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How to Tame Your Costly Clutter


Sentimentality consumes more than dollars and cents.

Out with the old and in with the new. We're purging this month at my place in preparation for painting, plastering and possibly a home sale.

This is a much bigger project than it has to be because I hold onto things. I'm sentimental and keep them way longer than I should.

I've consulted with enough experts to know this tendency relates to living in the past and has something to do with the fear of not having enough. My piles do give me a feeling of security. I'm not a cat lady, but I can empathize. I'm not alone.

U.S. demand for home organizing products is forecast to grow by 4.3% a year through 2013, according to one market research firm. Retailers such as Container Store have built a business on keeping people together. Hybrid business/home retailers like Staples (SPLS) and Office Depot (ODP) offer ever-growing sections devoted to organizing. The varied sizes, colors and shapes of storage containers from manufacturers like Rubbermaid (NWL) reflect a desire for style with order.

With identity theft way too prevalent, I can't just bag everything and put it out on the curb. This week I shredded my bank statements from 1982, a year when I moved apartments and learned firsthand that the price of messiness is the loss of a security deposit. The building super had me pegged as someone who kept a lot of newspapers. Well sure, a journalist needs to keep files of her work.

At the office, I prefer to think of the stuff on my desk as the sign of an active mind. I look at clutter legends like Esther Dyson and like having a connection to her.

Still, if I don't get the clutter out of the house completely, the price I stand to get will be reduced by the tens of thousands, the Realtors tell me. First impressions are critical. Especially in this market.

I turn for help every now and then to Andrew Mellen, a personal organizer for all aspects of life. He's funny, nonjudgmental and does business under the name of Virgoman. He's holed up right now writing a book called "Unstuff Your Life," due to be published by Penguin next year. (A tip-filled article he wrote for Oprah magazine on 12 Ways to Declutter Your Life showcases his approach.)

For instance, on the subject of clothing:
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