Conquering your clutter

By Martha Tobin

We’ve all been staring at the same four walls for many months now. That’s one thing; staring at those four walls as well as all your clutter every day is quite another.

Unopened boxes filled with memorabilia stacked in the back of your basement. Mystery bins in the pantry. A coat closet with a black hole that swallows mitts, gloves and the occasional boot. A guest room that has become the family dumping ground for all-things-with-no-home. A garage that is more of a storage shed than a place to park your car. And kitchen cupboards that repeatedly defy your organizational attempts. Sound familiar? You are not alone.

Many people think the issue is lack of storage space. But the problem is rarely the amount of space and more often the amount of stuff. Whether you live in an apartment, a condo or a three-storey home, the problem of clutter is the same – people think about it, worry about it, move it around and repeatedly try to organize it. In short, clutter causes stress.

It turns out clutter is not only stressful, it’s also costly. Think about all the storage bins, containers and shelving you’ve bought. What about the duplicates you’ve had to purchase when you couldn’t find the original? And think about the money made by storage companies – there’s a very good business reason why these companies are popping up on every corner.

Clutter is also costly in time. Time wasted to be exact. Time spent looking for the library book you wanted to return, the shoes you wanted to reheel, the stamps you bought last week and the Tupperware you borrowed. According to R. Eisenberg and Kate Kelly in their book Organize Your Life, “Clutter is the number one impediment to having more free time. We are drowning in our possessions.”

If clutter is so stressful, time-consuming and costly, why can’t we get a handle on it? Two reasons: over-purchasing and the lack of maintainable systems that work with our busy lives.

Here are a few tips and tricks that might help you conquer your clutter:

One in, one out. For every item you purchase, discard or donate another item that you no longer need or want.

Would you move with it? If you were moving right now, would you pack up and unpack that box, bag or bin? Similar to Marie Kondo’s question “does it spark joy?” this question about moving also tries to get to the root of the problem. Why are you hanging on to items that you’ve not looked at in years? The answer will help you discover which items are truly meaningful and which you can let go.

Does this look familiar?
The “after” picture   Photos: Martha Tobin

Donations that do good. It’s difficult to let go of some items because of sentimental attachment. By donating them, you save them from a landfill while giving them a second life with someone less fortunate who really needs those items. With winter upon us, coats, scarves, mitts, boots, blankets and sleeping bags are just some of the items that are desperately required. You can also sell your items on the GIVESHOP app, receive a tax receipt and have all the proceeds directed to local charities.

The Sunday Sweep. Each Sunday, take a bin and walk through every room picking up items that belong somewhere else and put them back in their proper place. This 15-minute exercise will save cleanup time and will also save your sanity when you are trying to locate an item in the future.

As we all stare at the same four walls, it’s a great time to take stock of our stuff. Perhaps try to declutter one room at a time. If you find the challenge of conquering your clutter too overwhelming, reach out to a professional organizer and declutterer to help you decide what to keep and what to let go.

Decluttering can create order, give you back functional space and allow you to take big, deep breaths again in those familiar rooms.

Martha Tobin, owner of Room2Breathe – Organizing & Decluttering, is a Glebe resident passionate about making a difference in her clients’ lives. She can be reached at

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