- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Clutter does not a happy couple make. That’s right, household junk is not just an eyesore, but also, it turns out, a source of marital strife. “More than eight in ten couples view these items lying around the house as a source of tension in their relationship,” says Jose Mallabo, spokesman for Kijiji.com, an online marketplace that recently conducted a survey of couples and their - superfluous - household items.

“[It] was a much bigger percentage than one would guess,” Mr. Mallabo says.

A solution is just a click away at Kijiji.com and other online marketplaces, such as Craigslist and EBay, which can help sell the stuff in these financially strained times and alleviate marital strife in, well, one click.

Talk about a 21st-century approach to therapy.

Not so fast, says Marla Cilley, decluttering maven extraordinaire and founder of Flylady.net, a site that inspires up to 500,000 Americans to get their homes and lives decluttered. (Yes indeed, Ms. Cilley’s Yahoo group has close to 500,000 members.)

“The problem with selling the unused items is that it adds another layer of guilt,” Ms. Cilley says from Brevard, N.C.

She attributes this guilt to feeling remorse that something bought for $25 could sell for as little as 25 cents, which may deflate the owner as much as time has devalued the item.

“When you give it away, it retains its value in your heart. And at the same time, the item can bless someone else who really needs it,” she says.

However, the stuff, according to the Kijiji survey, is worth a lot.

The average American household has 35 unused items valued at $670 - devalued from the $3,600 original purchase price - according to the survey.

Mr. Mallabo says that “in real life, value [like] this could be 172 gallons of gas, 177 gallons of milk or even 97 movie tickets.”

Instead, people won’t part with their items because, in most cases - 83 percent of the 2,016 survey participants - they think they’re going to use the items again. Women tend to cling to designer clothes, and men tend to cling to computers and other electronics.

Reuse is unlikely, Ms. Cilley says. Clothes go out of style, and electronics lose their edge. “If you’re not using the item, give it to someone who can enjoy it now,” she says.

Keeping things for sentimental reasons is OK, Ms. Cilley says, but limit them to one bin, no larger than a moving box. This way, when children, for example, leave the house to go off to college and start life on their own, they will be saddled only with one box.

“Trust me, kids are not going to want more than that,” she says.

Not many people keep only one box of unused items, says Ms. Cilley, who likens the state of the typical American home to a landfill.

“Our homes are our most valuable asset, and yet we treat them like landfills,” she says. “It makes you wonder, exactly how much does it cost per square foot to store this stuff that we never use?”

Not only that, she says, but having clutter in your house makes many people feel nervous and “closed in.”

Conversely, she says, decluttering helps lift those oppressive feelings. “When you start decluttering, you start feeling peace.”

Before giving or selling the stuff, though, it has to be collected, and in this phase of decluttering, spouses have to take care of their own items.

“You can’t get rid of you husband’s stuff,” she says. “That usually doesn’t go well. … You have to do it for you, and he has to do it for him.”

She recommends that one party get started on cleaning up certain items and areas of the house, showing the other party how very nice uncluttered life can be. “It’s contagious,” she says.

Don’t spend too much time sorting and cleaning, she cautions. “Give yourself five minutes at a time,” she says, “and the stuff you’ve determined to donate, take it to the car right away.”

When giveaway piles grow in the garage or entryway, “the stuff never really goes anywhere,” she says.

Couples deciding to go the resell route - against Flylady’s recommendations - must learn which household items have good resale value. Desktop computers and furniture, yes; baby clothes and stereo equipment, no, according to the Kijiji survey.

The survey shows desktop computers losing an average of about 25 percent of the original purchase value. Reselling a couple of those could pay for a lot of gas.

Mr. Mallabo has another idea: “What I say is take the money made off posting your goods/services on Kijiji and treat your wife to some flowers and a nice meal or, better yet, a cleaning service. How will that not help reduce marital strife?”

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