Get organized: Cut through clutter for crisp, clean prose


A few years ago I was tasked with a New Year’s-themed article that offered readers tips for getting organized. I called upon the expert advice of professional organizer Kathi Burns.

(Flickr: Klearchos Kapoutsis)

(Flickr: Klearchos Kapoutsis)

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Ms. Burns was a great interview, offering really practical advice for getting clutter under control. One thing she said stayed with me all these years later.

She cautioned that before purchasing some new little bauble to sit on your desk or coffee table, consider this: you may have to commit to that object for the next 20 years.

That’s 20 years of dusting it, picking it up to clean underneath and around it and keeping it safe and in one piece.

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That seemingly minor comment sits on my shoulder like a winged angel every time I find myself in a home decor store, warning me against the purchase.

“Don’t do it!” a teeny voice whispers.

But, ah, the temptation. It’s hard to resist something so colorful and sparkly and new. Get rid of the old to make way for the new, you say? Not happening. I’m too attached to my old stuff — it has meaning and memories with which I simply cannot part.

Savvy writers know where I am going with this.

Let’s face it — we love our words. You can never have too many of them. Or can you?

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The reality is, in these modern times of quick news and information, readers expect streamlined prose that is heavy on context and light on fluff.

As writers, we must accept that our ultimate goal is to effectively communicate with our audience. And that means cutting through the word clutter. Mark Twain once said that editing was easy — all you have to do is cross out all the wrong words. It may sound overly simplistic, but the idea is a sound one.

Get organized and resolve to edit unnecessary words from your current writing project today. Part with “the wrong words,” even if you love them so. Doing so will leave your prose reading crisp and chipper for your adoring public.

Kerri S. Mabee is managing editor at and founder of Breeze Media & Communications. Learn more about her at


Kerri S. Mabee

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