I wish to preface this article to say that Martha Stewart I am not. In fact I am a clutter bug. Martha would most likely be horrified at all my well intentioned piles of projects, papers, and books. I am also a hoarder. I hate to throw things away. Multiply these messy instincts by the number of other members of my family who are of the same temperament and well…it usually takes me and my family mere minutes to create a big 'ol mess. The thing about clutter is that it is all in the eye of the beholder. I read about a study where people were shown photos of other people’s work spaces. The most cluttered work spaces made most onlookers feel stress. But when the same people viewed photos of their own very disarray the stress was considerably lower. We do tend to feel more comfortable in our own mess.
But there does reach a point when even our own clutter can make some of us feel stressed, depressed, and even physically sick. I am not a neat freak by any stretch of the imagination and I would never judge anyone’s level of organization. Instead, what I want to talk about is when the clutter makes you personally feel a sense of distress and anxiety. In that case it just might be time to take some action. Clutter can be defined as anything which we don’t need which takes up our time and energy and threatens to destroy our peace of mind. Clutter can make you late for work when you can’t find simple things like your keys. It can make us feel discouraged to see heaps of half finished projects lying around to remind us of all that we have not accomplished. Clutter can even be dangerous as when we trip over things just trying to get out the door. It can feel emotionally draining when our home seems out of control and unmanageable.
Think of decluttering as a preemptive strike against stress. What you are ultimately trying to accomplish is to make life easier for those times when you have little emotional and physical energy to spare. It can be psychologically liberating to get rid of or recycle things we really don’t need. If it seems overwhelming, start with one corner of a room and work your way outward. You don’t need to do it all in one day.
In order to begin, the experts say to have four boxes on hand: One for things to keep, one for things to recycle or give away, another box for things to put into storage, and garbage bags for things you want to throw away. Think about what things most clutter up your home. For me the answer is easy: Papers, books, and toys. My rule is when things don’t fit into the spaces designed to hold these items, then it is time to get rid of something. For a hoarder like me this is awfully hard to do. But I have found that once I do get rid of something I seldom miss it.
I can’t possibly cover how to organize every room of the house or every category of clutter so I will just whet your appetite with several suggestions based upon my personal decluttering experience.
Sentimental objects can be a tough category. You can’t bear to part with certain things and for good reason. But what good do they do sitting in a box in your closet or attic? One category of sentimental clutter may include your children’s school art projects and all the smiley stickered papers dating back to kindergarten. The solution I have come up with is to select the very best items to save in their original form but for the rest I either scan them or take a photo so that I can put the images on my computer. You can still keep your memories but by putting them on the computer you can easily access and view things whenever you want. This is a good idea for those big school projects you want to remember but that take up too much tangible space otherwise. I also like to display my children’s art by framing the best pieces to hang on our wall. It gives the kids a sense of pride and also makes use of the vertical space of a wall instead of stuffing papers into a box.
We all get gifts from friends and relatives that we feel bad about giving away. But do you really need the milk glass from a long deceased aunt? Maybe you do. Then display it where you can see it, if the item is really important to you. But if you never really liked it to begin with and it is just taking up space, I am sure your aunt would forgive you if you gave it to someone who really likes it and can use it.
The Kitchen is definitely a place which collects a lot of clutter. I am the biggest offender here. My junk drawer is so full I can hardly pull it out. Before you put things into the junk drawer think about, “Do I really need this? How often do I need shish kabob skewers? Do I really need the Bugs Bunny dessert spoons?” The easiest sort of decluttering is to get rid of duplicate items. For some things in the kitchen, you might want more than one measuring cup, for example. But for other items, it is simply unnecessary to keep more than one version. I went through a cookie baking phase for awhile and so everyone gave me cookie making gifts. Subsequently I ended up with three cookie presses. I don’t really need three so it is time to get rid of some things. The pantry and fridge are also places where things can hide for…well…months. I am so bad, I found candy canes in my cupboard this summer and I found a half eaten chocolate Easter bunny in the fridge. Hey…it was chocolate. You never know when you might need it At any rate I did throw away my earless bunny and I never looked back. Okay maybe I mourned him a little.
At any rate it feels psychologically good to have an organized kitchen so that you can find things you need to find and you feel a lot more inspired to actually gasp cook in there.
Bookshelves can be ultimate clutter catchers. I am a true sucker for books. There are books in every nook and cranny in my house. There are books in my bathroom and books under my bed. There are so many books that I still have boxes of them from our move which happened almost a decade ago! I have begun the great book de-cluttering project, however, and I am getting things more in control. My sister has little handwritten note to herself which she has taped to her over burgeoning bookshelves which reads, “You may not buy one more book until you have read the ones you have!” I laugh every time I see it, knowing that this will never happen. She is addicted to buying books even more than I am. Book clutter is easy to deal with, however. There are still used book stores to take all your old books. You can give some books to the library or even schools. And of course there is the tried and true garage sale. One of the first types of books to go are the twenty year old outlined college books you will never use. And then there are the cook books like the ones I found in my larder of how to create culinary masterpieces with cheese whiz. And of course the coverless old paperbacks that you never read in the first place. I find it fun to go through my assorted collection of books; it is kind of like time travel in a way. You re-visit those times in your life when you bought “What to Expect When you are Expecting” or the Dummy book for buying your first house, and how to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Don’t get too sentimental though or you will never be able to part with anything.
Remember that having some empty space in your bookshelf can be a good thing! You don’t need to fill up every available space in your house. Empty spaces are inviting and make us think of possibility and potential.
Other Thoughts and Tips
- The less stuff you have in your house, the less you have to clean!
- Don’t let junk mail multiply. Throw it out as soon as you get it.
- Recycle newspapers after a week.
- Eliminate more paper clutter by paying your bills on-line.
- Subscribe only to the magazines you can honestly find time to read.
- The more containers you buy for storing things, the more junk you will accrue to fill them up.
- When you buy something new, think to yourself, "Is this something I am going to see at my own garage sale in a year or so? Do I really need that sushi cutting board or the set of cookie cutters shaped like the fifty states?
Liberate yourself from needless dust collectors and time wasters. I guarantee that you are going to feel psychologically better after a bit of decluttering and organizing. For us folk who are naturally messy and like to hoard things, it can be really difficult to take that first step. But once you do, you will find it wasn’t as hard as you thought it would be.
If you have any ideas of how you have decluttered your home let us know. I can use as many tips as I can get. If you have always felt comfortable with your personal clutter, please share those stories too. Everyone is different in their stress level related to how their personal space is organized.
In Part Two of this series I will talk about how to de-stress by carving out a personal space for yourself. Stay tuned!
I am a mother, a writer, and now an MS patient