When it came to clutter, my house wasn't perfect but instead hovered around average. Yet our suburban roof still seemed to be shrinking. What felt spacious to my husband and me nine years ago now seemed downright cramped with the addition of two big dogs, two cats, and three kids. Like other growing families, our stuff had expanded to meet our changing needs, and it now seemed to fill every corner and cover every surface. Although my husband didn't seem bothered, I was positively overwhelmed.

Typically, when I reached that stressed-out point about the state of our home, I'd run around for an hour and tidy up. I'd feel more clearheaded and organized for a little while, but the feeling would slip away as more artwork, toys, books, mail, shoes, and little, annoyingly random things (mostly trinkets from birthday party goody bags) snuck in the backdoor.

There must have been some recognition of this up and down cycle in my subconscious because when I read Evan Zislis's book, ClutterFree Revolution: Simplify Your Stuff, Organize Your Life, and Save the World, it caught my attention. I read it in a weekend, and it got me thinking about our stuff and our life and how they were interconnected.

Articles and opinion pieces like this New York Times op-ed by Danny Heitman got people talking about two things: 1) Many (OK, most) of us have too much stuff, and 2) this stuff weighs us down literally and figuratively in ways that impact our productivity, job satisfaction, clarity of purpose, and joy of living.

So, if you want to dig out from underneath your stuff like I did so that you can focus on what matters most, try Zislis's three strategies.

1. Simplify.

Working room by room (and with bins or bags), clear the first layer of stuff away that you know you don't need or want. After clearing, divide it into four categories: trash; recycle; thrift or gift; and consign, sell, or trade.

2. Clarify.

With the remaining items in that room, bring like things together. Bigger things such as kitchen tools and books can be organized relatively quickly. It's the smaller items--stray cords, chargers, cards, and such-- that drive me crazy. Setting out a bunch of big Ziploc bags labeled with a black marker makes this level of organization easier for me. The goal is to make everything--seriously, everything--easy to find and easy to reach but out of the way.

3. Inspire.

In this last step, design for the future. What aesthetic is most appealing? What functions are critically needed and where do you want the most flexibility in a space? What works for your lifestyle? In sum, how do you want to bring your surroundings to life?

Going through each step, keep in mind that the 80/20 rule holds it all together. We typically love 20 percent of our stuff and are ambivalent or don't like the rest. The goal is to flip that. After reading the book, I reached out to Zislis and learned that he is an author and an entrepreneur serving clients as a professional organizer based in Aspen, Colorado. He works with households, businesses, and people in life transitions. His "2 for Teachers" program offers complimentary services for public school teachers throughout the United States. You can learn more at www.MyIntentionalSolutions.com.

Zislis calls this revolution "conscious consumerism"--and it asks each of us to reflect on the real urgency driving of all those Target runs and late-night Amazon Prime purchases. Applying these strategies to my home, I came to understand what a stranglehold our stuff had on us. Before decluttering, our thoughts about our stuff went like this:

  • Our stuff makes the thought of moving completely overwhelming so we stay put.
  • Our stuff piles up on every horizontal work surface so we stifle any creative moods--because it'd be too much trouble to start.
  • The site of our stuff causes random thoughts to bounce around our brains so we're distracted.
  • Our stuff is in the way and must be moved or rearranged to accomplish simple household tasks so we lose productivity.
  • We trip over or step on our stuff and yell at our kids or the dog or our spouse.
  • Our stuff hides the other stuff that we actually need so we're late.
  • Our stuff makes us unhappy so we buy more.

After working with Zislis and decluttering my home, I understood why it was so vitally important for me to get serious about clutter (and my buying patterns) when I did. It's critical to our sense of purpose, impact, and well-being.

What might the results look like for you? For one, you'll have a beautiful space and you'll feel more organized. Some even say they feel an airy lightness. You might not be floating on cloud nine, but you will really like your home (or whatever space you declutter) a lot more. Most importantly, you'll walk away with the understanding of how physical space and belongings can detract from our ability to approach our lives with purpose, have impact, and live fully.