Receive our e-newsletter:
News from Coachella Valley's Integrated Health Community


By Susan Murphy, Ph.D., MBA

Are you a “stuff-aholic”? Many people collect stuff. Some even pay for storage units to house their extra stuff. Answer this honestly…when you walk into your home, is there a sense of overwhelm and frustration as you see piles of clutter from papers, magazines, clothes, gadgets and dishes?

Don’t feel badly if this describes you. Some of the world’s nicest people attract clutter, and there is some rationale behind it. You may think you’ll need it later or perhaps you spent serious money on it, so you feel obliged to keep it. Maybe it has sentimental value. Some clutter bugs will delay downsizing to a smaller home so they don’t have to deal with their stuff. Others won’t have friends over because they are embarrassed about their clutter.

Why should you declutter? Clutter robs you of energy and cuts into your productivity. How much time do you spend looking for items that aren’t where they‘re supposed to be? The stress of a cluttered life means you may work longer hours, miss deadlines and misplace important documents. A Princeton University study found that physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention and can have a negative impact on your ability to focus, process information, make decisions and think creatively.

Where do you start?

First, realize that you may resist decluttering. If you’ve ever seen the TV show Hoarders, you’ve watched people resist parting with their stuff. You may feel the same way as you tackle the project.

Set a SMART goal for your decluttering. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Result-oriented, Time-bound. Last year, my SMART goal was to declutter and organize my garage by December 31. I took a whole year – and I achieved it.

Select 4 boxes for your items and apply labels: “Keep”, “Maybe Keep”, “Trash” and “Charity or Consignment.”

Start small. Tackle one drawer or shelf at a time. Do not empty all your drawers simultaneously, but one at a time. Do not progress to another area until you’ve finished with your first small area.

Declutter one room at a time. Choose a room where you will be successful quickly in achieving your goal of being clutter-free. As you declutter you will feel freer and lighter. One client said she felt “100 pounds lighter” after decluttering her first room, plus she felt motivated to keep going.

Set a timer for 15 minutes. You’ll be amazed by your progress after 15 minutes of uninterrupted, focused time. If you have time, set it for another 15 minutes. Don’t declutter for more than one hour the first day, so you will save your energy and enthusiasm for the next day.

Extra tips. Avoid putting paper in horizontal piles – it’s more peaceful to see some open space on desks and surfaces. Take photos to remember items – one guy took pictures of his 1000 beanie babies before donating them. Stick to the Rule: “When in doubt, throw it out.”

Enjoy the process! You never know, you may find some hidden treasures among your clutter.

Dr. Susan Murphy is a best-selling author, coach and speaker who specializes in relationships, conflict, leadership and goal-achievement. Dr. Murphy can be reached at and (760) 674.1615.

4 Responses to “DECLUTTERING: 101”

  1. Johanna O'Flaherty, PhD says:

    Dr. Murphy you did it again! Your gentle way of nudging us into taking action is very palpable. I can attest that following these guidelines and decluttering will afford you psychological freedom. I always say that when my desk or closet is cluttered my mind is cluttered (:=:)

    • Dr. Susan Murphy says:

      Thank you, Dr. O”Flaherty, for your comment. I appreciate your feedback and encouragement for my nudging! Decluttering is a constant struggle for me, too!

  2. Vicki Mills says:

    Dr. Murphy, well done! I am a computer tutor, and often I help people make progress decluttering their computers, helping them organize files and photos. This feeling of mastery and success often then leads to clients asking for help decluttering other areas of their homes as well. I can affirm that your suggestions are practical and bring results!
    Vicki Mills, Computer Tutor

    • Dr. Susan Murphy says:

      Thank you, Vicki Mills, for your comment. I’ve heard of your reputation as a decluttering expert. I appreciate your feedback.

Comments Welcomed