Aah, spring! The flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping...are you feeling energized for a little spring cleaning? We knew you were, so we asked local professional organizers about the best ways to get started on your decluttering projects.

Before you dive in, it’s important to take stock and ask yourself what your goals are, the experts agree. “You should know why you’re doing it and what you’re after,” says certified professional organizer Janine Adams, owner of Peace of Mind Organizing. “Some people want to be able to open the door if someone drops by; some people just want to be able to find their keys. Then, when you’re making decisions about what to let go of, you can ask, Do I love it?, Do I use it?, and Will this item contribute to my vision for the space?” For example, if you have 10 corkscrews, you might use them all and like them all—but if you can’t close the drawer because it’s too full, it might be time to pare back, she says.

“Part of the reason it’s so important to set goals is so we can match the goal with reality,” adds Shelly Collins, owner of Clutter Contained. “For example, if the goal is to have an organized closet where all of your clothes fit and your closet is currently overflowing, the reality is that you will either need to downsize your wardrobe or come up with alternate storage.”

Jennifer Wiliams, president of St. Louis Closet Co., says the coat closet is a great place to start your spring cleaning. Start by taking everything out, and have family members (especially the kids) try on all the coats, hats and gloves, she says. Then make three piles: a donation pile for things that no longer fit, a trash pile, and a pile for items that need mending or washing. While everything is cleared out is a great time to clean shelving, and even add a fresh coat of paint, extra hooks or new hangars if needed. “Then you can put everything away, go outside and bask in the spring sun, and feel incredibly accomplished!” she says.

For bigger projects, Collins suggests starting by sorting like items. Say you’re working on a bedroom closet: “Put the sweaters with sweaters, jeans with jeans, and slacks with slacks. That makes it a lot easier for your brain to make decisions about items...You can look at all the sweaters at once and identify which ones you wear and love, and whether you have enough or far too many.” One method she uses is called ‘friends, acquaintances, strangers.’ “Say we pulled 20 coffee mugs out of a cabinet: Identify which ones are your friends (the ones you grab first), which are acquaintances (the next thing you’ll grab if your friends are dirty), and which are the strangers (the ones you only use if that’s the only option).” Friends are automatic keepers; strangers are automatic throw-aways. Acquaintances are up for discussion, depending on your needs, she says.

For many people, paper is the No. 1 problem, Collins adds. “People think they’re hiring me because they’ve accumulated too much; but the real reason is that they need a good system—a system that works for them.” Mail, for example, often gets tossed on the counter. “If we’re lucky, they pick out the important things—the bills get paid and the wedding RSVPs go out—and the junk mail sits. If we’re not lucky, the important things get lost in the stack.” So, she says, “when any paper comes in, it needs somewhere to go.” She suggests getting some hanging folders and labeling them with categories like “to pay,” “to do,” and “future” (for things that you won’t act on for more than a month).

Once you’ve finished your decluttering project, it’s important to leave enough time to put everything away, Adams notes, so that you can enjoy your success. And remember, living clutter-free is a journey, not a destination. “Once you’ve gotten organized, you have to weed constantly.” She suggests adopting a one-in, one-out rule to keep things under control.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I truly believe less is more,” Adams says. “There’s a cost associated with keeping stuff that you don’t use or love: There’s a potential physical cost if you can’t maintain your home because of the clutter; and if you keep something that’s mocking you because you bought it and you’re not using it, you’re beating yourself up more.” She adds, “When you let go of stuff, life gets easier. When people de-clutter, their spirits are lighter and sometimes they even physically look lighter, because they’re letting the excess out of their life.”

To find a certified organizer to help with your decluttering project, visit the National Association of Professional Organizers at napostl.com.