Sweater and holiday goodies

Photo: Alison Gootee

If the very mention of the holidays has you overwhelmed—decking the halls, shopping for 82 family members, stocking up on boxes and bows—O's organizing wiz, Peter Walsh, is here to help you breathe a little easier. "Set aside the question 'What do I need for this holiday?' and instead ask yourself, 'What do I want from it?'" suggests Walsh. "The answer is usually family, warmth, relaxation, reconnection—not things." Here are some easy ways to de-clutter this season and make room for what really matters to you.


"When I'm in someone's garage and I see endless storage boxes filled with strands of lights and garlands and ornaments, my first thought is always 'Are you kidding me?'" says Walsh. "I'm not Scrooge, but for many of my clients the collecting has gotten out of control." Part of the problem, he says, is that we amass more decorations each year, yet we rarely (if ever) filter out what we no longer use or appreciate. "People just shove everything back in a box to deal with next year, and the problem metastasizes." The time to get organized is as soon as you've finished trimming the house and tree. "Anything left in the boxes needs to be dealt with right then, when you have momentum on your side," Walsh says. Drop off any unused ornaments at your local hospital or senior center. Garland that's seen better days? Trash it and move on. "Remember, the number of spare decorations you're storing is in no way proportionate to how strongly you celebrate the holiday."


Photo: Alison Gootee

2. Don't Hold On—Pass On
Whether it's your great-grandmother's seed-pearl-studded sweater or the James Taylor LPs you haven't listened to since the '70s, there's likely some precious object lurking in your house that you intend to pass on someday. "Why not today?" asks Walsh. "Giving it to a loved one breathes new life into the object and lets you enjoy the person enjoying the gift." Last year Walsh dug out his father's WWII medals, framed them for his mom, and framed replicas for his six siblings. "The medals bring back so many things about my dad, who died five years ago, and I know my brothers and sisters will end up passing them on to their kids."
Pile of clothes

Photo: Thinkstock

3. Share the Wealth (and Warmth)
Does hosting a holiday party mean piling guests' coats on your bed? If so, it might be time to take a hard look at your closet. If it's crammed to capacity, it probably holds at least a few nonessential items. Donating coats and boots lessens clutter while helping those in need at a particularly vulnerable time. "By gathering up the winter wear in your closets, you're opening the space, and you're opening your heart," says Walsh. To donate shoes, he suggests Soles4Souls; for coats, mittens, and scarves, head to Goodwill.

Photo: Thinkstock

4. Talk Now, Buy Later
"A lot of anxiety comes from not knowing how much to spend or whom to shop for," says Walsh. Rather than overshopping (and bemoaning the bill), Walsh suggests setting ground rules with family and friends. "Bring it up at Thanksgiving: 'What are we doing for gifts this year?'" Maybe it's Secret Santa or presents only for the kids or inexpensive gag gifts. "Talk with your friends about giving each other favorite novels, or having a cookie swap," Walsh says. "Being up-front strips away second-guessing and frees people to be more creative." The biggest guffaws at Walsh's last Christmas celebration came from a $5 mustache kit. "My 89-year-old mother with a cowboy hat and a mustache? Priceless."

Photo: Thinkstock

5. Give the Gift of Time
"Everyone has had the experience of opening a present and thinking, 'Oh, no, not another scented candle or box of chocolates,'" says Walsh. If what you want from this holiday is to feel close to your loved ones, why not spend time with them? Treat your aunt to dinner at her favorite restaurant; take salsa lessons with your sister; arrange a night at the theater with your best friend. "For many of us, last year's gift is long forgotten—relegated to the back of the closet or cluttering a drawer," Walsh says. "But the memory of a shared experience will be cherished for decades."

Next: Peter Walsh's holiday clutter makeover


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