much is that costing you? I’m not just referring to the financial cost. I’m also talking about what it’s costing you emotionally. The emotional cost may exceed the dollar cost.

Try going through one room and make a quick estimate of the cost of what you’re not using. For example, look in your bedroom and consider the cost of unworn clothes and shoes, unread books, unworn jewelry, or unused makeup. Consider the unused toys in your den or child’s bedroom. If any particular item you come across tugs at your heart or makes you emotional, then consider that an added cost. Add up the cost of the items — I’m guessing that some of those clothes still have the tags on them so it won’t be that hard — and write down the amount. Is it big? How much of that are you still paying off? This simple exercise should give you a rough estimate of the cost of the clutter in your home.

Another assessment you can do is to work out how much each square foot of your home is worth and then see how much of that space is unused due to clutter. Simply take the current value of your home (make a rough estimate; you’re not trying to come up with the exact selling figure for real estate purposes so just obtain the general ballpark figure), and determine how much each square foot is worth.

Value of your home ÷ Square footage of your home = Value of each square foot

____________ ÷ _______________ = ____________

So, if you live in a $250,000 home and it’s 2,500 square feet, then each square foot is worth $100.

The value of each square foot of my home is: ­­­­­­­­­­____________

Now let’s calculate how much of your home’s space is occupied by things you don’t use. Walk around your home and make a rough calculation of how many square feet are unusable because of the clutter. Don’t forget the basement, closets, and garage!

The number of square feet in my home that are occupied by things I don’t use: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­______________

Now let’s find out how much that wasted square footage is worth:

Value of square footage x Square feet occupied by things you don’t use = Value of unusable space

____________ x _______________ = ____________

Are you surprised at the value of the space you’re giving up to things you don’t use? Is it a big waste of space? A colossal waste of money for space that is lost to you and your family? Every month when you pay your mortgage company, a decent chunk of that money is paying for storage in your own home.

Now let’s do this once more but this time go through and write down what everything in each room is worth. Mark which items have been totally paid for. And then write down how much you still owe on the other items. For example, let’s say you have a big-screen TV that you bought for $2,000 when it first came out because you had to have it for the Super Bowl three years ago. Did you put it on your credit card? Have you paid the card off or are you carrying a balance every month? Think about it: if you are carrying a balance, some part of the balance you pay every month is that TV you bought three years ago. If that TV breaks, you are still paying it off even if you replace it. And then you’ll be paying for both the broken TV and its replace­ment! Really look around your house and figure out exactly what you own and what you still owe money on. Was anything worth the worry and stress of those monthly bills?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Walsh
, author of Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less (Copyright © 2011 by Peter Walsh Design, Inc.), is a clutter expert and organizational consultant who characterizes himself as part contractor and part therapist. He is a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and hosts Enough Already! with Peter Walsh on The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Peter holds a master’s degree with a specialty in educational psychology. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.

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End Closet Clutter and Get Organized in 3 Steps

Tangled hangers, over-crowded racks, dark corners, and jumbles of shoes, purses and ties? Put an end to the chaos hiding behind closed closet doors and get organized. Linda Cobb, author of The Queen of Clean Conquers Clutter, shows you what to keep, what to toss, and how to find a place for everything in your wardrobe in three steps.

Unpack: To do the job right, you have to take everything out of the closet. If you have some rolling racks, put them to use now. If not, you can utilize the shower rod (provided it’s attached firmly to the wall), the bed, and floor. Group the clothes by whom they belong to and into categories — blouses in one pile, skirts in another, slacks in still another. You get the idea.

  • Remove everything from shelves and floor, sorting as you go. Make piles of keepers, “not sure,” and “get rid of.” In the keeper piles, try to group types of clothes together, it will save you time later.
  • Clothes that need laundering or dry cleaning should go in a dirty-clothes hamper or dry-cleaning basket.
  • Take the time to wash down closet walls thoroughly and vacuum the carpet or wash the floor (that way your favorite silk blouse won’t get tangled in a cobweb!).

Evaluate: Sort clothes, putting “toss” or “donate” items into appropriate containers, such as boxes or trash bags. It’s a good idea to use black trash bags so that you or the family can’t see your “treasures” departing. Place the clothes you are keeping on the bed or a rolling portable rack.

As you are evaluating each item, consider:

  • Does it fit?
  • Be tough. If you haven’t worn it in a year, you probably won’t ever wear it again. If you haven’t been a size 6 since high school, move on and eliminate the size 6s.
  • Do I need to alter this? How much will the alterations cost?
  • How about repairs — can the item be repaired and still be wearable?
  • Will shoe polish really take care of that huge scuff mark on the toe of my shoe?
  • Give yourself permission to have a pile of “not sure” things. These are things you just can’t quite make up your mind about. If, after further consideration, you are still not sure, box them up, label the box with its contents, and date it. In six months if you haven’t revisited any of the items, donate the contents or dispose of it.
  • Really consider each item. Where will you wear it? When? If you can’t come up with a good answer, say good-bye!

Eliminate

  • Get rid of extra wire hangers. Give them back to your dry cleaner if he will take them; otherwise donate them to a nursing home or toss them.
  • Anything mismatched will not likely be missed — throw out mismatched items.
  • Look through your “not sure” pile one last time and make any additional judgment calls — be strong!

By now you should have boxes and bags for donating, garage sale, and trash. Remove these from the room, so that you have space to work . . . and no matter now tempting it is, don’t look in these containers again. If they are full, tape them up and label them with where they go and get the trash bags into the trash . . . quickly! It’s like pulling off a Band-Aid®, it hurts less if you just “do it”!

If things cannot be fixed, altered, or repaired and be really wearable, then they should be tossed. If the items are salvageable, then keep them, but take care of the problem before putting the item back in the closet.

Neaten Up

  • Determine hanger type — wire, clip, or plastic. Be consistent. A jumble of wire, plastic, and wood hangers will become tangled and be harder to separate and use — plus it just plain looks better!
  • Start re-hanging clothes, grouping by color and type.
  • If using a double-hung system, hang trousers and skirts on the lower rack.
  • Group blouses and shirts by color, and hang them over appropriate pants or skirts (this is called instant dressing!)
  • Hang long clothes in areas where they won’t tangle with things on the bottom of the closet floor.
  • Hang or fold and store sweaters. Sweaters actually do better when folded because they don’t stretch. If you prefer to hang sweaters, be sure to use padded hangers to avoid those shoulder dimples. And button them to keep their shape.
  • Arrange men’s ties on a tie rack or hang over a hanger. (Take a tip from a salesman friend of mine who has a vast collection of ties: after he wears one, he slips it off his neck without untying, and drapes it over a hanger in the closet. His wife has assembled a half dozen “tie hangers” by color in the closet this way.)
  • Replace purses on shelves in your storage area, grouping matching purses and shoes together.
  • Use a clear plastic shoe box to capture miscellaneous items such as hair-bands, scarves, and belts, and place on the shelf.
  • Cover seldom-worn clothes with a cloth cover, or group them together and cover with fabric, such as an old sheet or tablecloth, to keep them clean.
  • Be sure you have enough light in the closet. Consider a battery-operated light, or one that “taps” on and off as needed. This helps you to avoid leaving the house in one navy and one black shoe!

A Sentimental Journey
Now you’re probably staring at a group of what I call the “sentimental keepers.” These are things you don’t wear or use, but can’t bear to part with — so don’t. Make sure they are clean (stains can oxidize over time), and pack them in a box labeled something like “sentimental favorites.” Store them away, under the bed, on a top shelf, or in the attic (as long as the temperature there remains fairly consistent). You still have the items, but they’re not taking up valuable space in your closet. Who knows, one day when you’re baby-sitting the grandkids and run out of ideas, you may grab it for a “dress up” box. Most kids love to play this game.

No More Closet Confusion
Let’s talk about storage options in your closet.

  • First, consider adding extra shelving. This will give you lots of extra space for those things that you don’t use often, but still need to have on hand, like handbags and totes, evening shoes, sweaters, and bathing suits.
  • If you store things that tend to tip over or fall off the shelf, such as purses or stacks of sweatshirts, put them in a see-through type container such as a plastic milk crate. You want to easily see from the floor what you are looking for. If you used a closed container, have it labeled in bold print.
  • I keep a set of “grab-its” in my closet. These are super-long tongs-like things on a long wooden handle that you can use to reach high above your head. Look for these in home and health stores, and catalogs. They are meant for people who lack mobility, but they’re a wonderful tool to keep handy, not only in your closet, but in the kitchen, garage, and even the living room.
  • Look your closet over and determine how many long items you have, such as dresses and long skirts, trousers that are hung from the cuff, bathrobes, and long coats. This will help you determine how much of your closet space to allocate to their storage. If you don’t wear a lot of long things, then you will only need a small area to store them.
  • If you have a lot of blouses, shirts, trousers folded over padded hangers, and other shorter things, consider adding a bar to the closet to instantly double your storage space. You don’t have to run it the entire length of your closet; you can break the closet up into “long” and “short” zones. By adding double racks, you can store your slacks on the bottom and coordinating blouses on the top rack. Double racks should be installed at about 82 and 42 inches high to make the most of your closet space.
  • Separate your clothing by color and you can grab an outfit at a glance when it’s time to get dressed. This method also lets you know what items are in the laundry too. By adding an extra rack, you may have enough space in your closet to store sweaters hanging on padded hangers to keep them wrinkle free (although I still say sweaters are better folded — no stretching).
  • No need to hang T-shirts; roll them in drawers to conserve space and deter wrinkles.
  • Hooks on the back of the closet door are fine for robes and pajamas.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Previously the owner of a cleaning and disaster-restoration business in Michigan, dealing with the aftermath of fires and floods, Linda Cobb, author of The Queen of Clean Conquers Clutter (Copyright © 2002 by Linda Cobb), started sharing her cleaning tips in a local newspaper column. After moving to Phoenix she became a weekly guest on Good Morning Arizona — then the product endorsements and requests for appearances started rolling in. A featured guest on radio and television shows across the country, Linda Cobb lives in Phoenix with her husband.

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First, Get Rid of the Clutter! Organizing with Everyday Objects

Easy, inexpensive home organizing techniques, from Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck

Our friend Grace, who has eight decades of housekeeping under her belt, taught me how to divide and conquer junk drawers, cupboards, and closets. Grace’s house is so organized that when her brother came to live with her after his wife died, he could easily find everything in the house without assistance. Grace’s secret weapon is modified cardboard boxes.

Grace’s Box Tricks

  • Use labeled shoe boxes to store things on closet shelves.
  • Use cereal, tea, and cracker boxes to divide drawers and cupboards. Gather your pasteboard materials, then divide the drawers and cupboards one at a time. Simplify by putting seldom-used items in a box or bag at the back of the appropriate drawer.
  • Put open boxes in underwear and sock drawers.
  • Use a utility knife to cut the boxes to fit.

For a short while, customizing pasteboard boxes with a utility knife was my hobby, and “Square Is Beautiful” and “Divide and Conquer” were my favorite mottos. Ready-made drawer organizers just cannot compete with these customized dividers.

Once a space has been divided and its contents categorized, its carrying capacity increases and it tends to resist disorder. When was the last time you saw a disorderly silverware drawer? We don’t drop our spoons in with our knives, why should we allow our twist ties to twine around our rubber bands, salvaged string, and spare electrical cords?

  • I cut the tops off tea boxes and used them to tame our kitchen junk drawers three years ago. The drawers are just as tidy today as the day I conquered them.
  • The bottom of a thin cereal box (from hot cereal, for instance) works well for organizing twist ties and rubber bands.
  • Prevent lightweight extension cords from tangling by storing them in the cardboard tubes from paper towels.
  • I made cardboard dividers for our overflowing collection of grocery bags; the dividers increased the capacity of the cubby by keeping the folded bags upright. The chaos has never returned.
  • Heavy-duty cardboard boxes, such as detergent boxes, can be used to build stacked cubicles for storing lightweight dry goods like dry noodles or lightweight toiletries such as toothbrushes or Band-Aids.
  • Square, heavy plastic containers such as liquid detergent bottles can be cut down to make cubby holes and dividers for under-sink and other damp storage. Many of these containers are heavy enough to support some weight. Since I don’t use liquid detergent, I scrounged for detergent bottles at our local recycling center.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ellen Sandbeck, the author of Green Housekeeping (Copyright © 2006 by Ellen Sandbeck) and Green Barbarians, is an organic landscaper, worm wrangler, writer, and graphic artist who lives with (and experiments on) her husband and an assortment of younger creatures — which includes two mostly grown children, a couple of dogs, a small flock of laying hens, and many thousands of composting worms — in Duluth, Minnesota.

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Are You a Clutter Junkie?

Do you have a clutter problem? How bad is it? To find out, take this quiz from It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff by Peter Walsh, professional organizer from TLC’s hit series Clean Sweep.

Clutter Quiz
1. Could you have a party without cleaning up first?

a. Guests could eat off the floor. Bring ’em on!
b. Maybe tomorrow. The living room’s a mess, but I can hide it away in a few hours.
c. Um, I don’t have parties here. Can we go bowling instead?

2. Do your clothes fit in your closet?
a. Of course. They’re hung in order by color and season.
b. They fit, I guess, but I have no idea what’s on the top shelf.
c. They fall on my head when I open the door. Is that so wrong?

3. Without looking, do you know where to find your car keys, your unpaid bills, and your home or renter’s insurance policy?
a. Absolutely — want me to get them right now?
b. All except the insurance — it must be somewhere in my husband’s/wife’s/partner’s office.
c. Sure — just give me ten minutes to find them. Or an hour.

4. What is on your dining room table right now?
a. Wood polish and a rag — I was just wiping it.
b. A few piles of bills — and my child’s art collection.
c. So much stuff that I can’t see the table.

5. How many magazines are in your house right now?
a. Three — the current issue of each magazine I get.
b. Oh, a lot. But I need them for my job.
c. I have every issue of National Geographic ever published. It’s an outstanding collection.

6. How many paper and shopping bags are you saving?
a. A handful — we use them to recycle newspapers.
b. An overstuffed milk crate plus a few extra. You never know what size bag you’ll need.
c. Every single bag that enters the house.

7. Answer the following questions with a yes or no:
a. If you had to change a light bulb, could you find one?
b. Are all of your DVDs and CDs in their sleeves?
c. Are kids’ toys anywhere except in their rooms or designated play areas?
d. Are there dirty dishes in the sink?
e. Are dirty clothes anywhere but in the hamper?
f. Are there out-of-date medications in your medicine chest?
g. Are all bills paid and papers filed?
h. Does every item of clothing in your closet fit you now?

How Clutter Free Are You?
Score yourself:

Questions 1–6: Give yourself zero points for every A; one point for every B; two points for every C.

Question 7: Give yourself a point if you answered: a) no; b) no; c) yes: d) yes; e) yes; f) yes: g) no; h) no.

Add all your points together.

If you scored:
10–20 points: Uh-oh. Looks like you’re a HARD-CORE HOARDER. It’s amazing that you found a pen to take this quiz. But don’t take it too hard or feel overwhelmed: The first step is admitting the problem. We’ll take this step-by-step and custom tailor the program to work for you. Do remember that sometimes a first round of decluttering isn’t enough. A few months after your first purge, you’ll look at the same stuff you thought you couldn’t throw out and realize you haven’t touched it since your cleanup. It takes a while to get used to the idea that if you don’t use it, if it’s not part of your life, if it doesn’t serve your goals, then it’s just a waste of space. You’ll get there, I promise.

3–9 points: Good news. You’re a CLUTTER VICTIM. This may not sound like good news, but it means that you, like so many others, have fallen victim to the clutter buildup that’s hard to avoid when you have a busy life, diverse interests, disposable income, family memorabilia, and a steady influx of purchases and junk mail. Not to worry. With a reasonable amount of effort you’ll be able to get your clutter issues under control and keep them that way.

0–2 points: Congratulations! You’re CLUTTER-FREE. Give yourself a pat on the back, but don’t get lazy. Staying clutter-free takes work. Is there a storage room or an office where your clutter congregates? You can turn directly to that section to attack your problem head-on. A calendar of monthly routines will help you keep your home spick-and-span.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Walsh is a clutter expert and organizational consultant who characterizes himself as part-contractor and part-therapist. He is the bestselling author of It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff (Copyright © 2007 by Peter Walsh), Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? and Enough Already! He can also be heard weekly on The Peter Walsh Show on the Oprah and Friends XM radio network, is a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and was also the host of the hit TLC show Clean Sweep. Peter holds a master’s degree with a specialty in educational psychology. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.

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