Preparing your home

Clutter vs. Keepers: A Guide to New Year’s Purging

Simple questions to get in touch with your clutter comfort level — and figure out what needs to go

With a new year upon us and the resolution-making frenzy in full effect, many of us (myself included) will be casting aside clutter in an attempt to streamline our homes. But what, and how much, do you get rid of? What makes clutter, clutter? Where do you draw the line between an inspiring collection and a jumbled mess? And what about some of the styling tricks employed for photo shoots — creative or ridiculous? If you have ever walked into a friend’s home and found yourself wondering how they can live with all of that stuff, you know that we each have our own clutter comfort level.

So the questions become: What is clutter to you, and what can you do about it? Read on to find where you stand on the clutter comfort continuum, then use the questions that follow to examine your reasons for keeping (or tossing) just about anything in your home.

Part 1: Finding Your Clutter Comfort Level

Each of us has an innate sense of what feels “cluttered,” so the first step in coming to terms with your own clutter is determining what your clutter set point is. Some of us would feel right at home in an English country home crammed full of antique furniture, vases, sculpture, potted plants and throw pillows galore. For others, that sort of living space would be incredibly unappealing.

Do you have the soul of an artist? If you are drawn to saturated colors and prefer to be surrounded by layers of interesting textiles, objects and original art, you lean toward the maximalist, artistic side of the spectrum when it comes to decorating.
If you are an artist at heart, it would be pointless to try to clear away all of the “stuff” in your home that you draw inspiration from. Your energy is buoyed by having exciting, tactile and colorful objects to explore — your challenge is to continually edit and curate your possessions. Try rotating out favorite pieces and keeping some hidden away in a trunk or closet so your space is not overwhelmed.
Or the soul of an architect? Are you drawn to the underlying structure of things, clean lines and a minimalist aesthetic? Does color make you a bit nervous (or seem superfluous), and you instead appreciate white space? If yes, you are an architect at heart. For you, every item in your home must earn its keep, by being both useful and well designed. And if you are living with an artist? That will have to be a topic for another day!
Part 2: The Guiding Questions

No matter whether you are a maximalist or minimalist, what makes something “clutter” for each of us has a lot to do with whether it is useful to you. Beyond matters of strict utility, we use our belongings to enrich our lives at home in many ways. The following five questions are meant to help sift through the reasons we keep things around; then you can decide whether it deserves a place in your home.

Does it resonate with your sense of style and beauty? Home is the only place where we have the power to choose how we want things to look and feel. When you look at something and your heart flutters, you feel uplifted or you immediately think, “That’s so me,” it’s a keeper. We all deserve little moments of beauty for beauty’s sake.

Does it get in your way? A good sign that something is clutter is if you frequently find yourself annoyed by it. Excessive pillows that must be tossed off the sofa or bed in order to settle in, knick knacks that make cleaning difficult, all of the who-knows-what stuffed into the hall closet that threatens to fall on your head each time you open the door. These are your primary problem areas, so tackle them first.

Do the colors, textures or patterns inspire you? The colors, patterns and textures that surround us can have a profound impact on how we feel. Pay attention to how you respond to color in your home — it’s just as important to remove the colors that make you feel irritable or down as it is to play up the hues you love.
Does it call up warm memories? Family photos, artwork made by your child’s hands, and heirlooms passed down for generations have the ability to fill your heart with joy just by their very presence in your home.

On the other hand, objects that bring up negative emotions qualify as clutter of the most insidious kind. Whether it is a gift that you detest from a well-meaning relative, or a photo that reminds you of a difficult period in your life, these are certainly not things you want on display. If you can’t bring yourself to actually get rid of the item, at least keep it packed away where it won’t be a daily downer.

If you suspect that your memorabilia may be getting out of hand, ask yourself if you still appreciate all of the pieces on display, or if they fade into the background as you walk by. When too much is competing for your attention, the individual objects lose some of their specialness; so try to edit it down. You can always keep a drawer of extra photos and switch some out seasonally, or organize one giant gallery wall to hold all of your favorites at once.
Does it give you creative ideas? Designers and artists often keep inspiration boards filled with anything and everything that inspires them at the moment. Even if you don’t have an inspiration board, there may be things in your home you turn to for inspiration that may at first appear like clutter — huge backlogs of magazines, an extensive book collection, a cabinet of colorful pottery. Once you recognize that you use these things for inspiration, you can figure out a way to house them neatly, steering them away from the fate of being labeled “clutter.”
Extra credit: Conduct a space audit. Looking at each item in your home, from the curtains and throw pillows to the contents of your desk drawer, is a time-consuming project, to be sure. But if the new year has you feeling motivated, going through your home piece-by-piece can be quite eye opening. By intentionally deciding what to keep (and why) and what to let go of (and why), you can increase your feelings of engagement with your stuff — and your life.

Tell us: Are you a minimalist or a maximalist? What is your biggest challenge when facing clutter in your home?