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Four Tips to Help You Kick Your Clutter Habit

A former consultant for hoarders gives the lowdown on purging the stuff that's dragging you down.

Even as Wisconsin undergoes a phased re-opening of workplaces, restaurants, and childcare facilities, the specter of COVID-19 has many Madisonians still observing strict quarantine habits, including spending more time at home than ever.

And with that new "normal," you've probably noticed something even more bothersome than being cooped up: your things. Belongings that you could once easily run past on your way to work or the gym now stare at you for hours.

"What to do with all this stuff piled around?" you ask.

As a former consultant to hoarders who are forced to clean up or lose their homes, I've gathered many tips over the years that can help you de-clutter your home.

1. Decide You Want a Change

Are you a person who saves items to do something with them later? Perhaps you are sentimental and cannot bear to part with things. When you look around and you feel things that pull you into the past, realize that now is the best place to be and though some things can be saved, others must go.

The guilt at the thought of getting rid of things you, at one point in your life, thought you would always save or imagined doing something in the future with is not worth the burden on your life. Freeing up these old plans and spaces give you the inspiration to really live.

2. Keep a Photo, Not the Thing

If the thought of parting with those old curtains you swear you'll hang one day leaves you nervous, take a photo of the item.

The truth is that looking at those curtains you have wanted to hang for five years does not make the curtains go up. If you really loved them, you would have put them up immediately. Maybe you lost the receipt or forgot where you bought them, but the money has been spent and it's time to get them up or get them out.

3. Give to Charity

Nowadays, many charities have temporarily stopped accepting donations. However, that won't be the case forever, and even things that we do not think we can give to charity—that extra short garden hose you got from your brother when he moved—charitable organizations will gladly take and sell to fund their missions.

For example, the money raised from selling donations at Habitat for Humanity's ReStore centers goes into building, buying, and fixing up homes for low-income families to provide a pathway to home ownership.

We are lucky in Orchard Ridge to be close to the ReStore location at 5906 Odana Road, which has a convenient drive-up donation center. The ReStore accepts many of the same things that typical thrift stores do such as furniture and housewares, but they also take tools, light fixtures, and various building hardware. They will even pick up larger items for free. The full list of the items the ReStore accepts is available on their website.

4. Read More About De-Cluttering

The recently popular book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo has been an inspiration to many. Don Aslett has also written several books on the topic including "Lose 200 Lbs. This Weekend: It's Time to De-clutter Your Life" and "Clutter's Last Stand."

The underlying message in all of these publications is to keep only what you want, so consider getting more room to live and lighten your load by ridding yourself of things that seem to hold you back.◼

Laura Gessert is a contributing writer for The Grapevine. She also helps run Gessert Books, which specializes in self-published and university press books. For more information, check out

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