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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Conquering clutter can be tackled one foot at a time

Wina Sturgeon McClatchy-Tribune

By the time we turn 50, we’re surrounded by a lifetime of things. There are sentimental objects that can’t be tossed, like the cookie jar from when you were a child. There are old letters and books, clothing, shoes – stuff that, when you come right down to it – is clutter.

If you’ve gone at least five years without a major clear-out, it’s time to winnow out the clutter.

If you look at a whole box filled with stuff, or a whole surface covered with papers or neglected mementos, the scope of the job can be overwhelming. But if you look at just one 12-inch area, it becomes easy.

That also resolves the emotional factor that so often leads to clutter. There’s often an emotional attachment to clutter that sprang up during a particular part of your life. Yes, the shoes you wore at your wedding were outrageously expensive, but they’ve been worn only a few times since that event. Donate them. The “1-foot-at-a-time” method works extremely well when it comes to overstuffed clothes closets. Grab a 1 foot strand of hangers from a closet, put the clothing on the bed and examine it. Is there a garment you actually haven’t worn for a few years? Is a piece of clothing made of a fabric that wrinkles easily, so that you hesitate to wear it; or made of a delicate material such as silk, which you are also reluctant to wear because a little spot means an expensive dry cleaning? Is it so fancy that you never get a chance to wear it?

A 1-foot long strand of closet hangers averages about 15 pieces of thin clothing, like shirts or blouses. It’s much easier to examine and decide what to do about each of those garments than it would be to tackle the entire closet. If you have an extremely cluttered room (bordering on hoarding), start at the far corner and haul away everything in roughly 1 square foot backed by the two walls of the corner. Take everything in that 12-by-12 inch space to another room. Go through it and decide if there’s anything you really want to keep. Don’t just transfer things to another pile. Toss, donate or sell everything else that was in that square foot of space. Don’t place anything in the cleared out area, not even temporarily.

Plan a schedule. Do another square foot once or twice a week. Doing just a square foot at a time may mean it takes a season, even a whole year, to clear out all the clutter. But as you see bare, uncluttered space appearing, you’ll feel renewed. You’ll realize that slow yet steady will always get the job done.

Wina Sturgeon is an active boomer based in Salt Lake City who offers advice and information on the science of staying youthful at