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Q & A ON CLUTTER

Clutter-clearing consultant Michelle Passoff Kupfermunz, pictured, will offer her decluttering workshops in Tampa and Clearwater this month. See Page 6F for details. She is the author of Lighten Up! Free Yourself From Clutter (Perennial paperback, $13) and founder of a clutter-clearing service of the same name that has just moved from Manhattan to Tampa. She and her husband, Andre, co-founded Estate Organization and Resolution Services Inc., which provides organizing and cleaning services for heirs, lawyers and executors who are settling estates. Visit www.freefromclutter.com and www.estateresolutionservices.com. Here she offers answers to some frequently asked questions about decluttering.

What happens if I throw something away today and discover that I need it tomorrow?

In my experience, "throw it out today/regret it tomorrow" is a myth. In 15 years of cleaning clutter, I've never seen this fear substantiated in my clients. The more common emotion associated with cleaning clutter is relief.

First, don't follow the rule of "when in doubt, throw it out." Instead, be decisive about every item you keep and every item you toss. If you aren't sure whether to get rid of it, hold on to it until the next round of clutter-cleaning, which is a consciousness-raising process: Deliberately choose what you do and don't want in the environment in which you live and work.

Before you start throwing things out, ask yourself what you want to accomplish in the next year _ financially, personally and professionally. Ask yourself: What am I making room for in my life? Then go to work on a "clutter hot spot" _ a place that's bulging with too much stuff. Assess whether to keep or throw every item based on its relevance to your goals. This will avoid mistakes. But if you do make a mistake, it is rarely one you can't rectify.

Every time I clean my clutter, it comes right back. What am I doing wrong?

Another clutter myth is that once you clean it, it's gone forever. As long as we are alive, an ebb and flow of "stuff" moves in and out of our lives.

Cleaning clutter is not an event. It is a process and a state of mind. Keep freeing yourself from what you don't want, need, use and love, and you will be free to respond to opportunities and emergencies. If you can't do it yourself, ask a friend or hire a professional to work with you and train you to let go of clutter.

Schedule at least two to four hours weekly to clear an area of clutter, whether it is papers, clothes or other paraphernalia. Be patient and thorough, taking anywhere from an afternoon to a month or more of Sundays to review all your belongings at least once. Then maintain it with daily clutter consciousness: Take out the garbage, file papers, don't put off petty tasks, clear off bedside tables and countertops. Periodically or seasonally, clean areas such as clothes closets, the garage and your files.

When I opened all my gifts for Christmas, I was horrified instead of delighted. I don't want nine out of 10 of them. What do I do?

If possible, return what you don't want for something you love and use. As a courtesy, I would tell the giver what you selected instead of what they gave so that they know you are enjoying their generosity.

Next year, avoid wasting money and putting friends and family in an embarrassing situation by suggesting a "wish list" exchange. An activity such as a theater evening, movie passes or an IOU for a home-cooked meal is hard for anyone to refuse, and it takes up no space in your closet. A charitable contribution on behalf of someone you love is in the spirit of the season, too.

Decluttering workshops

Michelle Passoff Kupfermunz will offer four clutter-cleaning workshops this month. To register, call Lighten Up! Free Yourself From Clutter toll-free at 1-877-373-3376. Details are at www.freefromclutter.com.

+ Lighten Up! Free Yourself From Clutter, the introductory class, will be from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Holiday Inn Select, 3535 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater. The class will be repeated from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Best Western Westshore, 1200 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa. Cost: $45.

+ Create Your Legacy, Not a Mess: Getting Organized 2005 was inspired by Kupfermunz's experiences settling her late mother's estate and disposing of the acquisitions of a lifetime. This workshop shows participants how to leave their families the legacy they want, not the burden of unsorted, unwanted possessions, unfulfilled wishes and unresolved relationships. "Live well, prepare responsibly, complete graciously" is the motto here. This workshop will be from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Holiday Inn Select, 3535 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater. Cost: $45.

+ From Battleground to Common Ground: Cleaning Clutter for Couples. This all-day, couples-only workshop shows participants how to create a home and relationship that are in harmony mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Helpful for the neat freak partnered with a pack rat, this workshop will be from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Holiday Inn Select, 3535 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater. Cost: $115.

Michelle Passoff Kupfermunz also offers private clutter-cleaning consultations. Call toll-free 1-877-373-3376.

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