Spring cleaning: Time to weed through the stuff stashed in your closets and drawers and the cobwebby corners of your basement, to decide which items to keep and which to give away or toss.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have some hard-and-fast guidelines?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any. Sorting can be subjective, ambiguous, fraught with sentiment, haunted by “what if”s. In the end, it’s so much easier to stuff it all out of sight and forget about it. Which is how those closets and drawers and basements got cluttered in the first place.

There’s one key rule, often cited by professional organizers. “Do you find it beautiful? Do you find it useful?” asked St. Paul-based organizer Beth DeZiel (http://lassollc.com). If you answer “no” to both, out it goes.

But even those questions can be difficult. Some things are borderline beautiful or potentially useful. In the end, you have to decide on a personal, case-by-case basis. What expert organizers can provide are some suggestions on how to manage that process. Here are a few tips:

Apply the six-month rule.

“If I haven’t used this object in six months, is it worth the space it takes up in my house — can I afford to save it?” said Diane Gambrel of Blaine-based Smarter Spaces LLC (http://smarterspaces.net). “There’s a certain type of anxiety or stress that having all that stuff can create for a person.” Obviously, this wouldn’t apply to Christmas decorations, for example, but it’s helpful in determining the fate of a piece of clothing or exercise equipment.


Touch things as many times as needed.

“There’s an old rule that says you should only touch it once when sorting things,” Gambrel said. “Most organizers do not go along with that anymore. That requires you to make a final, specific decision for each thing. Sometimes it’s better not to spend that much time on one particular item.” Toss it in an “unsure” pile and move on.


Place that “unsure” pile in a cardboard box.

Write the date on the outside. Six months (or a year) from now, if you haven’t missed it, you can probably part with it. A related trick, from DeZiel: As you wear the clothes in your closet, turn the hangers the other way around. At the end of the season, the clothes you haven’t flipped are ones you can probably live without.


Don’t start by buying storage containers.

Wait until after you’ve done the sorting and organizing to figure out what, if any, storage products you’ll need. You might change your mind about type or size, or discover you can use containers you already own. “Sometimes I will come and a person has gone out and got really large bins with lids,” Gambrel said. “Well, they were on sale. But in the end, they may be too big.”


Find someone who values the item more than you do.

Rachel Loeslie, an organizer in Shakopee (http://rachelloeslie.com) said her clients are often thrilled to find happy new homes for their discards. “They have said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re helping me get some of my family heirlooms passed on to the community.’ I have one client who’s giving some things to the historical society. Another one had a deer head in the basement — she gave it to a cousin and he loved it.”


Envision how you’ll use the space once it’s dejunked.

“Then people really start to connect the dots between their head and their heart,” Loeslie said. “People are like, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ And they feel empowered. It may even change their relationship with their partner.”

One man she worked with used a newly wide-open basement space to set up a beer-making operation. One woman has space on a cleared-off shelf to display photos of her grandchildren. And one couple, their dining table free of clutter, can finally sit there to eat dinner together.