The origins of stuffocation (or clutter) probably date back to our caveman ancestors.

Back then, cavemen needed to accumulate food and supplies in order to ensure their survival. Life was simple; they dragged everything into the cave. Today… we live in a world of consumerism. Advertising encourages us to stock up and buy new stuff, so it's really hard not to get bogged down with clutter. Mad Magazine once said, “The only reason a great many American families don't own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments.”

Clutter is anything around your house that doesn’t add value to your life, doesn’t add beauty to a room, isn’t a family treasure or doesn’t represent something you can actually use. Whether your clutter is due to poor habits, a live-in packrat or an advanced case of 'affluenza,' you may be struggling under the burden of household clutter. Here are some ways to end the stuffocation.

Pick a target

Look around your home and decide what overwhelms you the most or what frustrates you most often. Is it not being able to find the granola bars in the cupboards in the morning? Is it your disordered wardrobe? Or is it the stacks of paper strewn on the floor of your office? Pick the area that’s most maddening and start there.

Start by getting rid of the obvious: wire dry-cleaner hangers, socks with no match, old florists’ vases, broken umbrellas, last year’s holiday cards, old makeup, used-up notebooks, dried-up cans of paint, pens that are out of ink, dead batteries, old spices and other useless stuff.

Develop a timetable

If you have lots to de-clutter, you probably won’t finish it in a short time. Devote just a few hours to de-cluttering a specific space. Very few people have the energy or patience to spend an entire day de-cluttering. If you de-clutter more often and for shorter periods of time, you won’t get burned out in the process.

Visualize the end result - your goal

When most people decide to get organized, their impulse is to head to the store and buy containers. That’s not the place to start. You must first think of your goal—what you’d like the space to look like and what function it should serve.

Create a system

When you're peering over piles (mounds and stacks of stuff), it's hard to know where to begin and what to do, so apply the 80/20 rule. This rule says that we wear or use 20 percent of the things we own 80 percent of the time. Your goal should be to get rid of the things you don’t use 80 percent of the time. Therefore, you’ll need a system for sorting the items you find. You can create your own system or use the popular three-box method of sorting. This method forces you to make a decision item by item, so you don’t end up with a bigger mess than the one you started with. The three-box method involves what to keep, get rid of and store.

KEEP: If the item is something that adds beauty, is useful or is sentimental, you may want to keep it. Optimally, these things should be stored neatly in a container or drawer or be artfully displayed.

GET RID OF: These items can be tossed, donated, recycled, sold at a garage sale, on eBay or on Craigslist or given to someone who would appreciate them. If you have lots of stuff in reasonably good condition, call a charitable organization. There are many that would appreciate your donations. If you have lots of junk, rent a Dumpster.

STORE: As you fill your containers, label anything you want to store. Prepare an inventory sheet on top of each box and neatly put the boxes in a storage area.

Get into maintenance mode

Once you’ve de-cluttered to your satisfaction, get into maintenance mode. The “one in, two out” rule may be of help. That means whenever you’re tempted to bring a new item into your home, you must get rid of two existing items.

On a final nogte…

If the process of de-cluttering is too overwhelming, ask a friend to assist or enlist the help of a professional organizer.

Sheryl Roberts is the owner of Inner Space Concepts, an interior decorating and home staging company in Marlborough. She can be reached at 508-229-8209.