Most of us have too much stuff. Usually the process happens slowly and often mysteriously – but there’s no denying that the stuff comes in but never goes out. We often become overwhelmed, which leads to doing nothing and the problem multiplies until one day when opening a closet door dislodged items come tumbling out or we can’t find an important document. We know something needs to be done.
As one who helps others maximize their space, I often hear “confessions” from my clients about their lapses in organizational protocol, as if I worked for the clutter police. Let me clear up this misconception – there is no clutter police. That’s good news for those of you looking to avoid judgment and bad news for those who seek accountability to a higher authority.
It’s easy to acquire too many things in our homes but we’re often not aware until the clutter is out of control. The key to unlocking the mystery requires an investigation of our thinking and personality as well our habits that are often so deeply engrained that we’re not even aware of them.
Everyone, at some point in their life, has faced disorganization and clutter. I have heard (and been guilty of) stashing items during an emergency clean-up. You know the time – when company is due in moments or worse yet shows up unexpectedly and part of the house, usually the kitchen or family room, appears untidy. We resort to drastic measures, scooping up an armful of assorted objects that we randomly stash into the nearest cabinet or closet, thinking we’ll deal with the stuff later. This back-up strategy seems to work, too. The room looks presentable and an enjoyable visit is shared.
Problems arise however, when those stashed items are never retrieved and returned to their rightful places. Eventually, after a number of stashing episodes, the cabinet or closet can no longer hold additional items. They are stuffed full; unable to perform their function in our homes.
Imagine what happens when this scenario is repeated in other areas of the home, or instead of cleaning out and relocating items in the first cabinet or closet, a second one is employed. Now multiple areas have become “stashing” zones, but instead of helping in an “emergency,” this temporary strategy has developed into a standard practice, one that leads to confusion and disorganization.
Numerous sources can be found that offer great tips on how to purge, streamline and organize our belongings. Once we commit to put in the time, we can all reduce and organize. The challenge is that it must be an ongoing endeavor to achieve success.
Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics, also called the law of entropy, states that all natural processes lead to an overall increase or gradual decline into disorder. So it must go that anything organized tends to become disorganized over time, especially when no outside energy or effort is applied. So once you have an area organized, it requires effort on your part for it to stay that way.
Again, we can all learn to implement purging and organizing strategies. Sometimes it is by trial and error and we may need to experiment with several techniques before the right one emerges. Even small amounts of effort or energy going through stuff can be beneficial. Take mail, for example, if a little time – even 10-15 minutes a day – was spent dealing with our inbox items we would not have counter tops, cabinets, or drawers stuffed full of waiting papers. That can require two hours to two days to organize.
The root of the problem lies within us and if we want to be in more control of organizing clutter we must determine as well as understand our dominant clutter personalities. Are we a hoarder, sentimentalist or bargainista, or a bit of all three?
The hoarder’s refrain of “this might come in handy someday” is often applied to even the most mundane and superfluous items. Deep down, hoarders are insecure and fear a lack of resources. With inexpensive treasure troves such as thrift stores, flea markets, habitat restores, and garage sales, the hoarder has easy access should he or she really need something. They can also give away something they really don’t use or need to family. Recently a friend mentioned she would like to have an ice cream maker. I offered her ours, which we obtained from my mother, that we hardly ever used. One person’s surplus can become another person’s profit.
The sentimentalist’s slogan is summed up in “oh, that little darling!” Sentimentalists hold on to anything with a story – children’s clothing and school papers and faded greeting cards. If it feels disrespectful to let go of a loved one’s stuff, take a more selective stance. Corral school papers into a single box by selecting one best drawing, theme, or project each month and eliminating the rest. If that sounds too painful, at first, take photos of outgoing mementoes and create a scrapbook, or display just one tea cup and saucer from grandma instead of the whole set. In this way, you can keep the memories alive without drowning in a flood of clutter.
“It was on sale” or “I paid good money for that” are the rational that justifies the bargainistas accumulation of items from shopping sprees. The most frugal of all the clutter personalities, the bargainista shops and buys in bulk and feels it’s acceptable to have a year’s supply of toilet paper, tooth paste and pizza sauce. They rarely pay full price and enjoy being able to provide for others. The down side is that they often buy things they don’t really need or even want because “it was such a good deal.” Sadly, it is only a good deal for the one who will actually use the item. Prune your coupon collection to only products you and your family use regularly. Keep supplies organized to prevent items from expiring before you use them. Most importantly, stay away from sales! If you must go, go with a specific list of needed items and don’t deviate from the list. Go in armed with a plan, purchase wisely and sparingly and get out.
We’ve all heard how money and possessions can’t buy happiness. Researchers have found that accumulating bigger piles of stuff may in fact decrease happiness and increase stress. For your quality of life and your health, consider tackling your clutter. Start with one room and let the joy and calm you feel in that room or space motivate you to continue. Remember, you didn’t accumulate your clutter overnight, so don’t get frustrated that it doesn’t disappear overnight.
What I have found is that clutter attracts clutter and space attracts space. The less stuff that comes in, the less you need to clean and organize and the less you later have to purge. Living with less doesn’t deprive us, it rejuvenates us. By being selective about what fills our living areas and our lives we can truly appreciate the beautiful things around us. This simplicity frees up our time and space to enjoy ourselves and our families. No matter which clutter personality you identified with take the time now to free yourself from chaos and clutter. Remember, even small successes count.
Ready to reclaim your space, time, and peace of mind? Here are some tips to help guide you through the process.
1. Believe it is possible. Resolve in your mind there is hope and take one small step. Then take another….and another…. and another.
2. Set a specific goal. Use pictures of rooms you love to inspire and motivate you. Make a mental picture of plans for what your space will look like. See yourself sitting there enjoying it.
3. Give yourself a deadline. Block off specific times or days for purging and organizing each week.
4. Excess possessions must be eliminated. Remove excess possessions that you no longer use or love. Discard undesirable items that are damaged, broken, torn, or don’t fit. Save sentimental items for last.
5. Enlist a friend’s help. Build in accountability by telling a favorite charity you will be dropping off a bag on Friday.
6. Be reasonable. Don’t expect too much too fast. Slowly move from room to room removing excess clutter. It doesn’t have to be a race or perfect on the first go-a-round. Each purging session will get easier and a more organized space will emerge over time.
7. Implement habits to manage your clutter. Use the one-in-one out rule; return items to their home after using; blitz clutter daily with a 10-15 minute pick-up; clean kitchen after each meal.
8. Slow the accumulation of possessions. Before making a purchase ask yourself if the item is really needed, do you have a place to store it? How much extra work will this possession add to my life? Am I buying it for the right reasons?
9. Start small. Do easy projects first. Build up small victories and then tackle harder cases of clutter.
10. Make the choice to change. A commitment to purge and live with less stuff will help you lead a happier, healthier and less stressed life-style.