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When it comes to 'stuff,' enough is enough<br> Life becomes easier when there is less clutter

Maybe it's the economy, or maybe it's the need to feel neat and cleansed. Maybe it's TV shows such as "Hoarders," where the accumulation of household goods gets trashy and downright embarrassing.

Whatever the reason, Americans are re-evaluating their relationship with their stuff.

There's too much of it. It clutters our lives. And many of us are saying we've had enough.

Tammy Borman lives in Zebulon, N.C., with her husband, Duane, and three children ages 8, 9 and 15. She works for Home Depot. He works for a roofing supply company.

About a year ago, the family had house fire. Working with the insurance company, Borman was required to list the entire contents of her home on paper.

"It kind of made you look back and say, 'You know, this is incredible,' " she said. "We have a thick book of just page after page of stuff, and when you have three kids, stuff tends to pile up quick."

The family didn't lose everything in the fire and was eventually able to move back into the home, but the Bormans' attitude had changed. They have had two yard sales and are preparing for a third.

"We're trying to look at each purchase and ask, 'Do we need it?' " Tammy Borman said.

Families are moving toward decluttering for various reasons. They're prioritizing long-term financial goals above instant gratification. And they're just sick of having so much stuff cluttering their lives.

Decluttering isn't new. This yearning to simplify life rears its head at least once every decade -- often in reaction to periods of excess.

"We have gone so big for so long. It gets to a point where you start to evaluate if the things you are adding to your life are bringing meaning," said Mary Carlomagno, a professional organizer and author of "Live More, Want Less: 52 Ways to Find Order in Your Life."

Indicators show that conspicuous consumption is declining:

The average size of new homes fell to 2,377 square feet last year, down from a peak of 2,520 square feet in 2007, according to census data. That is projected to drop to 2,150 square feet by 2015, according to a recent survey of home building professionals.

We're saving more; more than 5 percent of income last quarter, up from less than 2 percent in the fall of 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis.

We're spending less. Consumer spending decreased 2.8 percent in 2009, according to the most current figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was the first time since the bureau started tracking in 1984 that there had been a drop from the previous year.

And there are now more than 4,900 Freecycle groups across the country; these online forums allow people to give away used clothes, housewares and electronics.

Tonya Willett is a mother of three boys who uses Freecycle to regularly purge and organize her 850-square-foot Raleigh home. When she first found the site three years ago, she said, "I thought, 'What a neat idea. Who doesn't have stuff that they end up throwing away because they don't have someone to give it to?'"

People are changing their definition of happiness, said David Wann, author of "Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle."

He said, "Happiness is really about health, enjoyment of activities and connection with people."

Purging your belongings often requires an emotional detachment, said Janice Russell, a professional organizer in Cary, N.C.

With older items, people often have to be taught to let go, she said.

"We have this feeling like if we give the item up, we give up the memory," Russell said.

Michelle Bryant is trying to teach her two children about money, having too much stuff and the value of family experiences all at once. Her family has been trying to eliminate unused items from their home since the fall. All the money made from selling items will go into a fund for a Disney World vacation.

The trip to Disney World seems like a worthwhile goal and gives the children, ages 9 and 11, a goal to work toward and an appreciation of what things cost.

"When there's too much clutter, I don't feel like I can get anything done," Bryant said. "Not only is it physical clutter, it's also spiritual clutter. I don't want to spend my whole life cleaning. ... I'm thinking by fall, we'll be able to go to Disney World."

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TIPS FROM THE PROS:

Are you trying to purge your own belongings or help a family member? Here are some tips from professional organizers Janice Russell and Mary Carlomagno:

-- If someone has a collection of items, ask if they could pick the top few items from the collection to represent the whole collection. But phrase your question carefully. Talk about choosing the top five items rather than choosing 25 that will go.

-- Never say "toss" or "trash" unless the other person uses it first.

-- Just start. Waiting for perfect conditions will only delay the work.

-- One thorough cleaning is often not the solution. It's an evolution.

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