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Give the new year a clean start with these decluttering tactics


The junk drawer, that overstuffed closet, a messy garage - is household clutter getting in the way of your fresh start this new year? Star Hansen, a professional organizer and self-titled clutter whisperer, says everyone's clutter tells a personal story and that if you want to declutter effectively, you got to start by understanding the message of your mess. Life Kit's Andee Tagle has more.

ANDEE TAGLE, BYLINE: Star Hansen says there's no such thing as random recurring clutter. Every dusty box, every overflowing cabinet has feelings attached to it. Be it hope for the future or shame of the past...

STAR HANSEN: What becomes clutter and where your clutter accumulates says a lot about what's going on with you. We are talking to ourselves through our clutter.

TAGLE: So those hundreds of sauce packets in your kitchen drawer? Maybe they speak to your guilt around waste and sustainability. That blazer sitting in your closet that hasn't fit for years? Maybe it reveals a yearning for your former profession. There are infinite reasons why we let things pile up, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed or defeated by all of it. But when you understand the emotion underneath your messes, says Hansen, it's a whole lot easier to let old things go and start fresh.

HANSEN: So we have to really stop and say, OK, what's stopping me? What's making this hard to get rid of?

TAGLE: Once you've gotten good with your feelings, it's time to get to work. Hansen says start by accepting that decluttering often isn't something that you can complete in just one go.

HANSEN: We have this assumption that we should just jump and get rid of things - right? - thanks to all the like, makeover shows and all of that that just say it's so easy. Just get rid of it. But it's not, right?

TAGLE: And it's also not one size fits all, just buy the right pretty containers and a label maker and you're done. Decluttering is personal.

HANSEN: And so it's really important to take the time to create systems that work for you and how you really think.

TAGLE: What do those systems look like? Hansen's got suggestions to set you up for success. First up, start small.

HANSEN: You do really want to start in the easiest place first. So you want to start with your junk drawer. You want to start with your purse. You want to start with one single cupboard in your bathroom.

TAGLE: Items that require a lot of time or emotional energy, like memorabilia or paperwork?

HANSEN: Please save that for further down the line because those two tend to be the most emotionally triggering.

TAGLE: Whatever area you choose, you're going to want to take inventory of every item in that space, so pull everything out and put things in categories. Once everything's sorted, it's time to decide what stays and what goes. Hansen says, try your best to look at your stuff with neutral eyes.

HANSEN: As though you're helping a friend, and none of your stuff means anything to you.

TAGLE: And again, this process doesn't have to be done all in one sitting. It's about progress, not completion. Another idea if you're short on decluttering time or just easily discouraged by big messes - try a timer method.

HANSEN: Do a 20-minute burst where you're just looking for trash. Do 20 minutes just looking for donations. Look for - maybe just spend 20 minutes in a room looking for some - for anything that goes into another room.

TAGLE: Once an area is freshly clutter free, make it as easy as possible for you to maintain that clean space by planning for your laziest days.

HANSEN: We all are superheroes when we are well-rested and, like, feeling good. And the truth is, what happens when you come home from traveling? What happens when you get the flu?

TAGLE: That could look like labeling storage containers on all four sides and making sure your most-used items are always the easiest to reach. Finally, don't forget to celebrate your progress as you go.

HANSEN: Brag to your friend. Show your partner. Allow yourself to really enjoy the fact that you've done something because it's not a small thing to get a handle on our clutter.

TAGLE: For NPR's Life Kit, I'm Andee Tagle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andee Tagle
Andee Tagle (she/her) is an associate producer and now-and-then host for NPR's Life Kit podcast.

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