"Clutter." The word itself seems too full of letters.
If the word makes you cringe, it's probably because your home is full of it: Piles of paper on tables. Books so thick on the nightstand you can't see the time on the clock. Closets so overstuffed with clothes that you can never find what you're looking for, and whatever you do find is full of wrinkles. Kitchen cabinets so full of flat soda and half-empty chip bags you wonder if there's anything other than a stale chip.
Then consider these simple tips to help declutter your home. Clear up a little space around the house -- and breathe a little easier, even when confronted with evil, vile words like "clutter."
Say no to junk mail
The average American household receives an estimated 850 pieces of junk mail every year -- enough, as we all know, to cover our kitchen tables several times over.
Even if you spend just 10 seconds with each piece of junk mail, deciding whether to open it or toss it in the recycle bin, you will have wasted nearly 2 1/2 hours of time every year -- not to mention the time, effort and grief it takes to haul that pile of paper to the curb or transfer station.
(It's no coincidence that paper makes up one-quarter of all landfill waste, or that the junk mail industry's environmental footprint is large, equivalent to the tailpipe pollution from 9 million cars.)
You can reclaim the calm of a clean kitchen table, and 2 1/2 hours to reflect on your clutter-free ways, with a few keystrokes. Just register for the Mail Preference Service on the Direct Marketing Association website. For $1, your name and address will be removed from prospective mailing lists, ending 75% of junk mail within about 90 days.
Empty your closets
Never in history have we had so much stuff -- but never in history have we had so many ways to get rid of the stuff we no longer want.
Start with your closet and all those clothes you think you might wear one day. (I mean, gosh, that Empire Strikes Back T-shirt was a real hit in college, but the way your belly makes Yoda bulge now is a tad unseemly.)
Take a tip from Good Housekeeping and have an annual fashion show. Be ruthlessly honest about what the mirror tells you, and get rid of anything that doesn't make you look good.
In years past, the options for getting rid of old clothes were limited: Junk it, donate it, give it to a friend, or turn it into a rag. Thanks to Internet innovations, we now have money-making options like eBay and Craigslist (someone might pay for that retro T-shirt), and far easier ways to network with friends who might need your old clothes. (We hesitate to recommend clothingswaps.com only because you might end up filling your closet up with your friends' discards.)
There! Doesn't that feel good? Now move on to the hall closets, the kitchen cabinets, the attic, the basement, the...
Simplify your grocery shopping
Whether grocery shopping is a joy or a royal pain, no one loves the kitchen mess that results in unloading all those bags. Here are three good ways to cut down on the grocery clutter:
Get a few sturdy, reusable shopping bags -- and use them!
The average American uses about 500 plastic shopping bags every year. If you're a hoarder or at all concerned about the old "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra, you've probably been stuffing these under the sink or in some closet for years, in case you need them. Stop!
Get a couple of good reusable bags, and make a habit of storing them in the car so they don't clutter your kitchen and they're on hand when you need them.
Drink in bulk
Sick of lugging 2-liter bottles of soda and seltzer and case after case of bottled water from the grocery store, only to watch them clog up your counters, cabinets, and closets? So stop.
For water, a reusable bottle and a good filter will pay for themselves -- in psychic well-being -- in no time. And even soda and seltzer can be made at home with simple home carbonation systems.
Snack on fruit
Even the most well-organized kitchens tend to overflow onto counter tops. One way to keep that overflow from looking like clutter is to turn it into decoration: Get a simple decorative fruit bowl, then substitute your junk food snack purchases for fruit.
One nice side benefit: You'll cut down on the number of times you have to take trash to the curb, since the majority of American household waste is made up of packaging. An even nicer side benefit: You're more likely to choose a healthy snack if it's right in front of you, so fill up the fruit bowl and enjoy!
Go to the library
The Internet hasn't killed print -- not yet. If you're a bibliophile whose library overfloweth or a magazine or newspaper subscriber who watches unread issues pile up on the nightstand, it may be time to reintroduce yourself to the local library.
Borrowing one book at a time not only saves you money, but will cut down on clutter and keep your conscious clear of that nagging feeling about not reading enough. Let someone else worry about re-stacking your books neatly when you're done with them.
Ask yourself: Do you really think you will re-read A Prayer for Owen Meany? And just who do you think you'll impress with that set of Proust novels you've never read? If you must catalog your intellectual journey, keep track of your reading list on a site like goodreads.com -- and then go to the library. (You'll save a lot of paper by making the habit, too.)
Most libraries also have pretty good newspaper and periodical collections and comfy chairs, making the library a nice place to escape your cluttered house for an hour respite with your favorite rag.
What do you do to declutter? Tell us by commenting below.