Peter Walsh on decluttering | Home Front

(Katherine Frey/The Washington Post).
Apr 02, 2015

Peter Walsh is an organizing expert and former host of the TLC show "Clean Sweep." He is a regular contributing editor to "O: The Oprah Magazine," and author of six books, including his most recent, "Lose The Clutter, Lose The Weight."

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

I'm excited by so many questions ... and really looking forward to tackling any and all organization issues!

Peter Walsh is one of the most esteemed experts on the topic of clutter and organization. Host of shows such as Clean Sweep and Extreme Clutter, Peter now has a fab new book called "Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight." Excited to have Peter on this week, with the conversation that has continued about my article "Stuff It: Millennials Nix Their Parents Treasures" . So many of us are dealing with this topic as we sort through decades of stuff in boxes all over our houses. So, we have a great chance to get some wonderful advice. Let's go Peter.

How do you nicely tell in laws to quit bringing their extra sutff into our house. So many items I have no place for or don't like it. Some things remind me of ms and pa kettle. It continues and continues. Thsnks

It's tough as you don't want to offend them ... but you also need to be honest and straighforward with them.  Tell them in a calm way that you love them but all the things they're bringing over are overwhelming you.  Decide together on the best course of action .... donations perhaps?

Hi Peter, I would like to install a clothes storage system. Is there one that's easy and durable to install that you can recommend for a closet? I need one that's wall upright with storage baskets.

Check out most home goods stores.  I think the hanging canvas in-closet systems are great, expandable and very adaptable.  Decide first how much space you have and go for it!

Why are you so good at decluttering Peter? And what led you to help others declutter?

I really love helping people live their best lives ... and often stuff gets in the way.  It's usually just about offering a helping  hand and getting people to reassess their relationship to their stuff!

What do you think of buying a sofa online? I was considering a sofa from Williams Sonoma home but they don't seem to have any showrooms. Thank you.

My advice on such a big ticket item: check it out first if you can in person .... if not, make sure you're comfortable with the return policy

Hi Peter, thanks for giving us a chance to pick your brain. I have a solid oak entertainment center (3 piece) and I'd like to re-purpose the center section which would normally contain the television. Shelves above and one drawer below. Any suggestions?? (the other two pieces are display units and can still be used as such so they can stick around.)

Tough to answer without seeing the piece but I say go for it .... draw up careful plans so that  once you start the repurposing you know exactly what you're going to do.  Good luck with the project!

I go to antique shows and wonder why my grandparents and parents didn't keep some of this stuff. So I have kept things. Now I find my adult children have no sentimentality. Will they wish I had kept it if I dispose of it? Or is this the way it should be?

Chat with your kids and see what their thoughts are about this ..... what you find important chances are they won't .... that doesn't mean they don't love or appreciate you.  Decide together on what 'treasures' they'd like from you and don't worry about the rest!!

I can't participate in the chat (I'm at work), but I'd love to know your opinion on "The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I read it yesterday, and I might try its principles.

I think that anything that helps with decluttering and organizing is worth using!  Marie's book is great .... if it helps ... go for it!

I'm plagued by accumulating piles of paper. Whether it takes the form of US mail, kids school work & art, receipts & invoices, materials from my job, etc. I always seem to be drowning in the stuff. How do I make it stop?

Here are a couple of tips for paper:

Many people are uncomfortable with shredding or discarding paid bills. I have seen homes where every receipt and paid bill for the previous ten years is strewn throughout the house. If you want to keep paid bills and/or receipts you need to keep the paperwork under control. Start by purchasing a 12-month expanding file. When you pay bills for, say, June, place them in June section of the file. You’ll come back to June 12 months later. If you haven’t needed to look at the bills in that time, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever need them again. Shred them. The same system works for receipts. Or a simple, very low-tech solution to organizing receipts is to use two bankers’ spikes. Get in the habit of cleaning receipts out of your wallet or purse daily. Place receipts on one of the spikes as they come in. When one spike is full, start the other. If you haven’t needed any of the receipts in the time it takes you to fill a spike, chances are you never will. When you fill up the second spike, throw out all the receipts on the first.

Was given expensive crystal stemware by MIL for wedding. Don't use or want it. Can't get rid of it without WWIII. How do you store breakable things you don't want?

Bubble wrap. Solid cardboard box. Attic.  OR  ... negotiate a truce and find someone who can use and love it!  :)

What is your formula for keeping clothes? How many closets should I have for my personal clothes? How often should I be getting rid of excess?

You should only have THREE types of clothes in your closet: clothes that fit you now, clothes that you love and clothes that when you wear them garner you compliments ..... period.

i want to declutter my house. Where is the best place to start?

Ten minutes a day .... start with my #31Days2GetOrganized challenges at my Youtube channel.  Small steps!!

I'm a 30-something getting married this year, and for various reasons dislike the idea of registering for a boatload of new household items, let alone formal china or anything like that. However, I do love to cook and entertain, so feel a little like I shouldn't give up on a registry altogether. Do you have any advice on how to approach this?

A wedding registry can easily get out of control.  IT's great that you have such a good perspective on it.  Choose only items that you love and know you'll use ... don't stress!  And please send me a piece of your wedding cake! Congratulations!!!!

Like most hoarders, I'm embarrassed by the amount of stuff I keep. I want to declutter, but I want someone else to do it for me. I don't want to be asked about what to keep or what not to keep as long as they don't throw out my photographs and family videos. Where can I find a company/organization/person that will do that kind of work?

Go to the FAQ section of my website at www.peterwalshdesign.com .... there are resources these that you can use to find someone to help, especially the National Association of Professional Organizers at www.napo.net

 

I recently inherited some money and I would like to replace my Ikea furniture with something a little classier. Is there anyone out there who could manage a project like this - getting the old taken away and buying and assembling the new? I live alone, and want to get a kitchen island but they all say "assembly required." I have used Junk in the Trunk to haul away old stuff and they were great.

Ask your friends to recommend a good handyman .... or check somewhere like Angie's list .... or the furniture store could probably recommend someone reliable.

Any plans to bring back the show??

I wish!!  I'm pretty busy with The Rachael Ray Show here in the US and The Living Room in Australia ... but if you hear of any show openings (Dancing with the Stars?), give me a call!! :)

Hi Peter. I was wondering if you have had success with your approach to decluttering for people who are hoarders? I am a hoarder and feel completely overwhelmed with my stuff. Is one of your books more suitable for approaching decluttering with this mental condition? Thank you.

Check out Dr David Tolin's book "Buried in Treasures" ... it's a great place to start .... you can bring about change but you need to be gentle on yourself and seek help from those who know what they're talking about .... also try www.napo.net for organizers who specialize in hoarding.  Good luck!!

I have a box of orphan electronics cords. Coaxial cables, a/v cables to connect TVs and DVD players, phone cords, ethernet connectors from old modems. What can I do with these? Recycle? Donate? Trash?

If you don't need them, pack them up, say goodbye and send them off to a donation center!

What do you suggest to quilters with too much fabric? I have more than I can use but spent a lot of money on it. Can't just give away. Selling on eBay is so time consuming. Any advice?

Find some novice quilters or speak with your local high school or community college - they'd welcome the fabric and your generosity with open arms!! :)

Do you believe that Ebay is a good platform for ridding homes of clutter? If so, what is the best way to determine value of items?

eBay is a great place to assess the value of things (generally things are worth less than you think!).  To make money - eBay or similar.  To get rid of clutter fast (you're not going to make much money though!) .... a yard sale!

Hi Peter, What is your system for organizing clothes that you plan to iron? I end up with a giant pile in my closet waiting for when I have spare time to do it all at once and it's a big mess.

Set aside a specific time/day or else they'll pile up and eventually take over you and the house ....

Hi Peter, I want to paint my kitchen. What color would you suggest?

Seriously?  LOL ..... grab some paint swatches and a few magazines with kitchens that you love and go from there.  I can't help you with this one!!  :)

I have quite a different take on "stuff" compared to my parents. Thankfully they are not hoarders but they recognize that we don't want to inherit their things. Unfortunately the topic is approached with guilt trips and hurt feelings, as if not having a space (or the desire to make the space) is a rejection of them rather than their "things". My husband and I work hard to declutter our own house but I still have boxes of things that I feel obligated to hold on to, that were given to me (or given back to me) by our parents. I just don't feel the attachment to the items, they don't serve a purpose, so they are useless to me. I can definitely understand the desire to not see things go to waste (it really is shameful to see good furniture go to the dump, for example) but putting the burden on someone else is not fair either. Do you have any advice on how to break free from this sense of obligation?

I know that sometimes my mother would give me things that I didn't want and at first I would tell her that. It hurt her feelings, especially when it was things like tablecloths embroidered by her or Christmas decorations that I made as a child. Later I realized that I should just take the items and say thank you. And then I could dispose of them as I saw fit, whether give to Goodwill, offer to another relative or trash. Don't look at it as obligation, look at it as expressing your love and respect for them by accepting their offering. They don't need to know what you did with the stuff later.

What do you think of having yard sales? Are they generally worth the time and effort or do you think it would just be better to donate the stuff I'm getting rid of?

Yard sales are great for getting rid of  lot of stuff fast but you have to accept that you're not going to make much money.  If you have patience, a nice day, some extra time and a GREAT sense of humor then have a yard sale.  If not, donate!!

My husband, 6-month old daughter, and I are finally downsizing to a one-bedroom apartment right next to my work instead of a 2,000 square foot home 35 miles away (which is about an hour and fifteen minute drive in San Francisco Bay Area traffic each way!). How do we really push ourselves to get rid of more stuff? We are pretty progressive but downsizing a 4 bedroom large house down to a one bedroom apartment is a big challange! I really don't want to have to ask any family member for help with extra storage space since I think we'll be in the apartment for 5 or 6 years).

Wow - that's a challenge!!  Start by looking at the space you're moving to a being realistic about what will fit where.  Then pick the 'treasures' that you most love and use to go into the new space.  It won't be easy but the end result will be really rewarding.  Remember - you only have the space you have .... don't overload it.  Good luck with the new home!!

Should I get rid of old albums and cds now that I have Pandora and a bose speaker? I do have a stereo with a turnatable. Are the Albums worth anything and where should I take them?

I can totally answer this. As a Boomer, of course I had tons of vinyl from the 1970s. Sometime in the 1990s, I decided I need to dump some of these. I carried them in plastic milk cartons to a used record store in Silver Spring. The guy flipped through my records and told me they were worthless on the open market - that every Boomer had the James Taylors and Stones and Laura Nyro albums that I had. They weren't even worth ten cents to him. I schlepped them outside and threw them into a nearby dumpster. I never regretted this. I only kept a few of my favorites at home.  If you still enjoy your records, then by all means keep your favorites but don't expect to make money on them unless you have something really rare. I am afraid the same is true for CDs.

My wife and I are at odds with our decor decisions. She likes to display things on tables, shelves, basically any surface that will hold an object. I prefer minimalism and clear, clean tables and open spaces. How can we reconcile our different tastes for decorating?

Negotiate. Negotiate. Negotiate.  Start first by talking about what you both want FROM the space.  How you want to feel in the room.  Once you're agreed on that then decided together what will work and want won't. You're a mini United Nations ... give and take.  It's all about creating a space that works for you both.  Oh - and keep your sense of humor!!

Every time we visit my wife's grandparents, they give us some glass or inexpensive crystal do-dad. They're not pieces from a set or well made (made in Taiwan/China stickers still on the bottom), and are definitely not within the themes of our decor, but my wife doesn't know what to do with them. She feels bad giving them away. In the meantime, they sit in a drawer and gain more companions after every visit. Any ideas?

Guilt is a wasted emotion!  If a gift comes with guilt it's not a gift but a millstone. Keep a couple in a drawer to put out if your loving grandparents come over.  For the rest, pass them onto someone who will love and use them. 

Hi Peter. Wondering what is the best way to get started becoming a professional organizer.

Go to the website of the NAtional Association of Professional Organizers at www.napo.net - lots of resources there!

Hi - I fear I am a hoarder-in-training, and am really trying to get rid of stuff. So I watch reorganization shows obsessively, and get really inspired -- until I head over to The Pile and realize I will have to deal with dust, pet hair, spider webs, etc. too. And that is enough to put me off. I have always wondered, on those shows where they haul everything out and then put it back, how is it so clean beneath all that clutter? I assume they must "pre-clean" and then put it all back before filming, or something! Anyway, do you have any tips for me? (Beyond "you are gross." :))

1.  You are not gross!

2.  It's TV - don't believe everything you see!! :)

3.  You simply can't keep things clean if there's a lot of clutter in a space - that's why you need to have an uncluttered, organized space - you'll be happier and healthier

4.  Check out Dr David Tolin's book 'Buried in Treasures' - it's a great place to start if you're worried about hoarding

I am so overwhelmed when I see so much stuff that I shut doors and can't get started. Help!

My new book 'Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight' is a great place to start tackling clutter and addressing health and wellness issues - have a look:

http://www.peterwalshdesign.com/2015/02/06/lose-the-clutter-lose-the-weight/

I'm now middle-aged and my feelings towards family items started changing when my grandmothers and parents began to die. I was the child of older parents who were themselves the children of older parents (for the times), so I experienced these losses when I was younger than many of my peers. I would caution younger people about getting rid of EVERYTHING just because they think they don't want it now. Maybe set aside a few boxes of meaningful items with family history. You might change your mind when the people you associate them with are gone.

Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. I think you offer a great piece of wisdom.

As a quilter myself, there's no such thing as too much fabric! Pinterest and the rest of the web have great articles/pictures on how to more effectively store what you have. If you want to have a destash sale, I recommend doing it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #destash. I've unloaded and picked up some great fabric that way.

Wow. Thanks for this very specific advice.

Sentiments are tied up in the memories of those who have experienced them, not the objects that inspire them. There's no need to keep a house full of things. If a visual reminder is necessary, take a photo and caption it with a short note about the memory that it inspires.

So true.

I have a client who has spent years in a deep depression and I've been helping her dig out of a hoarding, unsanitary mess for about a year. We've reached a plateau, I believe, where we've gotten so far but there are still huge hurdles of denial and clinging to old behaviour. I've reached a point where I believe I am no longer helping them and only enabling by completing small, insignificant tasks that manage her space as it is when there are major areas that haven't been addressed. I want to help them but the wall of denial is thick and it's obvious they don't want to go any further. Any magic words or way to move forward on should I just say goodbye and good luck? Kelly Booth

First - thank you for your amazing work. It's tough working with anyone struggling with clutter - especially hoarding.

It's a hard truth but you can only help someone who wants to be helped.  If you're up against a wall then I'd advise having a serious heart to heart with your client.  Tell the person how you're feeling and be honest about the fact that you feel you've stalled AND suggest specific steps needed to move sucessfully forward. If they can't agree to that, and meet the milestones you've agreed upon, then walk away.

I held a two-day yard sale this past September and the thirty dollar investment in an ad in the local paper yielded me over two hundred dollars CASH from the sale of my unwanted items! I held the year sale on a Friday and Saturday from 8:00am to noon each day. Make sure you have plenty of change and do not accept checks. I priced cheaper stuff at twenty-five cent increments to lessen the type of change to quarters only. Both mornings went by quickly!

Can you PLEASE come to my house and run my next yard sale??  :)  Thanks for the tips!!

Life gets away from us - then the piles start up again. How to we psych ourselves up to keep it all at bay & be able to FIND stuff WHEN we need it?

You give time to what you believe to be important so the first step in getting organized is to list clearly the work tasks that you need to get done on a daily, weekly and quarterly basis.  Once you have this list, prioritize the items.  In this way you can quickly see what is most important.

 

From here, start assigning specific times for specific tasks, starting with the most important and ensuring that you allocate enough time for each activity.  This will enable you to have a game plan for your day and also give you confidence that you’re covering the tasks that you need to attend to.

 

It’s very easy to get distracted and drawn away from your schedule.  While this kind of a timetable shouldn’t be inflexible it’s important to realize that putting out fires is no way to succeed in your job.  Develop a plan.  Run it by your boss or a trusted colleague if that’ll help and then stick to it.  A little organization will help you be more focused, increase your productivity and enable you to really shine at work.

In our great-grandparent's generation there may have been very little for their children to inherit, but now, increased salaries and buying opportunities have created multiple opportunities for the gifting and inheriting of antique furniture, sterling, crystal, etc. You can help your parents, in-laws, (and yourself) if you start by taking a careful photographic inventory of everything valuable or sentimental. If you choose to print photographs, keep at least one set in your safety deposit box as a permanent record. To avoid clutter, scan photographs to your computer and be sure to maintain a back-up. Styles and tastes change and sometimes it is difficult to turn down potential gifts. (My standard reply is to say with a smile "We're already stuffed to the gunwales. Buy me a bigger house and I'll be happy to take it all!) But if you have a photographic record, at least you will be able to look back and remember all the "special and important things" that made your parent's or grandparent's lives so special. And those photographs will come in handy as memory enhancers and conversation starters as your parents or grandparents age and downsize to a smaller place, adult community, or assisted living center.

I agree that photos are a great way to remember things without accumulating all the stuff. Consider also making photo booklets that can be easily enjoyed.  Thanks for the tips!! :)

Nearing retirement and starting to think about living in an RV. Any advice on living "small"?

Accept that it can be tough transition.  Also - I lot of it is about the math!  Calculate how much space you have in the RV and sort your items to that amount of space .... if not, you'll end up loading the RV up too much and look like the Clampetts moving to Beverly Hills (that dates me!).  The key to remember is: you only have the space you have .... reduce you stuff to fit the new space.  And also .... enjoy your new life on the road - I'm envious!! :)

Good morning: The cushions for our outdoor furniture are badly sun damaged - do you know of a good place in the DC area that can reupholster them?

Sorry - can't help you with that.  Try Mr Google ....

Do you find (like I do) that it is easier to organize/declutter others than ones own stuff?

Not really - I don't have a ton of stuff and the criteria for myself (or those I work with) is to ask: Will this item help me create the life (and the home) I want?  Nothing comes into my home (or should into yours) if it doesn't meet that criteria!

There are professionals who do that. They charge a flat rate and then take a percentage of the amount raised. My mum did then when she sold the family home. It was the best thing. The person running it just asked her to put those red dots on things to go in the sale and she did the rest. Best Decision Ever to hire her.

Thanks.

I have 2 flags given to us after funerals of relatives who served in the military. Where can I donate these to?

I thank your family for their service!  I'd call the local VA Center and ask them for advice ..... this is a question I haven't had before and I'm sure they could suggest something.

I am ready to get rid of a lot of material that seems to me should have greater-than-landfill value to someone - some of it Goodwill stuff, some perhaps consignment store, some game-player / technology / digital / electronic salvage - for which I'd like to get some return, but mostly want to know is going someplace where it can be used, whether at the re-cycling low end or the auction / sale high end. I don't want to do the work. Is there a type of "entrepreneur" who will undertake to do this, without charge, and perhaps even returning a bit of any profit that is made off the disposition?

Check out 'Sales Assistants' on eBay - they are sellers who will handle the sale of items on eBay and take a commission.  Know that it can be as much as 30%.  If you're happy with that they'll do the work for you. 

Hi Peter! Been a big fan of yours since Clean Sweep. I've been working on my own house..the biggest issue I have is..the pantry. There's four of us..groceries have gotten expensive so we want to stock up and all..but organizing it and making it work efficiently has eluded me. Hence the freezer burnt ground chicken last night. Any thoughts?

Check out my books 'It's All Too Much' or my most recent one "Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight' for specific ideas for the pantry and fridge:

 

http://www.peterwalshdesign.com/2015/02/06/lose-the-clutter-lose-the-weight/

This is timely. I just spent some time yesterday clearing out the shelf in my closet full of shirts that will never fit me again. I'd love to be a medium again, but I just don't see it happening. It's amazing how much space there is up there now that I've eliminated the shirts I haven't worn in years. Now I just need to move on to the stuff on hangers. I cleaned up all of the piles of paper too. I feel so much relief and calm when that's cleaned up. But I can't seem to keep it clear for very long.

That's GREAT!!  It really is amazing how much better you feel in an organized space!  Thanks for sharing that!  :)

Could you perhaps talk to your parents about seeing if other family members would like the things you don't feel you can take. Part of their emotion is wanting these things to be handed down and considered family treasures. Could you channel that a different way?

Good idea.

It's sad in a way that so many people today want to throw away so much good stuff. I understand we should be choosy about what we keep and try for an uncluttered home, but remember the previous generations were not wasteful, and indeed, were the beginning of the recycling movement....think of "used good wrapping paper and bows." Do you think future generations will be sorry that they gave things away? Are we really going to have to throw good pieces of furniture away? Is it worthwhile to still use consignment shops or is this market dwindling? --Old fashioned in Annapolis.

Great observation! I really think people are becoming much more sensitive to over consumption and waste ... I'm hopeful that the realization that less is more will continue to grow.

I think you have to 'be ready' to declutter. My husband finds it difficult to let let go of things and though he doesn't really buy much, there's no point in pointing out that our smallish condo doesn't have a whole lot of storage for things that aren't in regular use. Any way I can encourage him to come to that conclusion himself? I wanted to get your thoughts on FLYlady in general and in particular - I presume you agree that some people call you in to teach them the skills to declutter. I'm what she calls Born Organized so it all seems instinctive and logical to me, but then there are things where I need to be shown how to connect the dots.

The single biggest problem with organization is that people think it’s all about ‘the stuff’ when, in fact, it’s almost never about ‘the stuff’.  If you focus on the stuff you will never get organized – weird but true!  The very first step in getting organized is to ask yourself “What is the life I want to be living?”.  And from this question there are others, “What does that life look like?”, “What do I want from my home – what mood, what experience?”  It’s only after you have answered these questions that you can start looking at your stuff and get organized by asking (of each item), “Does this thing move me closer or farther away from the life I want?”  That’s the criteria for what stays and what goes.

I feel very overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that I have and need to downsize, but have this fear of getting rid of things so I procrastinate. How do I get past this?

Accept that you may make mistakes but that's a small price to pay for making mature, sensible decisions about creating a space that's uncluttered and reflects the life you want.  You own your stuff, it doesn't own you!

Here is the Post Points code for today: HF6512

Wow!! thanks for all the great questions ... I'm sorry I didn't get to them all.  It's been a huge pleasure and a ton of fun chatting with you all and fielding your questions.  Thanks also to The Washington Post and Jura for hosting!!

Peter, thank you for bringing your skills to the US. I look forward to seeing you on Rachael Ray - Your tips and tricks are such a welcome to people like me who just need a little help making the first step toward "clutter freedom". THANKS YOU!

Thank you for your kind words!! :)

I have started couponing and already have too much stuff. It is so hard not to keep getting stuff if it is free or almost free. Any advice?

Stop couponing.

Thank you Peter! I love chatting about decluttering and it was really an honor to have Peter on the chat today. Clearly, we could go on and on answering questions and trying to figure out sentiments, memories and junk. Thanks Peter and we wish you a lot of luck with the new book. Next week, tune in for our annual DC Design House chat. Our guest will be Samantha Friedman, who has done a really cool room in the house. Here is the link to post questions in advance.

 

Check out my website at www.peterwalshdesign.com and my new book 'Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight' at

http://www.peterwalshdesign.com/2015/02/06/lose-the-clutter-lose-the-weight/

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Peter Walsh
Peter Walsh is an organizing expert and former host of the TLC show "Clean Sweep." He is a regular contributing editor to "O: The Oprah Magazine," and author of six books, including his most recent, "Lose The Clutter, Lose The Weight."
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