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Decluttering can be a big job, but Ellen Rubin Delap ’80, president-elect of the National Association of Professional Organizers, says a few simple principles can help you better manage your belongings.

BEGIN WITH THE WHY. “Do you want to have fewer things to put away so you feel less stressed?” Delap asks. “Do you want to feel like you have less to take care of because stuff requires attention, and you prefer to have experiences?” Knowing why you’re doing something can also make it easier to make the individual decisions to keep or toss.

MAKE YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE. Put a decluttering date on your calendar—plan to spend no more than two or three hours at a time—to give yourself the best chance of following through.

FIND A COMPELLING STARTING POINT. “You might decide to start with the thing you find most frustrating or the thing that seems easiest,” Delap says. “It can be as small as cleaning the junk drawer in your kitchen.”

DON’T FINISH BEFORE YOU’RE FINISHED. At the end of each session, immediately put things in the car and drive them to wherever they’re going, whether that’s Goodwill or the dump. “Otherwise,” Delap says, “things stay in your car for a long time and you still haven’t really let go of them.”

MAKE MAINTENANCE EASY. “Always have a donations bag available in a closet. Let go of stuff as soon as it’s lost its function or value. When you buy a new appliance, let go of the existing one as soon as possible,” she says. “ You will find it just takes minutes to declutter this way.”

ONLINE: professional-organizer.com