Clutter! A very modern problem.
We’re drowning in a sea of clutter! We have more of everything these days. When we were kids, the idea of a house being full of clutter was unheard of – we just didn’t have enough of anything to clutter a house up with!
Now, it seems, we’ve all got too much. Too much furniture, too many clothes, too many technological devices. And what’s worse, we can’t seem to let go of any of it!
We’ve developed a fascination for collecting things and a mania for holding onto them – magazines, ‘collectibles’, memorabilia, books, tapes, DVDs, pictures, etc, etc. But it gets worse! We collect jars, bottles, boxes, labels, tickets, dolls, toys, empty boxes (!), you name it, we collect it. And it’s not just a case of what we collect, but what we just don’t throw away. I mean, nobody seriously ‘collects’ milk crates, or empty paint tins, or plastic bags, but we have them stacked up in the house, or in the shed, or stuffed in the loft. What wrong with us?!
Actually, that’s for another page – this one’s just about how to declutter. The psychology behind accumulating it is another thing entirely. This is just about getting free of it, escaping from it, waving it bye-bye.
If your house is gasping under the weight of years of all the clutter (or if you’re just suffering from a mild strain of the illness!), you might welcome these few tips. Or then again, you might resent them, since they’re aimed at clearing away all your stuff! Anyway, here they are … and I’d advise you to take some of them to heart, not just ‘collect’ them!
Be realistic. Expect to take a few weeks at least to get things back on track. Work steadily towards your goal and welcome each new breakthrough, whether it’s a particular area finally clear of clutter or a particular thing finally let go … celebrate that breakthrough and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
If you’re still not convinced that you need to get organised
in order to improve your memory,
go back and re-read Get Organised! to review the reasons.
Decluttering … start small
It’s tempting, when you finally make the commitment to de-clutter and clear away years of junk, to try to do it all at once, or at least try to tackle the whole job, even if you know it’s going to take a while. Probably a big mistake though! Clearing away a mountain of junk (or even a fairly respectable hill) is a major task. You really shouldn’t attempt to work on the whole thing right away – you’re likely to get very disillusioned, very quickly. You could end up so despondent that you don’t even want to hear tips on how to declutter, let alone face the task again.
Start small, and set yourself to clearing one area. It could be your workspace, for example. If you can get busy on that and see some progress within a day or so, it’ll set you up for more progress. So restrain yourself and work on one thing to start with. If it goes well, build on that success and do more of the same. Declutter, one clutter-bite at a time.
If there are family members that you think will be supportive, or friends for that matter, speak to them. Tell them what you want to achieve and ask them if they would consider helping you in your quest to de-clutter. If they really are supportive, they’ll recognise that your asking for help is an admission that you need help, and that you’re making a real effort. And I guess they’ll know how hard it was for you to make that first move.
Making the commitment to change your ways is a big step. If you can get a few people on your side, so much the better. If you’ve got a serious clutter problem, you know you need help. What you also have to decide is whether you’re prepared to let anyone ‘in’. Hoarding (if it is that serious with you) is not a minor problem, and is almost certainly linked to some emotional upset that you suffered at some stage in your life. Clearing the clutter might very well bring up emotional issues that you’d rather stayed buried, but bringing them to the surface can be therapeutic. Though it might be unpleasant to face the emotions that come up, you’ll feel better once they’re out in the open.
Let people get on with it!
If someone’s been kind enough to offer their help, you should return the favour. Give them some freedom to get on with it. I know you’ll want to keep tight control of the situation, that’s understandable, but you’ve also got to play your part. Allow people to make some decisions as to what stays and what goes. If you can’t manage that, you’ll have to discuss that further with them. But you should make a big effort to allow your helpers to actually help.
Remember, they’re there to help you, and as long as you’ve made it clear that certain things are to stay (or even that you’ll always have to have the last word on it), you should allow them a certain amount of leeway. Otherwise this is going to be a very long, drawn out affair (and tempers will start to fray).
Do you need this? Or is it just more clutter?
Keep asking yourself this question as you’re working your way through your clutter – “Do I really need this?” If the answer is “Yes”, ask again! You might have to go back to some things again and again till you get round to saying “You know what? Actually, that can go!”.
I’m not talking about organising your stuff here – I’m talking about your junk (and you know it’s junk – you just haven’t got to the point of admitting it yet)!
As for your stuff, organising that is pretty easy. All you have to do is …
Make three piles
Three piles is all you need (see how quickly we organised all that stuff)! You only need three because you’re doing away with all the half-baked ideas of what you need or don’t need, and why. All you need are these three piles
The first pile is obvious, that’s for stuff you actually want to keep … stuff that has real value, whether it’s intrinsic value or physical value or emotional value, or whatever. As long as you can honestly say you need it, you can keep it.
The second is for stuff that’s actually useful, but you’ve come to terms with the fact that you don’t need it, and you’ve decided to give it away – either so someone you know, or to charity, or to someone else entirely.
The third pile is the one you might have trouble with. That’s for stuff that you’ve decided is actually junk, and you’re prepared to let it go entirely. Easier said than done!
When you’re working on an area, work through your stuff, bit by bit, placing items in one of the piles.
Oops … an extra pile!
Okay, I lied about the three piles, there’s another one – you can put stuff in the fourth pile temporarily, while you come to terms with letting it go. Obviously, you’re going to have trouble letting some things go, and I don’t expect you to be able to make snap decisions on each and every little thing, just like that.
If something is awkward for you, but you want to make the right decision (eventually), you can park the item in the fourth pile – for now. Just as long as you don’t see it as a way out! It’s only there to make the transition less painful. You need to make some harsh decisions about some things, and expecting you to do it instantly would be a mistake.
Clean up the clutter … and clean up!
If you’ve let the place become dirty, as well as cluttered, get busy on the clean up as soon as possible. Even if you’ve only cleared a desktop, or the sink drainer, take the time to clean it once it’s clear. You’ll see the effect of your hard work right away, and there’s nothing like positive feedback to give you a boost.
Once you get a room cleared, clean it in earnest. Remember, you’re not trying to declutter the entire house all at once, you’re just dealing with one [relatively] small area at a time, so do what you can to get the place looking good while you’re still in the neighbourhood.
Organizing the home … storage
As you’re working, start organising all the stuff that’s staying. It can go in the ‘Keep’ pile for now, but as soon as it seems reasonable, you should start to put things where they actually belong (assuming, of course, that you have enough space cleared). Organizing the home is an ongoing process, but the sooner you make a start, the better.
This will give you a boost because you’ll see how things should look, and will look when this whole process is finished. Even a single bookcase or cabinet that’s properly organised can look amazing after the entire room was piled high with junk. So don’t deny yourself the pleasure of seeing things the way you want to see them.
Clearing the clutter … skip it!
If you’ve got huge amounts of junk to deal with, order a skip (dumpster). It might be a struggle at first to start dumping things in it, but once you’ve overcome that first obstacle you won’t be able to stop yourself!
There’s nothing more liberating than finally dumping rubbish. You might have struggled with shoving it onto the DUMP pile at first, but once that pile has started to grow and your commitment to seeing this process through to its conclusion has gathered momentum, you’ll want to sling everything that’s been dumped right into its final resting place.
Make no-go areas
One way of making sure that this situation doesn’t arise again is to declare each area you clear as a no-go area for junk. Make it a simple rule that that newly cleared space, whatever it may be, will remain clear. It might only be a coffee table, or a desk, but if you make the rule work it will stay clear, no matter what. And if you extend the no-go idea to all cleared areas, you will have taken a huge step forward in solving your problem.
Plan for the future
Start thinking positively about how you deal with ‘stuff’. If you don’t change how you think, the situation will very likely arise again. Decide how you will deal with things as they arrive in the house. Commit to making sensible decisions and having regular clear outs. This mental ‘clearing out’ is as important as the physical one.
See junk for what it is – clutter!
It sounds simplistic, I know, but if you actually recognise junk for what it is, you can let it go quite easily. Spend a bit of time with certain selected items whlle they’re starting out on their way to junk heaven (the tip!). Take a good long look at each item and think about what it was that made it seem so important to you.
There was, presumably, something about each one that made it almost impossible to part with it. It might have been a link to the past, or to some emotional event that occurred. It might be that you clung on to the idea that you might need the item ‘one day’ (for what??). Now that you’ve decided it’s finally heading off into the sunset, try to get to the bottom of the problem. Ask yourself, just what was it that made that particular thing seem so indispensable?
There are other pages devoted to helping you get organised, and they’re not scattered haphazardly all over the site. The links to them are all conveniently organised in the sidebar!
>> Get Organised! links in the sidebar >>