Tips For Getting Rid Of Clutter

Free Teer House class helps Tuck clear clutter at home, work

One day last July, Roxanne Tuck opened her garage door and discovered that her new washing machine couldn't be delivered until she created a path through bags, boxes and tools that had accumulated in the garage over six years.

The following day, she learned about a free class, "Making Sense of Clutter," at Teer House, Duke Medicine's health education facility. The class, one of the weekly wellness offerings available to Duke employees and the public, gave Tuck time to consider how clutter affected her life and how to clear it up.

"It was a last-minute opportunity that was just what I needed," said Tuck, a program coordinator for Duke's Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program. 

Using class tips like starting small and having a plan for excess stuff, she spent an afternoon returning garden tools to the shed and sorting through bags of items. "I donated some things and got $70 by returning items I had set aside previously to return to Home Depot, Ross and Walmart," she said.

The shrinking clutter piles gave Tuck confidence to tackle paper clutter at work, where she is responsible for organizing continuing medical education courses throughout North Carolina. In less than an hour, she created a new filing process, switching from piling documents in order of urgency to filing them by region.

"Now if someone calls, I just pick up that region's folder," she said. "I feel less worried that something will slip through the cracks." 

That peace of mind is keeping Tuck on track with her new habits. 

"I realized that I'm not a hoarder. It just hadn't been a priority for me to spend time organizing," she said. "The class helped me realize that the free time I think I'm getting from not dealing with clutter is no longer worth the amount of stress it is costing me." 

Tips for Clearing Clutter

  1. Determine clutter's cause. "Whatever you do that causes clutter gives you some reward in the short term," said Alicia Gonzalez, a clinical nurse specialist at Duke who co-taught the Teer House class on clutter. "If you know why you are cluttering, it is easier to change."
  2. Start small. "It takes time to de-clutter, just like it takes time to lose weight," said Monica Taylor, program coordinator at Teer House and co-teacher of the class. "Choose one area to start on and give yourself a huge pat on the back when you get it organized." 
  3. Share a plan. Research shows individuals are more likely to follow through with plans if they share them.  
  4. Create de-cluttering habits. Duke's Learning and Organization Development advises employees to tidy up at work two ways each day: the email inbox and the desktop. 
  5. Know where to get rid of items. "You don't want to simply move things from one pile to another," Taylor said.