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Clutter Control: Is Too Much 'Stuff' Draining You?

Get your clutter under control, and your attitude and health just may improve, too.
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WebMD Feature

The magazine rack is overflowing, the dining room table holds a week's worth of mail, the stairs are an obstacle course, and you're pretty sure it's official: You're in dire need of clutter control!

Having too much stuff can not only drain and frustrate you, it can make it difficult to get things done. That's why WebMD went to five organizational experts for their top advice on what you can do to control that clutter.

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Clutter, Defined

What one person calls clutter another calls collections or treasures, so the first step is to figure out what qualifies as clutter. "Other people can't decide what is clutter for you," says Cynthia Townley Ewer of Richland, Wash., the editor of the web site Organized Home.

Peter Walsh, an organizational expert and former host of The Learning Channel's Clean Sweep show, divides clutter into two general types. "Memory" clutter is stuff that reminds us of important events, like old school programs or newspaper clippings. "Someday" clutter refers to items you won't toss because you feel you might need them someday.

"It's about balance," Walsh says of clutter control. "If you have so much stuff it drags you into the past or pulls you into the future, you can't live in the present."

Clutter, Control, and Your Health

Professional organizers who are called to cluttered homes and offices say their clients use the same words, over and over, to describe their reaction to the mess: their energy is drained, they can't find things, and it's beginning to interfere with crucial parts of life -- such as getting to work on time or navigating staircases.

"A lot of people express that they are overwhelmed," says Lynne Gilberg, a professional organizer in West Los Angeles, Calif. "They become nonfunctional and nonproductive," she says. That's when they call her in desperation.

"Clutter is bad for your physical and mental health," Gilberg says. Too much clutter can be a fire hazard. Dust, mold, and animal dander that collect in cluttered homes are all bad for allergies and asthma.

"When people see clutter, they use language like 'suffocating,' and 'I can't breathe,' agrees Walsh. Clutter can be a physical manifestation of mental health issues, Walsh tells WebMD. Those overwhelmed with "memory" clutter may have an undue preoccupation with things in the past and become depressed. Those who can't toss out items because they worry they will need them may be too anxious, he says.

Clutter may even be making you fat, says Walsh, who wrote Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? after he noticed an association between the amount of clutter people have and their excess weight. The common denominator? A life of consumption -- too much stuff, too much to eat.

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