Peter Walsh, organizing expert and author of the new book "Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight," answered questions about storage, decorating and how to cope with your possessions.
Q: How do you nicely tell in-laws to quit bringing their extra stuff into your house? There are so many items I have no place for or don't like.
A: It's tough, as you don't want to offend them, but you also need to be honest and straightforward with them. Tell them in a calm way that you love them, but all the things they're bringing over are overwhelming you. Decide together on the best course of action; donations, perhaps?
Q: I would like to install a clothes storage system. Is there one that's durable and easy to install that you can recommend for a closet? I need one that's upright with storage baskets.
A: Check out most home-goods stores. Hanging canvas in-closet systems are great, expandable and very adaptable. Decide first how much space you have, and go for it.
Q: I go to antique shows and wonder why my grandparents and parents didn't keep some of this stuff. So I have kept things. Now I find my adult children have no sentimentality. Will they wish I had kept it if I dispose of it? Or is this the way it should be?
A: Chat with your kids and see what their thoughts are about this. What you find important, chances are they won't; that doesn't mean they don't love or appreciate you. Decide together on which "treasures" they would like from you, and don't worry about the rest.
Q: I'm plagued by accumulating piles of paper, whether it takes the form of mail, kids' schoolwork and art, receipts and invoices, materials from my job, etc. I always seem to be drowning in the stuff. How do I make it stop?
A: Many people are uncomfortable with shredding or discarding paid bills. I have seen homes where every receipt and paid bill for the previous 10 years is strewn throughout the house. If you want to keep paid bills and/or receipts, you need to keep the paperwork under control. Start by purchasing a 12-month expanding file. When you pay bills for, say, June, place them in June section of the file. You'll come back to June 12 months later. If you haven't needed to look at the bills in that time, it's highly unlikely that you'll ever need them again. Shred them. The same system works for receipts. Or a simple, very low-tech solution to organizing receipts is to use two bankers' spikes. Get in the habit of cleaning receipts out of your wallet or purse daily. Place receipts on one of the spikes as they come in. When one spike is full, start the other. If you haven't needed any of the receipts in the time it takes you to fill a spike, chances are you never will. When you fill up the second spike, throw out all the receipts on the first.
Q: I was given expensive crystal stemware by my mother-in-law for my wedding. I don't use or want it, but can't get rid of it without starting World War III. How do you store breakable things you don't want?
A: Bubble wrap. Solid cardboard box. Attic. Or negotiate a truce, and find someone who can use and love it.
Q: What is your formula for keeping clothes? How often should I be getting rid of excess?
A: You should only have three types of clothes in your closet: clothes that fit you now, clothes that you love, and clothes that get you compliments when you wear them.
Q: I'm a thirty-something, getting married this year, and for various reasons I dislike the idea of registering for a boatload of new household items, let alone formal china or anything like that. However, I do love to cook and entertain, so I feel I shouldn't give up on a registry altogether. Do you have any advice?
A: A wedding registry can easily get out of control. It's great that you have such a good perspective on it. Choose only items that you love and know you'll use. Don't stress!
Q: I was wondering if you have had success with your approach to decluttering for people who are hoarders. I am a hoarder and feel completely overwhelmed with my stuff. Is one of your books more suitable for approaching decluttering with this mental condition?
A: Check out David Tolin's book "Buried in Treasures." It's a great place to start. You can bring about change, but you need to be gentle on yourself and seek help from those who know what they're talking about. Also try the National Association of Professional Organizers site, www.napo.net, for organizers who specialize in hoarding.
Q: I have a box of orphan electronics cords: coaxial cables, A/V cables to connect TVs and DVD players, phone cords, Ethernet connectors from old modems. What can I do with these? Recycle? Donate? Trash?
A: If you don't need them, pack them up, say goodbye and send them off to a donation center.