Living better lives -- with less stuff

Peter Walsh is the charming Australian organizational guru behind TLC's Clean Sweep. He's also a no-nonsense taskmaster when it comes to detaching you from your clutter.

Don't tell him you'll need it some day. Don't tell him your Great Aunt Tillie left it to you.


If it doesn't have a place in the life you dream of for yourself -- and he has everyone define that vision before he'll hand them a single Hefty bag -- it has no place in your life today.

Because it's not about the stuff, as Walsh puts it in his new book, It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life With Less Stuff.


It's about your life.

He spoke by phone from his home in Los Angeles, in the season of New Year's resolutions, about his plan on making our lives better and, not incidentally, our houses less cluttered. Clutter is a problem you can have when your society is so rich.

Another thing, too, is we're raised in a society that tells us "more is better." If one is good, two is better. If a small portion is good, a huge one is better. It's the super-size mentality.

And then, also, we all believe that the better off we are, the more we should acquire. You know: better job, more money, bigger house. Our stuff is very much a reflection of that. And we think our things reflect our inner selves.

Definitely. There are two main types of clutter I deal with all the time. The first one of those is the "I might need it someday" stuff. That's everything from, "Well, I need a second bread maker in case the first one goes," or "Yes, I'm definitely going to have a fondue party one day, so I need a fondue pot."

And then there's the other kind of clutter I deal with, which I call the memory clutter.

That's the stuff that holds strong memories for us, whether it's something from our grandparents or something we've inherited, or it can be something like term papers that you wrote in college.

The clutter keeps us in the past, as in the case of the memory clutter, or in the future, in the "I might need it someday" clutter. And -- I can't emphasize enough -- the stuff then holds you somewhere other than now.


And that really messes with people's heads. You have a degree in psychology, don't you?

I have a master's in education, with a specialty in ed psych. So I'm very careful to say that I'm not a psychologist and 95 percent of what I do is just good, old-fashioned common sense.

People look at me like I'm a magician, when what I do is I hold up a mirror so people can look at themselves in relation to their stuff. So many of the people I see, their relationship to their stuff is just out of balance, and what happens is that suddenly the stuff you own ends up owning you. But you have kind of a tough talk. You tell people, "If you really cherish this, then why is it in a box somewhere else?" As weird as this sounds, I'm not that interested in the stuff, and that's not where I start. I'm not the guy who's big on what color photo boxes you should use or what size tote you should use.

My whole view about organization is that it's not organization for organization's sake, it's far more about living a richer life, fuller life with less stuff.

And so my view on stuff is that if it's not helping you achieve the vision for the life you want, what's it doing in your life?

If someone says to me, "This is valuable to me, I value this," but it's covered in dust in a black plastic bag under the bed in the second bedroom, then I'm sorry, but I don't believe you. There has to be a consistency between what you say, what you have and how you live.


If it's important, honor and respect it. Otherwise, it's just clutter.

A F.A.S.T. Start to decluttering

Professional organizer Peter Walsh's plan for permanent decluttering depends on really thinking about your life and what you need to live it well. By definition, that's not quick and dirty. His book, It's All Too Much, gives discussion questions, worksheets and lots of detail to help you through the process.

But as a warm-up, he often prescribes what he calls a Kick Start: "a high-speed, low-level purge."

To Kick Start, use the acronym F.A.S.T.:

F: Fix a time: Get your whole family to commit to it.


A: Anything not used for 12 months: Out the door.

S: Someone else's stuff: Return it or get rid of it!

T: Trash. "The trash can is your friend. It is your very hungry friend. Feed it."