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A Clutter-Free Life

Make sense out of life's little (and big) messes.

mainDSC09769.jpgWhen I decided to finally move abroad, I had to tackle eight years’ worth of belongings back at my old apartment. This included trinkets and mementos from high school, stacked notebooks from college, and paper calendars, photos, and cards collected over time. Not included here are shoes, clothes, handbags, and accessories amassed from working all those years as a magazine editor.
It also didn’t help that I was a classic hoarder and easily found sentimental value in anything and everything.
A few months before I’d planned to leave, I was walking out of Mall of Asia from a lunch event and passed through National Bookstore to get to the exit. And then this book called out to me: It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh [FREE PRESS/Simon & Schuster]. In bright tangerine, its cover wasn’t hard to miss. Immediately I picked it up and impulse-bought into “An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff.”

And boy-oh-boy was this book life-changing! (It’s also one of my favorite books to date.) Not only did it help make sense out of letting go of things I’ve collected, it also de-mystified my age-long struggle with hoarding. Walsh, a professional organizer and host of TLC’s Clean Sweep, shares a systematic approach to getting rid of emotional and physical clutter so that one can create a happier, more stress-free home and life.

Clutter stops us from living in the present,” says Walsh. “The future is important. But you have to consider the quality of your life today and strike a balance between the life you are living today and the multitude of possible paths your life may take in the future.”

This means, say, you find a little black dress you love but doesn’t fit, don’t buy just because you may (or may not) lose weight in the future. Same goes for those jeans you’ve had in first year college that you’re still hoping to fit into “someday.”

The clutter somehow becomes a life raft for all the ‘just in cases’ we can imagine,” explains Walsh.

Other than the I-might-need-it-one-day excuse, the book lists other excuses we make for keeping things we don’t need around in our homes, work desks, and anywhere there is space. Walsh also walks the reader through each room, sharing tips and strategies for establishing zones, determining function, and dealing with sentimental objects you do want to keep: giving them places of honor in your home and not somewhere gathering dust.

For example, if you’ve inherited heirloom pieces from a loved one, don’t keep them stashed, forgotten in boxes. Instead, start using them already or put them up in display shelves. “You can’t own everything so you have to pick and choose,” says Walsh. The value you say an item holds for you must be reflected in the place you give that item in your life, otherwise your words have no meaning and the object is little more than clutter.”

As for unused ‘special’ plates and kubyertos sitting pretty in dining room cabinets, here’s what Walsh has to say on the subject (you might want to clue Mom in on this):

“If you have formal china, do you guard it as if it were a national treasure? China can be expensive and beautiful, but what’s the point of owning it if you never use it? This is not to say that you should serve your three-year-old hot dogs on a Royal Copenhagen platter, but please try to use and enjoy it.”

One of the memorable sections in the book is the quiz, “How Clutter Free Are You?” When I first took it more than two years ago, I turned out to be a “Hard-core Hoarder.” Yikes.

While writing this blog post I went through the questions again. And I’m happy to say that I’m now in between “Clutter Victim” and “Clutter Free”—a huge leap from the hoarder that I was years ago.

True, even if I still hold on to precious trinkets, gadgets, and mementos here and there, and haven’t followed Walsh’s advice to the letter, plenty of the things I’d picked up from his book have afforded me a more mobile lifestyle mostly free of useless clutter to lug around.

(And just so all of you know, I’m never ever going to get rid of my seven-year-old iBook in the event that it finally conks out for real in the future. I reckon, it would still make for a lovely, shiny white paper weight.)

Mariel Chua is the former beauty editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine Philippines. Visit her personal blog at

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