I have a problem with clutter. If you walked into my home right now, you’d see photos and year-old kid spelling tests plastered across my fridge, stacks of CDs that I no longer listen to, and piles of papers covering my desk (sure, I’ve paid my bills; I just haven’t filed them yet).

Does this sound familiar to you? Do you also have a heck of a time throwing things away? Do you hold on to things because you think you’ll find a good home for them — that’s not the trash can? The problem, however, isn’t really the clutter itself, but what’s it’s doing to your love life.

“Clutter isn’t sexy!” says Catherine DeMonte, MFCC, a marriage, family and child therapist in Calabasas, CA. “It’s passive-aggressive if you have your things everywhere, because it puts a barrier between you and your lover,” she says. “If you have clutter in the bedroom, for example, it’s not very tempting to have a wild, sexy night if the bed is covered in clothes or papers. I don’t even have a TV in mine for that very reason.”

She’s right: The thought of bringing a man I’m seeing back to my place — with all this mess — mortifies me. That’s why I’ve turned to some of the top clutter experts in the country for the most practical advice to help me sort through my stuff.
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Stuck in the past?
“Oh, those piles of paperwork! Bills to be paid, magazines to read, credit card statements to file…,” says Jamie Novak, author of The Get Organized Answer Book: Practical Solutions for 275 Questions on Conquering Clutter, Sorting Stuff, and Finding More Time and Energy.

But experts agree that clutter does more than just take up space; it suppresses us. “When we see all these items that represent our past, we are instantly reminded of who we used to be,” says Novak. “I used to fit into a size-4 jean and blast Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, and I used to think that I’d take up that walking plan I clipped out of the magazine.”

But according to Melissa Smallwood, a blogger, minister and expert at organizing homes in Martinsburg, WV, all that clutter is only stifling you and reminding you of things that might be better left in the past. “It might be difficult to let things go because you are sentimentally attached to them,” she says. “So, ask yourself whether you are holding onto items out of an emotional response or a logical one.”

In other words, your clutter is doing more than just taking up space. It’s actually giving you constant emotional reminders, according to Alison Kaufman, founder of Space of Mind in Boca Raton, FL. “The largest factor contributing to clutter is fear. These fears can include the fear of not having enough or the fear of not finding ‘it’ again.”

Are you like a cat lady?
Experts also agree that clutter is self-defeating because, as Kaufman explains, “it often prevents you from letting people in emotionally — as well as in your space. Many clutterers don’t entertain friends or loved ones at home.”

So, when it comes to dating someone special, you end up limiting yourself. “You meet him at a restaurant, club or wherever, rather than entertain at home, so he will never find out how bad things really are in the clutter department,” says Donna Jumper, a professional organizer in Springfield, PA.

“What kind of guy would want to come back to an apartment that looks like a cat lady lives there?” says Beth Zeigler, owner of Bneato, a professional-organizing company in Los Angeles. “I have a cat, so I’m not saying having a cat is bad,” she adds. “You just don’t want to be tripping over things when you’re trying to make love happen.”

Getting rid of clutter is like shedding pounds
Is there anyone who really likes living in clutter? Tell the truth: Aren’t we all a little more sane when our lives are more organized? But unless you’re naturally wired that way or you developed good habits early on, it’s a challenge to achieve (and maintain) the orderliness. So, how do you get there?

“This is a big question for many people,” says Jennise Mendoza of Rescue Me Organizer in Oakland, CA. “De-cluttering is a way of life, and you need to begin by changing your frame of mind.”

One of the first steps, explains Mendoza, is to “stop buying things because you want them. Buy things because you need them and will use them.” Easier said than done, right?

According to Mendoza, de-cluttering is like losing weight. “If you lose weight by dieting but then go back to your old eating habits — and not exercise — then you will gain all the weight back. The same is true with clutter: If you buy things you don’t need, or if you don’t get rid of things that you are not using, then the clutter will always be there.”

When Mendoza works one-on-one with clients, she has them pick up certain things and ask three questions. Case in point: How about all my CDs from ex-boyfriends, or the too-baggy jeans I wore five years ago, when I weighed more?

Mendoza offers a great exercise to begin de-cluttering. For every item, start by asking yourself three questions:
  1. When is the last time I used this item?
  2. Why have I not used it?
  3. Will I use the item in the near future?
Try not to let your emotional ties to the item affect your answer. Last of all, here’s the best part: De-cluttering not only makes your home as neat as a pin, it also creates the space for new love. Are you ready? I am.

Rachel Sarah is the author of Single Mom Seeking: Play Dates, Blind Dates and Other Dispatches from the Dating World. You can read more of her writing on her blog, Single Mom Seeking.