A new month. A new year. A new decade. What could be better than starting fresh? Cleaning the slate? Tidying up?

Many people feel the itch to declutter and streamline at this time of year. I fully support taking action to minimize your life. There are many benefits to decluttering - practical ones, like spending less time cleaning - and more ephemeral benefits like reducing anxiety. I’m a lifelong organization freak (when I was a child, one of my favorite hobbies was literally “organizing”), a high achiever who has tried every trick in the toolbox to perfect my life. I have seen strategies that work, and many things that don’t, and found some deeply troubling trends.

Before you dump those unflattering clothes and mismatched dinner plates at Goodwill, I ask that you keep two things in mind. First, without changing your behavior, you will never change the clutter in your closet, house, or mind.

It’s a bit of a thrill to purge, an adrenaline high in its own way. The process of sorting can expose deep truths about yourself, as silly as that might sound. What clothes do you feel confident in? You may realize that you have never, ever read a single one of the classic works of literature you bought aspirationally to look impressive on your bookshelf, and choose to part ways, accepting that you enjoy Michael Crichton instead and don’t care who knows it. Those truths can be momentary bits of trivia, or they can help you make better choices about what you spend your money on, what you give physical space in your home.

For example, I realized that I don’t like or often wear the inexpensive jewelry I would buy on sale, but love certain sparkly Swarovski pieces. One pair of earrings I really like is worth so much more than a dozen cute, sale pairs. You’ll be purging forever if you don’t prune your choices, too.

Second, purge responsibly. Your clean sweep is not so clean. Where does all of your junk go once you have liberated it from your house? Most donated clothing ends up in the landfill, for example.

Can you repair something worn, upcycle, or gift an item you have no need for? Could something be taken to a niche charity where it is more likely to be used? Can packaging be washed and recycled rather than trashed in your cleaning frenzy?

Ultimately we Americans are consuming so much more than we need and the overall net result is trash. The less we buy that we don’t intend to cherish for a long time, the better, but if you have made past purchasing mistakes, please be thoughtful about the best way to find it a new life elsewhere. We deserve clean, tidy, inspiring homes - and our community and planet deserve the same thoughtful consideration.

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