Organizer Fay Wolf explains why you have so much clutter. (Hint: It's not about the stuff.)

Less stuff. Less paper. Less digital. These are some of the ingredients for a decluttered life to be found in "New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks (and Everyone Else)" (Ballantine Books, $20), from L.A.-based Fay Wolf.

Having worked as an organizer for nearly a decade, Wolf views "New Order" as more than just a resource. "It's a practice," she said recently. "It's also about inner clutter — all of our fears, excuses and reasons for not beginning the process. Having basic skills will help you."

Wolf shares detailed lists that will help you get started — such as where to donate everything from old trophies to wedding gowns — as well as her favorite efficiency apps.

Clutter depresses us. Why can't we get rid of stuff?

I think for many of us there is a worthiness connection. We don't think we deserve to live in a beautiful space. On a more basic level, people don't know the how-to steps. Most people have never heard of sorting bins.

Purging can be overwhelming. How do we get started?

I'm big on physical sorting bins in any situation. Label them "donate," "recycle," "trash," "shred" and "other rooms." Clothes often have a few categories such as donate, recycle and sell. I like using labels, even if it makes you feel like you're in kindergarten. And sometimes you have to make a mess to make it better. Especially if you don't have spare hours to put aside for sorting. It's also why people quit. Do an hour's worth of decluttering and go to work. Or go make dinner. If you don't get back to it right away, it's OK. Small steps can make a big difference.

What should we tell ourselves when we're struggling to let go of things?

If you're involved in the process, then I want those decisions to go into a "maybe" category. I can be a drill sergeant but if you're doing it alone — which is what I want people to do — and you want to keep the process moving along, then don't get caught up in one thing. Put a "maybe" Post-it on a pile as part of the area that you are sorting. Usually, as you go through a bunch of things, you will look at the "maybe" pile and realize that most of it can go. I am more lenient on memorabilia than some. And when I say lenient, I don't mean 12 stuffed animals. You want to keep the T-shirt from your high school production of "Grease"? That's fine. If it's a huge broken item that your grandfather gave you that you know you're not going to get fixed, then be done with it.

Most of us have hundreds or even thousands of emails. How can we clean up our inbox?

I usually suggest that people remove as many emails from their inbox as possible. Leave the first 50 emails and archive everything else. Everything is still there. All of a sudden you have decluttered email that has a bottom to it and the rest are searchable. Use an unsubscribe app like Unroll.Me or Mailstrom that links up to your email and makes it easy to unsubscribe to all of the things you never have the time to read.

You advise people to stop using emails as a to-do list. What's a better alternative?

In the book, I write about the Triangle of Productivity. Basically, it's a way to think about the three most important things that keep you going — your email, your calendar and your to-do list. Most people use their email and calendar all the time but don't have a functional list of tasks and projects. I invite people to make that a working third partner in the game. If you put it all in one place, your life will become so much simpler. Use a digital to-do app. If you are an iPhone user, "Reminders" is built in to the phone. Others include Todoist, Teus Deus and Wunderlist. Those are a few good places to start.

See Wolf in action in this video for Apartment Therapy.

Twitter: @lisaboone19


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A version of this article appeared in print on February 07, 2016, in the Life+Style section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Professional organizer takes on decluttering - Solutions" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe