Beat the Clutter Improve Your Life

Everday Cheapskate


Getting organized is like dieting. Everyone knows how to do it. The problem is getting around to it and then maintaining the results.

A few years ago, when we remodeled our kitchen, I emptied every cupboard and drawer. When it was time to put everything back, I decided to put things away as I used them. I quickly realized why it was such a problem to keep the kitchen neat and tidy. We had too much stuff we never used. Getting rid of the unused left so much space to organize the essentials.

Face it. If you don’t have enough closet, drawer and storage space to comfortably handle your possessions, you probably own too many things. Give away, pare down, let your rooms, closets and drawers appear serene and controlled-kept.

There’s no single “right” way to organize your possessions and home. Organization must fit your style, your energy and your schedule. Find a system that functions best for you and your family.

No matter the way you do it, let this be your mantra: Eliminate and concentrate.

Getting rid of the clutter is a good place to start. Personally I’m fond of the Paper Bag Method for instant results—something that works wonders, especially when you are at your wit’s end over clutter and chaos. Take one (more as necessary) large brown paper grocery bag, bin or box and fill it with all of the stacks of extraneous papers, magazines, mail -- your basic clutter. The purpose here is not to throw anything away, just to get it out of visual range until you have time to go through and separate, sort and file. At least that’s what you tell yourself.

Stand back and enjoy that completely clear counter, desktop,
table or other flat surface. Amazing, isn’t it?

If within 48 hours or so, no one in the family has mentioned missing something of importance, it is probably safe to throw the whole thing out. While this may be a method of last resort, I guarantee it works.

A more preferred way to get organized may be the Salami Method. You wouldn’t think of eating an entire salami at one sitting. You’d eat it in slices over a period of time. Think of your project as one big salami. Start with one thing, one room, one closet. Tomorrow is another day, another drawer, another attic. Soon, you’ll be in control.

I’ve learned that gaining control over the stuff in my life has an effect on my attitude. When everything is in its place, I’m less stressed, more able to think clearly and, basically, a happier person. Order brings calm; clutter results in chaos.

I have found some kind of comfort in knowing that I’m not the only organizationally challenged person out there. Why just the other day, I was reading that the ratio of naturally born neatniks to messies is about 1 in 1 million.

Not everyone has a severe case of the messies, but if you think you might, take a look at Sink Reflections, a book by Marla Cilley (Bantam Double Day, 2002, $12.88). Cilley, aka the “FlyLady” to the thousands who log onto her website,, reaches into the every person’s home to help make housecleaning more fun and life more organized. Beginning with “Shiny Sink 101,” Cilley explains how a spotless kitchen sink can direct even the most discouraged housekeeper onto the path of well-ordered domesticity. And who couldn’t love that?

Mary invites questions, comments and tips at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a personal finance member website and the author of Debt-Proof Living, released in 2014.

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