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New Tricks for All Dogs
by Jill Ellen Shankar

Those who have been blessed with a long and happy life often find themselves cursed by the clutter of years gone by-we think it contains the memories that make us whole.

If you live with one or several others, this can be an especially difficult situation, because we all have different levels of tolerance for stuff. Packrats and neat nicks inevitably find themselves living together, and 50 years later, trouble lurks in all the spare rooms. Even if you live alone, you would not be the only one going mad from the mess.

The most important thing to understand when attempting to resolve the situation is that there is no magic formula that dictates how much you should have, and no line that separates the right way from the wrong.

However, if you are wondering whether you have too much, you probably do. The answers to these questions will confirm your suspicions: Is your mind unencumbered enough to behold new experiences, and dream up new ideas? Can you find things easily, walk through each room without tripping, and throw things away without the imagined fear of losing something dear?

If not, it is time to face facts: you need to learn some new tricks!

At the heart of successful clutter management is the ability to overcome the fears associated with separating from one's stuff. A peaceful state of being occurs when individuals are constantly cleaning out the old, welcoming in the precious new thoughts and experiences.

This is an ongoing process and needs to be done regularly, like brushing your teeth or getting a haircut. Once the habit is established, you are on your way!

The science of the matter is something different. How exactly, should it all be managed?

In a nutshell, you must actively decide what you let in and what you throw out, of your home, your mind and your life. The rule of thumb is that you should use it, need it or love it if it is to remain. Figuring out what you use is easy as pie, as long as you are honest with yourself. Old clothing, broken TV sets, unread magazines from 1966 and the like should be dumped on the double.

Determining what you need is not so hard either. Provided you continue to be as true to yourself as the day is long, you know whether you need something or not. If you are unsure, you probably don't.

The one exception seems to be taxes. This is the area in which folks struggle to decipher need, so here are some guidelines. Tax returns and all supporting documentation should be saved for at least 6 years, but since the IRS does occasionally go further back in time to claim liability, it makes sense to hold on to as many years' worth as possible so that you could disprove the government's case if needed.

Receipts not used for tax purposes, like from the ATM and grocery store, can and should be thrown away. Since each case is different, check with your accountant or tax professional if you are unsure.

The remaining items in your house then, should be things that you love. Enough said, right? Maybe not. Many individuals hold a sentimental position on possessions, which is often misplaced. This is to say that your fond memories are in your heart and your mind, and you carry them with you wherever you are.

You do not need housefuls of boxes of items, when you can nourish the same feelings of goodness from a much smaller subset. As with other things, quality supersedes quantity.

To put it more concretely: if you have too much to put in scrapbooks, albums and a few file cabinets and boxes, purge. If you have lost track of what you own, and where most of your things are, start eliminating.

More urgently, what is your fire plan? If you cannot make an unencumbered exit directly out of any door, in the dark, you need to take action.

Lastly, would your loved ones be able to manage your belongings easily if something unexpected and tragic happened to you? If your answer is no, get to work. You must take control!

Above all, remember that an over dependence on stuff is unhealthy and disruptive, for it keeps us from taking in what really matters. At any stage of life, creating new experiences that are meaningful and rich is of utmost importance. You've earned it!

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Jill Ellen Shankar
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