Last fall I went on a cleaning binge. It wasn’t simply a matter of dusting or vacuuming; I felt a need to clean out the clutter in my life. Since that time, I haven’t felt the urge to replace the stuff, but I have been more aware of the value of the money that bought that stuff.

The Clutter Theory
I read in Suze Orman’s The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom that holding onto clutter actually reduces our prosperity. Her theory is that by holding onto items we no longer value, we aren’t making room for new things that we value more (like money).

You probably also heard this same theory if you watched Oprah’s hoaders episode or ever watched Clean Sweep. I won’t get into the psychological theories here, but I can see the truth in the statement.

How I Cleaned out the Clutter
I started under the bathroom sink – a pretty easy place to clean out clutter. From there, I continued through the closets, kitchen, and home office. I produced 8 bags of trash and 3 bags of clothes to give away.

In addition to tossing expired medications and makeup, used up cleaning supplies, and worn out clothes, I also took a hard look at my books, CDs, videos, and DVDs. I ended up throwing out at least a dozen old videotapes and selling numerous books. Most of the CDs and DVDs belong to my husband, and he wasn’t yet ready to part with them.

The Result of My Clutter Purge
Now that I’ve gotten rid of so much stuff, I can actually see what I have and make use of it. I tossed out about half my supply of candles and vases, and now make a point of using the rest. I tossed out several pairs of shoes, so now I can see which shoes I have and want to use. I got rid of old clothes, which means now I can find the clothes I do want to wear and that still fit me.

In the kitchen, I found food that had long since expired, or food we no longer eat. The good food went to a food drive. The bad food we tossed, and now I can actually find stuff in the cupboard.

Since my purge, I haven’t felt an urge to replace that stuff. Instead I’d rather use up the stuff I already have. I also think more carefully before buying something new. I confirm that it is something I will actually use, not something I think might be nice to have but don’t have an immediate use for. It certainly made my Christmas list much shorter last year! I just didn’t feel the need to get more stuff.

I can’t say that it’s directly related, but our debt has declined significantly since I completed the purge. I can say that uncluttering my life made me feel freer and happier. It also makes me much happier when I opened the linen closet or reached under the cabinet for a new bottle of shampoo. And sometimes, it’s the little things that matter the most.

How to Clean Out the Clutter
If you want to purge, start with one small section of your home. Set aside an hour, or maybe just fifteen minutes, to clean. Bring two trash bags: trash and donate. I suggest starting under the bathroom counter or the medicine cabinet, a place where most of the items have an expiration date. It’s pretty easy to toss a box of cold medicine that expired a year ago. It gets easier as you go. If you find something that’s still good, but will never use, then put it in the donate box. Shelters often need personal care items.

For serious clutter, you’ll also need a keep pile. Remove everything from the closet or room, and then sort it into one of the piles. Once you’re done, take a second look at the keep pile. Make sure everything you’ve decided to keep has a use. If it’s an heirloom, find a place to use it or display it. If you can’t, pass it on to a family member who can.

I completed my purge in an afternoon, but I have an apartment. If you have a big home or a lot of stuff, allow yourself more time to work through it all. At first, purging is hard. Once you get on a clutter-clearing roll, you won’t want to stop and the freedom you’ll feel is amazing.

I think at one point I was receiving a Victoria’s Secret catalog every single day. It’s insane how often those things are stuffed in my mailbox. Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn are just as guilty. And not that I don’t love those stores, but I know how to get to their website if I’m looking for something specific.

These days, most of those catalogs go directly from mailbox to recycling bin. I don’t want or need more of what they have to offer. And many of the catalogs I once enjoyed receiving have long since sold off my name (the misspelling was a dead giveaway), which now means I receive approximately 15 catalogs a week, more in early December.

It’s time to stop the madness and stop the catalogs! Not only do these catalogs fill my recycling bin, but they waste paper in the first place. Also, my building doesn’t have recycling, so we have to collect it and drive it to a recycling center ourselves. Forcing us to make extra recycling runs doesn’t exactly give us warm fuzzy feelings about those catalogs, or the people who send them.

Choose Your Catalogs
That’s why I was so thrilled to discover Catalog Choice. Many major catalog retailers participate in their FREE program. Now my catalogs make a stop at my desk before hitting the recycling bin. I go to the Catalog Choice website, find the catalog in the list, enter the info from the address label, and then toss the catalog. Catalog Choice then contacts the mailer to stop the catalogs I no longer want. You can do this with all of the catalogs you receive, or you can choose to only stop a few.

If you want to start the catalog again, it’s simple enough to request it directly from the retailer. If you want to receive it still, but less frequently, many of them offer that option if you contact them. You can also instruct them to note on your account that you don’t want your name sold.

If you stop junk mail from the DMA service I mentioned yesterday, that will include many of the catalogs, but it may be faster to use Catalog Choice.

Unfortunately, not all catalogs participate in Catalog Choice, so you might still have to make a few phone calls to stop all your catalogs, but this will save you at least some of the hassle, and help you resist the shopping temptation they create so well.

At this point, the bulk of the mail I receive is junk mail. I switched to online billing, which means all those letters I receive from my banks are annoying balance transfer or cash advance checks and loan offers. I also receive numerous offers for new magazines, credit cards, and clubs.

As I see it, junk mail is intended solely to part me from my money. Those bank checks come with hefty fees and interest rates. The loans are rarely good offers. I don’t need more magazines or another credit card. I’ve tried book and music clubs and they’re always more hassle than their worth.

So I said stop! Going into the new year, I’m writing to the services to stop my junk mail. I just don’t need it in my life. If I want a balance transfer, I know how to find one online. If I’m interested in a new magazine, I’ll buy a copy and send in one of the 600 reply cards inside. If I want to buy a book, I’ll get it from the library.

If you want to stop junk mail, here are the steps you should take:

  • Contact the Direct Marketing Association . Complete the form and pay $1 to be removed from most catalog and junk mailing lists. This will stop 75% of your non-banking junk mail.
  • Credit bureaus are also happy to sell your data. Stop those credit offers (which are a source of identity theft), by contacting Opt Out Prescreen or by calling 1-800-5OptOut. This service is free and operated by the three major credit bureaus.
  • Don’t submit warranty cards. Most of the time, it’s unnecessary to have one on file to make a warranty claim. Most companies also use those cards to add you to mailing lists.
  • When you move, update your address with the two above services because filing a permanent change of address form triggers junk mail. If possible, don’t fill out the form. Instead, email an address update to your friends and relatives and contact companies you do business with to change your address directly.
  • It won’t stop junk mail, but also place yourself on the Do Not Call list or by calling 888.382.1222. It will stop most marketing calls, but remember that charities, political groups, and companies you’ve done business with in the last 18 months can still call you. If you’d like those calls to stop, ask to be removed from their list when they contact you.
  • Some email advertisers have also agreed to use the Direct Marketing Association to avoid unwanted contact. Join the Email Preference Service to stop some junk email, but remember that most spammers don’t use it. Hitting those “remove me from your mailing list” buttons often result in you being placed on MORE lists, so you should only use them for stores you recognize.
  • Return privacy notices. All your creditors are now required to send you an annual privacy notice. Many include a reply form in which you can indicate you preference. Be sure to send it back with the appropriate box marked.
  • Don’t enter online sweepstakes. Most of those companies will harvest your information. If there’s a box instructing them not to send you offers, it may be safe, but don’t be surprised if new junk mail starts to arrive.

Now you may be wondering how stopping junk mail will save you money. It’s simple – you won’t be tempted by offers you receive in the mail. Most of the services who advertise by mail cost more than the services you could find yourself. If you are in need of a service, call and ask if they’re offering any specials. The answer will nearly always be “yes.”

You also won’t be tempted to use those convenience checks, and you won’t risk someone else using them to steal your identity.

I can’t wait to stop receiving junk mail. When I was a little girl, I always looked forward to getting the mail, but now that I’m an adult, it’s annoying to open a full box only to find a bunch of mail I have to recycle or shred. Just think of all the paper we would save, and the energy required to recycle it all, if we stopped junk mail altogether!

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