Woman walking across piles of clothes
With any project, it's important to kick-start the process. Here are five "quick and dirty" steps for a high-speed, low-level clutter purge.
Step 1: Get Real
Do you remember the last time you parked in your garage? How about the last time you saw what color your basement carpet is? If you had to step over piles of clothes, papers and unidentifiable "stuff" just to get to your computer, it's time to take action. And chances are if you're shuffling papers just to read this—before you can even choose a room to declutter—you need to ask yourself, What's really going on underneath all that junk?

Studies show that although families are smaller, homes are larger than ever. Even with more square feet of living space, many Americans still fill attics, basements and storage units with clutter. Blame it on our super-size mentality, but more is not necessarily better. Things cannot bring us happiness. If your house is full of clutter, all the blessings that could fill your house can't get in.

The good news is it doesn't matter where you start. Just grab a trash bag and start dancing what I call the Trash Bag Tango.

Watch the Trash Bag Tango in action! Watch   

Go to step 2: The 2 types of clutter
Step 2: Realize There Are Two Types of Clutter
Most people have two kinds of clutter: memory clutter or "I-might-need-it-one-day" clutter. However, we all struggle with the 'lazy clutter' and that's what we need to tackle first.

Lazy clutter is all the stuff that accumulates out of negligence over time. It's not stuff you care too much about, so you ignore it: un-filed papers, unopened junk mail, magazines, unwanted gifts or that freebie cap you brought home from the grocery store but will never wear. Lazy clutter is little more than trash and one of the few purposes it serves is to accumulate on every flat surface in your home.

Memory clutter reminds us of some important person or event or achievement in the past—it's sentimental and often hardest to part with. "I-might-need-it-one-day" clutter is all that stuff that you know you might need...maybe. For the kick start, don't make the tough decisions that come with dealing with memory clutter or "I-might-need-it-one-day clutter." The first step is to take on the lazy clutter, then go through your other belongings methodically and logically. You'll learn how to balance the stuff you want to own with the space you have for it. When you find this balance, you'll learn how to keep it.

For now, stick to the quick-and-dirty purge and get rid of the superficial stuff that is relatively easy to clear.

Go to step 3: Think F.A.S.T.!
Step 3: Think F.A.S.T.!
Until further notice, do not go out and buy anything new and uneccessary—no retail therapy, no "great deals" and no sales! Instead, purge as much clutter as possible as quickly as you can using the F.A.S.T. method. Here's a step-by-step breakdown on how to clean house and get organized.

F: Fix a time. Schedule a time that suits everyone involved. Cleaning up is a family affair, so get everyone on board by scheduling your kick start at a time that works for everyone and make attendance mandatory! Set aside a Saturday or a Sunday, or a few hours every day, to start the process.

A: Anything not used in 12 months. Face it: If you haven't used an item in the last year, it is highly unlikely you really need it or that you are going to ever get enough use out of it to justify it cluttering up your home. Take the plunge and get rid of it! Ask yourself these questions as you encounter each piece of clutter:
  • Do I use this?
  • How long has it been since I've used it?
  • Will I use it again?
  • Is it worth the space it takes up in my house?
Remember: The objective is to get stuff out of your home, not to move it into another room. You will be amazed by the sheer volume of unused and unneeded items in your home. Don't spend time inventing reasons to keep these things.

S: Someone else's stuff. It's bad enough when clutter is your own, but it is totally crazy when the clutter belongs to someone else. Your house should not contain anything that doesn't belong to you. If it's something you've borrowed, give it back. If you've ended a relationship or gotten a divorce, now's the time to let your ex's belongings go. If your kids have established their own households, it's time for them to pick their stuff up.

T: Trash. The trash can is your friend. It is your very hungry friend. Take pride in how much you throw away and make it fun. Compete with your family members to see who tosses the most or award a prize to the best purger. Remember the goal: You only want to keep the amount of stuff that makes sense for your space.

Go to step 4: Learn the game rules
Step 4: Learn the Game Rules
You have the plan and the room, now do it! Here are some guidelines that should keep you on track to a clutter-free home.

Start on time. You have a lot of work ahead of you! Your commitment to this project is your first step toward creating the life you want to have. Don't put it off for another second.

Don't argue. Have the whole family work together on one area so you can give one another guidance. Listen with respect when you talk about whether to keep something. Remember, save the hard decisions for later and don't argue about whose stuff is taking up all the space.

Don't waste time. Now is not the time to take a trip down memory lane. Touch each item once, make a decision and move on. Also, no breaks or phone calls. This is a workday!

Make your piles. Move stuff out of the room and into three piles: trash, keep and donate. As you do, assess your progress. Remember, the trash pile should be growing—and quickly.

Don't stop until you're done. The last thing you want is to end the day with a bigger mess than when you started. Finish the job. Bag up all the trash and put it in bins. Return all the "keep" items to their proper places. Move your charity donations to a specific location, drop them off or prepare them for pickup.

Evaluate and congratulate. As you finish the quick purge, you will make discoveries. You may find yourself feeling attached to things you know you shouldn't keep. One family member may want to keep something another one doesn't. Take the time to discuss your discoveries from the day.

Go to step 5: Do it all over again
Step 5: Do It All Over Again
Have you ever noticed shampoo bottles always say "wet hair, lather, rinse, repeat"? If you follow those circular instructions, you'll be shampooing your hair until the end of time.

Not so with the kick start, but you will need to move through your house methodically, getting rid of unnecessary clutter until you've done every room. Only then will you be ready for the hard part—letting go of the stuff that feels valuable or important.

This quick purge is just a primer, but it will fill you with excitement and a real sense of what conquering clutter can achieve. Now that you've cleared away the first level of clutter, you're ready to tackle the real issues. Open up your space and unclutter your mind!

If you know what your vision is for your space, it's time to choose a room.

More from Peter Walsh
Quiz: Do you have a clutter problem? 
How to tidy up the way you think about clutter
10 steps to a perfectly organized home office
Peter's cleanup action plan for the entire family 
Excerpted from It's All Too Much by Peter Walsh. Copyright © 2007 by Peter Walsh. Reprinted by permission from Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Next Story