How often do you waste time looking for things because you didn't put them away? Is your closet overflowing, but you can't find the item you want? Are your hobby materials so jumbled that they can't enjoy them? Have you missed paying a bill on time because you lost it? Getting control of clutter can seem like a huge task.

• Clutter Buster Ideas. Although technology and trends both influence what we have and cause a clutter build-up in our homes, our busy lives contribute to the growing clutter problem, too. It's important to take time to think through reasons for clutter and then deal with the problem. You must recognize the "why" of the problem before you can fix it or it will quickly return.

Find a place for everything and keep everything in its place. For example, if everyone dumps papers, books, briefcases, and other things on a table or the living room sofa, cleaning these areas today won't prevent the return of clutter tomorrow. Fix the problem by finding a logical home for these things.

Fold newspapers and stack in a basket or box. File paperwork. Find a sensible location for back packs, briefcases, and books. Use the same method for other problem areas throughout your home. For instance, entertainment centers become cluttered as a result of technological changes. Decide what to do with your collection of old LPs, 8- tracks, cassette tapes, CDs, and VCR tapes.

Kitchens have become cluttered as a result of new gadgets and new food products that follow the latest trends in eating. Cooking trends create a market for specialized gadgets that need storage space in kitchen drawers. Indian, Asian, Tex-Mex, and other specialty recipes call for different products that need shelf space. Specialized appliances use more counter space. Pizza ovens, bread machines, and electric grills may be handy, but plan how you will store them before purchasing

• Maintaining a Clutter-Free Life. Establish good habits. Sort what to keep and find a logical place for these things. Then practice good habits by returning everything to its new home.

For instance, begin a "returning home" habit or routine. As you shut the back door, hang the car keys on a hook just above the light switch. Remove jackets and coats two steps inside the house, and hang them on the coat rack. Place purse or briefcase next to the coats. Sort the day's mail near a waste basket and handle junk mail once.

To stay clutter-free, practice this routine until it becomes habit. Adopt a one-in, one-out habit. When you buy a new cooking utensil, magazine or shirt, make it a practice to discard, recycle or give away an older cooking utensil, magazine or shirt. This limits the number of items that accumulate. Before you buy a new item, consider where it will be stored and what it will replace. Buying something takes on new importance when an older item must be discarded as a result.

Rely more on outside resources to cut down on the number of things you have in your home. The public library has books, magazines, and CDs available for loan at no cost. Rent rather than buy tools for home repair projects. Rent videos and DVDs from the video rental store and exchange the use of equipment with friends and neighbors. The fewer items you actually keep in the house, the less chance that clutter will grow, the fewer items you will need to store, and the less time spent in caring for your possessions.

Accept reality. There's no such thing as completely clutter-free living. Pick a few areas where clutter is accepted. In a bedroom, one chair could be a clutter-catcher. A kitchen junk drawer could hold vitamin bottles, rubber bands, clipped recipes, expired coupons, and other items. A large magazine bucket in the living room is fair game for catalogs and magazines as long as they can fit inside the bucket. Toys in a child's room could be placed into a plastic laundry basket. To stay clutter-free, work on new clutter-busting habits.

Remember--the fewer things you bring into your home, the less clutter will grow in your newly organized home! Buy something only after deciding where to store it. Throw out one or two old possessions for every new one. Habits once established help protect your home from growing clutter.

References: --America's 'orgy of consumption'. Web site: --Baird, Lori. Cut the Clutter and Stow the Stuff. Rodale Inc and Yankee Publishing. 2002. --National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization Web site: --National Association of Professional Organizers Web site: --Tincher-Durik, Amy. Mission: Organization/Strategies and Solutions to Clear Your Clutter. Meredith Publishing, Des Moines, Iowa. 2004.

Next Leader Lesson

Control the Clutter, now a mail out lesson and can be picked up upon request at the Madison County Extension Office. This program will guide participants through the tasks of controlling clutter and getting organized with practical tips for the whole family that can be applied both in and out of the home. This program is free and open to all.

Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expressions, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.

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