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Posted on Fri, May 4, 2012 : 7:09 a.m.

Regularly get rid of stuff to keep clutter at bay

By Judy DiForte

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Anybody remember that commercial for plastic bins? The family had too much stuff, so they bought a bunch of bins and packed it all away. Then they had extra room, so they bought more stuff!

At The Betty Brigade we do a lot of home organizings and clear-outs. We have occasionally worked in true hoarding situations, but in most cases, the problem is simply that over time, more has come into a household than gone out.

I have nothing against plastic bins; they're great for storage. But they should allow you more space — not more stuff.

Remember your first apartment? Relatives and friends gave you cast-offs, and you could barely furnish the place? Then, gradually, you replaced pieces with nicer pieces, and more stuff started coming in. In this country, from toddlerhood, we’re primed to consume and acquire. It’s no wonder so many of us live with clutter.

Pursuing the American dream, we go from an apartment to a starter home, to a larger home to raise our families. Not enough room for our stuff? We must be outgrowing our house; time to move! All that stuff is a sign of success, right?

Or are we confusing possessions with freedom?

I think true success means you have more choices and fewer limitations. You can travel where and when you want to, spend time with loved ones, enjoy your hobbies and your fulfilling work. Not much stuff is required for that.

For an interesting take on clutter and being green, click here.

We’re currently working with a family of four who are getting ready to sell their home. It was cluttered and messy, and they needed help clearing it out and staging it. They’ve lived there for 13 years, having moved in with a toddler and later having a second child.

Over the years, stuff came into the house. School papers, art projects, gifts, toys, sports paraphernalia, computer games, clothing , books, etc. Stuff became clutter… You see where I’m going, right? Very little ever went back out.

The husband and wife called each other pack rats, but they weren’t holding on to things on purpose. They just never considered getting rid of anything. Closets were stuffed full, and furniture blocked them anyway, so no one even remembered what was in there.

We’re all encouraged to consume, but few are trained to let go. Yet the process is quite liberating. As we continued de-cluttering in this home, one by one, the family members got on board. As more space appeared, tension levels subsided.

Boxes of stockpiled books and clothing left the house. Recycling bins were filled. Stacks of papers were sorted into categories: keep, recycle and shred. The kids became excited to see their rooms transform into a nice place to spend time — to read, to work, to have friends over.

For some tips on keeping clutter at bay, check this out.

With spring underway, consider letting stuff go. Get some free boxes at the grocery store and label them donate, keep, sell and discard. Remind yourself that very little is irreplaceable.

As you look at each item, if you keep hearing yourself say, “But I might need it someday,” you are keeping real stuff for an imaginary reason. Trust in your own ability to find what you need when you need it. The world is full of amazing things. But they don’t all have to be in your house.

Judy DiForte is a professional organizer for the Betty Brigade, an Ann Arbor-based concierge company specializing in move coordination, organizing and event planning. Email her at, or leave a comment here.



Fri, May 4, 2012 : 7:35 p.m.

My husband & myself are NOT "savers" and do not keep things for sentimentality reasons BUT when cleaning our house to put it on the market we got rid of a few tons (perhaps) of things that when thought of we really didn't need to keep....we just had room so we hung onto the things "just in case". After numerous trips to Salvation Army and four different consignment stores our house is show ready and both of us truly feel lightened. It truly has been a freeing feeling.


Fri, May 4, 2012 : 3:38 p.m.

Another thought is to consider what value an object has. Most are aware of the positive value (e.g., sentimental value, possible future use) but many do not consider the negative value of an object (e.g., taking up space in your home or in your mind, possible safety hazard). Add the positive and the negative values together; if the sum is zero or less, get it out of your home.


Fri, May 4, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

I just recently moved, in packing I found a lot of things I could live without. I made several trips to the Salvation Army. I would suggest that people motivate themselves by pretending they are moving even one room at a time and use that as a filter of what they really need, can do without etc. Set a goal if you have kids, if they want a new game or bike or you all want a family vacation decide to "raise" money to cover some percentage of the cost by having a garage sale, getting a tax credit for donations, craigslist and ebay work well and I have sold antiques directly to an antique store downtown.

Judy DiForte

Sat, May 5, 2012 : 12:01 a.m.

Great ideas here. Another one is, before Christmas or a birthday when a child is going to be getting a lot of new stuff, bring a couple boxes into their room and help them (if they need it) to part with things they've outgrown. Remind them that other children need toys and don't have any. This makes room for the new stuff coming in. I also have a friend who has a strict policy that for every new shirt, for example, that comes in, an old one must leave.


Fri, May 4, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

How about not accumulating so much stuff in the first place?

Judy DiForte

Fri, May 4, 2012 : 11:54 p.m.

That is the ideal solution. I recently read about a family who added "refuse" to the list of "reduce, reuse and recycle." In other words, don't let it in the front door! Don't take or buy anything you will have to recycle in the first place. Great philosophy. This real American family was almost down to zero waste. I think they had a handful of actual trash over the course of one year. If you want to read more about them, I have a link in a past blog:


Fri, May 4, 2012 : 7:16 p.m.

That's the truth. So many people waste so much money on an endless amount of various things.